In recent months, AI has become one of the most widely discussed topics. A lot of creatives, not only photographers, are saying that AI will kill professional photography. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Here is why.
Remember when AI was this distant thing that we rarely thought about? It almost seemed unimaginable that AI can be so close to us, so easy to use, and so damn powerful. It would be silly of me to not acknowledge that I did not notice how fast AI has become this real and this good. While I was interested in the topic before, it never seemed tangible, especially in an industry and craft so close to me: art.
There is a myriad of content on YouTube that shows off how good AI has become. Just look at all the people who can create automated channels on YouTube using AI. Finding a topic can be done with an AI that scans for trends. Then, one AI will write the script, a different AI will create the voice for such scripts, a third AI will do the SEO optimization for the video, and a fourth AI will do the actual visual content for your video. Starting a YouTube channel has never been this easy and cheap. It can literally be done in a matter of days. Then, just leave the content to be pushed into viewers' faces by YouTube's own AI-enabled algorithms. The perfectly balanced exploit of modern technology and shortening the lifespan of the new generation of consumers? Or is it?
AI Makes It Harder, but Not Impossible
What AI enables people to do is create their own art. Why pay for an artist if you can just do it yourself for free? AI is trained to create visually pleasing works that will satisfy on the surface.
The problem with art that is visually pleasing is that it has no depth. It is impossible to put meaning into a work that is AI-generated. Sure, you need creativity to type the prompt, but even then, how creative is that? What difference is there between bashing random words into an AI and coming up with a message?
The process of creating art is rather complex and hard to explain. I find it difficult to explain where the inspiration comes from, where the ideas come from, and where the final image comes from. However, every time I speak with someone about my work, there is always something so deeply personal in each image. I strongly believe that each body of work shows something personal about the photographer that created it.
An AI is not capable of such a dimension to the work. While it is possible to create an individual piece with an AI, it will be next to impossible to create a consistent body of work that can make a name for the artist behind it all. Art is inseparable from the artist in this case. One of the reasons people buy art is because of the brand value of the artist as well as the unique style of their work. While the physical value of the Mona Lisa can be equated to a piece of cloth with paint on it, the moral value is probably even hard to name.
One of the arguments says that AI is simply a glorified form of plagiarism. However, can any AI replace a truly great artist? Sure, someone average who is copying Mona Lisa can be replaced, but someone who is creating work that is authentic, unique, provocative, and appropriate will remain in business. While AI can be used to copy an existing style or technique, it will still be hard to create an authentic style with an AI.
AI Scare: A Natural Fear
I consider the scare of AI to be something completely natural. The talk of robots replacing humans has been going on since the industrial revolution. After all, every time there is a new technology that disturbs the status quo, it inevitably drives the people affected most to hate it. This is absolutely normal. I am sure that the millions of switchboard operators also felt pretty bad when a small box replaced them. However, where one door closes, another opens. While some professions have died, new ones were born in the meantime. Being able to think outside of the box is something every artist should learn to do. The fixation on something constant will let you down, as nothing is constant. AI is that engine disrupting the industry. Many artists are unhappy because there is a replacement for them now.
Photoshop Versus AI
I like to compare AI to what Photoshop did back in the 90s. With the rise of Photoshop, many photographers started to complain that it has become not about getting the shot anymore. This is absolutely true. However, has Photoshop made photography worse? I like to think not. It opened up new possibilities for millions of creators who use the software to their advantage. The genres of photography more about creating an image rather than capturing it benefited from Photoshop immensely. It simply would not be possible to produce a modern advertisement without Photoshop. It is used for artistic purposes as well. Many digital artists combine photography and Photoshop to produce their unique artworks that would not be possible without the software.
The talk about AI being the death of photography is exaggerated. While it will put some photographers out of business, it will create new jobs. For example, there has to be a bank of images for the AI to learn from. Human photographers can take images for the AI and make money doing so, perhaps even pivot to a royalty mechanism, in which each photographer that contributed to the AI’s development will get a small royalty in return for their work. Many of the digital artists complaining about the rise of AI were the same people who took advantage of a similar event 20 years ago: the rise of Photoshop. In a world that is always changing, it is impossible to stay in the same spot and remain profitable. Photography will not die because of AI. Photographers who are not able to adapt to the new reality will.
You're comparing two very different areas, AI GANs and AI tools used in photography. They are not the same thing, and they do not produce the same thing. There is still intersectionality there given that photographers are using GANs to produce work, or supplement their own work.
"Many of the digital artists complaining about the rise of AI were the same people who took advantage of a similar event 20 years ago: the rise of Photoshop."
Photoshop is a digital darkroom. AI tools in photoshop are still part of the darkroom experience.But digital artists are artists, that use tools to produce work. That is moving with the times, not AI GANs that actively steal from artists.
AI GANs like MidJourney or DALL-E are built off of other artist's work. It's not just learned art-styles, it's active copyright infringement of those artist's work with training data. Getty is already pursuing legal action against Stable Diffusion for copyright infringement. Artists such as Yuri Hill, Adam Tots, Logan Preshaw, Bastien Lecouffe, have had their work literally stolen from sites like ArtStation, and were used in generated art.
