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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Person centered and sitting on rock near lake

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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. 

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

This is fake news click bait. You can dumb down Photoshop in the same way DSLRs dumbed down photography. Professionals will always add an artistic edge that no AI can. But... you did make me look. Good for you.....

Kirk Darling's picture

The author says that to avoid the End of Days we should be:

1. Prioritize Working on Ideas and Creativity
2. Develop a Signature Style That Is Authentic to You
3. Work on Your People Skills

Well, I'm scratching my head because we should already be doing those three things anyway.

So this means avoiding calamity is just doing what we should already be doing.

What's the worry?

AI is totally over-rated when it comes to a lot of things. It doesn't know what you want to be removed and it doesn't know what you want to enhance. It might have its place with certain things, but it's not all that it's cracked up to be.

Martijn Kort's picture

It might be only for the real creators and artists that stand out from the crowd. But saying that the days are over is just hilarious.

All the AI editing and generic sky replacements that everyone, read all the amateurs, will use will only sets the real creatives further apart from the mediocre amateurs.

This will be just like the days of ugly hdr. They will pass. If the ai is limiting your creativity you can better stop doing what you do.

Canon is doomed! Oh wait wrong article, PS is doomed! Or was it DSLR's sorry I'm getting confused, which doomed article is this?

Xhefri Rich's picture

What will happen with PS much like Apple’s Pro-lineup of video editing software. Marketing, price, and lack of good R&D will hurt it. The average photographer has a number of cheaper options thar get them by, and in some cases get them by very well.

Makes one wonder if clickbait will disappear sooner, replaced by AI-driven disinformation. And thus sites like this will be completely driven by SkyNet to collect clicks...maybe it already is? And comments too...generated by AI instead of real people. Some of the arguments here and elsewhere seem more like an 8 year old AI arguing with itself than real photographers. But maybe that's what dad AI would say, no?

This is, of course, why the Nobel Prize for Literature was just awarded to a Haiku Generator.

Nick Haynes's picture

Pick a maybe-false premise, write an article.

The maybe-false premise is that Photoshop is dead because of advances in image-processing technology. Is the author so sure that Adobe will not incorporate such advances?

And, if it doesn't (corporate dinosaurs that thought their technology couldn't be beaten have existed)... well, users will have gone elsewhere already. Adobe will only die off if people stop using its products. Which would mean they found something else.

So enough with the doom and gloom!

Nicholas Monteleone's picture

Click bait nonsense. As if these are the only reasons people use PS. Compositing will still exist along with a ton the features available for other graphic products. PS is not going anywhere.

Christian Lainesse's picture

Let's bury photoshop in the plot next to film photography!

Photoshop isn't going anywhere, it will do itself all this things. Remember that PS introduced content aware fill many. years ago and i don't think anybody else has it yet.

Timothy Turner's picture

I remember when you developed your own film, you could push or pull processing to get the effect you want, also a 50mm lens at f1.8 does not record an image exactly the way your eyes see it, nor does a telephoto or any other lens. Before there was photoshop, there was retouching. Remember that old phrase "the more things change, the more they stay the same". Before there was pixel peeping pixel envy, or histograms, there was simply photography
.

Carlos Cardona's picture

I think the BEST thing we can do to "prepare for this gloomy future" is to NOT read "The Sky is Falling, Skynet is Here, Robots will EAT US ALL" click-baity articles on Fstoppers! Or maybe Fstoppers can stop posting articles by Paul Adshead? This is the first article I've read on Fstoppers, will it be the last?

Let's be honest, some photography can already be automated now... By the time photoshop is obsolete, photographers will be also.

Mike Dochterman's picture

Let the day come - then everyone will look the same and mine will be different - fine with me

Joey Jonaitis's picture

To think that Adobe isn't already and going to continue to be at the for front of AI and machine learning image manipulation is sleeping on the industry. There has always been an AUTO button. There are always easy ways to get quick results. For professionals who have a job to do whether the app in questions works in the particular situation or not, Adobe will continue to be the industry leader for the foreseeable future.

I know most people complain about Photoshop, but if it were to go out of business and its programs ceased to run on any of my computers, I'd be out of work, period.

