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Is AI Editing Going to Be a Bad Thing for Photography?

One of the biggest trends in photography is the increasing presence of tools that leverage AI technologies to make everything from subject selection to full-scale edits more powerful and to enable new creative avenues. Is that necessarily a good thing, though? This thought-provoking video tackles the topic and offers an experienced landscape photographer's thoughts on the matter.

Coming to you from Thomas Heaton, this fantastic video features him discussing his thoughts on the increasing presence of AI-powered tools for post-processing. Personally, while I think one must be careful to never replace the technical skills and creativity of photography, I think AI-powered tools offer a lot of potential in two different ways. First, they can make it far easier to automate and save time on tedious tasks that normally take up a ton of time. For example, I have automated a lot of my batch retouching, making life a lot easier and avoiding tedious but not fulfilling work. On the other hand, I think it can also enable a lot of new creative avenues, though as Heaton points out, there are serious pitfalls to it as well. Check out the video above for Heaton's full thoughts, and be sure to let me know your opinion as well. Do you use these tools for any of your own work?

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Stuart Carver's picture

Yes, next.

David Love's picture

Only for people that use it. AI is just a bad guessing machine.

derek j's picture

Video has replaced writing it seems

Mark Alameel's picture

Photography needs to be divided into two subjects.

Photojournalism and similar use cases should be about minimal editing (or only enough to correct photographer's limitation) to get the most truth/honest image of a captured moment.

Artistic expression and general photography is just whatever creates a great image.

Maybe better names/descriptions would be better but there's a clear divide when it comes to those that edit and those that don't. Both are great works and valid and I don't understand why each tries to invalidate the other.

Kenneth Muhlestein's picture

Well said. I couldn't agree more.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

There's perhaps a 3d category, and one where I feel that a quick sky-replacement helped by AI is indeed not a bad case: people shooting photos of real-estate for realtors and real-estate agencies.
They don't care about photojournalism not about art. They care about an attractive representation of the property they're trying to sell, but still allowing the property itself to look realistic.

David Rodgers's picture

Tim van der Leeuw ...I could not disagree more. Using anything other than a 100% honest representation of anything that is being sold, is morally and ethically reprehensible. It is, in fact, false advertising. Just because McD and other corps get away with it doesn't mean that they should get away with it.

Michel Higuet's picture

More AI please, my camera must refuse me to take a bad photo and automatically in development it may find it necessary to mandatory change the sky and add 3 rabbits, 2 birds and a deer in "my" the landscape... photography is wonderful!

Sam Sims's picture

Of course AI is a bad thing, it bad enough people now have eye af and fast burst speeds so they end up relying on the technology too much rather than their own instincts. We already have ready made presets so people don’t have to learn how to edit their own unique looks. Slowly but surely the technology is taking over and ensuring each time that a little bit more of the human element is taken away.

David Penner's picture

The human element only gets taken away if you let it. I use a bit of ai for some of my work but that doesnt mean i dont need to think about it. I need to set everything up to take advantage of it. A lot of the time the way i shoot its so easy to completely ruin a photo since im not exposing properly. Im exposing for recovery. Something as simple as accidentally changing my white balance can mean highlights wont be recovered. If i want to composite anything i need to make sure ill actually be able to do what i want to do. That all includes a human element.

William Faucher's picture

So whether or not it's a good thing, that much is up for debate, and we can discuss for hours and hours over who is right and who is wrong. But at the end of the day, AI editing isn't going anywhere. It's only going to get better, and better, and better.

But the hard truth is, we can either embrace it, and make the most of it, or not. You don't need to use it. If photography as we know it gives you pleasure, then by all means go out and shoot, enjoy the outdoors. Go outside. Get the human connection we all know and love. I didn't get into photography just to make pretty pictures. I did it because there is a pleasure in creating and capturing.

Why does this threaten anyone? We're already doing all this editing ourselves anyway, now it's just being automated. Why does anyone think AI is "going to ruin photography as we know it"? Like I said, people are already replacing skies, and editing the hell out of our images. AI just does it faster and more easily. This helps us, do more in less time. If I have to spend X hours editing photos for a wedding. AI can help me do that work in less time, therefore I earn a better living.

I'm not going into the ethics of sky replacement and the like. That is up to you, the photographer. There's no right or wrong answer here. If the client gets what they want, and pays me, then I'm a happy camper.

But to say that AI means the end of the thing we know and love, that seems a bit fear-mongery

Sam Sims's picture

Seriously though, if AI replaces human thinking and decision making, what’s the point? Already we have enough features in cameras and software that mean people can take shortcuts without having to properly learn or understand photography. How is that a good thing?

William Faucher's picture

Whether it's a good thing or not, it's irrelevant. The tech will keep being developed and pushed further, and improved, whether photographers like you and me complain or not. It's happening.

