In December 2018, NVIDIA, the U.S. tech giant, released a hyper-realistic face generator dubbed StyleGAN. This open-source tool is designed to generate new images that mimic real images taken by a photographer. The point of the product is to generate images for commercial use without the "hassle" of working with models and professional photographers.
Real Portraits Downloaded from The StyleGAN System
As you can see, AI is less of a threat than you think. While certainly impressive in some areas, many experts contend it will never supplant a professional photographer’s human eye. What’s more, AI may actually helpphotographers work more efficiently—once they’ve learned how to incorporate it.
TYPES OF AI USED IN PHOTOGRAPHY
Several emerging types of AI is beginning to be incorporated into the photography process. These products include deep learning and long exposure devices and photo editing AI like ON1 Photo Raw 2019 and Skylum.
Deep learning, for instance, is an algorithm from Meero designed to mimic neural networks in the human brain to help a photographer cut down on the “hours making subjective qualitative enhancements to each photograph.” Like StyleGAN, it utilizes a vast photo database to create an “automatic image enhancement pipeline,” or an algorithm that automatically alters lighting, scene semantics, and captures and corrects noise and blur based off the photos in the database.
Meanwhile, there are also AI devices—like long exposures—you can add to your camera set-up. For instance, there’s Arsenal, a smart camera assistant that you put on top of your camera and that can be configured with your smart phone. According to ApogeePhoto.com, “It has many features such as time lapse, focus stacking, sharing to the web and remote release [and] also allows long-exposure or time exposure photos without neutral density (ND) filters.”
While these AI add-ons help with the process of taking the photo, there is even more AI magic to help with editing the photo after its taken. For instance, ON1 Photo Raw 2019 is a picture editor that uses AI to help you apply a mask to your photo—without needing to fiddle around with the tools menu.
The Human Touch Matters In Photography
Clearly, these add-ons can do a lot to speed up the process of taking a quality picture, and while they may seem like a threat to your photography business, they are largely meant to help a novice photographer snap something half-decent. In truth, the results a trained photographer gets will always be better—simply because they are human.
Even the head of the AI Lab at Skylum, Alex Savsunenko, thinks human-made photography is superior. According to artsy.net, Savsunenko said that because the computer will never truly understand the human experience, it will never create a masterpiece.
For an example, Savsunenko dives into the example of the famous photo, 1945’s VJ Day Kiss in Time Square. Only a human, who understood the weight of the war and the poignancy of that moment, he said, would know to take that shot. “Storytelling is still a profoundly human activity,” Savsunenko said.
Along those lines, computers will likely never know how to set a scene or add a prop to tell a specific story for a client—which is the basis of any successful photography business. For instance, say a photographer is asked to do product photography or photography for a scene. The photographer and the client will likely decide on the mood and message they want to portray together, and the photographer will adjust lighting, models, props and more to fit that story—and some improvisation may be involved.
This is where AI falls completely flat. After all, robots carry out a complex series of actions automatically—they cannot act spontaneously, even if the photo session calls for it.
Integrating AI Into Your Photography
Wowing professional-quality photos require more of a human touch than the perfect lighting or contrast that AI provides. But that doesn’t mean a good photographer can’t use some of the technology to their advantage, in conjunction with their keen eye.
While pros usually prefer to do much of the editing and processing in their own particular style, AI can be useful for photo storage and optimization. For instance, Apple and Google both have applications allow you to organize your photos intuitively, so you can sort them for easy deletion and editing, and both Apple and Skylum are developing high resolution photo files that are also helping tackle issues of photo size and storage space.
Hence, there are things in the world of photography AI that can be assets to both amateur and professional photographers. Tutorials—like this one for Arsenal—also make it easy to teach photographers how to apply AI technology in a way that makes sense for them.
“I am happy about AI pressure on photography because it reinforces the importance of non-technical aspects of photography like capturing a peak moment or working closely with your subject to make more profound, metaphorical images.” - Kirk Mastin
If the industry starts to approach AI less as a threat and more like a tool, professional photographers may actually find that it can make their business more efficient and profitable. Still, in the end, a truly great photograph can’t be produced by machine—and likely never will be.