Are We Growing Into Lazy Photographers Due to AI?

Are We Growing Into Lazy Photographers Due to AI?

The use of AI offers the ability to create almost lifelike images. This has nothing to do with photography. However, AI can also be used for removing unwanted parts of a photo. Is this feature making us lazy, taking less care while photographing? After all, we can easily fix it in post.

It’s not really artificial intelligence, far from that. It’s just computational power and smart algorithms that can create something based on a learning process by reading a lot of real images. These images are the photos we have placed online, shared on social media, and can be found in many other locations.

Obtaining the source for these AI learning routines is subject to a lot of protests regarding copyright and ownership. Many people object to the use of their images for learning purposes, but at the same time, they eagerly make use of AI-generated content to remove unwanted items or even make complete AI-generated images.

I don’t want to dive into that rabbit hole of AI-generated images. But it has become normal to use AI generative tools for repairing photos in lots of different ways. I only have experience with the AI generative fill that comes with Photoshop, and recently Lightroom. But other software manufacturers probably have their own versions or will introduce these options soon.

AI Generative Content Is Not Always Needed

AI generative tools are easy to use and the results are often quite good. Although the new content that is generated is not the reality, in most occasions it's indistinguishable. It’s tempting to use it every time because the results look so good. On the other hand, it’s not always necessary to make use of AI generative content. After all, we were able to remove small distracting items before AI was available as well.

Branches at the edge of the frame could be avoided by making your distance to the subject larger, while zooming in.

It might be wise to use AI-generated content for small repairs sparingly. Not only because the photo will get a tag on social media saying it’s AI-generated, but also because of the upcoming costs involved with the use of AI-generated content. Adobe already announced a system of points for using it, and although this already led to a lot of angry reactions, I predict this will become the standard for every AI-content provider.

There is another way of preventing the use of AI-generated content. I’ve been looking at the way a lot of participants in my workshops work. Some of them are becoming less accurate in building up their composition. Yes, they will search for a subject as they are supposed to do, they will choose the best possible location in the frame, but they often neglect to address any disturbances in the frame or even the spacing between the elements in the frame and the borders of the frame.

If you don't want the sign in the frame, don't remove it in post. Walk a few meters and the sign won't be in the frame.

If you point out any of these issues in the field, they often refer to the post-processing workflow and mention how they will make use of AI generative content to remove the issues. What’s frustrating about it is how easily these small issues could be avoided in the first place. Just a small change in position, perspective, or focal length can be enough. These photographers are perhaps growing lazy because AI can fix everything.

Situations When AI Generative Content Can Be Avoided

I have a couple of examples that I have encountered in the last few months. However, I must mention that the photos I used to illustrate the example are taken from my archives.

Unwanted Elements at the Edge of the Frame

The most common issue with framing is unwanted elements that stick into the frame. Although it can’t be avoided every time, in most occasions it can be done easily. Always check the edges of the frame for these unwanted items and change your position, perspective, and focal length. This way you don’t need to use any kind of removal tools, let alone AI generative content.

Be careful in choosing your composition. Try to avoid things at the edge of the frame, like these roses. This way you don't have to repair things in post.

An Element That Is Blocking the View

If you run into a situation where something small gets in the way, try to find a solution for that. Often a step to the left or right can be enough; in other situations, it’s possible to step closer. There might be a situation when the disturbing elements can be used to your advantage by incorporating them in the composition.

There were leaves in front of the view, so I used these in the composition instead of removing it in post with help of AI generated content.

People In the Frame

You often see examples of AI-generated content with public places where all people are removed. If that is the wish, perhaps it’s possible to wait a few minutes until the people are out of the frame. You can even ask people to wait a second before walking through the frame. However, if that’s not possible, it’s perhaps better to have these people in the frame. After all, that’s how reality is.

People in public places is normal. But if you don't want people in the frame, just wait until the right moment.

The Framing Is Too Tight

A common problem in composition is tight framing. If it works, it’s okay. However, if you need to correct for a tilted horizon, you might get into problems if the framing is too tight. This can be corrected with AI generative content, but it’s much easier to make the framing not that tight in the first place.

