Are You Ready? Photography Is About to Change Forever

If you're a photographer who earns a living photographing people, you need to be prepared for this. 

I'll be the first to admit that as a landscape photographer, I don't pretend to know much about the art of photographing people. However, I do know that the majority of money in photography comes from photographing humans. Weddings, portrait work, headshots, family photos, fashion, sports: you name it and it likely involves people. 

Unless you haven't followed any news at all, you likely caught the recent wave of AI-generated images from platforms such as Dall-E-2, where you could input search terms and be delivered a plethora of different results, sometimes with frightening realism, or comical mishaps. Even in its infancy, it has created works of art good enough to win a contest or two. The results, on average, are very hit or miss, but it's genuinely interesting to see what it can come up with. 

What happens when you take that power and give it a bit more direction, specifically within the photography industry?

The End of Professional Photography

Lee Morris covered this topic a few months ago, presenting examples of people that don't exist, created in seconds, with insanely detailed results. I cover this in my video above, but go a step further to cover what happens when you input yourself as the subject? Recently, I came across a service that does exactly that, so obviously, I gave it a try. 

Images ranging from selfies to portraits taken with my professional camera or phone. 

The service I stumbled upon is, which does cost money currently. I fully expect these services to start becoming more widespread very rapidly. They ask you to send in 20 images of yourself: 10 face close-ups, 5 chest and above, and 5 full-body images. Within a few hours, you're delivered back a set of images that are theme-dependent based on their services at the time. For example, Christmas is a current theme generated by this service, more on that later. 

Me but not me?

Here are a few of the images I got back. These are me, but they aren't me. Some of these are scarily good, all while giving zero direction to the system that created them. When you start thinking about what the possibilities could be with just a little direction, you really start to realize just how much this is going to change the photography industry. 

Headshots, Holiday Photos, and Stock Images

Let's start small while also remaining realistic. I don't expect any photographer reading this to only make their income from headshots or holiday photos, but I imagine many help subsidize studio costs and residual income with studio sessions of varying types. 

Need New Professional Headshots?

It just so happens the service I used delivered a few examples of professional headshots. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. Could I use them professionally? Not yet. But imagine a web service that only creates professional headshots, where you can set a few parameters such as keeping your facial structure and eye color set to something like "reality" and then get delivered 100+ images of you in a professional setting. You don't have to get dressed up, work with a photographer, or even leave the house.

This is possible right now. This isn't something a few years down the road. Give an AI service a bit more computational power, a little more time, and direct it to do one thing, such as professional headshots, and this will absolutely be a service people start using. This will absolutely have an impact on working photographers right now.

Holiday postcards

The service also delivered back a few holiday styles photos that are far from perfect. But continuing the sentiment above to use a service with one direction and more power, I suspect the results will just continue to get better. We aren't quite at a point where you can serve the AI images of four family members and get back holiday postcards yet, but I don't think we are far off. You don't have to wrangle the kids, your partner, buy outfits, or worry about a bunch of individual factors. 

Think about services like Shutterstock and Getty, who provide countless generic stock images for different purposes. Why continue to pay photographers for more images or people when they can just use their own libraries to start generating images themselves? This could happen right now and directly impact those photographers who earn income from stock images of people. 

The Future

Let's take it a step further and think about where this is heading. Lee already covered this pretty well in his article, showing the ability to create fake people in portrait or editorial settings. This is coming. Imagine you're a big clothing brand and instead of having to pay a photographer, makeup artist, a model, etc. to create images of a new fashion line. You simply serve the service images of the new products and let it go to work creating in realistic images you can use without worry of copyright, usage rights, or even something controversial such as the model within the photos possibly gaining negative press (think Kanye). 

Me modeling a new green shirt line

I suspect a company will start or is already starting to develop this service and will work with big fashion brands for the future and completely change the industry. Think about how much it benefits the companies to not have to worry about many of the factors that go into creating editorial images for ad campaigns like I highlighted above. Similar things like this have already happened within the industry on a smaller scale. When you visit a webstore for a clothing brand, you can find images without faces and clothing interchanged on stock style modeling images.

