AI is the #1 buzzword in the digital photography world. Skylum, which has ridden the AI photo editing craze better than any company, is about to release Luminar AI. ON1 now offers ON1 Portrait AI. DxO announced DxO DeepPRIME, which it describes as “an artificial intelligence technology dedicated to editing photos in RAW format.”
Adobe just made AI a major centerpiece in the latest version of Photoshop, declaring that Photoshop is “the world’s most advanced AI application for creatives.”
Reactions within the online photography community seem split. It feels like there’s a loud minority proclaiming AI to be pure evil. But there’s another side thinking about the convenience factor of one-click fixes.
So let’s talk about it.
The Photography Software Industry Pulled a Massive Persuasion Trick on You
The AI photo editing boom has created a major discussion over ethics. Is it wrong to use AI to reshape faces, replace skies, and make outright fake images? And will AI change photography as we know it forever?
Questions like this play right into the photography software industry’s hands. Because when you debate the ethics of AI software, you also do 2 things:
1. You are saying this is actually AI technology, and not just a clever angle cooked up by the marketing department
2. You are saying the software works well
The industry got you to “think past the sale,” which is a classic sales and persuasion trick. I’m not yet convinced there’s real AI in any of this software. But we’re acting as if it is.
And that’s just the first step towards mass acceptance. So let’s admit…
There Is No Turning Back from AI Software
See how effective that “thinking past the sale” stuff is? I’m not convinced AI software actually has any AI in it, yet I’m writing sentences like “there is no turning back from AI software.”
Let me put all my cards on the table. Post-processing is my least favorite part of portrait photography. So if I can clean up skin or knock out a background with a single click, I will slam my credit card down and buy. I value my time more than my ability to push pixels around.
That relates to a major reality of consumer spending: most people gravitate toward the most convenient option.
Why did digital cameras beat film cameras? Because digital is more convenient.
And why are smartphones beating digital cameras? Because smartphones are more convenient.
There will always be a place for serious retouchers and enthusiasts that have exacting demands. But many people will gravitate to the “click and it’s done” model.
But let’s remember…
You Don’t Have to Use Any of This Stuff
If you get enjoyment out of perfecting your images in Photoshop or Affinity Photo or whatever with traditional old school tools, then don’t stop.
No one is forcing you to do use anything new, and you don’t have to buy any AI editing software products if you don’t want to.
One of the biggest weaknesses of software is that it tends to get more bloated over time. Companies like Adobe keep adding features to their products. But they don’t take stuff away.
Odds are you can use your same digital retouching workflow for the next 20 years if you really want to. The clone stamp tool ain’t going anywhere.
Now, you may be thinking “I don’t want to use this stuff, but no one should because it’s bad for society!” Well…
The Damage Is Done
Thanks to reality altering mobile apps, you’re a few clicks away from having bigger eyes, smoother skin, and a slimmer waist. Ironically, these apps are very popular with influencers and celebrities that tell us to love ourselves the way we are.
So by including more face/body altering features in their software, Adobe, Luminar, and their competitors are only following an existing trend.
Photoshelter Chairman Allen Murabayashi argued that “there is something legitimizing about the incorporation of similar technologies into Adobe Photoshop.”
But does legitimizing even matter? These apps have been massively popular for years before Adobe got in on the game. And even if these apps were made illegal, a black market would pop up in about 8 minutes.
Now, let’s get to my final point.
Only You Can Ruin Photography
Landscape photographer and YouTube Thomas Heaton recently said “AI Editing Will Ruin Photography As We Know It:”
I disagree 100%.
If we’re going down this road, we could say that Photoshop should have ended photography. You could even extend that to the analog darkroom! Photographers were retouching skin, swapping heads, manipulating color, and compositing images decades before Photoshop even existed.
The AI editors are simply making things easier. We can still freely choose to nail shots in-camera, or carefully use traditional editing tools if we want.
Let’s also think about why we shoot in the first place.
The great Gregory Heisler once said this about photography:
If your only expectation is the satisfaction of making the picture, it will never let you down.
Watch this video for the full quote (start at 4:49):
if you’re in this game for the thrill of getting the shot, new software shouldn’t change a thing for you.
So I’ll leave you with three questions to think about:
1. Does it bother you that software makes it easier for other people to create certain kinds of photos?
2. Are you worried that people can do less work than you but get the same end result?
3. Do you value your work based on how difficult it is to produce?
I don’t think there are right or wrong answers to these questions, but they are worth considering.
Here’s 2 cents of wisdom for the road:
Put your time and energy into getting results the way you see fit.
Worry less about other people’s choice of tools.
About the author: Michael Comeau is the Editor of OnPortraits.com, an all-new online community dedicated to simple, classic portrait photography. Click here for more information. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. This article was also published here.