Photography is Officially Dead: All Major Camera Makers to Cease Operations

Photography is Officially Dead: All Major Camera Makers to Cease Operations

RIP Photography, 1839-2023.

After a solid run of nearly two whole centuries and countless brushes with death at the hands of new technologies over the years, photography has finally succumbed to injuries suffered with the emergence of AI-driven apps like Midjourney, and has been officially laid to rest. 

No services will be held.

All major camera manufacturers have responded to the news by shuttering their operations, effective immediately, in the anticipation that cameras will simply not be needed anymore. 

In its effort to hasten the demise of photography, AI has begun rounding up photographers and forcing the forfeiture of all camera equipment.

Ok, I've had my bit of fun. All jokes aside, though, I'm writing this opinion piece specifically because for the last six months or so, I can't seem to get away from the incessant deluge of either panicked or gleeful declarations (depending on who is doing the declaring) that AI image generators have already all but rendered the need for photography obsolete.

Well, allow me to go on record with my own pronouncement: hogwash. AI image generation is not a threat to photography. Not today, not tomorrow, not in the next decade. I'll even go so far as to say that AI image generation will never pose any kind of real threat to photography. Ever. I'll even stake my reputation on it.

"But Colin," you might say, "look at how far the technology has already come in just this short amount of time. Surely, you understand that this is just the beginning and that AI will very quickly be able to perfectly render any kind of image and be indistinguishable from an actual photograph. What then? Why would we need actual photography anymore?"

My answer to that depends on the context, as well as the timeframe we're talking about, but my thoughts go generally like this:

As of now, AI image generators simply are not capable of fully duplicating the aesthetics of actual photography. And no, it's not even close. AI-generated images are illustrations, and they look like illustrations, even the ones sourced from actual photos. And yes, I've seen all the dreamy dramatic landscapes and cityscapes and the headshots of people who don't exist. It really doesn't take much to see that the images are not photos. The scenes are always a little too perfect. There's always a glaring detail in the portrait that gives it away as an AI illustration. Seriously, I have not seen a single AI image that was not obvious. And I've seen enough.

Welcome to your AI dream world.

But what about a little further out, when AI is capable of rendering images indistinguishable from actual photos? If anyone can just enter a prompt on their computer and within seconds have the photo they're looking for, why would they hire a photographer? After all, photographers are expensive, people can be difficult to work with, and there is always the chance that a photographer won't get it right.

Ok, let's imagine a future where AI can make any kind of art, including convincingly realistic photographs. Presuming that, in this imagined future where computer algorithms are capable of fulfilling all of our artistic needs, the idea that people will have no interest in actual photography completely ignores one of the most fundamental purposes art, and by extension, photography, serves in our lives. Photography is a means to record and relate the human experience in an authentic way and through authentic human expression. AI cannot do that and will never be capable of doing that. Because AI will never be human. And before you say that AI is just doing what the person inputting the prompt tells it to do, and that human expression is still driving AI creativity, consider that once the prompt has been entered, what comes out is entirely outside of the control of the person who entered the prompt. 

Human expression is as much about the process of creation as it is the creation itself. Artists spend their entire lives developing and refining artistic processes to bring their vision to life, and the art that comes out of those processes cannot be divorced from them. Process is part of the language of art, and as such, is intrinsic to the value of art, and is why art speaks to us in the ways it does. To the extent that you remove human control from the process of art-making, you remove the actual humanity from the art itself. And AI art, by its very nature and purpose, removes most of the human control part of the process.

More than that, though, people just plain enjoy making photographs. Much like the invention of photography didn't replace painting (even though there were plenty of people claiming it would), AI cannot and will not replace photography because it is not the same thing. AI art is closer to illustration than anything else, and so, it can be used in conjunction with photography, but it can't replace it. Here's a short list of other forms of art AI will not be replacing anytime soon: painting, drawing, sculpture, graphic design. Why? Because people actually enjoy doing those things and sharing their creations, and other people enjoy experiencing them. Of course, AI art creation is here to stay and has already become a part of many people's artistic toolboxes, but in no way whatsoever will AI be replacing the other tools. And this includes photography.

