The Death of Photoshop: A Warning to Photographers

The Death of Photoshop: A Warning to Photographers

Photoshop's days are seriously numbered thanks to the likes of AI, machine learning, and neural networks. The question is, what should photographers be doing to prepare for this big change?

As the years go on, the amount of automation photographers use in their digital workflow has steadily risen. From utilizing actions to process images, to relying on presets for our visual style, to using one of the many "Auto" modes which exist in our image editors. Manually editing our work is becoming a much smaller part of what a photographer does these days. Is it really just a matter of time before we are actually doing none at all? Personally, I think a sea change is coming sooner rather than later.

AI and neural networks can already apply the look and feel of one image onto another, so it wouldn't take much for computers to learn what you as a photographer likes visually, and automatically apply those styles to your unprocessed images. Perhaps, a Tinder-style swipe system could help train AI to understand what you like or maybe computers could trawl through the thousands of "likes" you have already given out on social media to get a better idea. Fast forward even further into the future and this automation could easily be happening in-camera or when you upload your files to the Cloud. If things pan out in this way, it begs the question of what use will Photoshop actually have in the future?

Painfully cutting out subjects is a thing of the past thanks to online sites like remove.bg.

If things play out as predicted, editing programs as we currently know them would quickly become antiquated. Some will obviously adapt and become our automated servants, while other programs will disappear into obscurity. From a workflow perspective, the future looks bright for photographers but unfortunately, it would not be all roses. With automation comes homogenization and devaluation and neither of these is good news for an industry that is already hugely competitive.

Homogenization

The real problem with letting computers edit our photos is that all our work will start to look even more the same. If these machines are not only taking into account your personal preferences but also looking at what types of images are "popular" online then we could easily be on a slippery slope into sameness. You only have to look at some genres of photography on Instagram to see how repetitive things have already become in terms of style and content.

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Devaluation

Anything that makes the job easier or allows an untrained person to perform the task instantly devalues said task. Clients and customers are always trying to squeeze the bottom line when it comes to our work and in the future, this will only get worse. When said pictures don't need manually editing by a professional it's one more excuse for them to drive the price down.

So What Can Photographers Do to Prepare for This Gloomy Future?

If our work is going to all look the same and it's not going to be valued as much as it used to be, what can we do about it? Before you decide to throw your camera in the trash and switch professions there are still things that can be done to help you stand out and stay in business in the future.

1. Prioritize Working on Ideas and Creativity

While computers will get powerful enough to do many of the things we currently do, it will still be a very long time before they can match our ideas and creativity. If you don't already, invest a good proportion of your time on generating ideas and being as creative as you can be. Once the playing field is leveled even more so by technology, it will be attributes such as creativity that will be valued more than anything else. Two books I highly recommend are The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Both these books will help to unblock any creative blocks you may have and allow you to look at creativity in a very different light.

2. Develop a Signature Style That Is Authentic to You

If you still rely on other people's presents to make your images look pretty then you need to stop immediately. While I appreciate such plug-ins can help do the heavy lifting of editing they fundamentally stop you from finding your own style. If that wasn't bad enough, your work will undoubtedly look like all the other photographers that use the same presets. Try to be authentic when you edit and make images that you actually like. Personally, I like my images a little over-cooked and moody when it comes to being processed. I know for a fact that this is not everyone's cup of tea but I don't care as I like it. Being unique is one surefire way to stand out in a sea of similar photographers that is growing by the second.

3. Work on Your People Skills

It pains me to say this, but the personality of a photographer is far more important in the commercial world than many other factors. I don't make the rules but unfortunately, this is the case. Just look at some of the terrible photographers with great personalities who never seem to be out of work. If a customer or client has to spend time with a photographer they will always hire one they like rather than one they don't like. This fact is going to become even more apparent when technology levels the playing field. For this reason, it's a good idea to work on your people skills now. The book How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a great place to start as it details the ways humans like to be treated and how to get the best out of many different interactions. Working on your people skills is not about insincerely manipulating others, but more about getting in tune with those around you.ย 

From young to old, an edit that would take me days to achieve in Photoshop manually can now be done in seconds with FaceApp on my phone.

So there you have it, how things could pan out for photographers when the majority of our editing is performed automatically. The reason I was motivated to write about this particular subject right now was due to the recent advancements made by FaceApp. For those who don't know, this app can transform portraits from young to old (see example above), male to female, etc. I was completely blown away by how convincing and quickly these automatic edits are done. Using the app really does feel like a glimpse into what the future of editing will look like for our industry. The job description of a photographer has constantly evolved over time but a few things have stayed true. Creativity, ideas, and personality will always be important attributes no matter how much the role changes thanks to technology. If you want to future proof your career then it's best to prioritize more time, money, and energy into these evergreen areas and less into things which probably won't matter in a few years.

Are Photoshop's days really numbered? Do you think automation will replace manual editing any time soon? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Lead image by Pixabay via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

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107 Comments

Previous comments
Andrew Morse's picture

True, and in reality a lot of companies don't sell manual transmissions on even sports cars now, but many do and racing cars typically do too. I think what I'm inferring in the example is that while the commonality of manual editing may go down as technology fills the gap, there will likely always be those that want to do a manual edit, for better or worse.

Speaking for myself, I really struggle to see myself wanting the computer to perform the edit for me even if it knows and can match my style with perfect accuracy. The editing process is enjoyable for me and makes me really think about what I like and don't like in an image (much like many who drive manual transmission cars do it because they enjoy it). That process informs my shooting the next time I go out, and helps me grow. If I didn't go through that editing process manually, I'd likely keep shooting the same thing in perpetuity, or I'd grow less. To each their own though, I wouldn't think less of people for using automated editing systems.

