We are living in an exciting time, where software and machine learning are rapidly changing the way we approach work. For some industries, artificial intelligence will destroy job opportunities, but for other industries, it will revolutionize productivity. How will photography and the retouching world fare as editing software begins using this exciting technology?
Here at Fstoppers, we are constantly testing and exploring the latest and greatest photo-editing software for photographers. Last week, Skylum released a new software suite called Luminar 4, which helps photographers automate their post-production workflow. As someone who edits heavily in expensive software like Photoshop, I was curious to see how Luminar's new AI algorithms would compare to my slower, more manual editing techniques. In the video above, you can see how Luminar 4 works and my reaction to their software.
My cliff notes version is Luminar 4 is unbelievably simple and quick to use for 90% of your edits, but if you enjoy manipulating specific pixels and compositing multiple images together, you might still need a program like Photoshop. That being said, if you are new to photo-editing software and the complexity of Photoshop intimidates you, I'd highly recommend you download Luminar 4 and try it for free to see if it can make your editing easier and quicker.
How Will Automation Change Photography?
My proposition is a big one, and obviously, there are many nuances to this question. Today, we already live in a world where the photograph doesn't necessarily show reality anymore. Photographers have been heavily manipulating film and pixels for decades. So, even though heavy post-production is nothing new, the idea that artificial intelligence could streamline the editing process is a relatively new concept. Sure, you could argue that software has been auto-correcting images with the click of a button and tools like cloning and liquefying have been an integral part of the retoucher's arsenal for over 25 years now. As popular as those tools are, though, they still are often buried deep in menus and require a fairly steep learning curve to master. What if some of these popular tools could be accessed easily and implemented with the simplicity of a single slider?
That is exactly what Luminar 4 has done, and while Skylum isn't the first software developer to build artificial intelligence into their software, they are surely one of the most popular companies pushing this technology. Recently, I bought the new iPhone 11 Pro and was shocked at how much better the images looked straight out of the camera compared to my 3-year-old iPhone 7 camera. In a market where many professional camera manufacturers are aiming at producing super-flat, true-to-life raw files that need to be tweaked in photo-editing software, Apple has taken a completely different approach. The images coming out of the iPhone are processed heavily to give you the most vibrance, dynamic range, and clarity possible while still looking pretty natural to the average viewer. As a professional photographer, I actually find myself reaching more and more for my cell phone than for my professional cameras simply because of the ease and convenience it offers.
It goes without saying that a professional camera still produces higher-quality photos than a cell phone, but the software behind the cell phone is without question several generations better than what most professional cameras are capable of achieving. I know many so-called professional photographers will scoff at the idea of automated software being added to their cameras much in the same way they scoff at the video capabilities still cameras now have, but I think this is a huge mistake. How amazing would it be if you could shoot raw + JPEG and have some of the automated options that you can find on the Apple iPhone and in Luminar 4 burned directly into your JPEGs? How can a tiny cell phone process images that look better than images processed by a $3000-14,000 DSLR or mirrorless camera?
One thing you can always count on is technology disrupting the way we work and the way we find work. As programs like Luminar 4 become more advanced and refined, I'm sure professional retouchers are going to have to evolve their business practices. Booking a high-end retoucher might become more like hiring a boutique service where only the projects with the largest budgets will book their talent. On the other hand, as artificial intelligence gets smarter with manipulating photos, we are bound to see more and more hyperreal photography and also less truthful photography. How important truth is in photography is a whole other can of worms, but it is definitely an important cornerstone in this overall conversation. As more and more beginner and amateur content creators have access to quick and easy photo manipulation, the amount of computer-generated content that rides the line between photography and digital art is going to skyrocket even higher than it is today.
Download a Free Trial of Luminar 4
I'd like to thank Skylum's Luminar 4 software for sponsoring this video and conversation. If you want to test out their new artificial intelligence software out, you can download a free 14-day trial of Luminar 4 here. If you find this software helpful in speeding up your workflow, use the exclusive Fstoppers promo code "FSTOPPERS" to save $10 off your first order.
Like I said in the video, Luminar is excellent at processing raw files, making color and toning adjustments, sharpening and clearing up elements in your photo, and giving your photos an overall distinguishing "look." However, if you are looking to easily replace skies, clean up human skin, automate exposure, and bring out detail with a single slider, Luminar 4 now offers some of the most unique artificial intelligent photo manipulation I have seen in a single photo-editing suite.
What Are Your Thoughts on AI in Photography?
I want to know your thoughts on artificial intelligence and photo editing. Do you think software like Luminar 4 and Apple's iPhone processing is going to make the photographer's life easier, or do you think it might completely disrupt the business of photography and retouching as we know it?