Is Artificial Intelligence the End of 'Real' Photography?

It feels like stories about AI have dominated photography news over the last year. Part of me keeps ignoring the headlines as an irrelevance, but chirping away in the background, the other part of me keeps asking: what does it all mean? What's AI capable of? Will it really be a revolution? And perhaps the biggest question of them all: are photographers at risk of becoming obsolete because of AI?

Only in certain circumstances and only if we let it, according to this video by Lucy Lumen. In a thoughtful and interesting discussion, Lumen outlines her thoughts on this contentious topic and ways that we can counter the rise of AI. She even goes as far as saying that it could save photography. 

Her first piece of advice for photographers is to lean into the human element of photography. AI represents the antithesis of mistakes and happy accidents, and often, this human element in the image-making process creates beautiful, memorable, or even career-changing images. 

Secondly, she suggests that now is the perfect time for photographers to reflect and think about what makes them unique and how they can add value for clients.

This is a fantastic way of looking at the issue. AI might gain a significant share in the stock photography market, but it's doubtful that clients will be looking to buy AI-generated wedding photos or magazine editors will be buying AI-generated documentary or travel images. In these fields, authenticity is key. Photographers should look at what makes them special and articulate that to their market. 

As for her thoughts on how AI can save photography, you'll have to watch the video and find out for yourself. 

Matt Murray is a travel and portrait photographer from Brisbane, Australia.

Matt loves shooting with compact cameras: both film and digital. His YouTube features reviews of film cameras, film stocks, and travel photography with the Ricoh GR III, Fujifilm X100V, and Olympus OM-1.

See more of Matt's photography and writing on his Substack.

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Let’s think about this logically …photojournalism/weddings/live sports/live events/newborn photos/school photos/family portraits/corporate head shots/portraits of a specific person that doesn’t have tons of reference material online….or portraits of people(celebrities) that don’t want AI versions of themselves in a portrait….
none of these things will be affected by AI in terms of capturing the image…ever.

A photographer is still going to be hired for a wedding unless a couple wants photos of strangers. Same with sports/events/photojournalism.

Landscape could be affected ….but that argument could be made already with stock photography. At the end of the day stock photography is the main the thing with a target on its back.

But…I also think that scraping the internet for copyrighted content and repurposing it into new content will quickly get dealt with since there are a TON of copyright laws that can get violated with AI just randomly patching things together. And Disney loves copyright so good luck when a Disney copyright ends up in a AI generated image you just gave to a corporate client. You and the company will be out of business.

Not sure how even Disney can fight a few thousand if not millions or more people who can simply say to a program, mickey mouse fighting x or whatever scenario anyone can dream of, having that photo generated and posted from SE Asia, Russia, etc. Or frankly, a photo generated having anyone or any celebrity doing anything, billions of times a year from anywhere in the world.

I think it’s more complex than that. Why would Disney go after these people in these outer markets where the revenue is not very significant when they get free exposure. But when those fake reach valuable markets where protection is enforceable, these brands have the money and power to go after it. People have been able to scan and print from home and make a Mickey Mouse t-shirt for their grand kids for 25 years, nothing new at all. May be instead, new laws will allow to sue and confiscate more easily than ever. We don’t know. I wrote to the copyright office recently and to my surprise got a reply within two days. I wasn’t expecting any reply. They are obviously working on it. No matter what it will take, many organizations are very actively working on solutions.
I’m okay to see those who feel already beat look down and go do something else with their lives, this will leave plenty of opportunities for others.

It's not going to be the death of personal photography - you and your close personal friends but imagine a future where 100's of millions of people around the world can generate any photo of anyone doing anything in unimaginable created worlds or any celebrity placed in any location where you cannot tell that it wasn't real. It's going to get crazy.

My own random thoughts / hunches.

Anything too "static" is in trouble from AI.

Stock photography as a going concern for photographers is dead.

"Real" landscape / fine art photography as a business will soon be on life support. Examples of this are already cropping up in tainted photo contest winners.

Sports photography will endure for quite some time.

Wedding portrait and event photography / photographers will take these new tools and and introduce efficiencies and effects that will help them thrive for at least the next decade,

Architectural and product photography and photographers (already under assault by high quality renderings) will likely embrace AI in a similar way to event photographers and stay alive for a while but might ultimately be doomed as an industry.

I expect a renaissance in film photography. The next generation of populist large format photographers like Clyde Butcher etc need to get some traction soon.

Personal photography will become a LOT of fun for people looking to do just that. But probably lose some of it soul.

Just a little random thought.. from an amateur lover of landscapes. I might be completely wrong. YMMV

As a fashion and commercial photographer I think the advent of AI is going to heavily impact and pretty well decimate my industry in terms of traditional photography.

The reality is, real commercial and fashion work, is not cheap to produce. Depending on the client, we are often looking at 5, sometimes 6 figure projects. There are so many elements to a real life production, all of which can be replicated by AI, and I dare say, things can be done which would be impossible to pull off in reality.

Sure, we can wax nostalgic and talk about the "art" or the "soul", but commercial interests do not care. When presented with the option to put together 5 or 6 figure campaigns through traditional means OR creating campaigns faster and at a fraction of the cost through AI, they WILL choose the latter. Its just simple logic.

I think fashion and commercial photographers will persist for a while. It will take a little bit of time before AI is refined for commercial interests. But it will happen, and it will be a top down approach. The big companies will embrace it first to cut costs, and as the tech becomes more accessible to smaller and smaller businesses, they will follow suit.

In the long term, I can see very small niche photographers existing in a fashion or commercial setting. Perhaps working with celebrities exclusively, or ones who can carve out a nostalgic niche like commercial film photographers.....but that will be an incredibly small group.

In a decade....maybe two, I can see commercial photography being completely replaced by AI work with the exception of that small niche group.

I would imagine a couple industries may remain standing, such as wedding photography.

I'm afraid you may not realize how fast this will come... a few years. But as I said above, a program will eventually make photos of anyone in any situation or even amazing created, fantasy worlds - using words!

When William Henry Fox Talbot invented the photographic negative nearly 200 years ago you might have thought all artists would have gone out of business. Who needs an artist to paint my portrait when I can have a photograph instead? However, in spite of this advance in technology, thousands of people still make a living painting, or drawing. The same might also have been said for film photography when digital cameras became affordable for the masses, and yet even today there is still strong demand for film cameras and film. What I most enjoy about photography is the creative process and the challenge of learning to see and capture interesting compositions, attractive light etc. There is no satisfaction for me in producing a perfect image, simply by typing a few words on a keyboard.

Well, it won't just be a few words. It'll be a process where you can adjust the photo to your creativity, like creating your own Avatar world for example. You'll start out with green humanoids but then adjust height, length, size, situation, etc. as you see what's created. Incredible fantasy or fake reality, whatever your choice.

Film ruined glass plate, digital ruined analog.

In what parallel dimension has commercial travel photography ever been authentic? It's often the most elaborately choreographed and fake looking photography of all.

My money-making days of shooting photos for agencies and countries is over. So I don’t give a damn. As for those out there still doing whatever? I guess it depends on what you're shooting. As stated by "Another Username", we're still going to need photojournalists, wedding/live sports/live events, etc photographers. Since no one has come up with a decision on how to approach the copyright side, among other aspects which will see affects by AI, let the future take care of it. I'm afraid it will have to. one, and I mean no one, can escape the A in AI. Just let that be clear.