Artificial intelligence in photography is here, and commercial applications are already available to generate text and images for us. So what does this milestone mean for, say, a photographer or a designer?
Things will definitely change, or have started to change. We are entering a new era, one that will not just be a fad, but a milestone in visual communication. AI is becoming a part of our lives and it’s seeping into every pore, and it’s especially evident in things like photography. Of course, AI is about two concepts – fully generated image creation (like Midjurney) and AI advanced tools that will be integrated into photo editing software in the future. Should we be concerned about the impact of AI on photography?
First, let’s ask: Why and what is photography? Is it a documentary, a reportage of a moment? Is it product photography or concept visualisation in marketing? Or is it about presenting the artist’s story through the prism of photography? I think all at the same time. So how does AI affect these foundations? Well, I will try to answer these 3 questions from my point of view:
A snapshot of a moment or a documentary photograph.
We cannot speak here of an excessive influence of AI on this genre. AI cannot generate an image because it does not have a database of identical situations and therefore by definition cannot be documentary. We are photographing what is happening while it is still in the making, and it is all still a blank slate, and any subsequent manipulation destroys credibility. Reportage photographers have little to fear from AI, but their bread has already been eaten by amateurs with mobile phones, which are always everywhere.
Product photography and commercial use.
To generate an image of a product, you need a base. In the database from which the AI draws the image material, there is probably no photo of the XY product presented by the client. We can create backgrounds and use the AI as an effect tool, but it won’t be able to take the whole photo on its own. In commercial photography, AI will be reduced to the creation of “atmosphere” or supporting graphics. It will probably also make it easier for us to process to the desired effect, which can sometimes be a chore in Photoshop. I’m talking about the case where the AI is embedded in the tools for processing a photo that has already been taken. But when it comes to fully or partially AI-generated images, the content principle is likely to be similar to stock photography – as long as it’s about giving a bigger picture or instant story, supporting news with symbolic photos, generic visual support for other content… it works. There are very good and pleasing photographs available, and lots of them. But if we want a photo of exactly defined content, we have to do it ourselves and use less advanced algorithms such as Photoshop tools, etc… AI will be used as an advanced tool here many times, in my opinion, and it will not replace the photographer in any way in the creation of fully defined content. Similarly, more complex visualisations of the final product will become more the domain of the designer or creative, who will build on the imagery using AI.
Presenting the artist’s story through photography
This is the part where I think AI will have the biggest impact. It will be difficult to blur the line between photography and concept. After all, photography is used in the context of general visual art and its role is therefore reduced to the acquisition of raw material, which is then transformed by the photographer (artist) into the desired project or visual product. I think the development of AI will also go more in the direction of being able to understand the artist’s requirements and to put them in the right way in the creation. So, by design and by idea, which it is not yet able to do, despite the impressiveness and admiration of the images generated. These are random approximations to what we want, which is fun and interesting, but the question is whether that is what we are looking for. But in general, this whole “art” category was not photography before, it was just using photography as a raw material and making something else out of it or with it. Without our imagination and clear expectations, there will be no good results here either.
More pressing for me are the legal issues around the authorship of images that are fully generated by the AI and the authorship of images that the AI uses as a database. The authorship of an image generated by an AI tool cannot be in the domain of the algorithm (only a person can be the author), nor in the domain of the owner of the software that uses the AI for this purpose. The reason is simply that without my input, without my wishes, without my guidelines, without my instructions, without my expectations, the painting cannot come into being by itself. And from that moment, when the image was generated at my request, it is MY work of authorship, at least in terms of the idea and the general purpose. Anyway, the AI never makes identical products despite identical input data, so the combination of my idea and the tool is unique. But it is not art if it is also partly equated with the craftsmanship of the artist. That component is simply not there.
The second issue is the database used by the AI. This can be likened to a photographer or an author who, looking at thousands of photographs, paintings, etc., gets inspired, draws something from there, something from here, and then does something else. That’s how it works. If the AI uses a similar principle, there is nothing objectionable, as long as it does not use images or photos as micro puzzle pieces. This is a bit controversial, because it is no longer about ideas, but about using the original work, even if only a little bit. This is where copyright law will have to go a step further to protect works whose authors do not authorise their use for this purpose. However, AI image generators should have an indelible and traceable indication in the image itself that it is an artificially generated product.
I don’t think we need to be so afraid of AI after all, to think of it as a bav-bav that will suck all our work away, a nebodigatreb that will do it all cheaper than us, etc….
Bav-bav or not?
I think we need to think of AI more as a new tool to help us process, to find new ideas, to facilitate some of the production processes. The introduction of digital photography has also brought changes in this direction. And of course, it’s cheaper and easier to retouch a photo on a screen than with a brush (though it’s true that this requires new skills). There will always be puritans who swear by the photo without influence and processing, but the processor in our cameras already contains algorithms that enhance the image for us. AI development is also likely to move more in this direction, to make tools more powerful and more accurate. If I want, say, no clouds in my photo, the AI will remove them itself and know very well what I want it to do. The idea is important.