AI and the Future of Photography | How to Survive and Thrive In Changing Times
Every few years technology and art collide, and something new is born. 35mm film revolutionized photography by providing the masses with nearly effortless access to the craft. This allowed photography itself to “explode” in popularity.
In recent decades, numerous other advances in technology have dramatically changed the way we take pictures. Autofocus and auto-exposure made it almost effortless to shoot. Then, of course, digital photography itself and cell phone cameras came along, with resolution, dynamic range, and low-light capabilities that a prior generation of photographers could only have dreamed of.
Today, powerful editing tools are allowing photographers to do even more, and it’s only getting easier. Photoshop’s neural filters can tweak age and expressions. Skylum’s Luminar AI automates realistic sky replacement, advanced portrait retouching, atmospheric fog and haze effects, and more.
Considering that the future will only see more advancements, it can lead some photographers to fear these new tools, or see them as a threat to their craft. Like self-driving trucks in the transportation industry or warehouse robots in retail, automated photo editing and other advancements in artificial intelligence in the photo industry could shift, and possibly replace some jobs. In addition, the ease of using these tools decrease the learning curve and barriers to entry, which could lead to a further influx of competition for existing pros.
If this sounds ominous and scary, just remember that with each new major leap in technology, a whole new industry and even an entirely new artistic craft is also being created. So, there will be plenty of “work” to go around, and plenty of viewers eager to appreciate the artwork you create!
The question is, how do photographers ensure their long term success in the industry? In this article, we’ll give you 5 ways to not only survive but to thrive in the age of Artificial Intelligence.
1. Find Your Artistic Passion And Strength, Then Pursue It (Proudly!)
First and foremost, don’t be afraid to chase your biggest passion. If you love to sit down at your computer and let your creativity flow freely, without any rules or boundaries, then do it! The key is to do so with pride, instead of hiding behind the potential misunderstandings of the photography purist who might disagree with your approach or techniques. Don’t worry, plenty of viewers and clients will love and appreciate your artwork for what it is.
Alternately, what if you just don’t like sitting at the computer, and you’d rather be out taking pictures? What if your artistic passion is the simple, “pure” craft of clicking a shutter, and presenting those moments to viewers without any manipulation besides basic color correction? The answer is the same, pursue that craft just as proudly as any other artistic craft or medium.
With the advent of AI and highly advanced photo editing, “unaltered” photography is also making a comeback with some photographers and their clients. Some landscape photographers even going back to large-format film! It just goes to show, there is an audience for EVERY type of photographic craft.
2. Embrace And Master New Technologies.
Always consider new technologies that could potentially speed up your workflow or allow you to explore new realms of creativity. Maybe you used to spend hours carefully masking a sky or other object, but now you can do it with just a couple clicks. This will save you tons of time, allowing you to get back out and capture more images, or just spend more time off your computer, at home with family and friends.
We should always keep our eyes open to such new technologies because they will lower the barrier to entry for other creative artists who might have never had hours to spend on a single image in the first place. With new technology such as the AI in software like Luminar and Adobe Photoshop, you better believe that the craft itself is about to be taken to a whole new level! In other words, if replacing a sky no longer takes hours to do, what is left besides the tedious technical process? More creative freedom, but also more competition, so you’d better step your game up!
For working photographers, consider these questions:
Can AI help me satisfy client requests? For full-time photographers with many clients, there will always be a certain percentage who want additional retouch, with requests like “Can you make me look skinnier?” or “Can you get rid of those wrinkles around my eyes?” These are perfect cases in which software like Luminar AI can save you hours and allow you to create more happy clients.
Can AI expand your creativity? Can you utilize AI to get more creative, impactful, or visually interesting photos? Does adding fog add to the story of the image? Does a dramatic sunset balance the colors and elements of the photo. If AI can make your images look better, then having it as an option in your creative toolkit is a good idea.
Before and After Image demonstrating Atmosphere AI from Luminar AI
3. Master ALL Elements Of A Good Photo – Storytelling, Composition, Etc.
The main reason most photographers are safe from Artificial intelligence is that nothing can replace the creative vision of the photographer. A beautiful sky replacement can’t fix a truly bad foreground scene. Automatic portrait retouch can’t fix a truly awkward expression, and tools like warping, thinning, or shaping still can’t fix an awkward pose or a poorly chosen overall concept.
If you focus on becoming a better photographer, understanding all of your compositional techniques, mastering posing and communication, and developing all of the other skills that make a good photographer, the random photographer down the street putting incredible sunsets on bad photos won’t be able to compete.
4. For Professional Photographers: Focus On The Client Experience
Whether you’re photographing family portraits or a commercial fashion line, nobody has time to wait for the weather to be perfect, or re-shoot the same exact photos day after day just to get the perfect sunset. Time is money, and your clients want a convenient, pleasant experience.
Just like AI can’t make a bad photo good, AI will never be able to fix a bad client experience. In much of our education, we teach techniques that help photographers understand the clients’ true needs and to deliver on those needs. We also teach photographers how to exceed expectations, to communicate style preferences with a mood board, and followup with clients to ensure an excellent overall experience.
If you continue to focus on these aspects, you’ll be safe from major shifts in technology. From there, you should ask yourself how you can utilize new technology to improve the client experience. For example, can AI photo editing allow you to deliver the final photos quicker?
5. For Fine Art & Landscape Photographers: Be Honest With Your Viewers (Nobody Wants To Be Lied To)
Now, more than ever, viewers are being subjected to fabricated backgrounds, and composite images with distorted scale, such as a disproportionately large moon, maybe captured with a 200mm lens, dropped in above a landscape that was photographed at 14mm or 24mm.
As the artist, just ask yourself- do your viewers want to be deceived? Maybe some viewers don’t care how you create your art, while others still expect the term “photograph” to come with an understanding of truthfulness and trust in the major elements of the image.
Here’s the point: Just as the craft of photography is expanding rapidly right now, indeed some might say is birthing a whole new genre of photo-manipulation artwork, so also is the pool of viewers and fans expanding, too.
In other words, don’t be afraid of having a few “purist” photographers or viewers who prefer “real” photos, lose appreciation for your body of work. There are innumerable other viewers who will appreciate what you create in the “digital darkroom.”
In the end, what we’re witnessing today is, in fact, the birth of a new art form, something that is more than just “the click of a shutter”. Is it still photography? Sort of, but then again, simply calling the final result “a photograph” is not going to do justice to your creative vision as an artist, nor is it totally honest with your viewers if they are left to make false assumptions about the work that went into the imagery.
Whether or not you embrace this new form of art is up to you, but one thing is for sure: it has never been easier to let your creativity be completely unlocked, if you so choose.
Our advice? Don’t be afraid of new things; you never know what direction your creative passion may take you. Embracing AI technology may very well open new doors for you, or just save you a lot of time compared to what you were doing before. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself, and your viewers, and if you were ever curious about how to accomplish such “impossible” imagery, the learning curve just got a whole lot less intimidating.