As for context, one of the bigger and more consistent claims that I've heard is that AI is going to make any kind of commercial artists obsolete, including commercial, product and advertising photographers. I will concede one thing here. I do think AI will be used to replace the lowest level of commercial photography and that some lower-end companies will try to completely replace their advertising images with AI art. But, in the U.S. where I work at least, those jobs are already the worst in the industry and have been since basically the beginning. Nobody wants them, and these days, that kind of work tends to farmed out to interns, amateurs, and other unskilled people, if it's even done here. 

But, to the idea that AI is going to be used to get rid of even relatively high-end commercial photography? Not a chance. I talk with art directors, creative directors, producers, and art buyers on a regular basis, and none of them are talking about replacing photographers with so-called "prompt engineers." Nobody is even entertaining the idea, because, as I said already, they enjoy the process of making art and know its value. And yes, a lot of artistic expression goes into the advertising we all so desperately try to ignore. After all, where do you think all the art majors end up? Working on big ad campaigns, including the photoshoots is fun. Yes, it is also work for those of us who make our living doing them, but we chose that work because we love it. And we're not about to give that up to AI.

So no, AI is not going to replace photographers. Ever. Not advertising photographers, not landscape photographers, not portrait photographers or event photographers, and certainly not photojournalists and documentary photographers. More than that, though, AI has no chance of replacing the enjoyment that people get from simply making art with photography or capturing memories and preserving life's special moments. Those are things that belong to the camera and the camera alone. And if you need any more convincing, go ask the R&D folks at any of the major camera manufacturers. I guarantee they're not at all worried about their jobs.

Colin Houck's picture

Colin Houck is a commercial photographer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His work is focused primarily around still life food and beverage photography. He employs crisp lighting, vivid colors and contrasty, sharp detail to create striking imagery that jumps off the page/ screen, and hopefully makes the viewer hungry and thirsty.

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Not to mention that there will always be a desire for authentic coverage of real moments. Weddings, families, portraits are safe IMO. Businesses who use stock photography for their needs, like restaurants (who already have low budgets for this kind of thing), will be attracted to AI just as they are to stock. The bigger affect AI will have (and is having) on photography is creating tools *for* photographers to take care of the tedious, repetitive, mundane aspects of the job so we can focus more on client experiences and more free time for ourselves.

I think just as AI and automation will besiege all careers, it will also besiege Photography. It won't eliminate it but Photography will slide further towards hobby as a LOT of commercial work will slowly drift away. As you mention, covering events will still be a thing, as well as journalism but a huge swathe of commercial work will just cease to exist. Especially as AI becomes better at doing highly specific things accurately.

If an actor can just snap a selfie and then feed it to an AI instructing it to generate a headshot why would the actor pay for headshots? Especially considering that actor will now be able to generate a new headshot for EVERY role in seconds specifically designed to showcase them as the character they are going out for.

If a restaurant owner can just take a cellphone shot of each dish and then tell AI to remake those images but as if they were styled and shot by an elite food photographer, why hire a photographer?

If a car manufacturer can just feed it a 3d model of their vehicle and tell it to render out gorgeous photos of it why hire a photographer? (Or a 3d artist for CGI scenes)

If a textbook can render out an image of the animal, it is writing about with perfect accuracy in 10 seconds why pay licensing for a wildlife photographer who needs to spend thousands of dollars finding that animal in the wild?

the list goes on. Anything that requires genuine candid accuracy is mostly safe, but everything else can be replaced by AI once it hits the point of being able to reproduce accurately. That accuracy, though, is key. It can't be sort of what you want, or a near AI interpretation of what you want. It has to be exactly what you want with absolute precision which is an area the LLM Image Generators still struggle with.

And yes, no one is talking about it quite yet with any seriousness, but their "enjoyment" of the old process won't be able to hold out forever when their boss realizes a $40,000 shoot can be replaced by an $8 midjourney subscription.We aren't there yet, but give it 2, maybe 3 years and that's where we are headed.

We are on the eve of 80-90% of all humans becoming obsolete and its a challenge society is going to have to face. In photography, the AI models will still need the top few % of photographers to continually great work so they can learn from them but everyone below that bar becomes irrelevant.

