AI Will Mean the End of Digital Photography

Artificial intelligence is coming for photographers, just not in the way you're thinking.

While there's a lot of buzz around tools such as DALL-E 2 and others that can create art from just a few words typed in as a prompt, photographers are generally less than enthused.

As Adam Karnacz of First Man Photography explains, the value of digital goods will always trend down towards zero, meaning that after digital photography hit such dizzying heights with the value of NFTs in the last couple years, it's about to come crashing down as AI makes it so that most companies and people will likely opt for what's free and available with just a few clicks rather than commissioning a photographer and paying more for an original photograph.

And, with what AI produces, what constitutes an original photograph? As Karnacz points out with a borrowed phrase from YouTuber and engineer Fran Blanche: "AI is plagiarizing our past to generate our future." What's basically happening is that AI is scraping photos by living, breathing photographers on the internet and putting them in a blender to spit out lookalikes that could potentially land users in legal hot water. And even if it doesn't, the one thing that the AI won't have, Karnacz notes, is the story to go with capturing the photo.

It's between that storytelling and another aspect that Karnacz will be the main draw of doing photography the AI-less old-fashioned way, and that aspect is printing out photos. While AI, for now, only generates lower-resolution images, photographers can create large prints of their work, make unique, one-of-a-kind physical objects that actually have value. It's this practice that will keep photographers photographing, even as the use of AI grows, Karnacz says.

And in case you're wondering about the prompts I used for DALL-E 2 to generate the lead image for this article: "Robot taking a picture with a camera" and "Exploding photographer." DALL-E 2 then used its somewhat twisted imagination to come up with the two photos I combined into a composite.

What do you think AI will mean for photographers in the future? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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I absolutely agree that AI will kill Stock Photography.
I agree, that a professional photographer will only be needed if the client needs a special, very explicit look that the AI simply isn't able to produce because it doesn't get what the customer wants.
I do not agree however, that it will kill enthusiast photography. This lives from doing the actual work of photography as an art form. If I just want a good picture of a sunrise at an Icelandic coast I already can find thousands of them on the internet, free to download. AI doesn't add anything to that. But it can't replace the feeling of actually taking that picture by yourself, planning the travel, getting up at 3 in the morning, hiking somwhere, plus, plus plus. The same goes for the enthusiast macro, wildlife, street photographer.
So while the path for the professional will get stonier as a lot of ways to get revenue will die, digital photography as an art form or hobby will not be affected much, I think.

Quite. I think you can even narrow it down further and say photographs that don't matter will risk being replaced by generated ditto. Amateur photography matters to the photographer and professional photography matters to the customer. The abject overuse of stock for editorials, pack and web could easily be replaced and no one would be worse for that.

I was just wondering when I would see the weekly freak-out post about AI replacing photographers.

I see you got the weekly iphone vs. full frame camera post too. Do you have a gear brand switch article coming today too?

Don't forget the 23 year old writer explaining buying coffee is why you're not succeeding as a professional photographer.

"What do you think AI will mean for photographers in the future?"

It means adapt or perish.

What does adapting look like in this particular case? How can we work with AI to our advantage?

Most professional photographers won't lose work to AI. Whether they're shooting weddings, events, family portraits, products, real estate, news, etc. the reason they're hired is to take nice pictures of something real. Nobody wants an AI rendition of what their wedding could have looked like, they want photos of how it actually was, for example.

There are types of photography that could be partly replaced by AI, like stock photography, fine art, and porn. But these are a small subset of photography jobs.

maybe it would drive wedding photography prices down the drain with AI editing down the road. And yes a skilled and talented editor would always have his/ her place but we do not know what is around the corner from this technology

Did photography put portrait artists completely out of business?

How about this: "AI make a rendering of this automobile/house/building/object/etc. I want to sell."

''Did photography put portrait artists completely out of business?''
Yes for the majority of the painters. Can anyone of us guess what comes towards us from this tech in just a few years? No. I m old enough to remember making fun of the results of the first camera capable mobile phones.

The answer is still, "No, it didn't put portrait artists completely out of business."