If you're a wedding photographer and feeling safe, personally, I think even that market could be impacted in the future. Imagine 10 years from now, you're at a wedding and you're instructed to take as many images on your iPhone 24 or Pixel 17 of the wedding as you want. Then, everyone deposits all the images from the wedding into a folder, serves it to some type of wedding AI generator, and creates aesthetically pleasing wedding photos that reflect the moment in time, all without hiring a wedding photographer. 

What a time to be alive. I won't say the sky is falling, nor will I claim that this is the end of professional photography. I do think it will start to impact the monetization within the industry. It won't make photography obsolete as a profession, but it will pressure the industry to adapt and change. I do think it will absolutely impact people looking to earn a living within the future of portrait photography. Do you agree? What are your thoughts on these services? Do you think it won't change anything or that it'll revolutionize the future?

Alex Armitage's picture

Alex Armitage has traveled the world to photograph and film some of the most beautiful places it has to offer. No matter the location, perfecting it's presentation to those absent in the moment is always the goal; hopefully to transmute the feeling of being there into a visual medium.

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How utterly depressing.

Arguments about the future aside, it is sad that you think paying more than $200 for professional headshots today is too much and would advised your friend against paying more than that. Headshot photographers can't all live in a van and their a cost of doing business largely dictates their starting prices. Depending on the needs of the client, it isn't unreasonable that they would spend considerably more for the benefit of advanced skills, experience and quality results.

I think I've clearly offended a few people with that statement and it's entirely possible my gauge for headshots is off. She needed a linkedin profile pic and he quoted her $800. I won't pretend to know the market or that world but she ended up just taking some photos of herself with her phone that turned out well enough for her.

Also if $800 is the going rate for headshots then services like these are going to destroy that market I suspect.

Enhance= Definitely. Destroy- Nope.

Problem is there's a bunch of people like me, hobbyists with a full time day job who'd happily take some LinkedIn headshots on the weekend for $200/£200.

You can either look at things as a demise like this guy, or as opportunity. Take your pick, but it looks like opportunity to me. You could make some serious money with this if you integrate it into your services strategically.

It reminds me of the old joke about two shoe salesmen who went to a remote African village. After the first day, one of them contacts headquarters and says there’s no hope. Nobody wears shoes. The other contacts headquarters and says nobody wears shoes. The opportunity for sales is unlimited.

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I don’t want fake photos of myself.

I agree but I wonder how many people there are who wouldn't mind fake photos of themselves.

If you see what some mobile phones produce with the help of "beauty" filters, people are already used to fake pictures anyway...

Sure and they can be happy about it. But they also have to ignore the reality as in how people perceive them. Best to accept your features or age than crash into major depression when reality clicks.

I'm sure many wouldn't mind fake photos of themselves, but how many are willing to pay for it and, more importantly, would they have paid to have had themselves professionally shot in the first place? Sure, it's fun to see a bunch of generated pix of you in places and settings you've never been in, and these could be great for a laugh, or for your Christmas cards, but would have no value as keepsakes.

Don't you dare tell my clients about this. :) Every year so far, they'd hire me to photograph their growing family around historic/well known areas of LA. They have the same Christmas props, just different locations.

Everyone sell your cameras and run for the hills, the sky is falling.

So sick of this shit. Fine, shitty photographers can be replaced, awesome.

It can happen, probably will, but there will always be some clients who wants real photography just because they can afford it. Like some people have oil-paintings of themselves, just because.

This can be done without paying for a service. It just takes a decent video card with 8GB RAM since most of this is based on pretrained weights and some Python know-how. Most applications now provide a GUI for a lay person to use. Anyway, if you are interested in a follow up article doing this without paying for a service, lmk.

I think this uses

Yes. I think understanding how this works would be very helpful. 👍

How can you make a statement that a professionally made headshot, with professional expertise, setting up for client, taking 30-60 mins for the session downloading images, reviewing the images with the client, then processing the file and do real retouching/editing is only worth 200.00?!!! I’m guessing everyone knows their worth!

Clearly my scales are off. The person quoted her $800 for headshots. Seems insane to me for a glorified Linkedin profile pic haha.

May be stick to your field of photography?