If the framing is too tight, it's easy to generate extra content with the help of AI. Or use a shorter focal length instead.

This also applies to the wrong framing. Changing a photo from a vertical orientation into a horizontal one by adding AI generative content can be avoided by taking different photos in a range of compositions and orientations. You can crop afterward.

Small Items That Don’t Need AI Generative Content

Many unwanted items are often small in size. This can be a sensor dust spot or small objects that attract negative attention. These small items often don’t need AI generative content. A simple cloning brush will suffice with excellent results.

There is some trash lying on the pavement. It's not necessary to remove with AI generated content. The regular clone brushes work just as well.

AI Generated Content Can Be Helpful

Although I try to avoid the use of AI generative content, it can be helpful at times. I enjoy the possibilities it offers, but only if the other options fail.

What do you think about the use of AI generative content? Do you believe there is a risk we will grow into lazy photographers? Let me know in the comments below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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33 Comments

Film photogs have spent decades now saying the same thing about digital. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true now. People said it about clone stamp. They said it about healing brush. They said it about content-aware fill. Anytime photographic tools take a leap forward, those afraid of change try to rationalize why the new thing is bad.

The reality is, though, that more advanced tools elevate creative opportunities and better allow us to create the work that we are inspired to create. It can't make us lazy photographers because we still have to compete with one another. The photographer who leverages AI to improve their work, elevate possibilities, and become more efficient will beat the photographer who just uses it in a lazy way. (This is always true in all industries. Look at farmers. Did they become lazy when the plow was invented? The tractor? Automated watering tools? They just kept on working just as hard but became more efficient and productive at it)

I use AI tools extensively these days in my photography. They do not replace photographic skill but rather bridge gaps that would otherwise force a compromise. (or in the case of some of my special effects work it allows the creation of images that would either be impossible or unreasonably expensive)

Most of all, it simply saves me time by accelerating annoying Photoshop work that drains my time. For example, I just ripped through a whole ton of photos I shot in the studio against grey seamless. I didn't shoot any different than I have for the last decade. The seamless isn't perfectly smooth, sometimes a lightstand is in frame, sometimes the frame extends beyond the edge of the seamless because of the angle. AI tools didn't really change the outcome, the work looks exactly like it would have if AI didn't exist, the difference is the work cleaning up that backdrop and cloning stuff out took a tenth of the time it used to take when I had to do it using tools like clone stamp.

For me, it is allowing me to deliver the same quality more efficiently which means I have a competitive advantage over the "old" me. AI isn't about working less, at least for me, its about allowing me to focus more on the things that matter such as executing a cohesive creative vision and less on redundant menial tasks.

this only makes sense in a commercial, efficient sense when you're delivering something to a client for their approval and your time and money are the priority.

I use AI a lot, but really only for tedious business related tasks, and it has dulled my photoshop skills over time. I find myself digging through old tutorials all over again once in a while.

Im not shooting landscapes, and then AI removing sign posts. Im still using grad filters too on my film cameras. Kinda depends on what youre trying to accomplish

“I use AI a lot, but really only for tedious business related tasks, and it has dulled my photoshop skills over time.”

My grandfather, born in 1883, once related to me that after driving a motorcar for a couple of years had dulled his ability to drive a horse carriage. He did not give up on automobiles and go back to horse-drawn transportation, however.

not a good comparison. photography is an art form, first and for most for many. Ai cannot replace that

We've been lazy photographers for awhile now, wanting every new camera to do everything for us. So I don't see why AI would make us any lazier.

Did tractors, combines, and the like make farmers lazy? Or did they merely allow greater productivity with less back-breaking labor?

Apples and oranges.
It's about the way some photographers are looking at the composition. Don't bother making an effort because "I can fix it in post with AI"

Nando Harmsen : "Don't bother making an effort because 'I can fix it in post with AI.'"

Even IF that were true, what do you care about what "some photographs do?