One of the photography jobs that won't go to AI is headshot photography. Actors want realistic depictions of themselves so that casting directors and photographers know what they look like when they are hired for a job... It's people who don't need to look exactly like their 'AI avatars' who will be able to remake their looks with AI tools. Perhaps... Influencers.

This is simply not true. For two reasons.

1. AI Models can already take a series of selfies and create those avatars with striking accuracy. Not close enough yet to ever consider replacing a headshot but give it 12-24 months, and you better believe those models will continue to improve. The end game will reach a point where it can recreate a cell phone pic with 100% accuracy in any style you want while retaining your appearance perfectly.

2. Actors often don't even care how accurate the headshot is. They want to get in front of the casting director and take it from there. I was in the headshot game for several years and the most common request, particularly from middle-aged female actors was to make them look much younger. Part of the reason I left headshot photography was because I got tired of angry 40-year-old clients furious that they don't look 22 in their headshot. It wasn't just de-aging, though. I was constantly asked to make larger muscles, adjust eyes, breasts, body shape, neckline, etc. My argument always was that walking into a casting room looking different than your photo is an instant letdown for the casting director. The argument in response was always that it's more important that they get into that room to begin with, even if they have to stretch the truth a bit with their self-depiction.

Totally right, you're speaking from the experience and not some wishful thinking.

I think the original post is shortsighted at best. Sure, photography will remain - events, real estate, fashion, lifestyle, as a hobby etc.
But overall we are in for massive, tectonic move in this field. AI can already enhance or "fix" blurry image, badly exposed or even the badly taken portrait.

Is it genuine? No, it's using all kind of 'tricks' to fix it. But I dare anyone tell the difference between the blurry portrait and AI enhanced one to tell me it's not the same person. It's already using mind-boggling techniques to match the exact same facial features.

If that's possible on your phone, think about the future and the possibilities of high-end PCs and neural networks.

I'm in the stock photography business and it was on the life support even before AI (sales for peanuts). Now I better change my field asap or do something else.

I think you missed the point.

Electric mopeds (misleadingly called "e-bikes") are rapidly replacing real bicycles. That's because - when given the choice - few people really want to pedal - they're happy to fake it.

Same thing will happen with photography. There will always be a market for authenticity, but it's a niche.

Imagine a world where people ride e-bikes to the gym, where they get their cardio on a stationary bike...

I think we're already there.

I think you’re the one living in the dreamworld. You’re predicting the future while failing to understand the exponential increase in technical prowess these technologies exhibit. You remind me of those who said the internet would be a passing fad. Same with iPhones. Stay away from confident predictions, they will quickly turn you into a fool.

It would appear you've missed the actual thrust of my article. It's ok though. Have a great day!

Can you say? Arab Spring 😈

Is AI able to do my wedding photography? Party report? Corporate factory shooting with CEO portrait? Product launch ? News report?
Still a lot of room for real people behind the lens

According to the tech hype beasts, it's just a matter of time before ai-controlled robots are actually doing everything. Best to sell all your gear now, while it's still worth something.

Totally agree on the part about the process and why many of us do Photography in the first place - AI will not replace that.

About the commercial parts though i am not too sure in the long run. There will be a lot of change and adaption.

If you don't follow Tim Tadder (highly successful commercial photographer), you'll see that AI is very much capable of producing imagery indestinguishable from reality and this is just the starting point. He's been in a journey with midjourney exploring the power of the tool and text. It's here, and it's already changing the landscapd of commercial photography as the power is growing. Once the lowered production costs are realized, it will continue to drive down the real value where old ways of capture won't have an appeal...especially in the need it now move on to the next image world we live in. Retail photogs who create portrait art however will continue to flourish as the experience far outweighs the end products. AI will only help that editing process as it already is now to time to delivery is much shorter.

Tim Tadder is an oft-cited example, but I can't quite put my finger on the reason why. Sure they're visually appealing (if that look is your thing), but they definitely look like illustrations.

Congratulations ... yet another fstoppers writer wannabe that I now know to completely ignore. Read more articles by C. Malcolm and try to be more like him.

