Is Artificial Intelligence the Next Major Step for Photographers?

Is Artificial Intelligence the Next Major Step for Photographers?

Eye autofocus, insanely fast burst rates, 8K raw video, and more. There is no doubt that camera features are getting better and better at a crazy pace. But the thing I am most excited for is not on a camera, it is in post-processing: artificial intelligence.

Photoshop is an incredibly powerful program, no doubt, and it has been moving toward higher levels of automation in recent years, but for the most part, more intricate procedures still require mostly manual control and thus, fair amounts of time investment. I certainly do not mind that sort of investment for passion projects, but on the other hand, for purely work-related projects, I have always been ready to embrace whatever levels of automation that could be found. Such automation has been around for a while, but it has not been until the last few years that it has made major steps forward, and now, I think we are on the cusp of an AI-powered revolution.

Luminar 4 and PortraitPro 19

I will admit that until just a few days ago, PortraitPro was never seriously on my radar. After seeing a few ads for it many years ago, it just looked like the sort of software that overly smoothed skin and produced unrealistic results. I honestly forgot about it until another Fstoppers writer raved about it to me a few days ago. I trust his opinion, and I am always looking to try new things, so I grabbed my credit card and bought a copy. Suffice to say that I am truly impressed. A typical headshot edit takes me about 20 minutes in Photoshop — 15 if I am really hyperfocused. After spending 10 minutes learning the ropes of PortraitPro, I loaded in an unedited headshot and had a finished image that was just as good as a manual edit in about 90 seconds. And for the occasional blemish it missed, I could open the exported version in Photoshop and run the healing brush over it in maybe 20 seconds. No doubt, the increase in efficiency was impressive.

Working in Luminar 4 with sky replacement.

Luminar 4 has been another fantastic addition to my arsenal. I have been particularly fond of the automated sky replacement feature. If you have ever replaced a sky in Photoshop before, you know that for anything but the simplest horizons, it is a rather involved process. Luminar 4 does an impressive job of automating the process and gives you enough granular control to tweak it to increase its believability. The thing that I love about it, though, is that it invigorates my creativity. Replacing a sky is not something I would do on a whim manually in Photoshop. But when I can just cycle through different options with a single click, all of a sudden, I can explore all sorts of creative avenues, and photos that might have gone straight to the trash bin before suddenly have new life.

You Aren't Going to Lose the Chance to Be Creative

A common counterargument against this is that using automation removes the creative touch of the artist, and there is certainly validity to that. But it is also important to remember that you do not have to use it. I certainly enjoy the manual process and prefer it to automation for passion projects and personal work. Rather, the usage of these tools falls into two categories for me.

Alleviating Tedium

Let's be honest: a lot of post-processing is not a magical creative process; it is just plain tedium. Working on a landscape can be a really special thing, but I doubt many photographers will say how much they enjoy editing 200 corporate headshots. 

We already have batch processing to a certain degree in lots of applications, but I have to admit that I was truly impressed by the capabilities of PortraitPro 19. I could establish a certain edit and style I wanted, then batch-process an entire set of photos in just a few clicks; that includes things like blemish removal and the like — everything that you would normally do for a complete edit. After that, I just double-checked all the exported files and touched up the occasional missed blemish in Lightroom. 

Working in PortraitPro 19.

This sort of capability has the potential to revolutionize workflows for a lot of photographers. A photographer doing multiple days of corporate headshots and coming home with hundreds of images to edit could see post-processing of that massive set drop from multiple days to just a couple of hours. Wedding photographers, who typically shoot on the weekends and spend weekdays post-processing, who have to touch up dozens of formal portraits and the like, could free up large amounts of their weekdays for other tasks or personal time. Furthermore, this has potential to ensure greater consistency. 

Similarly, consider a real estate photographer. They can't wait until a day with partly cloudy weather for the perfect complement to whatever house they are shooting. Still, upper-level clients will expect that complete look to show their properties in the best possible light. Like the portrait sets, AI sky replacement can save a lot of time. And it can also set your work apart when you can put every single property against a nice sky. 

Increasing Creativity and Inspiration

I look at it as augmenting creativity and inspiration. You are not obligated to use this technology. But when I am stuck on where to take a shot that I know has potential, being able to cycle through a variety of editing options in just seconds can shake me out of that creative rut and give me an idea of where I want to go with the post-processing. 

