Should We Embrace Artificial Intelligence as Part of Our Photography? Skylum Co-Founder Shares His Thoughts.

Should We Embrace Artificial Intelligence as Part of Our Photography? Skylum Co-Founder Shares His Thoughts.

Artificial Intelligence is there to serve us by making our lives and routines easier, and is already an integral part of our photography. But, are we right to question it? Dima Sytnik, CTO and Co-founder of Skylum shares his thoughts on the subject.

Earlier this year I wrote my first article on mixing photography and artificial intelligence, and shared my findings with our readers. Just doing very brief research online, you'll quickly find that there are numerous types of software and pieces of equipment that already utilize the benefits of artificial intelligence, from the way our equipment works, to the way we can create art nowadays, and of course in post-processing, as well as analyzing and categorizing our work, and more. One of the companies I mentioned in my article were Skylum, who has released different types of editing programs and plugins that heavily use artificial intelligence as part of their workflow to enhance the user experience for both beginners and professionals, who know exactly what tools they require.

Since writing my article, I have been contacted by Skylum and an idea arose to discuss artificial intelligence through the eyes of someone who has closely worked with these ideas, tools, and products from the very start. Sytnik is not just the person behind all of their products and innovations, but he is a photographer himself, too.

Skylum co-founder Dima Sytnik

Skylum Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder Dima Sytnik.

Artificial intelligence as a concept and as a part of our current life, and as a definite part of our future, may seem a daunting concept for some, even if its sole goal is to simplify our lives. When it comes to photography, Sytnik explains that by helping us to do things faster and easier, it's simplifying the process of taking and managing photos, which may be a hurdle for those who don't wish to delve into the technicalities of photography and instead want to simply focus on taking, editing, and storing their photographs. Skylum and many others are heavily investing in the research and development of artificial intelligence, a rational decision considering how integral it may become in our lives. 

My concern is whether artificial intelligence is capable of hindering our learning and understanding of photography and editing by relieving us of information that, arguably, might be beneficial to our personal and professional development. Sytnik counteracts this by explaining that in reality not everyone is interested in spending time and resources to learn how certain adjustments or actions work, and thus having access to tools, that on the onset appear as very basic but in truth involve heavy behind-the-scenes work, can enhance their experience. For example, a simple slider called Accent AI, available in Luminar 3, swiftly fixes adjustments, such as the tone, details, exposure, depth, color, and others, which allows us to work faster and more intuitive due to machine learning. 

Although artificial intelligence can imitate the work pattern of fixing white balance, exposure, details, and other tools that a human editor would apply to the image, especially at the beginning stage of post-processing, Sytnik admits that the image still needs to be taken by a photographer, although he is hopeful that artificial intelligence will gain the ability to add a creative touch. Creativity is not a part of the process yet, however, you can also question where does basic editing end, and where does creativity begin?

Although these tools can give you assistance in speeding up and simplifying your workflow, it won't necessarily make you a "great" photographer, neither will it give you "an eye for photography". More importantly, it won't help you recognize or capture the emotions in your subject or scene. Technology cannot fully understand why and how we feel emotions nor can it understand "the human experience". Sure, it can judge certain aspects within an image, such as lighting, but Sytnik believes that it takes a real human to truly evaluate the context of the scene, meanwhile a computer does not carry the emotional capability to comprehend a narrative. In order for machine learning to adapt to our needs and perhaps become more powerful in adding a creative touch, it still needs to be learn from us. 

Sytnik notes that currently the biggest hurdle in developing artificial intelligence based tools and software is research and development. Although you may have created a great concept for a feature and have already begun working on it, you may struggle to bypass performance complexities. It's also likely to achieve completely different results from what you initially hoped and set out to achieve in the first place. Sometimes you also have to accept defeat because you may realize that "something may not work after all", however, regardless of current difficulties, the future is looking promising for artificial intelligence. 

Two Skylum employees working on their laptops at a desk

Although nobody knows exactly what future holds, Sytnik believes that artificial intelligence will rather enhance, not replace, traditional imaging. With tools, such as GauGAN, a software that turns simple drawings into realistic looking landscapes, or a digital face generator, we can start seeing the giant steps that artificial intelligence is already making. But once more, Sytnik reminds that while the progress is undeniable, it still is a "way of copy-pasting existing knowledge — it imitates, but it doesn't create".

