Ai and it’s implications in photography
Ai and it’s implications in photography is a hot topic within the photography community these days. And it’s not just in this field that have people excited or concerned. It seems that just about every industry will be affected in one way or another due to Ai technology. The emergence of artificial intelligence brought about welcome features for photographers, where the advance of digital camera technology in a competitive market offers the consumer more features in order to tempt them to continually upgrade. Typical examples are the highly welcome Face and Eye Recognition features implemented into many modern camera models, and how about Environment Recognition incorporated into the cameras of Apple iPhones, resulting in the Portrait mode to create shallow depth of field. In addition, evolving Ai assisted photo editing software such as the ones created by Topaz, where advanced sharpening and noise reduction features are a welcome addition to many photographer’s toolkits. The revolution of Ai photography has emerged at such a fast pace that now all you have to do is tell the software by voice recognition what you would like your image to look like, and your computer will process the result immediately. Unlike software that can aid the photographer in achieving their goals, Ai can now simply create a fake image. Is this photography? In my opinion, absolutely not.
What really brought my attention to the topic was when I read about the German photographer Boris Eldagsen, who received first place in the Creative Category of the 2023 Sony World Photography Award with his image entitled ‘The Electrician’, and is the cover image of this blog post. Refusing to accept the prize, Eldagsen stated that the reason he included the image into the competition was simply to know if the judges would notice if it was an Ai generated image, which obviously they did not. His aim was to create a debate on the matter, unfortunately however it was shrugged off by the organisers. Thankfully, the issue came to light when his story was discovered by the media, and inevitably the word got out. I completely agree with his suggestion that Ai generated images should be classed in a different category by the competition organisers. Personally, I think ‘Ai generated images’ should be stated what they are in large red bold letters, and enforced by law. Anything less would simply be a disservice to the skills of photographers and the photographic industry as a whole. I have the greatest respect for Boris Eldagsen for bringing attention to this important topic.
Photography, in essence, is not about taking photos – it’s about creating them. The photographer communicates their vision through technical skills and creativity. In order to capture emotions through composition, during the right light, and at the critical moment, it is the photographer and their understanding of this art media that simply cannot be created by a machine, despite the astonishing advances in technology. Photography printing techniques have come a long way. From wet plates, collodion silver prints, platinum and cyanotypes to film, and eventually recording onto digital sensors, the medium has been captured through a continuation of advanced methods, yet the evolutions of creating photographs still contain the same core principals. While Ai assisted features in cameras and imaging software are a welcome addition to aid photographers, I, like many other photographers, believe that Ai should aid the photographer rather than outright replace them. The arrival of the Ai revolution can create images based on commands with such astonishing realism that it now presents the potential for disruption in the realm of professional photography. Career photographers specialising in fashion, landscape, product, architectural and general stock photography are all at risk of what is to come if they don’t adapt now. But for most hobbyist photographers, where the camera gives you a reason to get out and explore the world, wether it is to experience the energy of a city during rush hour, or wander through the beauty of nature, Ai and augmented reality will never be able to replace the real world and all that it offers.
So am I worried about what’s to come? Not really. While change in certain sectors of the industry will undoubtedly cause a massive disruption, the personable and educational nature of leading photo tours and workshops cannot be replicated by a machine. The physical travel experience, together with the enjoyment of the photography creating process can only benefit from Ai aided technology, not be replaced by it. For professionals in other sectors of the industry, the future will be either very rosy or very bleak depending on which side of the fence they preside. One of the first sectors that comes to mind is the advertising industry and the role that professional photographers preside within it. When a professional photographer charges thousands of dollars for commissioned shoots that include all of the expenses involved, such as transportation, makeup and hair styling, studio and lighting equipment, models, and a list of other expenses, not to mention the photographer’s fee, a Picture Editor may likely consider the option of an Ai generated image for economic reasons alone, not to mention the speed it would take to get results. Why, you may ask, does my opinion sound so negative on the subject? In a nutshell, Ai generated images is everything that is wrong with the world today. With opinionated posts on social media that are not backed up by facts, to music created without any human thought involved, to outright fake news inundating our minds, and how about the recent protests of over 150,000 Hollywood actors demanding fair revenue of how their Ai generated faces are used? The world of tech is moving at such a fast pace that we are barely able to keep up before the next big thing comes along – all at our expense.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Photographers need to embrace change. It was a giant leap of faith on my part when I moved from film to digital, as was the change when switching from DSLR’s to mirrorless cameras. Rather than dwelling on any negative aspects caused, we should concentrate on embracing change and use it to our advantage in the brave new world of Artificial Intelligence. Opening doors to new business opportunities, performing tedious tasks, improving workflow, creating ideas and exploring new avenues can ultimately aid the photographer in the modern era. Likewise, I do see hope in the future of many genres of photography. During the pandemic, I, like most of us, spent far more time online than in the pre-pandemic days. One thing I did notice about many YouTube channels based around street photography, was that I was seeing an emergence of photographers still shooting in [or reverting back to] film. In my experience, one of the main aspects that attracts photographers to this art form is the whole process of predicting a scene that unfolds then physically capturing the scene at the precise moment. And then there is the art of printing the resulting image to mirror the photographer’s vision. In my opinion, analogue photographs professionally printed onto paper still provide a sense of realism and offer a more pleasing aesthetic to their digital counterparts. I can assure you that the photographer is rewarded with a far greater satisfaction when viewing their results after going through the entire process of creating a beautiful photograph from start to finish. Genres of photography that I cannot imagine will be overtaken by Ai generated images include reportage, documental, sports, weddings and events, current affairs and hobbyists in any type of photo genre.
Finally, another important point to mention is that many photographers and viewers simply don’t want to see a world full of stylised, unnaturally perfect, yet fake images. Do you remember when the photography world was inundated with HDR photos? I am sure that many, like myself, quickly tired of such images, as was the case for the overwhelming amount of star trail images found online. Thankfully, these types of images were simply a fad, unlike the timeless images created by photographers of the past that continue to inspire. It may get to the point where a revolution in society simply demands honesty, transparency, impartiality, individualism and all the other aspects of life that humanity needs above the virtual world. I hope we get there sooner than later.