The End of Professional Photography

Every year, I've had to hear about how a new technology was going to kill the photography industry. I ignored it all, until now. 

Smartphones are killing the camera market. In 2007, over 110 million digital cameras were sold, but in 2021, the world only bought 8.4 million. Phones are coming with multiple cameras that are capable of different focal lengths, macro, and long exposure photography, but of course, the real value is in the software. Photography software is becoming so good that it will soon be able to take any photo, of any quality, and make it great. Cell phones will always have a massive advantage over dedicated cameras because they are connected to the internet. They have direct access and the processing power to run the software that will change the industry in the future.

The scariest advancement in technology has happened in the last few weeks. Artificial intelligence art generators like MidJourney or Dall-E 2 have hit the market. These programs can instantly create world-class quality art for free by simply typing in a few keywords. You might think this will destroy the graphic design and illustration industry, but what does this have to do with photography? Well, new updates allow these programs to create photorealistic images.

All of the images below are not real people. They were not taken with a camera. These images were generated with a program, in seconds, for free. 

Why would anyone go through the trouble of hiring a photographer, model, makeup artist, stylist, and location scout, when they can create something that looks better, instantly for free? 

And I know what you're thinking, "photographers" will still be needed to take photos of real people, like a celebrity on the cover of a magazine or a headshot for a website. Oh, really? These programs allow you to upload images of faces and then create new art with those people in it. 

This is obviously not perfect yet, but I would never have guessed that this would be possible today. What happens when any person is able to scan their face with their phone, and then have a "photography generator" create world-class photos of themselves in any location, with any clothing, with any lighting, in any style? I never dreamed we would be here so fast, but this is right around the corner. 

You are going to have to pivot soon. You're going to have to embrace this new technology or, like all of my film shooting friends who refused to learn Photoshop, your work will eventually dry up as well. 

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and stay tuned on Fstoppers.com because I'm going to keep a close eye on this new technology over the next year. My goal is to figure out how to capitalize on it and share it with you. 

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92 Comments
Pete Coco's picture

Oof this is really crazy stuff. I had this discussion with a friend recently. I think it's only a matter of time before you can point your cell phone at your face and it will create a world class photo of you, eliminating the need for a photographer. I also think everyone will have a short video over a still photo for all of their online profiles. I'm not sure where we go from here but I agree that we need to pivot as photographers.

Here's another issue. Someone can make a bunch of these and pretend that they are their own real images. It also diminishes the incredible work that so many photographers do, traveling all over the world to make a single photo... there are so many things about this that mak me sad.

Lee Morris's picture

Yes you could literally win Photography competitions without ever taking a photo.

Craig Horn's picture

An AI-generated artwork just won a State Fair fine art competition:

https://www.vice.com/en/article/bvmvqm/an-ai-generated-artwork-won-first...

Pete Coco's picture

WOW.

Rob Boud's picture

This is absolutely not the case. A randomly produced A.I image of a celebrity won't replace magazine covers. Those featured aren't going to sign their likeness away to A.I generated images they have no control over.

A few key words in a program won't replace someone's wedding photos, family portraits, a businesses product.

I'm portrait photography the connection between a photographer and the subject is what makes a shot. The small differences between each expression, a subtle change in pose. You can't really believe this.

You'll just see a bunch of A.I art Instagram accounts pushing them as NFTs no one cares about.

Pete Coco's picture

I hope you are right about all of this, Rob!

Jan Steinman's picture

<blockquote>Those featured aren't going to sign their likeness away to A.I generated images</blockquote>

Ever seen <i>The Sun?</i>

It's been done for years.

Jared Tremper's picture

Couldn’t have said it better. Just look at all the best portrait photography and it’s clear a human connection was made. In fact, maybe it’s exactly because of the AI /smartphone hype that more young people are getting into film photography.

Lee Morris's picture

You would say this “connection” was made in every image above and they aren’t real.

Jared Tremper's picture

Yes, but keeping in mind the audience: a portrait is typically first viewed and evaluated by the subject of the portrait, then perhaps others that know the subject, etc. The images in this article seem to be for the world at large. If this is about art and consumption on social media, etc, it could be this shift is happening. But I've shot several weddings, a small number of events, portraits, etc: when someone at an event gives you the reaction you're looking for, it's "real". The title of this article is "the end of professional photography", and I just don't see that happening at the scale suggested in the video. Connection is trust. Connection not between the consumer of an image: I mean connection between photographer and subject.

