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. 

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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106 Comments

I owe a lot to the software engineers at Canon. Many thanks, boys and girls.

Mu Tru's picture

One of those things that's both technically true and irrelevant. Photography is not about "exactly captur(ing) a scene." Never has been. Before photoshop, the technology used to develop your film altered the result. When people developed their own film, the film manufacturer's technology and the lens altered the result. So what's your point?

Exactly. Shoot the same scene on Kodachrome or a Fuji slide film and the results would be very different.

One camera manufacturers take on the way to turn the raw image into what is output as a colour image is similar to the variance you have between film emulsions. Except I’d argue there is less variance between what digital cameras output by default than there was with film. I am sure manufacturers strive to produce what would be classed scientifically as accurate colour.

Each type of film had its adherents and detractors (Kodachrome was not what you might call accurate).

So I don’t think there is an issue with what camera these days do to process the raw data for their default output.

Where things get iffy is when the manipulation goes beyond a slightly different take on colour. AI replacement of a dull sky for example. This is available now in post processing but as yet I know of no cameras that can do it. Until they do I think arguing digital cameras already manipulate the image is a rather pointless argument. It may be true in the strictest sense but there has never been a photo taken by an ordinary camera the public can buy that doesn’t alter the image from reality to a degree either due to the film chosen or the slightly different way each manufacturer coverts raw image data.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

“Vote me down if you like”. Now I’m confused if I like your comment should I down vote? What would an up vote mean then?
Seriously though, I agree with post edit.

I'm pretty sure I could trick people, with SOOC. if I printed an object and put it next to the real object. Say a can of soup. I could print the label I took a picture of and wrap it around another soup can and ask which is the real one by having them compare a 3rd can, in which they know is real.

99% of photography is NOT art.

I always say that... Followed by, when you took your roll of fil. To the dev lab, you just let them do it for you too... Nothing has changed!

Michael Dougherty's picture

That's why I prefer to post process RAW images, even though they were also the creation of an engineer.

Kenneth Muhlestein's picture

Post processing makes a photo your own. Your style. Your art. Yes, get it right in camera. But post process and finish your damn photo!

In an artistic field, telling someone that only your way is correct will never make your position popular. This is true in many non-artistic fields as well. If you want to make your final photos SOOC, then I'm fine with that and I applaud your ability to make photos you like that way. I have no right to tell you which way is the correct way.

Consider giving others the same courtesy.

George Malczynski's picture

The thing that I don't understand is why let someone else finish you work? It would be like leaving film at London Drugs to be processed. Maybe it makes sense if it adds to the motivation or creative direction of the art. But in general wouldn't you want to fully express yourself in you images?

The artist has the latitude to present THEIR art. Nothing else counts. Not processing, not editing, Nothing. That's why there's copyrighting.

Nick Rains's picture

of course "only your way is correct", for you.

99.9% of photography is NOT. Why do people take that as a diss or a compliment? To me art is painting a line on a canvas. But, I think that line is stupid but it's art.

You can shoot creative. You can turn it into art like Warhol. You can compose creativity.

Photography is nothing but technical if you are re-creating the scene. Even a painter, re creating a scence puts his artistic style into the painting such as a long brush stroke or short.

If you create the scene, ie a magizine spread. That's art. Somebody creating a scene for still life is art. But, if I swoop in and take the picture I'm not the artist I'm nothing not the photographer.

Intentilly changing the scene while photographing is art. Such as camera blur using a lens filter and even changing the wb. Even changing the dof on a scene isn't art.

Some people get so hung up on me saying it's not art. Even though I think the image they took is the most beautifully photographed photo ever.

Alan Klughammer's picture

You have your own definition of ART, and that is fine, however many will not agree with you. Many, if not most people, consider photographers like Adams, Bresson, or even Rowell to be Artists, yet, for the most part, they did not "create a scene" by your definition.

My definition of art is more simple (and more personal). Art is something that deliberately evokes emotion, and the more people that experience that emotion, the better the piece of art succeeds.

One of my favorites is Baldesaari - he found photographs, labeled them as "wrong", put it on canvas, and it is Great Art !!!
For myself, if it doesn't inspire the mind, what's the point ?

Steven Magner's picture

“If your camera can't capture the desired image, no amount of editing will save it“

So bracketing images in the field to extend the dynamic range of a final image blended together in post using Luminosity masks in Photoshop, because my eye has 20 stops of dynamic range but my camera has less than 14.8 wont save an image?

Okay...

Jason Lorette's picture

I don't think PS will die, I think it will adapt, techniques will change, and life will go on.

Johnny Rico's picture

But if you say the sky is falling you get clicks. Straight up clickbait.

Radio = RIP to newspapers, TV = RIP to movie theatres, AI = RIP to thinking and creativity etc

Jason Lorette's picture

But...are you not just pointing out a 'shift of medium' not a death of creativity?

Photoshop is dead, long live Photoshop...
The rumors of Photoshop's death have been greatly exaggerated...
PS is not going anywhere anytime soon. They evolve with the needs of the market, and will probably be the ones to develop that AI, so it will just be an option, think "smart auto edit" ... because right now the Lightroom "Auto" gets it wrong 99% of the time, but it is closer than it used to be.

As with program mode. Tbh, I have calculated the percentage. But, it's wrong enough for ne to never use it.

Studio 403's picture

I would suggest Adobe sees down the road. The product line is expanding and in my view going deeper into the large companies market. Long time user of PS, and I know it well. Don’ want to relearn I hope. I do have capture One for the fujicolor module. It’s free and does killer job, as I learn.

Reginald Walton's picture

#4 Stop worrying about what "may" happen in the future.

Will Murray's picture

If you are any good as an *artist* then the evolution of tools will not alter that; indeed, it will make the realisation of your vision easier.

Andrew Morse's picture

I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon. I don't think I would perform an automatic edit, even if it was based on my past preferences or behaviours. This seems like a great way to stifle creativeness, which you mention in the article.

In fact, if automatic editing becomes commonplace that could mean considerable opportunity for photographers to stand out. When an algorithm determines the best edit for an image across most images, everyone's images may become even more homogenous than they already are, making it even easier to stand out.

Tech is going to continue advancing to be sure, but many people continue to seek vehicles for their creativity. The invention of the automatic transmission didn't end manual shift cars, and the camera didn't end painting as a hobby/profession, but maybe did change it. Even within photoshop, the invention of context aware fill didn't eliminate the need for or use of the clone tool, despite them frequently being used for similar functions. Much the same way, automatic or algorithmic editing may change how some images are processed or the number of people using any one editing suite, but I can't see manual editing completely disappearing.

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.

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