"An AI is not capable of such a dimension to the work. While it is possible to create an individual piece with an AI, it will be next to impossible to create a consistent body of work that can make a name for the artist behind it all. "
Have you even taken a trip down MidJourney's community feed, or DALL-E's? A lot of of the users 'create' consistent art from their prompts. To suggest that one of these users can't get dimensional consistent work is laughable at best.
Photographer's using AI like MidJourney to redo their work may very well be infringing on the rights of other artists. This is why literally thousands of users protested ArtStation, because AI generated work was created from their portfolios, and AI generated work such as references were being sold for a fraction of the cost it would take to pay a REAL ARTIST. So, you're suggesting that photographers, who have had to fight tooth and nail to maintain their rights, should use AI GANs that steal from other artists because you think they need to move with the times? Or, are you suggesting that photographers use AI tools that help their work. Maybe separate the two, huh?
Illustrators, character creators, book cover designers etc... are all up on the chopping block just like photographers when it comes to AI art. Actual photo-realistic work is already out there, and changing the prompt can still produce the same, or similar subjects. At the rate AI is going, in a year content will be produced at such an alarming rather for niche things like product photography, or stock photography, very well may be dead in the water.
Maybe take a look at Lunchbox.IO(https://ai.lunchbox.io/), that is already generating food photography that is decent at passing as real. But those photographers that strictly do food work just need to suck it up, right? Gotta get with the times, huh?
"For example, there has to be a bank of images for the AI to learn from. Human photographers can take images for the AI and make money doing so, perhaps even pivot to a royalty mechanism, in which each photographer that contributed to the AI’s development will get a small royalty in return for their work"
Holy heck, this is absurd! This is the exact same thing as the abundant amount of stock photos that are out there, and how people used to tell other photographers to get in on the game. Now where are we in the industry with stock photos, oh yes that's right, they are worth next to nothing. You're never going to make a livable wage from your idea, it's exploitative and amoral to suggest you can.
It's so funny to me that you're adamantly against TikTok, yet are ok with AI that steals from artists.
Great post. Thanks for that lunchbox link. This is bad for food stylists too.
AI takes, doesn't ask, won't pay anyone.
I've never heard of the rise of photoshop in my 25+ years using it, however, many photographers did take digital as a threat, didn't want to spend the money or computers were just too much for them in the first place. Plus if you worked on your photos in a darkroom, there is no way you wouldn't want to jump on the Photoshop train. You are referring to those photographers who did not know anything about processing film, prints, cibachrome and what else. Those were simply doomed and just realized it. But digital wasn't anything new 20 years ago, they just ignored it. It really started in 1991 and by 1992 there were adds for the first Dslrs in niche photo distribution shops. I know mine did since this was my first time learning about digital photography (well sort off, a friend of mine had showed me how to capture stills on surveillance cameras from a PC before - in B&W). Anyway, my point is those who couldn't adjust to the switch or to "photoshop" had totally ignored 10 years of evolution 20 years ago. They knew it, they left.
This seems like a lot of wishful thinking to me. The ONLY thing that will keep AI from killing photography (at least for now) is that it can't fulfill a commission. To put it more simply: AI can't attend your wedding, therefore AI can't shoot your wedding. My bread and butter is property photography, primarily for Air BnB listings. My product is a large collection of photos that accurately describe a specific physical location. I have little to worry about.
Now, fine-art photographers? Well, those folks may already be hosed.
Take a level photo from the corner of a room that you would normally take with your SLR/mirrorless with a modern flagship phone. It's about 80% of the way there SOOC due to computational processing.
Add some AI editing, furniture styling with a few generations of improvements in both cameras and AI tech and that whole sector is pretty much toast. Yes someone still needs to drive it but thats something an 18 year old kid the agency pays $10 an hour can do
It's my bread and butter and I know how close to the edge it is. Product photography/Sales tools/Real estate are all in the firing line IMO. Weddings, events, high-end portraiture and things dependent on emotion are the place to move to.
I don't mean to be a downer, but you're way over-confident when it comes to AI. I remember film photographers saying that digital wasn't a threat because it still takes "creativity" and "depth" to be a photographer. But, technology that makes things easier and cheaper always seems to win in the end. Photography replaced painting and illustration precisely because it was cheaper and easier to produce. Then, digital replaced film for the exact same reasons. AI is now coming for digital photography in a big way.
When photography was first invented, people said that machines couldn't make art. Historically, photographers have always been insecure about gear and that's why they tend to downplay the importance of technique and say that creativity is all that matters. The problem with relying on the creativity argument is that AI doesn't require any kind of photomedia technique at all, so its users are in a perfect position to make the claim that AI images are even MORE creative than photography.
You kind of see where AI is. You don't see where it's going. Right now AI is sort of photoshopping existing art together. Give it a few more years, and it will be imitating existing art the same way humans do. Give that AI the ability to navigate and see the physical world on its own, and there will be little if any difference between what humans and AI do when it comes to creating art. People are underestimating what AI will be capable of doing a short time for now. And they are overcomplicating what it is happening when human make art.