Brent Rivers's picture

In retail portraiture, there will be a market just like there's still a market for a horse farrier. Albeit a micro market, not growing, but sustained at very small levels. Colleges have dropped photography as an art form. Camera makers aren't making money selling cameras. You may still see the sunset through the storm clouds but it's coming and has put many traditional photographers out of business, especially in the commercial market. I think there will always be room for a solution provider. Someone who can develop a vision for a client that includes imagery, video, etc and make it tangible if necessary. The tools to do that to have a profit margin may change but there will be a market for it.

Benoit .'s picture

I disagree, cameras sell, just not at the level of the digital pick point. We are probably at the level of pre digital. I don't understand it each time people look down and say it's gone when it is clearly not gone. Canon was able to replace it's entire line of Dslrs to mirrorless in just 2 years. They are not broke.

Brent Rivers's picture

Do you understand that Canon doesn't make money selling cameras? Nikon is actually losing money as a company. Sony doesn't either, their other divisions or components within their imaging divisions are where margins come in. This is public knowledge. Camera sales are at an all time low but Canon has certainly come back with the push into mirrorless.

Benoit .'s picture

Oh totally it's really, really bad, in fact April first 2024 is the day they all have agreed to stop all camera and lenses production at once.

Kirk Darling's picture

I suspect the sale of professional/enthusiast cameras as a proportion of cameras sold will drop to 1960s levels. The 35mm SLR enjoyed a major bubble beginning in the 70s because exposure automation and then focusing automation brought them into use by the casual photographer.

So that bubble has burst. Cell phones are the new "Instamatic."

Benoit .'s picture

The volume of sales compared to the past does not matter how far we go back in time. What could matter is to analyze amount of production and cost for a camera in the 60's and the same today. Top of the line Canon camera body back in 1989 was around $1300 or less. I could only find it in Yen and cameras in Japan go for slightly more than in the US. Anyway in today's currency it would be the cost of an R5 which is not the highest prices model for Canon and we don't even know yet if there will be an R1and it's price. Now we can talk about manufacturing cost, and I know many would say the R5 is much more expansive to manufacture but I would say prove it. We went through that when the 5D came out and all the keyboard pros were all saying that it could not be sold for less than $5k since the high end full frame was then around $8K. I was like who cares what it cost them and Canon sold it around $3k, so that shut up a bunch of theorists quickly. We don't know what things cost them, in fact they still make the 5Dm4 and it's currently going for $2700.00. Why would they still produce it and at that low price when they have an entire new line of both cameras and lenses? Do they give them away? That's not how the real world works. I'm sure it's a tiny production compared to the R5, but I really don't get why we should care for how many they sell, it's not the same market and we have over doubled the population of humans on the planet, so technically we may be at the low 60's volume of camera sales if not lower. Then what?

Douglas Liebig's picture

So there will be 20 to 50 professional photographers for the 30 to 50 printed magazines to cpature the image of celebrities. That's a real strong job market there...

Marc Librescu's picture

You're right about wedding photography and wrong about everything else. What do you mean "sign their likeness away?" A magazine can run a piece about a celebrity and use an illustration without needing to get permission. You are positing an opinion without any facts to back it up.

Joe Svelnys's picture

I remember a similar discussion far back in the mid-90s when Jurassic Park came out. In that movie there was a scene near the end where they digitally replace a stunt-doubles face with the actors face.... The debate back then was all about how digital actors will soon replace flesh and blood actors - this clearly did not happen as time played out, and that was 25 years ago.

What did happen was that a new tool was created, a new piece of movie-magic to the tool box. Though what we are seeing is even more advance then those very early days of "deep fake", I do not see this completely removing or replacing the artist. The tools are clearly changing but companies will still need "artists" to use these programs. A graphics studio will not fire all their artist and having Boss/Department Head will do all the work... We all know the boss and DP heads would never want to do that work, they would have no one to blame for a missed-deadline! (teasing).

Joking aside it might replace a few small studios, but it will also allow a single person entry into doing their own graphics for a small project.

Joe Svelnys's picture

There are examples where digital actors have been created for Real Live Action movies (Im not talking 3d or mocap) when an actor has died but this is very rare.

Alex Herbert's picture

A production company bought the rights to Steve McQueen's likeness a few years ago. And were/are planning to make a film with a digital version of him. Not sure how that's going.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Even if they do it, I would not watch it. All I'd see is his likeness, but not his acting. You could mimic the likeness and voice, but a computer program can't act. It can't know the little things he may or may not do that makes a scene a Steve McQueen scene.

Joe Svelnys's picture

In the new Ghostbusters it was the best decision they could have made when adding Harold Ramis back in digitally... no voice and the "acting" was limited and straight forward. I thought it was well done.

Brent Rivers's picture

You've been watching likenesses already. And you didn't even know.