Conclusion

In the last few years, AI software for post-processing has made some real leaps forward. And not only does that have the potential to enable new creative routes for photographers, it also has the potential to significantly streamline workflows by alleviating majorly tedious and repetitive tasks. 

There will always be room for taking whatever level of manual control you want to have. Have you integrated any artificial intelligence tools into your workflow? Do you find they have become advanced enough to make a significant difference? Tell me about your experience in the comments. 

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27 Comments

Jerome Brill's picture

I'll take AI when it comes to finding/ tracking subjects and objects. I just started to play around with Topaz DeNoise AI and as long as I keep the "Recover Original Detail" up and "Remove Noise" to a minimum it seems to a good job. Better in shadows than Lightroom. Although when you go crazy with Remove Noise setting it basically just starts to fill in whatever it wants and looks like a painting. That's what I don't want. You can see a bit of that on phones when it comes to night modes.

Timothy Roper's picture

I'd certainly use it to remove dust on my scanned film negatives!

Spy Black's picture

When does the photographer matter anymore? At the rate AI and robotics are going, soon enough wedding photographers will be Boston Dynamics Wedding 'Droids shooting multiple cameras simultaneously and capturing every precious wedding moment perfectly. Who needs you?

Deleted Account's picture

"I'm not gonna worry about it, because once it happens, I know that you're not gonna worry about it either and just use it. :-)"

I have no use for AI, either, but you'll use it. "You'll see."

Alfredo Luna's picture

We'll ALL use it. Including non pro photographers. Will that mean even less money than today? "We'll see..."

Deleted Account's picture

My reply to Mr. Black was referencing a prior, unrelated, discussion.
I'll not use it and, a lot of the things they call "A.I." aren't.

Spy Black's picture

If the rates are good who wouldn't get such a pro?

Alex Yakimov's picture

Who needs film or other archaic clunkiness?

Spy Black's picture

I suspect pretty much everything will become obsolete...

Scott McDonald's picture

Change always brings on the discussion regarding how it will negatively affect "us" or in this case, the skills and creativity of the photographer...as much as we may desire to wish it away...it's here to stay. Until something even better comes along. As a university teacher, I used to look unkindly towards students always being on their smartphones until I considered how different generations embrace technologies. This was simply how they communicated with each other and how many of them completed their daily tasks. Just because it is different from how I would do it doesn't necessarily make it wrong. AI isn't going away anytime soon and will most likely become a more prominent part of our lives...it always comes down to choices. I too use Luminar to edit some of my photos and find the AI features to be quite a time-saver. Does it affect one's creativity? I'm not claiming to be the "expert" on the use of AI, but I do embrace it as a tool...an option. Even after clicking on that feature, you still have sliders available to tweak it to be just the way you envision your final product to be.

Cornelius Mouzenidis's picture

Actually I've read somewhere that AI is a thing that doesn't really exist and what we call AI is just a number of automatic tools aimed at enhancing the picture without giving a photographer a chance ti be creative in post-processing. It's just an opinion that I don't really share, since this article provides completely different info: a full opportunity to be creative while doing post-processing, etc. I remember Fstoppers itself wrote about an automatic photo editor packed with AI ( https://fstoppers.com/originals/automatic-photo-editor-photoworks-refres... ), so probably this really does make sense. Anyway, I'm not sure this tool is perfect so it may need some more development.

Euan Gray's picture

I'm no more than a hobbyist photographer and don't actually see there's much point in professional photography these days since everyone and his dog is walking around with cameras on their phones. Aside from corporate publicity and advertising (which increasingly people don't look at anyway because of adblockers and even when they do most of it doesn't work) and sport photography (now largely on high quality video from which good stills can be extracted), where is the market?

So what we're left with is photography on the same level as sketching or watercolours - art for its own sake. And in that what is the photographer still doing? The fast high resolution camera means you miss little, the software means you don't need to get it right first time, and increasingly the camera and the software do it all for you. The photographer is just there to bring the camera to the location, and even then a drone can do it now.

Which is why I like messing about with film and trying to get it right first time in the camera. Which is what it's about, as far as I'm concerned, since it requires thinking and a bit of creativity.

