Humans Beat Out Robots in Photography Contest

human beats AI in photo contest
Keith Costelo and his winning photo | Keith Costelo

In what is possibly the first contest of its kind, humans have triumphed over machines in a photography competition.

AI-generated images were submitted alongside real photos and a panel of photography experts judged all the submissions blindly — not knowing which image was synthetic, and which was made on a camera’s sensor.

digiDirect, an Australian electronics company, held the contest after it had previously been fooled by an AI image, awarding it first place in a photo contest last month.

“What a win for the humans,” writes digiDirect as it awarded photographer Keith Costelo first place in its “Humans vs Machine” competition for his photo of a futuristic-looking model who, ironically, is portrayed as half-robot.

“While technology continues to advance and push the boundaries of what is possible in photography, there is still something truly special and irreplaceable about the human eye and the creative choices we make,” says triumphant photographer Costelo.

“Winning this contest has only strengthened my belief in the power of human artistry and the importance of preserving the authenticity and emotional depth that can only be captured through the lens of a human photographer.”

The contest, open to photographers and AI creators, received a record 415 entries and the winner was decided upon by six respected Australian photographers who didn’t know whether the pictures they were judging were AI or genuine.

“We feel uniquely positioned to invite both photographers and artificial intelligence creators to a unique competition to settle the Man V Machine, or Photo V Image debate,” digiDirect general manager Haig Kayserian tells

The AI Image that Won a Photography Contest

Karserian is right when he says his company is well-placed to hold the humans vs machines contest after digiDirect awarded an AI image of two surfers paddling out to sea first place in a summer-themed photo contest.

The controversy made headlines around the world after Absolutely Ai, the company behind the image, immediately admitted its deceit declaring it “the world’s first AI-generated award-winning photograph.”

AI image of two surfers at sunrise
This AI image won a photography contest | Absolutely Ai

“We did it to prove that we’re at a turning point with artificially intelligent technology by passing the ultimate test,” Absolutely Ai said at the time.

“We’re starting to discover the true capability of AI in enhancing not only the way we do business but the way we interact in the world,” Kayserian of digiDirect tells

“It still lacks the intuitive insight and emotional depth that can only be provided by a human photographer. Capturing a moment through a camera lens will always be an art form that requires skill and expertise, and rather than competing, AI can and should be used as a complementary tool.”

In the United States, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged regulation on AI. The business lobby broke from its traditionally anti-regulatory stance to warn that the AI industry could “harm the economy, potentially diminish individual rights, and constrain the development and introduction of beneficial technologies.”

More of Costelo’s work can be seen on his Instagram page.

Image credits: Feature photo by Keith Cotelo