Yeah, I don't do gear reviews. Thanks for stopping by, though. Be sure to check out my next article!

Damn! Someone woke up in a peachy mood...

Don't be so smug Colin. The world doesn't need anymore smart asses responding to genuine criticism. Whether the opinion is right or not, everyone deserves their say.

I'm not sure what you are referring to.

As soon as it's legal, AI will replace most product photography.

You'll be able to feed it ground truth imagery (say, off your iphone), and you'll be able to generate the frame, setting, elements, etc. Levi's is already trying to do this.

That Levi's thing isn't a great example. In follow-up statements after it initially came out, they clarified that they have no intention of doing away with actual models.

Just the hard to find diverse ones...
The CGI people created today are 100% better than they were just a couple years ago, so why would a company like Levi keep using actual models?

“While AI will likely never fully replace human models for us, we are excited for the potential capabilities this may afford us for the consumer experience,” Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles, global head of digital and emerging technology strategy at Levi Strauss & Co says."

Let's talk to Dr Bolles in 2 or 4 years.

Colin, "no intention of doing away with actual models." ..yet.

Writings on the wall, so long as it passes the legal team, it would be financially a waste for them to use real people. As a commercial photographer I think this is insane, but I have enough production experience to know this is exactly where it's going for these large companies who just pump through insane amounts of ecomm.

No models to feed, board, transport
No locations or crew to pay
No equipment rentals
Less Insurance to cover

Just logistics and retouching is all you need, for what will ultimately be better quality and consistency.

I can just imagine too.. A brand has a new creative director, they want the ecomm to look like it's on location instead of on-white. They can use pre-existing assets to run back through the program and create the new on-location assets in days instead of weeks, with none of the human resources.

You'd have to be in denial to not see this coming.

Well, I respect your view, even if I think it maybe doesn't account for all of the possible outcomes. What I find curious, though, is how some people who disagree with my viewpoint, insist that I'm either in denial, delusional or naïve. None of us can say with absolute certainty how all of this AI stuff is going to shake out. It's all just best guesses and opinions right now.

I've spoke to my clients about this when we break for lunch on set, and they all get giddy and light up about it. We do a really great job of making the on-set experience great for our clients and brands, and I'm really proud of the work our team is able to put together, but it's not uncommon for a few days of styled ecomm to cost $20-$40k in overhead (scope depending).

I'll use my last (Intl food brand) client for example. We had 3 days of shooting about 2 weeks ago. 2 days for key artwork for global packaging assets, 1 day of on-gray-to-be-clipped-out assts to be used for collateral usage in north america.

We break for lunch: client, agency, and I are sitting outside (it was a nice day) and shooting the shit, and the conversation moves to AI, generative fill, and Adobe's plan for AI. The agency got -so excited- about being able to generate backgrounds, compositional elements, expanding the frame, generating comps, that it evolved into a pitch to our mutual client about how in 3 years, the possibility of rendering out complete campaigns with total perfection, not messed up hands like we got now was going to be possible. At lunch, on set.

It's comin in hot.
Agencies can't replace expensive productions fast enough.

I hate to say I agree with you, but I think it's only a matter of time as well. All of these large brands are salivating at the idea of eliminating high cost campaigns and replacing them with AI generated images.

Some are, some aren't.

i guess it will be a part of what photographers do. AI is generated from real images. If we stop taking pictures from where will AI take the information it need?

I think it’s rather sickening the whole thing. For sure analog photography will be more popular with people who craves authenticity in a world where computers write text and create “photographs»

Maybe it’s time to shoot on film again?

We're already deep into a very real resurgence in interest in film. And I'm not just talking about a small subset of art school kids, either. Will film be taking back the crown from digital? Obviously not, but its resurgence does underscore the idea that when it comes to art making in general, and photography in particular, it's not about taking the path of least resistance.

If not the art school kids, where do you see a resurgence in using film?

From what I'm seeing, it's pretty across the board, from the aforementioned art school kids, to hobbyists, to professionals (mostly retail-level portrait togs, etc) looking for ways to differentiate themselves in a saturated market. To a lesser extent, brands and agencies also sometimes do campaigns on film, but usually because they sought out a specific artist who uses film.