My next experiments will be HDR using stacked scans from a £10 charity shop SLR and perhaps capturing water drops on an ancient Bronica.

Bruce Grant's picture

For me, there is a point in professional photography. Just because everyone is walking around with a camera on their phone doesn't mean they can take a picture. Sure there are people who do well with an iPhone, and with all the accessories geared to iPhoneography they're even better. All the people who want "professional looking" pictures of their weddings, engagements, bar mitzvahs, newborns, graduations, etc and are unable to do it themselves, they hire a pro. A drone cannot tell someone how to pose, where to look or direct one person, let alone a group of people.

Jan Holler's picture

The above example "Working in PortraitPro 19" is anything but convincing. And the example "Working in Luminar 4 with sky replacement." has changed the colour tone of the photo. Not a fair comparison to the original if it is about replacing the sky. Would like to see an enlargement of the border of the buildings on the horizon.

Euan Gray's picture

The modern tendency to remove blemishes from portraits may please the sitter but they look flat, bland and boring.

The interest in a face is the imperfection and the blemish. Remove them and you do not have a more beautiful/handsome subject, you've got something that may as well be injection-moulded in plastic.

This pursuit of megapixellated and recoloured artificial perfection is incredibly boring. The technical capability of the camera and software has eliminated the warts-and-all beauty of the natural world and indeed the skill of the photographer as an artist in rendering it.

Jan Holler's picture

Sadly, that is very true! I would only retouch injuries and temporary skin blemishes, but pepper spots and birthmarks only if the customer insists.
Additionally with the above example: Her skin tone is awful and there are blown out high lights on her body.

Sam Hood's picture

There would be no need for this AI retouching if the shot was properly lit instead of trying to simulate it in post, also as you said that skin tone is terrible, if you want less work to do in post then you need to spend time setting your camera and lighting up properly.

Tony Hetherington's picture

Well said...as I've alluded to in other posts.....homogenized to the point of absolute dullness 😁

Gary Pardy's picture

Nailed it with "Increasing Creativity and Inspiration". Even cycling through presets, it can be incredibly helpful in finding which direction you might take an image. AI might not have the subtlety of a seasoned pro, but it can definitely give you a quick preview of something resembling a finished product.

Holger Genenger's picture

The increase in productivity creates a competitive advantage. New technologies require new business models.
The performance of a photographer consists in the individual interpretation of the photographed.
The AI mentioned here is based on learning by watching.
A new business model is therefore to train an own AI. This AI will then learn your own style from your own pictures.
This is possible. Take for example Google Tensorflow, a freeware. With it you can build your own AI. The learning curve is quite steep, but feasible. For this you need a powerfull PC. Or you can rent computer time at Google or Amazon.
Do it, or leave.

Rhonald Rose's picture

Actually the subject aware, algorithmic software have a good place in post production. I use captur one pro and luminar 4. If c1p allows you to select a tree or building and apply corrections, it will be awesome. It will get rid of masks for most of your need.

jim hughes's picture

Sorry but I just have to say this: none of this image processing software incorporates "artificial intelligence" because no such thing currently exists. The marketing people just decided it does, because the world got tired of waiting.

It may be great code that uses new algorithms and data structures, including "neural nets". But it's just doing the single task it was designed to do.

I'll sit down now.

Michel Higuet's picture

It's wonderful! You make a photo of a pig under a boring sky and change it and in the next version you will change the pig for a beautiful naked blond! And you call that photography... :-)

Deleted Account's picture

It seems everybody is jumping on the AI bandwagon. If you use Adobe software, AI is used - Sensei. AI today is just an all encompassing term and every man and his dog now want to market this.
AI is the best thing since sliced bread!

RT Simon's picture

I am waiting for a interactive AI voice to occupy my photo library. So just imagine an Alexa or Siri like entity, that lives in a program like Capture One. Every time time you upload new images into your catalog, your AI friend will create the meta-data, learn to identify shapes and familiar sites, or faces immediately. One could ask their AI to perform basic modifications, all in real time, but with voice commands. I’m preparing images for a book and I am reducing the ink levels for CMYK printing, and it would be great if I could get Photoshop to do this with voice interaction. In the future, an AI photo-friend could continue to manage all one’s work on a cloud, after one passes away.