Until AI can see what the photographer sees in their head, I think we'll be ok. For me, photography is interesting when I connect with both the subject and the presentation. When AI is able to create compelling images on its own, we will have much bigger problems than the death of Photoshop

Shawk Parson's picture

ok, fine, maybe Photoshop's going to die soon, generally speaking (and i'm not a very loyal PS fan in the first place btw!) and it's probably already dead to quite a number of photographers who simply don't need it, having been using the free alternatives for ages now ...

but believe it or not, there will be MANY uses for any old or new or latest versions of PS (or other software) in the future just as there are similar uses for other not so well known or very well known or even 'already dead' image editing programs of the yesteryears ...

let's not forget that software is not exactly like hardware that will totally die someday when used execssively ... for as long as any new hardware can run any 'oldie but goodie' software and we have a working copy of that software available to us, that software CAN and SHALL be a good one to use!

edit:

additionally, what if Adobe starts adding all those new (plus more) features to the PS? after all, not all stuff in PS or other software in the CS suites of programs have always been Adobe's initially, have they?

1) use of the crucifix is inappropriate (whether religious or not) 2) photography is about as Adams called it 'previsualization' or are you conscious of what you are seeing and what you want to communicate - you create the photo, not the equipment robots (AI)

Photographers are not the only ones who use Photoshop. I studied graphic design and l use it pretty much on a daily basis to design. I just actually got complemented on my superb skills the other day. So hopefully it is not going anywhere.

Paul Adshead I think it's interesting that you say PS is dead, especially with the quality of your work (which is good) and clearly uses editing with intention and style behind it. PS is more likely to become the 6th Sense. Meaning that while a good chunk of 'people who snap photos' will convert to filters and 1 click solutions but there's no comparing that to true artistic work. Painting didn't go away when photography and computers came to be and photography and PS will continue on. Perhaps someone will unseat Adobe and perhaps PS will morph a bit, but the choice will still be up to the artist.

"person sitting on rock centered with blue / orange color grading" will be (if not already) the equivalent of "generic hotel room painting of a field". Lovely to glance at for a moment but forgettable as soon as you leave the room.

Dave Palmer's picture

Just as they predicted smartphones would obsolete digital cameras now we're hearing about how artificial intelligence is going to kill Photoshop.

No, I want direct control over my images. I want the creative control to mold them into art that pleases my eye. Not some software engineers. PS isn't going anywhere.

some people like chocolate, some like vanilla. same, same. :)

Basically there are 3 types of photographers. 1st is the one who is basically satisfied with any image. 2nd is the ones who like to edit a bit in order to satisfy their taste. 3rd is the professional or serious hobbyist who will use Photoshop to edit the image to suit their needs and artistic values. So i disagree with RIP Photoshop as it will always be used by the 3rd types of photographers. Will photoshop develop more automated features? They ate already doing it.

The real question will be, will we need an expensive software like photoshop or will others clone it and sell it far cheaper. There lies the future of Photoshop or not!

This is one of the stupidist articles I have ever seen here. Like one of those Enquirer pieces. I guess if you consider photography taking snapshots on the phone, moving your fingers around on a phone app, and posting on Instagram it might have validity. But those people aren't using Photoshop in the first place.

I am trying to be as delicate and as respectful as I can, but there are certain aspects of this piece that do need addressing.
First of all Photoshop is used by a wide variety of imaging professionals from matte painters, retouchers to digital artists, it is also used for medical, astronomical and other scientific imaging purposes.
It is de-facto, industry-standard, go-to image editing tool there is, end of.
Yes, there are free online alternatives that are fairy fast, but have no masking tools whatsoever and some similar apps that do everything else, but have no layers, the list goes on.
Granted, most photographers are content with what Lightroom and other similar tools offer, as they provide raw workflow and content management along with some quick and simple editing features in a single package.
If your workflow involves just simple edits, HDRI-like filtering everything and "painfully cutting out subjects" generally known as masking, then perhaps Photoshop is not a right tool for you.
AI and other automated cloud based tools will give you a starting point at best for editing, which is so far from a finished result that it's silly to even bring it up as an argument really.
If you can´t be bothered to learn how to use Photoshop, hire someone that did or be content with the images You´ve got, simples. Meercat wisdom.

Is it me, or is this whole article really dumb?

The death of photoshop means originality will be gone. So what should you do?

“Be original and develop your own look.”

What?!? You just said AI will eliminate this facet of the job.

Marko Bradich's picture

Without humans operating Photoshop, we would quickly run out of three-legged models and all the other fabulous retouch fails, since AI is too clever for that. I dread the gloomy day.

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