Is artificial intelligence ruining photography or are you just a smidgen close-minded? I wanted to share my two cents on this matter because it’s a conversation I find myself having too often given the current trend of software and cameras. A special thank you to Skylum Software for sponsoring this video and allowing us to showcase the benefits of AI photo editing in our previous tutorials.

So here is the main question I see asked the most: “Is artificial intelligence ruining the process and the art behind photography or is there a place for this in the workflow?“. I thought the best way to answer this was to separate the conversation into different groups of people or schools of thought, but first, I would hate for you guys to have to wait until the end of a video just to figure out someone’s opinion on something, so here’s my opinion: NO, A.I. is not ruining photography. Now that you know my answer let’s work backward to see how I arrived at that stance.

Where is Photography Going & How Did We Get Here?

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Newest SLR Lounge Premium Course: Creative Photography 101 (all images made with an iPhone 11 Pro Max)

Before we dive into DSLR’s or mirrorless cameras, let’s talk about the camera that almost every individual owns: smartphone cameras. They have incredibly sophisticated software systems and what’s known as computational photography built into them so much so that they can simulate depth of field, allow you to dial in manual exposure, capture RAW photos, and offer you a variety of lens choices. We even made an entire course dedicated to iphoneography called Creative Photography 101 to help smartphone owners become better photographers. The way that I see photography going is your towards the development of better tech for phone cameras. This is based purely on facts and stats of how many people use smartphone cameras and how that camera tech has developed since its fruition to become as robust as it is today.

A.I. Based Software

1 skylum luminar aiSoftware like Skylum Software, which we’ve shown in the past, allows you to easily swap out skies using A.I. and how you can batch retouch faces in order to speed up your editing workflow. We designed Visual Flow lighting condition-based presets to expedite the editing process in Lightroom to allow users to apply a preset based on the lighting in the scene. The next project that we’re working on is with Canon to design a piece of A.I. that detects the lighting conditions when you load the images onto your computer.

Four Schools of Thought

I can easily amend my previous ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ by changing my point of view and perspective on photography. To debate this, let’s create four different types of people that have responses to this question:

  • The Purist
  • The Professional
  • The Enthusiast
  • The End User

The Purist

film camera Yes, A.I. definitely ruins photography for those that have an obsession with the art and science of photography. This person finds their enjoyment and passion in the artistic process. They’re in this for the craft of being able to take something from their mind and translate it through the camera. When the transition from digital to film happened, we saw a bunch of naysayers and purist photographers say that the art of photography was being tarnished with the digital age.  Let’s use coffee as an example: there is a person that will spend 30 minutes grinding coffee beans by hand, placing the perfect filter, warming the water just right, pour and separate it, and then consume the coffee. As the coffee purist, your enjoyment comes from primarily the ritual the process of creating that cup of coffee. When this purist tastes instant coffee, they have an undeniable level of respect for this process and therefore cherish it and hold it to a higher regard.

I love my purist friends because they help me to celebrate the craft in a way that sometimes I forget to see myself so it’s a wonderful thing. The danger lies in that outlook lies in trying to decide for the entire industry if photography as an art form is subjective or if it’s the process of journalism. I want to use Ansel Adams as an example because I guarantee that if there was an easier way to manipulate his photographs in post-production, he would have done it in a heartbeat. As soon as you bring a camera up to your eye and decided on your intended composition, that is already a fictitious representation of reality. So where does the purist draw the line and at what point does the process of photography evolve with the times?

The Professional

ai photo editingFor the professional, artificial intelligence and computational photography, from the point of capture all the way through to the point of editing, serves as enhancements to their workflow. Let’s take it back to the coffee example: you enjoy making that pour over cup of coffee for you and maybe a couple close friends and love the process. Let’s say you opened a coffee shop and it then becomes your job to serve 200 people using your pour-over technique. I would venture to bet that you’re very much going to lose your interest and entire passion for the ritual. You’ll need to start figuring out how to speed up the process without compromising the quality of the product. Now, back to photography: there is nothing interesting or fun about replacing a hundred different skies. For professional wedding, event, and portrait photographers you’re typically delivering 50-1000+ images and there’s nothing enjoyable about repeating the exact same step over and over, Monday through Friday, from one client to the next. If I can use Luminar’s A.I. to batch retouch my portraits, I’m a happy working professional that now has time to do things I enjoy rather than slave away editing photos. You’re going to look at these enhancements as just being quality of life improvements and you’re going to have a hard time seeing the purist mentality.

The Enthusiast

These are the people that enjoy taking pictures but don’t necessarily know or study photography. They may own a phone that might be their primary point of capture, they might be using a dedicated camera. So does A.I. ruin for them? Nope, it in fact provides a resounding improvement across the board because it manages to do the hardest parts of photography for them. Computational photography has enabled people that don’t understand anything about photography to not only appreciate photography but take semi-decent photographs with just their phones. Oftentimes, it’s from that process that they develop a passion for photography and they step into the entire process as an art form. It’s the accessibility that pulls them into the craft. Let’s move away from the coffee example and switch over to something I love comparing photography to – cars.  Do self-driving cars ruin driving for driving enthusiasts? I’ve spent much of my time on a track in a dedicated race car and now I want a Tesla because it drives itself. In my day-to-day life, I don’t want to deal with the hassle of driving and therefore a self-driving car that takes our tediousness of driving but still allows me to enjoy it when I want because the quality of the product/experience is a major win to me. A.I. computational photography can make the craft more enjoyable from day to day and still allows you to choose when you want to hone your craft or utilize your own judgment to create photos.

The End Consumer

These people don’t care at all about the art of photography, the process, your experience as a professional, the years of schooling, none of it.  Whether it’s a client, a person browsing Instagram, a troll on Facebook – they look at an image and they base its merits on the story that it’s telling, how visually appealing it is, and then they move on with their lives. All these people care about is the end result and what the image evokes. Obviously, this is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from the purist, who spends hours fine-tuning their art and dissecting photographs to understand them. A.I. to the end consumer doesn’t ruin photography at all because that’s not at all what they are focusing on.

Conclusion… So Does A.I. Ruin Photography or Not?

I still stand by my answer that A.I. doesn’t ruin photography. For all the people that appreciate it, it’s a massive quality of life improvement. Not having to deal with all the parts in the process that are not enjoyable when you have to do them repeatedly over and over this is a huge factor for many professionals to consider. For the people that enjoy photography as just a pure process, guess what, you can still define exactly what that process is to you and ignore all those tools out there. I do think, from the standpoint of competitions and awards, it’s worthwhile defining what’s actually permissible in terms of the submitted images so if the competition is journalism. A.I. and computational photography don’t take away from your vision, they make it easier to achieve it. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!