AI Photography: Here to Stay or Yet Another Fad?
Having become the greatest innovation of the 2020s, artificial intelligence has also caused a lot of disruption along the way. Take the art of photography, for example.
Nowadays, AI-generated photos have become practically indistinguishable from real-life pictures. Due to that, we’re already witnessing major shifts in the photo industry—and will surely see even more.
But are these changes for the better or worse? Let’s look at what impact AI technology has already had on the world of photography.
Due to how new the technology is, there isn’t any strict dictionary definition yet.
In a broad sense, AI photography refers to the use of artificial intelligence in the process of taking (or making) pictures.
So, the term can apply to all and any stages of photo production. Whether you take pictures with your smartphone, process photos using AI software, or generate images from a text prompt—all of it can be considered AI photography. The only thing that changes is the degree of artificial and human intelligence participation.
Now that we have an understanding of this next big thing, let’s look at what good and bad it can do in the world of photography.
More Options at Lower Prices
While many expensive photographers have an aversion to this, regular folks only benefit from the money-saving opportunities brought about by AI.
What used to cost hundreds of dollars can now be done for significantly lower prices. For instance, creating a set of professional-looking pictures doesn’t require a photographer anymore—you can save money and use an AI headshot generator to get studio-style photos from home! To top it off, you will save time: given that an AI photographer is much faster than a studio, an entire AI photo set can be ordered within ten minutes or so.
Automated Photo Editing
Having AI-powered photography software as an assistant can help photographers or entire media companies streamline their editing workflow—and thus achieve spectacular results in a spectacularly short time.
Today, AI tools allow any photographer to automate the most onerous and repetitive tasks. Need to remove the background without leaving any rugged edges? You got it. Culling through hundreds of photos to leave out the bad ones? With a couple of text prompts, AI photo editing software can remember what your understanding of ‘bad’ is and exclude all unwanted pictures from your set of photos.
Real-Time Composition Assistance
If post-editing tools aren’t really your thing, artificial intelligence can still come in useful to you. Most likely, it already does, without you knowing it.
The thing is, many modern devices, be it smartphones or digital cameras, have built-in programs that adapt your camera settings to the subject of your photo. For instance, if you’re taking a picture of the sky, AI will adjust the settings in such a way as to accentuate the shades of blue. Such environment recognition helps you get amazing results even if you don’t have any photography skills.
Detection of People and Objects in Photos
AI also uses facial recognition to categorize your gallery and make culling easier.
Take your phone gallery, for example. Thanks to AI recognition of the subject’s face, you have separate albums with all your friends and family members in them. Similarly, you can also view compilations of food pics or sightseeing photos without having to scroll through hundreds (or even thousands) of snapshots.
Enhanced Quality When Zoomed In
With modern upscaling technology, zoom-induced blur and pixelation are not that much of a problem anymore.
Previously, zooming in was rarely worth it: your camera would get a closer look at the subject, but the quality of the resulting photo suffered dramatically. Now, whether you have a zoomed-in or low-quality image, AI algorithms can upscale it to a higher resolution in just one click.
Repeated Mistakes and Varying Quality
Even with millions of photo enthusiasts willing to use them regularly, AI-powered tools can still generate unnatural and low-quality images every now and then.
Arguably, the area where AI struggles the most is the human anatomy. For instance, an AI tool can fail spectacularly when trying to generate an image of a human hand, often adding a finger or two to the initial five. When creating a face, artificial intelligence can also distort features and proportions slightly, which results in the infamous uncanny valley effect.
And even if you need a picture of an inanimate object, AI can still mess it up.
Less Demand with Professional Photographers
For the average Joe, it’s always good to have cheaper alternatives to expensive photographers. However, the increasing use of AI photos takes its toll on many specialists.
We’re already seeing things that have the potential to replace traditional services almost completely. For instance, the phrase ‘synthetic photo studio’ sounded like gibberish until recently—but today, it’s a thing. Using an AI photography tool, anyone can turn a set of casual images into a Yearbook or Halloween photo set.
Adding insult to injury, artificial intelligence has also become an easier alternative to stock photos. Being able to generate almost anything from a text prompt, more and more people choose AI photography over stock image banks that seem to be outliving their usefulness.
The more widespread AI photography becomes, the more disputes it causes in the legal field, and for a good reason.
Any image generation tool requires a lot of training. Using machine learning algorithms, it has to analyze thousands and millions of pieces of visual data before it can create a more or less acceptable AI image. As you might’ve already guessed, AI developers use real-life pictures (that is, not generated ones) to tell their AI models how things should look. Unfortunately, original images taken by real photographers often get into the training set without their consent.
If this is the case, who owns the rights to an image generated with copyright-protected images in mind? Given the newness of the precedent, there isn’t any standardized legal approach to it yet.
AI photography products are often indistinguishable from real-life pictures even by the human eye—and, as such, can be used for questionable purposes.
There already have been cases where a photograph created by artificial intelligence won awards in industry contests. For example, Boris Eldagsen, the winner of the Sony World Photography Award 2023 managed to get the top prize for an AI image. Having obtained the award, Boris turned it down, claiming that he only wanted to show how such competitions aren’t ready for the surging AI photography trend.
Courtesy of Boris Eldagsen
What’s more, there’s a lot of controversy around the content of AI-made images. Even after extensive training and without the trainers’ intention, it can create images that are offensive or biased.
Lack of Creative Vision
AI can generate any number of unique images never seen before, but there’s a hitch—there won’t be anything exactly new in them.
As mentioned earlier, all AI-generated images are based on already existing materials—thus, no tool can think outside the box and create pieces of art that would be really and truly new. If we rely on AI photography too much, we’ll risk ending up in a circulation of visual content being reused again and again.
No matter how we utilize AI, its influence on the field of photography is undeniable as it continues to advance. Although there are benefits in terms of efficient image editing and improved quality, we must also consider many legal and ethical aspects, as well as potential threats.
Achieving a future for AI photography requires finding a balance between utilizing the new capabilities and preserving the essence of creativity. One thing is for certain: as technology progresses, every photographer must stay well-informed, adapt responsibly, and view AI innovations as great tools that enhance their vision.