Mike Shwarts's picture

That isn't the point. I have no problem with made up characters. But the Steve McQueen film, if it were made, would not be a Steve McQueen film. It does not matter how realistic the likeness is. It would not be McQueen acting.

Reginald Graddy's picture

The subtle nuances of actual people. I actually already miss this in society, picture or no picture.

I mean, who doesn't love a poreless, doll skinned version of a real person.

Douglas Liebig's picture

So, Tom Cruze actually flew from that helicopter onto the vehicle in the tunnel? My point being, a change like what you're talking about doesn't happen like flipping a light switch. It takes time. Of course it's going to happen. How long before a studio executive decides to create a very realistic "celebrity" for a movie because they won't have to pay an actor? Once that happens, how long before other studios follow suit? Always follow the money, if a large sum of money can be saved, it will be.

Joe Svelnys's picture

Ohh I completely agree (I use to work in a studio myself) - I'm basically saying, on some level, some of this has already been around and available for 25 years now. That sad, it is getting a lot easier, exponentially.

koma tan's picture

I’m an ML engineer by trade. I enjoy photography as a hobby. I believe that the technology is getting close. Other than the two mentioned here, there is also Stable Diffusion, which came out shortly after Dall-E which is a reflection of how fast this area is evolving. I can see a mixture of this and other libraries like DeepFaceLab replacing even ancillary portraiture tasks like makeup artist and even the person who chooses the clothes. I can see something like Dall-E creating the set and DeepFaceLab allowing one to replace a face from a posed image, etc. The possibilities between the two interchangeably is endless. This would give the creator more control in regards to the composition itself. I’ve used the various image generating libraries and DeepFaceLab/Live. There isn’t much to it given that they all have some sort of GUI or CLI now. All one needs is a decent video card even as old as a 1080-Ti given that they are all using pretrained weights. In other words, the entry point to do this is also much more cheaper than formal photography.

Pete Whittaker's picture

Interesting... There are already several virtual influencers with millions of followers https://influencermarketinghub.com/virtual-influencers/ There is speculation among at least some marketers that for bigger brands creating and running their own virtual influencers may be the next big trend...

Douglas Liebig's picture

100% will happen. The companies won't have to comp a real person.

Mike Shwarts's picture

More of a lie than traditional advertising. "Listen to this fake person tell you how much they like our product or service." I get that actors are in commercials. I'm ok with that. A virtual actor would be ok. Actors play the part of a user. They sometimes demonstrate the use of product or service. An influencer is supposed to be somebody familiar with the product or service and giving a personal endorsement based on that experience. An endorsement from a virtual user is a big lie.

Pete Whittaker's picture

As Lee Morris posted about recently, most influencers have a relationship with the companies who's products they talk about. Whether it's a direct sponsorship (i.e. monetary payment) indirect compensation (receiving free products or being flown to launch events) or early access to products. Influencers rarely bight the hand that feeds them.

The irony of influencer marketing (and double irony for AI influencers) is that consumers view influencer marketing as more "authentic" than traditional marketing. At least according to marketing surveys.

David Moore's picture

To me all this AI stuff people are doing is just people goofing around with some new tech and everyone goes "oh neat" Whatever it replaces doesn't matter at all to me. I enjoy photography. Not typing words into some prompt and it creating some image.

So if my client needs their product photographed, how will they get that out of AI?

If I want to take photos of a person on the street, can AI make a photo of a person on a street? Yeah, do I effing care? No I want to go walk around out side with other people and take photos.

Jan Steinman's picture

"If I want to take photos of a person on the street…"

I don't think Morris was writing about "you." He was writing about photography for hire. People generally don't hire out "street photography."

Amateur photography will continue.

I imagine that as techniques are developed to make fake photos, other techniques will be developed for certifying "real" photos, the same way that a "real" Van Gogh can be differentiated from a copy.

Douglas Liebig's picture

Jan, thank you for stating the obvious

Kirk Darling's picture

If the client needs a product photographed, in very short order, the client will be able to feed a few cell phone photographs into such AI and tell it to output an image of the product that looks according to the instructions given by a marketing wonk. Portrait clients will be able to do the same thing with selfies. Heck, even wedding couples will be able AI cell phone photos shot by friends.

Will their work attain the highest level of art of the best photographers? Nope. But these are people who happily consume Big Macs and vente Caffe Mochas and think they're living large.

At the high end, portrait and wedding clients may be willing to pay for the "human touch" of a real photographer the way they still pay for human craftsmanship today. Bobby Flay still has a job, despite Ronald McDonald.

