Will AI Destroy the Professional Headshot Industry?
The world is ablaze with talk of ChatGPT, one of the latest AI (artificial intelligence) applications revolutionizing everything from research and copywriting to blog and ad creation to college essays. Noticed or unnoticed, these applications have seeped into nearly every part of our world.
Are they right? And is there even a place for AI in our field?
The answer to these questions is no… and yes.
When AI Imitates Art
The fact is, I could have used ChatGPT to write this article (but I didn’t). I could have used an AI app to generate my headshot (I never would, and I never will).
In its current form, AI is only the sum of its dataset. It is incapable of original, unique perspectives.
When it comes to headshot photography, this means that AI can never see you—it can only duplicate what others have done before. AI can never bring out the best in you. It can never look past the shortcomings of what others have captured and name your true essence: “This is who I am.”
A professional photographer sees something and brings to life a visual artifact that tells a story and captures a real meeting of two humans in a particular time and space.
AI merely imitates the past.
A Brief Trip to the Mall
I may be dating myself here, but there was a time when a headshot meant a trip to the mall and a vaguely uncomfortable session with a mediocre photographer.
I’m sure there were stars in this business model who genuinely cared about what they were doing and created great sessions for their clients. But that was not the norm. And I think this is the closest thing to a truly great headshot that AI can accomplish.
Photography is art.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a headshot, a landscape, an album cover, or something entirely different.
Just as every stroke of the paintbrush in a Picasso, Michelangelo, or da Vinci painting offers a unique perspective revealing what’s seen through the artist’s eyes, there are subtle nuances a photographer can capture that AI cannot replicate.
Consider it this way: Would you prefer to buy a painting that is an amalgamation derived from the work of others, or an original masterpiece from a reputable artist? The former is not much better than a paint-by-number.
Would you trust AI to capture the moment a groom sees his bride for the first time on their wedding day? Of course not!
The emotion of the moment is something that can’t be replicated by a computer. And it’s that moment that photographers live for.
Timing is everything in photography, and a small detail makes all the difference in emulating emotions and capturing the essence of our clients.
The Difference is in the Shoot
When a client walks into my Atlanta headshot studio, they are usually nervous. For some, it’s their first time sitting down with a professional. They’re often shy about what they want, how they want to appear—the image that they want to present to the world.
I believe that every human has a vision of their true self inside. A sense of the strength, dignity, hope, and grace that they possess. But we all have psychological defenses that keep our fullest selves at least partially hidden.
It’s the job of the photographer to open up their subject and capture what’s inside.
Good studios are offering an experience, not just a product. The photographer is a conductor and a director engaging and shaping the client to release their reservations and express their unmasked selves.
Those who have never worked with a good headshot photographer may not realize that a good session is a luxury experience. Not just because some studios offer cocktails, sparkling water, and curated music—but because as the client everything in the photoshoot is designed to make you feel and look your absolute best.
AI can’t do that, because the AI experience is transactional. The goal is pragmatic—to produce a good result with the least amount of time and effort.
There’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, there’s an important market for it, just like there’s a market for Great Clips and a market for boutique salons and barbershops.
Will AI Drive Us Out of Business?
At the end of the day, is AI going to destroy the professional headshot industry? No.
But will it change the industry? Clearly, the answer is “Yes.”
There will always be a market for high-end headshots because the studio experience and the final product simply can’t be replicated.
What AI opens up is an opportunity for all the people who were okay with average-quality photos—the people who were never going to spend money on a high-quality photo in the first place—to look a little better.
As a headshot photographer and studio owner, I’m okay with that. In fact, I welcome it.
As more people start using AI for their headshots, it will become harder to stand out from the crowd. And that’s where as good photographers, we shine.
About the author: Jeremy Bustin is a professional headshot photographer based in Atlanta who helps business professionals and actors stand out with portraits made to influence decision makers. His mission is to put potential clients one click away from a professional headshot they’re proud to share.
Image credits: Header illustration images from Depositphotos