Is Photography Dead? The Relentless March of AI

Is Photography Dead? The Relentless March of AI
With Adobe's latest beta offering what they call Generative Fill, we're given a very powerful feature that lets us create or undo what is in our images. And I think features like Generative Fill are causing another round of soil searching, praise, and panic from photographers. I've tried to put my own thoughts in order, so I'm humbly sharing them, even though my thoughts will continue to evolve, or maybe devolve. I also wanted to create a forum in comments for your more recent thoughts as AI becomes more and more mainstream.

I've been playing with the Photoshop beta for a couple of days, and I have to admit it is a knockout. Adobe has put some great effort into these new AI tools. While slow to get into AI, of late, Adobe is picking up momentum, responding to customers who are demanding new and better AI tools. 

The Adobe Generative Fill is mostly impressive. Unlike Adobe's Content Aware fill, it removes people or objects and pretty much leaves a credible background in place. 

Here are some automated mannequins at the OK Corral in Tombstone, AZ.

I selected the center gunfighter, pushed the Generative Fill button and added no text instructions.

Boom! The man is gone, the background is filled in, other than a suspicious black box the AI delivered. It's easily erased.

In this example, I had a throwaway shot of some cacti at sunset.

Using generative fill, I asked for a few more and it delivered. I'm not sure they are a totally believable addition, but the AI did get the lighting right. 

So, Should We Be Thrilled or Terrified?

Maybe a little bit of both. Every advance in photography has been met with suspicion and naysayers. The switch to digital quickly became an us against them thro down, but rather quickly, digital became a match for film, and in most ways exceeded it, especially in dynamic range and detail. 

When Photoshop and other digital editors came out, there was criticism from many corners saying the result would be a bunch of trick shots and not art. And there were a lot of trick shots. HDR went through the same rite of passage, although I sense the use of HDR has become less popular as we get better sensors with more dynamic range. Still, every so often, I see a tasteful (to me) HDR image that blows me away with its beauty and restraint. 

So, here we go again. With these new advanced tools, we're going to see a lot of awful photos, but photographers will find ways for these AI features to speed up their workflow and become more productive. They'll also learn to solve image problems in seconds that would have taken hours before or been simply impossible to accomplish.

And let's not forget to thank Adobe, Skylum, and the others who are pushing the boundaries on AI to deliver tools we could only dream of having even five years ago. Now, the photography world is changing very rapidly, and criticism, both artistic and technical, has not caught up yet. 

To my mind, photography has always been about the art of seeing, not the art of doing. The seeing begins with the composition, the lighting, the color, the shadows, the textures, and the subtleties. If I need to summon some AI to complete my vision, so be it. Ultimately, the art comes from me: my eye and the eyes of every creative photographer out there. 

As someone told me years ago, if we give Ansel Adams' camera to a guy off the street, we get crap, not magic. It was all about Adams' vision, not his gear, or in the present case, the software.

I'll look at each AI tool as it comes along and see if it furthers my art or cheapens it. It's true that even now, we can't always tell if a photo is real or AI. To some, that really matters. To others, they look at the final product and like it or they don't. At the end, if it will be art or not, I think will be dependent on the vision of the artist.

So, is AI the end of photography? To some degree, the kind of photographer you are will answer the question for you personally. I don't see wedding photographers, for example, being heavily involved in this, other than maybe using it to save some previously unsavable images. I would think most customers would want fidelity of the event. It's the same in sports and news photography. People expect and should get reality.

In advertising, AI will continue to make large inroads. Not so much for portrait photographers, but AI is already being put to some use there, enlarging smiles, getting rid of blemishes, etc. 

For landscape and nature photographers, I predict a robust debate, with heavy use in some circles, avoidance in others.

Please share your thoughts below.

Log in or register to post comments

I've given up "soil searching" (paragraph 1)...not enough gold in them thar hills

Generative fill is not a problem at all. It does an impressive job at replacing/removing simple or obvious details by not entering any key words, but the result with key words didn't impress me so far. I attempted to add a tornado behind my subject and it never provided something close to what i expected while it did good with other specific fills. It's probably me, but I felt like wasting an hour only to not get anything close to what I wanted at time. I've read also that Adobe is looking to implement a system of points to limit access which is already not sounding attractive.

Painters have the freedom to include our omit whatever they want in their compostions. If they are painting a scene of a sidewalk cafe and a car comes along and parks in front of it they don't have to include it in their painting. They can paint what they saw behind it. Photography is not dead. It has just become more imaginative. It's Art.

I was demoing this last night and was having some fun using images that were process before hand. Mostly swapping backgrounds that didn't really do anything super impressive. However the object removal was absolutely fantastic, and was hilariously fun to keep trying I almost missed an appointment.

Best thing about it though? It missed a lot more than it hit. The problem with these tools taking over business anytime soon is that even lazy companies still want something specific and still wanted to look relatively decent. Especially for swapping backgrounds at one point it looked like it was simply picking out a stock photo and then adjusting the color and angle. The misses were really bad misses.

So a this rate...everyone's going to need a on-site prompt engineer which will kill the savings and we'll just leave them to find stock photography in a traditional way or take it themselves.

This dream of the copywriter or marketing person doing a couple of prompts and coming up with a perfect visuals is exactly what it is a dream at least at this point. They better keep those photographer or photo editor phone numbers close lol.

I couldn't care less about AI. I consider AI to be the same as fast food, cheap, tasteless, unhealthy, and no matter where you are, it is always the same. Sorry, but I will always prefer good ingredients, creativity and the skill set of a talented chef, or the hardworking guys in the Bodegas. Just my opinion. Happy shooting

There is AI and then there's the AI which will be available ten years from now. Over the last month I have spent a lot of time on Midjourney and now I'm applying my obsession to the new GF feature on Photoshop. AI is going to rock this industry and change its core over the next few years.

Image Creation, I'm not even going to bother to call it Photography anymore, is going to be inundated with a much larger number of realistic looking high quality images compared to today. That's what happened when digital cameras and editing software became mainstream several years ago. As a result the value of one quality image will further deteriorate and so will the value of the person creating it. Consequently there will be even more competition for the few remaining Photography genres which do not have a heavy AI influence.

I am convinced that ten years from now we will look back and see a very similar economic fallout as when digital overtook film, just this time it will happen faster, broader and with much greater intensity.

Ansel Adam's software was the darkroom, enlarger and his vision of how the print should look. Dodge and burn, exposure, cropping, filters... all parts of our current and future nomenclature. AI is just another progression of the tools we will use going forward. Parts of will go away (Like the Sony discs for cameras), parts will remain and a lot of new features will be added. Can't stop progress, so it's always best to learn it, even if you don't plan on using it.