Artificial intelligence is rising up in every industry. In almost every instance, there are fears of redundancy, which naturally makes photographers hesitant to embrace AI. But when you zoom in, the future of photography may not be as black and white as you think.
Humans have long been fascinated by the possibilities and dangers of AI. Often, the cautionary tale warns of disastrous consequences to technology’s desire to automate and improve. Naturally, these pop culture references have contributed to today’s fears of AI.
The truth is AI is already making your life better in many ways; big and small.
Google Maps uses AI to show you the quickest way home. Streaming music services use it to help you discover new artists you’ll like. Twitter uses it to stop inappropriate content appearing in your newsfeed. On your favourite shopping site, AI helps you find relevant products. On Gmail, it filters out spam and scam messages. Banking apps use AI to stop fraudulent transactions in their tracks.
AI even helps save lives. In healthcare, it’s used to diagnose diseases early. Many cars use it in self-parking, preventing accidents. During flights, pilots spend an average of seven minutes in control, so AI plays a big role in stopping crashes.
Not-so-distant futurists predict that, soon, anyone will be able to create an image without needing a camera — not even the one that lives in your phone. There are already sites out there featuring eerily realistic images of imaginary people, like This Person Does Not Exist.
Some even believe that creating hyper-realistic images will become as simple as typing out a description of what you want in an AI-powered app, or even describing the picture out loud to your pocket AI assistant.
“‘Siri’, you’ll say. ‘I’d like an image of a red-haired woman walking through a park in autumn, the breeze blowing red, orange, and yellow leaves around her.’ And — though it may require more detail than that — presto! Your phone will provide various options on the screen to choose from,” Alex Savsunenko, head of Skylum AI Lab, said at a 2018 event, according to Artsy.
This may seem like the precursor to a world where commercial imagery is created with absolutely no lights, no camera, no action — meaning, no photographers, no models, no stylists, no humans, no living breathing creatures.
In actuality, saying AI will destroy photography is unnecessarily glib. Photography is a highly-skilled profession. Only a human can connect the artform to the audience in a meaningful way. AI will never do that.
The best photographs tell a story. They reflect a moment in history. They convey real human emotion.
Some of the most iconic and powerful photographs are the serendipitous chance of being at a specific place and a specific time. Others are carefully crafted moments informed by years of experience and training.
It’s with good reason that “a picture tells 1,000 words” has become such a cliché. Each of these great photographs captures a moment in time and sheds light on the human condition.
This narrative aspect of great photography is also why previous technical innovations, such as the advent of the camera phone, didn’t spell the demise of the professional lensman. The equipment and technology will change, but the craft will never be replaced by AI.
So, why not reframe the question to ‘How can we use AI to take our photography to the next level?’ or ‘How can I evolve with the power of AI?’
There is a variety of helpful AI tools already available for photography.
Select by Narrative uses AI to make it easier for Photographers & Creatives to edit photos by culling out the unusable ones. This is particularly handy with group photos.
Luminar AI enhances images by identifying natural backgrounds and suggesting dramatic alternatives.
Then there is Sharpen AI, which salvages blurry images, recreating fine details that would’ve otherwise been lost. Unlike previous methods of sharpening, which just makes edges brighter, Sharpen AI reverses three specific types of blurs to create a natural finish.
It all comes back to the art of image making.
There might be times when the best way for a Photographer to create a style or emotion is through a mix of AI and “in camera” imagery. There could be other instances, where Photographers can use AI to speed up their existing work flow so they can spend more time doing the parts they love.
These new technologies don’t spell the end for photography. They herald the next stage in the evolution of the art form.
As principal evangelist for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, Julieanne Kost, once said, there’s no substitute for human creativity.
But what neural networks and machine learning algorithms can do is make complex editing actions much simpler. They can handle repetitive manual tasks that steal time away from what photographers do best, like finding images, selecting the best shots, managing photoshoots, and so forth.
“When advancements in technology can enable a creative person to think less about the technology or the technical aspects of the profession and more about the content and message behind the photograph, the potential for elevating the visual literacy of an entire society is possible — and that’s exciting,” Kost said in a blog post.
So, what does AI really mean for photographers? It means it’s time to upskill, flex your creativity, and find ways to make new technology work for you.
If in doubt, just remember your consumers are human. Focus on what they want, because they’ll be the ones to judge with their wallets. As it currently stands, people still prefer to buy what’s real.