Adobe Says AI is the ‘New Digital Camera’

Close-up of the adobe logo with a stylized "a" in orange above the word "adobe" in white, affixed to a textured dark gray wall.

Generative AI is changing how people create and business is done, which has far-reaching impacts. Photography is no stranger to technological revolutions and has thus far always survived. However, the coming storm of AI feels different to many, including Adobe, a company that has been involved with digital imaging since its earliest days.

In a Wall Street Journal article about the impact of generative AI on stock photography, Katie Deighton writes, “Industries such as marketing, publishing, music and news have long relied on stock photography to create, illustrate or promote their products for less cost than commissioning photos would require. AI’s new capability to generate realistic images from simple text prompts is now giving stock clients an affordable, fast alternative that comes with greater control of the final image.”

Memphis-based photographer Shannon Fagan tells Deighton that he worries AI will make his stock photography catalog “somewhat obsolete.”

Tony Northrup, known best for the YouTube channel he and his wife, Chelsea Northrup, have run for years, shares similar sentiments. “The stock photography industry is going away,” Northrup claims.

Stock photography websites are arguably talking out of both sides of their mouth. While Shutterstock’s CEO, Paul Hennessy, said on an earnings call earlier this year that there is still demand for actual photos, the company is happy to push the sale of AI images on its platform, even though it comes with risks. Shutterstock also launched an “AI for Good” image contest in January, although the company didn’t seem keen to publicize it.

It’s more than just Shutterstock that has embraced AI-generated imagery. Other stock photo marketplaces have, too, including Getty Images.

For stock photography marketplaces that have long relied exclusively on the work of real photographers, there is concern that customers looking for stock photography may turn to AI image generators when they can’t find exactly what they are searching for. In that scenario, a company could hire a photographer to create a specific photo for them, or they could type a few words into an AI image generation tool hosted by a stock photo site and have something resembling their desired image in mere minutes at relatively low cost.

Stock agencies are eagerly hedging their bets, even if the AI tools they are increasingly embracing may poison the well for photographers. In some cases, companies are even striking deals with AI firms to sell the images on their platforms, helping AI models inch ever closer to entirely replacing real photographers, at least in some domains.

Adobe’s chief strategy officer and executive vice president of design and emerging products, Scott Belsky, echoes the idea of an AI-based camera that can supplant humans.

“When artists say to me, ‘I hate generative AI, why are you even allowing it in any of your products?’ I’m like, ‘Because [otherwise] people are gonna go to illegitimate places and you’re going to end up getting paid nothing,'” Belsky remarks, teetering on the edge of false equivalency.

“This is a revolution, this is the new digital camera, and we have to embrace it.”

Although stock photography companies continue to say that customers still want real photos, they do so with their hands digging around the AI honey pot, searching for a new way to make money. They are businesses, after all.

However, good stock photography has thus far managed to survive technological upheavals largely because of the human essence of photography. When there is a real, creative, and talented person behind the camera, there is a path toward success for photographers.

However, if Adobe and other giants in the tech field have their way, there may not be a camera at all. Technological revolution offers a road to riches for a select few but can extract a disastrous toll on everyone else — the wheels of progress care not who they crush.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.