How AI will impact your photography and art

Jan 09, 2023

Right now many artists are rightfully concerned that their hobbies and livelihoods are under threat with the rise of AI.

But actually, I see no serious threat, only opportunity.

Hear me out.

AI is currently best at producing fantastical, slightly surreal results, often imperfectly. The dopamine hit of typing in a prompt and having it spit out eye candy more incredible than you could have imagined mimics the accomplishment artists feel when they produce an artwork, so it’s extremely addictive, though not especially fulfilling. The scarily good results have left artists and photographers wondering if there’s any point in continuing in a field that AI looks set to dominate.

Like any artist, AI has its own preferences and style no matter how you try and steer it, and so it’s just a new form of art that the market needs to make space for, as painters did for photography and then digital art. Yes, people will now be able to generate exactly the piece of art they wish to hang on their wall in a matter of seconds. But there will always be collectors wanting authentic, limited edition art that speaks to the human experience. And there will always be artists making that art because they crave the meditative process of conceiving and creating. Although sadly, many artists will give in to their imposter syndrome and stop creating art because they feel they can no longer compete against AI's polished results.

There are plenty of artists right now who are angry that their art has been trained by AI without their permission. Though when you think about it, all artists learn their craft by looking at the works of other artists, and AI is no different. It just does it faster, by consuming lots of images and spitting out results that interpret our commands based on what it's learned. I’ve always said that copyright would get AI shut down but that doesn’t appear to be the case. And knowing that my art has been trained, I’ve become intrigued by the idea that my work has become part of an ever-growing cultural mosaic. We make art, after all, to make an impact.

The fact is, AI is surging ahead whether we like it or not and we can stand around complaining or we can see it as the opportunity it is. AI is fantastically helpful for shaping ideas and makes it so easy to generate backgrounds and stock pieces to use in Photoshop creations. While I always prefer to shoot my own images for my artworks and will continue to do so for credibility, for my commercial work being able to generate backgrounds to composite my clients into is making my process much easier and faster.

These candles aren't real

But the biggest impact will come when AI starts producing realistic work that can be used commercially, something we’re already seeing with AI programs that write or create music. This will be a significant threat to commercial photographers and graphic designers because businesses are always looking to cut costs, and if they can use AI to create marketing materials in a fraction of the time with less expense then they absolutely will.

But AI will always need humans to drive and correct it because it’s hard to believe that it will ever be able to translate our demands with 100% accuracy. Editing software has been sneaking AI under the hood for years and after running many tests I've found few tools perform better than doing the same task manually. 

And that’s where Photoshop compositors, in particular, will have the biggest opportunity because anyone skilled in image manipulation will be needed to insert products into AI generated backgrounds, add couture to AI generated models, insert real people into AI generated scenes, and fix mistakes like extra fingers that the AI algorithm cannot fully comprehend. Any photographer serious about making money from their hobby will start to fall further and further behind if they haven't learnt Photoshop by now.

If AI does in fact become the primary method of marketing creation in the future then people who can generate and tweak it will be the most in demand.

As for photographers, we have already seen the industry eroded by phones and AI will continue to chip away at certain niches such as stock photography which was already suffering from oversaturation. What AI will never be able to do is provide an experience, so if you can document someone’s special day beautifully or tell an interesting story about the creation of an image, that will always engage people more than AI ever could because humans desire connection and aspiration.

Photography will continue to be a craft worth practicing for the pure joy found in the mindful act of reducing the world down to one perfect rectangle. There will be less people who choose to learn it due to the expense and steep learning curve but that will mean more opportunity for those of us skilled in the craft.

I must admit, when AI first started taking off it was the closest I’d ever come to losing my mojo. With the speed at which it’s improving it’s impossible to predict where it will ultimately lead us, but the innate need for humans to create and express ourselves is as old as time because it makes existence more tolerable, and I don’t see robots ever taking that away from us.

To read an opinion written more beautifully than I could ever express check out what Nick Cave has to say about AI.

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