For those who aren't concerned with creativity, artificial intelligence can be a money saving answer to tackling time consuming tasks, for example, a real estate business requiring high quality HDR photographs showcasing their listings or an online retailer letting the machine automation take care of batch-processing images. For those who thoroughly enjoy the creativity and human aspect of photography, artificial intelligence should not be feared but rather seen as a tool that can help us reduce time spent on tasks we rather avoid, and allow us focus on things that matter to us, instead. 

What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence becoming a part of our photography experience? 

All images used with the permission of Skylum. 

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15 Comments

Well, anyway, fearing what the future will bring doesn't get you anywhere.
All this doesn't bother me at all.
Tech is nice to use, but nobody forces you to use it.

EL PIC's picture

A.I. would prob be good for Photography as well as digital Imaging but might be better for the average photographer.
They need more I.Q.

what i see most people have problem with is white balance..

Burt Johnson's picture

I have used the Skylum AI on photos. It is not much different from my pressing the 'auto' button in Lightroom or using the presets I have created that work with my particular photo style.

I was very impressed with the first Skylum AI results, and passed the next 100 or so images through it... and saw it is wonderful when it works, but you gotta use common sense (not always that common...) too. About 40% of the time, the results were good, and I just used them. The rest... well, I went back to the original RAW image and processed myself.

Will get better with time. Is a very good tool now, but don't just turn off the brain and accept it unilaterally...

Ed Sanford's picture

Very good points. I actually find that it only works by itself about 20% of the time. I use it as a plugin to LR. If I am a little “creatively stuck”, I will run an image through Luminar to get some quick alternative views. Then I take the image back to LR to finish my editing. I see it as a creative resource rather than a time saver. In fact, if I use Luminar in my flow, it takes more time, and I am ok with that.

Michael Desert's picture

It would be interesting to see how it evolves during the next two years: probably huge improvement could come from the AI algos.

The proverbial Genie is out of the bottle as far as technology is concerned, we just have to learn to live with it and use it appropriately.

As long as you declare the edits and technology you used to create an image, I don't see an issue.

user-206807's picture

All depends of our level of Natural Stupidity…

Marcus Joyce's picture

It's so ai it can't open a cr3 file

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.

Justin Punio's picture

I wonder how far they can take this? I've always been of the mind that there are aspects, artistically, that a computer will never be able to do.

Anete Lusina's picture

I agree! In my personal work I can only see AI helping me out in terms of working with image sorting, maybe minor enhancements at most, because my personal work is very much about the feeling or thought behind it not technical perfection whereas when it comes to some commercial work, I think there's room for people like myself (who are miles from being technical photographers) to maybe let AI do some of it while we concern ourselves with things that we do enjoy & understand but I think there's still a very long way for that to go.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I'd love an AI that can do the dodging and burning for the skin retouching.

Spy Black's picture

Having noticed that Adobe now installs quite a bit of applets that phone home with any of their programs, I suspect Adobe is collecting workflow data for AI R&D. I believe it's only a matter of time before Adobe creates a one-stop-shop design and image processing AI cloud network that will cut designers, editors, compositors and all other graphics and motion professionals out of the loop. One ring to rule them all.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

What this appears to be about, is - on the one hand - the enthusiasm some people have for moving forward - and, on the other - the fear (or blind terror, even) that others have of stepping into "the unknown",
Easy - try "knowing it", instead and then we might all be on the same page.
Frankly, the choice should come down to this.
All these things - from the knife and fork we use to eat our food, to IBM's most powerful computer - can be used for our good. Or to control or destroy us.
But it isn't "them" that takes us down those paths. It's the people who make or run them.
So if anyone has a problem with AI, it's simply because of the character of whoever is running it.
I have no use for guns, so I don't own one. The military and the police need them, so they have them. In between "me" and "them", there is apparently a cast of millions who DON'T need one, but do have one - some, several - and the consequences are beyond belief horrific.
But we cannot blame the guns for that. A gun is an inanimate object, until someone picks it up, loads it, and pulls the trigger.