Benoit .'s picture

I think photo stock companies are going to suffer, but they killed that market for photographers first and no one is going to cry. I’m not sure photography is going to suffer that much.

Alex N's picture

it is impossible) to sell your photos in stock photobanks you need to have rights for it. your model have to sign a model release. generated pictures are generated not from the air but from the real shots. you don't have rights for sell them on photo stock)

Benoit .'s picture

That makes total sense. Basically this is why these AI images don't fit legally in my opinion. In order to be "legal" people who code such algorithms should have to provide the roots or original images that were used to generate the codes. What they expose themselves to is not to prove that they used our images for free because we can't, but due to the massive collection that they most likely did not purchase, they can be asked to demonstrate that they did NOT use my or anyone's photo illegally.

Kirk Darling's picture

I've been trying to trick Midjourney into reproducing copyrighted images. I haven't been successful so far. Mickey Mouse, for instance. While it clearly knows what "Mickey Mouse" looks like, it always transforms the subject enough to be safe from copyright infringement.

So, no, they won't be required to prove that they didn't infringe, at least not in the US, because a requirement to prove innocence is not how US law works. Someone will have to show the specific image that was infringed and prove that it has not been transformed sufficiently.

Benoit .'s picture

True, but if they do not use images they own and archive/collect them, they are not safe from hackers and bitcoin demand based on their findings or simply unpleased employees. Again, not saying they collect illegally, but the simple fact that there is literally NO INFO on how they collect sourced images from any of those companies is quite surprising. This, especially considering how detailed the image processing is explained on some sites. I know most people don't care, but how they source the images is very important but totally left out.

Kirk Darling's picture

Why is it important?

Benoit .'s picture

I'm looking to come and take the front door of your home for my new house. Don't worry, you won't recognize it after I paint it and make what ever changes I need to do so you can't tell it's yours. For example I'll stop at your neighbor and get the handle set from his door. Are you okay with it? yes, me too, deal!

Kirk Darling's picture

Your example is unanalogous. If you take my door, I no longer have a door.

If someone takes my image and transforms it to the extent that it's not recognizable as my image, even copyright law recognizes that as acceptable and legal. Nor would that person have to advise me or anyone else that he's done so.

Benoit .'s picture

Yeah I get what you say and agree. You know it's a little like those companies that make plaques of a magazine page your photos featured in and tries to sell it to a shop owner for $400 - $800+. Legally they can sell the printed page(s) they purchase and re-sell it like you can sell a record, a news pape,r but you don't have the right to copy and sell new prints. In actuality today they get a PDF from the source and make NEW prints which is not the same legally because you are not told your image will be used again and sold for a different purpose than first agreed. I have researched this extensively after the owner of a car I had shot told me he had been contacted. Visually, the most obvious is when two pages are seamlessly joined when there should be a fold or a cut in the middle. Technically, you got to figure out how they get the name, address and contact info of the car owner. That's what I call the "source". Typically publications collect all these types of info... Anyway, that's kind of bad feeling I have with this AI stuff. I'm sure something like a glitch will happen one day soon or late and someone will question it.

Benoit .'s picture

So I'm looking at what you did here which is concentrating on the output only. That's not what I talked about, output has no value as the law is okay with it. The input is what matters as in how images are collected by these AI apps without the owner's consent. So what you are not revealing is if you had a problem if I took your door.

Kirk Darling's picture

If the AI takes "input" from all sources and "outputs" transformationally, how is that different from human creation? How many of us create something totally new? How many of us create without having been informed by what we've consumed?

Don Althaus's picture

I, for one, have to agree with Mr. Morris on this. It's even more sobering when you combine the imaging advances here with those being made in 3d rendering. We will soon be able to create and populate complete photo realistic scenes down to the most intricate detail without ever leaving the keyboard. And these can be astonishingly impressive images.

Daniel Gamel's picture

What strikes me most about this is how sad it is that so many people are ok with all of the fakeness and AI generated crap. No matter how great it looks, it's not real. Yet, it is being passed off as real. I feel the same about images that are photoshopped to death or taking the sky from one, the moon from another, a lake from this one over here, and the mountains from that one, and lets throw in a wild animal to make it "epic". Screw that. Single exposure is where it's at for me.
As a photographer, I can at least say I was there when this was happening, not sitting at a computer making it up. I got off my ass and saw real, genuine, and beautiful places and things. If the light, timing, or whatever didn't work out while I was there, that's ok. I don't need to make something up for some sort of validation or to compete with all the idiots with their fakery on IG. I also don't care how many likes I get or if my camera is cool enough, or bleeding edge enough to do it all for me. Photography is what gets me out living life, not what defines my life.

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