True, but most did. The best ones survived. That means newcomers before they find their unique artistic voice, will suffer, entry will become harder. Consider this as an earthquake. The moment that it happens we all know that it happened but only later on we get to know the effects and the magnitude that it had on us. With all the respect to you, not trying to be a smart ass here.

I still make fun of the results out of most camera capable mobile phones. Not that I don't own one or use it, but it looks fake.

U.S. Copyright Office affirmed a 2019 decision that AI could not claim authorship for a work.
I guess if a brand uses an AI image, a competitor can use the same image for their add, trouble free. Tricky. And then if you try and sell an AI generated image, poof, the user doesn't owe you anything, thanks for your free time. Same way, staff that generates an AI image on work time can just freely distribute it to any one. Welcome to the jungle!
So may be there is a reverse angle to think about. Should companies start thinking about looking for legitimate images and stay out of any possible claim trouble? This AI thing sounds like it could be the source of many lawsuits.

Saying that an AI can't claim authorship for a work is the same as saying that Photoshop can't claim authorship for a work. Of course they can't, they're tools. The human who used the tool is the author.

The keyboarder cannot be author of an image created by AI is what I assume the Copyright office is saying.

The guy who sent the copyright request refused to put a human as the author, insisting that it's the AI that should hold the copyright. The reply he got was basically "Only people can own copyright, and since you don't name a person in your request we have to decline it."

There has been no official ruling yet on whether AI-generated images can be copyrighted.

I can tell all the major camera manufacturers are super worried about this by the way they've all stopped producing cameras and lenses. Companies that make tripods, gear bags, and many other accessories have also stopped production. Oh wait, no they haven't.

Maybe photography in its commercial form, sure. But that's just the nature of markets; industries come and go. There will still be plenty of people who want to go shoot with a camera. I do think it's interesting, and maybe a bit sad, that the primary way we consider the impact of new technology on society is through a vocational lens first. As one who has gotten rather exhausted with commercialism as a whole, it'd be nice if new tech came along and we could just go "this is fun and cool."

Digital cameras collapsed the divide between commerical and amateur to create the prosumer

Ai is going to collapse the divide between prosumer and gwc to create gray goo

Does the exploding photographer look like Taylor Jackson to anyone else?

Don't forget that photography killed painting just as the painters predicted. Not one painting in almost 200 years.

I largely agree with many of the comments that AI is likely to hurt stock photograph more than event or art photography. I think there's also a certain risk to people trying to take a more avant garde approach to art photography as well. Why spend so much time posing and positioning whatever subjects are relevant to your composition when you can AI generate the same picture of a time snake being hunted by a mouse or something. It's still a very niche part of the photography world but I think my point is the question is when is the goal a photograph and when is the goal a particular image.

To assume the most dangerous "AI art" forms are these synthetic softcore porn and sci-fi landscapes is missing a larger danger. Digital tech companies have been preparing to harness this energy to betray digital artists and photographers for a few years. Adobe 3D Substance exists because Adobe is ready to throw commercial photographers to the wolves if "virtual photography" products can get more subscriptions than a struggling photography industry can provide for Photoshop, etc. It's only a matter of time before this stuff extends beyond virtual product shoots.

Great points. Software development is going to follow the money.

U.S. Copyright Office tells Judge that AI Artwork isn’t Protectable

You should work for newspapers or work as a presenter on television.. Those headlines freaking me out more than the content they represent. I think that AI is going to kill articles like this...

AI is not creative, it is derivative. If you type in parameters and a computer spits out a pretty picture, it's not your work and it's not creative. It's also a fad. People will want to go back to real art.

Was this article generated by Ai? It soon can be. And soon the lines get blurred. The utility of creating commercially used images to sell products will be incented to use Ai because faster better cheaper. Ad agencies should be the ones worried, not retail photography to create portraits, even with the advances in phone photography many young people recognize its "processed" output. Sell an experience, not a product..

I really think it is unlikely to have much impact on photography as art because an AI cannot create art. Art is a human endeavor solely. No one wants a photo on their wall of a moment that never was, they want the moment interpreted through the eye of the photographer. Will AIs be used for stock photography? No doubt, but that is not of great consequence IMO