Yes, I know W Mitty (from thumb down), it's a rough reply, but we don't all do the same type of photography. We don't have all the same income and all and certainly don't have the same type of clientele, billing methods... Beside camera and lenses we do do very different type of photography, there is nothing generic in that industry. Two years ago the fear thing was "CGI about to take over advertising photography", this year is AI. Not saying it won't affect some, but let see first. In 2021 one of my clients decided to actually go CGI and after reading all types of bs on photo web sites I started getting very, very concerned. The thing is, CGI isn't a one thing, there are many smart ways to use it. My client isn't going to go full CGI and since they started that project, my income grew $12k between 2021 and 2022 because of that transition. Don't work harder, work smarter, try to balance what these "pro writers" type or create video about. They have a lot of good intensions but most have zero practical business experience with CGI or AI and it's easy to see if you actually pay attention. Last thing, it's okay to look like the bad sheep that doesn't follow the group. Just think positively.

I have to imagine that I'm saying "headshot" with a specific idea in mind and it's being read very differently than what my definition is which would explain a lot. Or it's entirely possible i'm naive and totally off base, I'm very willing to accept that as the answer.

We don't sell strategy, but if a client feels like something will boost something for them, then a$800 headshot might actually be a real good investment. Would you charge E. Musk or Bezos only $80 for a headshot?

Pretty sure they'd charge me just for letting them be photographed

Well as you mention, neither you or me will most likely get the call and personally I would pass. For CEOs, you will spend as much as a full day in time to prepare, shoot and all and you may get just a few minutes of presence. Bring a team to move fast... charge at least your day rate.

I've done the exact same work pretty much for both £400, and £2,500. The difference in those situations was what the client could afford.

Agreed, make your day worth it while keeping client retention for as long as you can.

Nice video, but this happens for hundreds of years, machines, cars, everything alway destroy some jobs and create new ones.
And, I think it will touch also landscape photography. Why people should for exmaple buy calendar form landscape photogrpaher, when the can create some fake ones with the feeling "I created this".

People buy calendars from landscape photographers because of the photographer. You can already walk into a store a buy less expensive calendars with fantasy art, cats, random landscapes etc.

The business of landscape photography is typically about investing in the person, not just because you like pretty pictures. Tons of pretty pictures out there!

oh wow. This is both impressive and so discouraging

Yeah. Really curious to see where it ends up in 5 years.

I thought this was the future of Photography.....

This is a case of thinking everybody is into photography tech to the degree we are. Just an hour ago, I was chatting with my wife about the challenge one of my family portrait clients had favouriting her portraits on my gallery system, do you think someone like her has the time for ai tech like this. The value my clients receive goes beyond their photos, it's the fact that I take the stress away from them when I photograph their families, while delivering life long art to decorate their walls. This is the one thing that took me a long time to understand. There's been tech rumoured to kill the portrait business over the past decade, but there are people still running million $ portrait businesses.

"Sell all your camera gear" said C. Little "and learn to code!"

Great read and points covered Alex. Photographers who fail to recognize the power of AI are in for a shock sooner than they think. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Esp loved the business pic of you with the random co worker behind!!

Possible who knows. Does your income come from a business of photography as in selling photography services and excluding any article that do not provide income directly from photoshoots?

At some point the only thing photographers will have left to sell will be "authenticity". So let's all stop hyperventilating over the latest sky replacement, stop stop telling each other that "AI" is just another new tool, and think about what that actually means.

Not replacing anything real, just creating a casual fast-snap product. People love authentic things and sensations.

Every time i read something like this I consider the source.

I can certainly see this impacting fashion, headshot, and commercial photography eventually, at least at the mid- and low levels. Certainly product photography (if you can do it with faces, you can do it with other objects). By mid- and lower levels, I mean the sort of photography that fills fashion catalogues, online food menus, LinkedIn profiles, etc. Photography that has no style or personality of its own, but is simply trying to illustrate a situation or object with no pressure to be authentic. It'll certainly have an impact on the millions of mediocre photographers currently turning a buck part- or full-time. It'll definitely discourage many from getting into the photography business in the first place. But for the top tiers of name brand shooters this won't really be an issue. Nor will it be for any photographer who's job it is to capture actual places and events and people. Eg: could this system capture Saudi Arabia's winning goal against Argentina yesterday, and splash it across the world's media? No.