Alan Klughammer's picture

I think the automatic vs standard transmission might be a bit of a weak analogy.

A better analogy might be auto modes on a camera. I started photography when exposure automation was rare and/or expensive. Today I probably shoot 90% or more on aperture priority with exposure compensation. Like AI, it is just a tool to learn, understand, and use to augment your creativity, not a crutch to prop up mediocrity.

Usually any software that isn't regularly updated will fizzle into oblivion. However, I don't see Adobe giving up on their cash cow just yet.

I see them adapting as necessary and Photoshop has been very good at integrating 3rd party software into an editors workflow.

"Death of Photoshop" ,"Warning to photographers" , "Gloomy future" -- much ado about nothing.

Unless you are envisioning robots pointing, aiming, and clicking cameras what do photographers have to worry about. As far as retouching photos is concerned, any photo be taken in an infinite number of directions that only a creative human can choose. AI is just an algorithm. It has no free will and no inherent creativity.

Michael Comeau's picture

Photoshop is not going anywhere because people like using Photoshop -- even if automatic software algorithms can do the same job better.

Plus, AI and machine learning are just fancy ways of saying pattern recognition. There's no actual thinking happening.
And all these 'AI' editing features tend to work better in demos than real life.

True AI is much more than pattern recognition, however the "AI" tools available to us now are far from true AI (in my humble opinion of course ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š

John Adams's picture

Exactly, media is throwing AI as if it's a real thing but it's not. Just like all the fuss about going to Mars.

John Adams's picture

This "article" is complete nonsense... to have my own style I have to develop ideas and work on them? I didn't know that, you're a real genius. And you throw in some stupid website, that probably only kindergarten teachers are going to find useful, and now we are ready to predict the death of Photoshop? Maybe we should look at AIs that help writing better articles, how about that?

Chris Jablonski's picture

One of the things I especially appreciate about FS is members' respectfulness towards each other.

Spy Black's picture

What will disappear are photographers and retouchers, and probably even designers. I've already worked in environments where non-professionals are shown a few production and post-production tricks and are shooting and retouching images for catalog work on lesser critical images.

As cameras and data processors evolve, almost literally monkeys will be doing all the work of photographers and retouchers. Some of you will probably scoff this off, all I can say is I'm glad I'm near retirement, but it may come sooner for me than I care for.

John Adams's picture

This is the same line of thinking like this dumb article... no AI is going to be able to give you better creativity process, if you suck at photography then you will always suck regardless of AI advances. Even if monkey can take photos, as you say, it will always show. So the real problem is you, it has always been so.

Spy Black's picture

You don't get it. Bean counters rule the roost, and if they find AI "good enough", just like those non-pros already replacing some pro production, you'll find your ass on the street. You can have that in writing.

John Adams's picture

Sounds like you have your ass on the streets already, but believe me, it's not "AI" that is the problem...

Spy Black's picture

Been there, done that. You're right, it's not AI, it's the bottom line.

Pradipto WP's picture

I dont think Ps will die anytime soon. It only gets better. Regardless, i agree with your points #1 - #3

Spy Black's picture

No, Photoshop won't die at all, just the user base.

John Adams's picture

Now there is no tool to replace Photoshop, or anything in the near future to replace it.

Spy Black's picture

You're right, what you don't realize is that Photoshop will replace you. Adobe plans to have the "one ring to rule them all".

Corey Weberling's picture

Some of what you're saying is true/makes sense.....mostly in terms of things being de-valued and easier to accomplish with AI and automation.

But ultimately it's just a tool like any other thing. AI and automation can and will and already has made things a lot easier/more accessible. But that's a good thing ultimately.

It just makes it EASIER to focus on the creative side of things, instead of the technical side.

It'll make it a lot harder for those that struggle with being creative.....but ya....

You left out some important tips to stay relevant. Perhaps don't shoot digital and explore the other ways of image taking.

Use wet plate, dry plate, paper, photograms, cyanotypes, film etc. Do a full analogue process or a mixture of analogue and digital. There are other ways to stand out you know.

Rifki Syahputra's picture

I use photopea. I am cheap.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

cost not AI kill ps who care

Adobe regards customers as sheep to be sheared. It has been a cash cow for them but they are not giving value back - instead they are trying to figure out how to get away with charging more for a very mature product that gets poor product support and little real development.
I very much agree that AI is going to have a huge impact on photography, and a good part of it will be in ways we are not expecting. We are already seeing some great new products from other software companies and more are coming - some of them will be game changers for sure.

John Adams's picture

This is just cheap article, not to mention that AI as we imagine it really, doesn't exist. It's just a buzzword is all.

John Gaylord's picture

The more I learn in PS, the more I apply that knowledge to my processing work. Seems like I spend more time than ever doing this, and my multi-layered image files continue to grow bigger and more complex.

Deleted Account's picture

I've been predicting the sudden end of Photoshop for 35 years!

Do not forget that Adobe is a huge company. They can easily get into AI business with hiring some top notch neural network programmer. If they scare about concureny tech they'll move instantly... so the new Adobe AI PRO is coming soon.

Matthew Horner's picture

Of course it won't die, the title is for clicks. A product a successful as PS will just go 'no, other technology has changed so much, we're not the pioneers anymore, lets just stop.' Really?

It will just continue to change as it always has.

So really, the article could be 'What new features can we expect in the future of Photoshop'.

Nick Rains's picture

Given that PS never was intended for photographers, then I think it's still got a lot of legs. It's currently used by a lot more designers and graphics people than 'mere' photographers, and their demand for its functionality is not likely to go away any time soon.

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