The only difference is how we deal with the fact that it's happening. We can put our heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening, or whine, complain about how it's ruining photography. We can accept that it's here to stay, and continue to shoot the way we have been, and keep doing the things that make us happy and enjoy the art of photography.

Or, we can also make the most of it. The examples I gave above are just a few where, as much as I hate to admit it, AI can help us. Repetitive jobs that are time consuming. A wedding photographer who has to go through and edit hundreds of images. If AI were to get to the point where the hours and hours it takes to do this, is suddenly reduced to minutes, this helps the photographer reap the rewards, and focus on the business side of things, or book more shoots, earn more money.

Daniel Haußmann's picture

Exactly spot-on. It would be like horse cart manufacturere complaining about the invention of the car. The development won't stop, because you do not like it.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

No, I don't think it'll be bad for photography.

1. You ain't gots to use it.
2. If you do choose to use it, you ain't gots to use it at 100% opacity; and/or 100% everywhere in your photo. Use/apply it selectively.
3. It may come in handy for those that have to edit dozens/hundreds of photos per shoot/job.

W Mitty's picture

Wow! Pretty soon, you won't even need to photograph a subject. Skylum will just add a "SubjectAI™" module to Luminar and you can let it pick a subject for you, and then fill in sky, reflections, lighting, people, animals, constellations, spaceships. Hell, they might as well set it to music to boot.

That being said, it is neither inherently good nor bad. One can now easily synthesize every musical instrument with a cheap keyboard, but unless there is a talented artist, the music sounds like something an amateur would make by overusing tools. It will be the same with photography and AI. I would imagine that color film was going to ruin photography, and autoexposure was going to ruin color photography, and digital cameras were going to ruin film photography, and so on...and so on...

Besides, "artificial intelligence" has been utilized for a long time. Autoexposure and program modes, for example, are very crude forms of artificial intelligence. AI today is much more computationally complex, but is still in the end nothing more than a predictive model based upon a learned data set. The difference is that it, in principle, can adapt as new data is encountered. So, once it learns how you like to, say, adjust the lighting in portraits, it will save you the monotony. It is, and always will be, a follower, not a leader.

Dillan K's picture

Yes, I think it's a bad thing. It cheapens all photography.

derek j's picture

i dont see the problem really. those of us who take pride in photography will continue to process things ourselves, those who take snapshots with their phones will be happy with the ai. ive never used an instagram filter, and i barely use the camera on my cell phone, but i dont bemoan their existence.

basically until it reaches the point where AI is the only option for editing, or the focus becomes such that adobe and other companies are exclusively pouring resources into it in lieu of traditional editing, i dont really care.

David Rodgers's picture

The software discussed in the video is not the AI version, but the thing I find most questionable, is that ever photographer who I have heard express an opinion about this topic, only focuses on the ability of the software vs photographer to make the selection and/or change. Not a single one talks about the importance of matching the lighting, lens focal length or angle of the sensor on the verticle axis between the two photographs to be composited. And for best results the photographer should be taking both the landscape/subject picture and the sky picture.

There is literally nothing in any piece of software that should stymie anyone, such proclamations are akin to saying that the existence of a hammer is detrimental to those trades persons that use a screwdriver simply because a hammer can be used to drive a screw into wood faster.

Brian Gibson's picture

AI doesn't do anything you cannot do with Photoshop.
It just allows you to do it quicker.

James Hemauer's picture

I think AI is bad for photography for the same reasons fashion photography is (can be) bad for women. Every woman you see in advertising is slim, big-busted, with gorgeous hair and full lips, and impossibly perfect, creating an unrealistic standard.
We're seeing the same thing now in landscape photography, with one click every photo can have brooding, cerulean skies, crackling lightning bolts or, even more absurdly, the Milky Way Galaxy looming overhead as if the photo were taken on one of Jupiter's moons.
I feel bad for people who go visit the Grand Canyon for the first time. They'll be like, "This is it? It looks nothing like the pictures."
AI is definitely here, but I don't know if it's here to stay. Look at the outrageous fashions and auto designs of the 80's, it was so over the top, but that was the new "new", and we thought it was here to stay. But today we laugh at 80's fashion and Dodge Chargers and Cameros are almost indistinguishable from the ones of the 60's and 70's. I hope the pendulum swings the other way with AI post-edits as well. In 20 years we'll look at these photos and roll our eyes and say, "What were we thinking?"

William Faucher's picture

I respectfully disagree. The same thing happened with VFX. When it was new, some movies implemented CGI in a tasteful manner, and it still holds up even today. The best CGI in movies nowadays is the stuff you don't notice is there.

That's where AI is going. Sure it's over the top now, but give it some time to mature and refine itself, and before long we won't be able to tell a difference. Heck most of the time we probably can't tell a difference now either, so long as it's done tastefully.