It's an age old battle for the control of how others thinking should be, a great discussion to have...also created by the existence of AI? Think about it before you Google it. The existence of AI created this thread, without AI it would not exist along with our thoughts shared regarding these things here. By reading the article or these threads, AI has affected your life and thoughts....you would not have otherwise without this all?

Just as a personal aside, I do not believe that AI exists. I believe in complex, cleverly written algorithms, but if the standard is human intelligence, I don't believe it; it's just the buzzword of the moment, IMO.

I agree with you. AI is sciencefiction

"There is some trash lying on the pavement. It's not necessary to remove with AI generated content. The regular clone brushes work just as well."

They are just tools, i do not care if it is removed by one or another.

If the tool helps fixing issues with the photo, it's perfect. But what about neglecting a good composition because you can fix it in post with AI?

No, I don't use "AI".

Lazier yes, but AI is not the cause, or at least, not totally yet. Blame overall technology instead, with its relentless advancements the growingly require less and less from all of us. Try focusing with a manual Leica rangefinder as opposed to with a Sony a9III and you'll see what I mean. But the basic implication is that our growing inability or unwillingness to "go more manual" in the middle of a digital/technological revolution, is inherently a bad thing. That, however, is where the most fundamental debate may be taking place. Personally, I believe that the decision to go more "manual" vs more "tech" is neither a virtue or a detriment. It's simply a choice, but with some larger implication if when we get to the identification of what is true and what is invented reality. When that invented reality is being passed on disguised as truth (as it surely will be by many), then serious ethical, and perhaps legal, consequences could arise for the photographic community. In the absence of a way to identify such distinctions for the unsuspecting public, I'm afraid that the photographic world is about to get a lot more murky in the not-too-distant future.

You have a good point.

I think that photographers and related YouTubers and websites are very well skilled in creating their own Boogeymen to debate about endlessly. There is no reason for this to be treated as some widespread issue. This is more related to the art of shooting, and being more or less lazy, than having to rely on tools after the fact. This is a methodology on how you actually execute your image making, being smashed together with supposed laziness in editing. I can't agree with this approach to the conversation ..it just seems well ...lazy to me.

When you see near clickbait headlines like this one, the impression is that these are supposedly widespread issues. They are potential conversations of the day...in most cases they are absolutely not and simply live in a small slice of Internet chatter created by those who are trying to create the conversations for their own benefit.

That doesn't mean it's worth talking about, but who was these "we" and are "we" being lazy? as a photographer, I don't find myself in this class of folks being discussed in this article. so drop the "we", and simply name the group you are talking about.

I actually thought this was going to touch on the usage of masking which is much more widespread because the tools are better - generative remove is arguably the most useful aspect of AI tools as a whole. One has to be incredibly lazy to just shoot a bunch of garbage in your frame and then want to spend a massive amount of time using AI tools to take them out. Of course somebody is doing it, but to put the messaging out there like it's so many of us, it's just unfortunate, unfair, and a small bit silly in my opinion.

Again, I think this conversation is definitely warranted but the framing is just all kinds of problematic. I think the focus needs to be narrowed down until certain segments of photographers, as dooming everybody ("we!") with this lazy potential label is downright disrespectful at worst and lazy on the writer's part at best.

Lastly, Fstoppers definitely has its share of clickbait titles but this one just rubs the wrong way regardless of what the content of the article is. But that's typical nowadays isn't it.

It needs the question though: are "we" or "photo websites" getting worse at headlines deliberately misleading headlines, for the sake of clicks... see what I did there ;).

I think we're at the point where half the people reading F-Stoppers don't know what an f-stop is.

F-Stop, that's when you see someone crossing the road in front of moving traffic and you madly wave your arms in an attempt to warn them and shout "F-Stop!"

It's when your wife is driving and totally over-reacts to a car pulling out 500m ahead and you turn to her and say "Just F-Stop, I'm driving".

or,

Your mate shows you his latest photos and they are really bad and you turn to him and say "Mate, just F-Stop".

Maybe it something else, so I am just going to F-Stop.

