Photographer Disqualified From AI Image Contest After Winning With Real Photo

A lone flamingo with its head tucked, stands on the white sand of a beach, with gentle ocean waves in the background. The flamingo's pink and orange feathers contrast strikingly against the light-colored sand.
F L A M I N G O N E by Miles Astray which won an AI image contest.

A photographer has been disqualified from a picture competition after his real photograph won in the AI image category.

Miles Astray entered a real, albeit surreal photo of a flamingo into the AI category of the 1839 Color Photography Awards which the judges not only placed third but it also won the People’s Vote Award.

“I wanted to show that nature can still beat the machine and that there is still merit in real work from real creatives,” Astray tells PetaPixel over email.

“After seeing recent instances of AI-generated imagery beating actual photos in competitions, I started thinking about turning the story and its implications around by submitting a real photo into an AI competition.”

A collage of three images from a photo contest website: - The top left image, marked "Silver," shows a person sleeping peacefully on moss. - Two images on the right, both of a lone pink flamingo on a beach. The top one is labeled "Bronze." The bottom one is marked "People's Vote Award.
Astray’s winning photo on the 1839 website which has since been removed after he was disqualified.

The color photography contest is judged by people who work for The New York Times, Getty Images, Phaidon Press, Christie’s, and Maddox Gallery, among others. None could apparently tell that Astray’s photo was real.

The 1839 color photography contest has numerous categories with AI being unusual as it is the only one that is not camera-based. The rest are more familiar photography subgenres such as “Architecture”, “Still Life”, and “Film/Analog.”

In an email to PetaPixel, the competition’s organizers said that while it appreciates Astray’s “powerful message”, his entry has been disqualified in consideration for the other artists.

“Our contest categories are specifically defined to ensure fairness and clarity for all participants,” says a spokesperson.

“Each category has distinct criteria that entrants’ images must meet. His submission did not meet the requirements for the AI-generated image category. We understand that was the point, but we don’t want to prevent other artists from their shot at winning in the AI category.

“We hope this will bring awareness (and a message of hope) to other photographers worried about AI.”

AI Winning Photography Contests

Since text-to-image models advanced rapidly a couple of years ago leading to impressive AI images of the like not seen before, a few photography contests have fallen into the trap of giving AI images an award for photography.

The Electrician by Boris Eldagsen.

Perhaps most infamously was when the Sony World Photography Awards gave Boris Eldagsen a prize in the Creative category of the 2023 Open competition.

However, Astray’s stunt has scored a rare win for photography against the machines.

“AI-generated content is such a big topic right now, especially among creatives,” he says.

“There is an important public debate about the benefits and pitfalls of this game-changing technology that I wanted to contribute to.

“I’m glad to see that this experiment confirmed my hypothesis: there is nothing more fantastic and creative than Mother Nature herself.”

Astray is the first photographer to win an AI image contest. Last year, PetaPixel reported on a genuine picture that was thrown out of a photography competition after the judges wrongly suspected that it was generated by AI.