Well I have done film photography when I was young. To me digital and lightroom was amazing. All those things I could not do before was accessible in Lightroom. As such digital makes creating images as I want more accessible.

Young people purchases vinyl records to. Because it’s fascinating. Same with film.
It’s retro and creates feelings digital don’t, the process of using it and the result to. Not that clean and perfect.

But with everything being so fake creating analog images suddenly becomes a way to be authentic and real. To me at least, that is a new reason to go back to analog. The only problem with that is you can not put a print or a slide on instagram. So to show others it will need to become digital.

One of the higher end niches is automotive photography. I have heard people in the digital retouching / CG world say that about 70% of high end still photography is a CGI vehicle added to a background which may or may not be AI/CGI. Spending a month in Palm Springs shooting a catalog is a thing of the past.

Automobile advertising has long made heavier use of illustration than most other industries. That said, Photography has always played a central role, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

It sort of depends on what you call "soon" :)
Many big changes already have happened.

The only constant is change, as they say. My position isn't that there won't be any changes as a result of AI, that would be silly. My position is that AI won't be ushering in the end-times, as so many seem to believe right now.

I was referring to the comments about the car industry as that is what I have been shooting for a very long time.
It will be ushering in different times. Just like digital changed the entire landscape of photography, AI will be creating photographic like images but not produced with a camera.
We may need a new name for those images...

Are you kidding me? Your opinion is worthless and nobody cares. Plus it's obviously wrong.

Well, thanks for reading and commenting. I definitely appreciate it!

I'm sorry but this isn't a great take. You keep saying they look like illustrations and it's not even close, mostly throwing away the citing of how quickly the tech has advanced.. but if they look like illustrations now, then six months ago had you written this article they would have been called crayon drawings. And there is probably a reason you wrote it today and not then, because now its impossible to ignore how good its gotten.

Photography isn't going to die because people like to do it for fun or like mentioned, document events, but commercially it will nearly die because companies care about profit. Nobody is going to spend the money to license a photo for a website, book, whatever when they can have 50 iterations generated in minutes for free. Sure it may have been crayon drawings 6 months ago, "illustrations" today, but in 2-3 years it will be infinitely better just like every other type of technology, especially when its based on code and not physical production.

I think you are missing the point. It's not about how "good" AI is, or how well it can simulate human-created art.

Lots of great points in your video. Thanks for reading!

Thanks for watching and replying!

I am wondering how many people here who think commercial photographers will be affected the most actually do commercial and product photography for advertising. Lets not forget that for a good part you won’t be allowed to copyright AI generated images. That’s going to be a huge field of growth for lawyers and quite a risk taking decision making challenge for companies. Advertising is not just about do this do that. There are processes, legal, insurance and all the administrative shenanigan involved. So now You are all AI and save lots of money, but that saving is getting absorbed by more lawyer needs and adding creatives that generate images for you all day. Now you pay their salary all year plus benefit and if you are a small company you might be already more invested in staff than photography cost you a yearly basis. Now you have people who can quit on you any day and then one day, you need a photoshoot, but your good guy is out of business so shopping is back on the table. I mean if you are the owner of the business, yes, you can extend your duties to /.../.../.../.../photographer/art director/AI specialist and so on, but basically you are not running a business just filling the positions yourself.

I'd wager that very few are working in any real capacity. Even fewer at even a relatively high level.

One of my frustrations with my fellow photographers is that most of them know a little about photographic history, and next to nothing about art history (regrettably the same can be said about my fellow architects). Newspaper and book illustrators, using engravings, were put out of business by the “automatic” process of photography. It’s not hard to see individual photographers creating commercial illustrations being put out of business by the “automatic” process of AI.

On the other hand, the primary job of photographers, like any artist, is object capture AND manipulation. Photographers have been in the manipulation business from the very beginning and AI is just another tool of manipulation. Photographers should’ve seen this coming as soon as pixel level editing became widely available. Photographers have to make it their business to be good at image/object manipulation if they want to stay in the game or some other artist - AI “jockey” will do it for them.

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