FULL STOP

Or that these days most forget the decimal point in the smaller aperture setting, if you don't believe me do an online search for "Group f/.64" ... I wouldn't be surprise if the search engine try's to correct that even ;) AI

Probably because 99% of the time, it's referred to as "aperture". :) When I first started shooting 12 years ago, I didn't know what a f-stop was. I only knew it as aperture.

I'm not worried about using AI to enhance what was actually captured by the lens, any more than I was ever bothered about dulling existing highlights or deepening existing shadows when I was printing in the darkroom.

As a portrait photographer, I had been starting to slide into doing more background compositing and then using AI tools to do that at an even greater level. That is, I was using AI to create an alternate reality. However, the reason I had moved from portrait painting to portrait photography 50 years ago was precisely because I believed photography was more real than painting. I had begun to drift away from my original conviction.

So, I've made a U-turn, a reversal back to portraying reality. I may design a set that might not be "real world," but in that moment that set does exist. It is real in that moment, and my subject will experience that real moment on that real set. In that moment, the camera will have captured what was truly before the lens.

I'm wondering why using AI is framed as a "bad" thing and something which should be avoided or a last result. What's the thinking behind that? Beautiful pictures as always Nando

It's not necessarily a bad thing, but what's the need of generating non-existing content if there is another way?
I use it, but as a last resort. If I can avoid things to remove from the frame while photographing, I will prefer that.
That's how I end up with these picture you like :) Thanks for the complement.

Shouldn't that be "Lazier".

No. He is using it correctly.

I’m mean in the practical sense not grammatically. Most advancements in “Modern” photography has been done in the name of convenience and make cameras and photography more available and desirable to the masses. Let’s look at the zoom lens. Why do most people use them and yes to improve they're photography, of course. But in reality for the convenience of not having to carry an array of prime lenses, which not only requires changing to a different focal length but know which to use and how and where to shoot with it. But instead rather raise their camera to their eye shift right, left, up and down while zooming in or out to “compose” their photograph/picture. Yes, lazier.

Practical = efficient = speed = smartier :P, not lazier. Not everyone are eccentric "artists" that think just because they did it the hard way, they did the right way. It's about getting the shot you want, not settling for whatever you ended up with.

For the most part I agree, although your mantra sounds like something taught at speedy burger :P.

No hard way / right way about it as long as you get the image you want. I was very fortunate when I was assembling my first lens kit I received the advice that prime lenses were superior glass than zooms … haven’t look back since stocking my kit with all prime lenses ranging from 28mm-400mm. I accredit this to a great degree of learn how to see and compose the image I saw or previsualized in my mind’s eye.

Before you reply I suggest you get a Whack Upside The Head … good read and I think it’s still in print. Best to you man!

That mantra is a practical and of common sense. It quashes those elitists that have pigeon-holed themselves.

--- "when I was assembling my first lens kit I received the advice that prime lenses were superior glass than zooms"

Assuming you are telling the truth, in your defense, that was true, once upon a time. No longer, however. In the last few years, zooms are just as good if not better.

And, before you reply, know that I can see you shoot/shot with Olympus zooms. X-)

It all depends on personal perspective, which side of the brain dominates. "before you can invent it, you have to imagine it" and if kicking one's creativity into gear is lazy, well that's how shallow thinking exist out of this deeply seated old fear in believing the world is still flat, not round because that's what you were told. "reality" just is ....I know the concept of reality is not a tool at my disposal for manipulating thoughts or holding others back with just because my own creativity is blocked, excusing myself from free thought and being safe on base with what, "reality" ? AI releases, free thought in imagination and exploring visions created with minds, not algorithms and guidebooks, what an awful infection that is....

Reality is the scariest place there is, so many people escaping it only justifies what is truly real

Here's my take on AI: It can be a useful tool and it is a tool. I'm still learning how to use my new lapop! A tool makes things easier as pointed out in farming; I was born and raised on a dairy farm so it's relevant. However, IMO, AI won't replace the Oooo and Ahhhh when I see a sunset, sunrise, flock of birds in flight, snow covered mountain top, etc. Those become internalized to the point the scene tells the photographer to seize the moment for it to be "recorded" for all times.