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Is A.I. good for Photography?

If you follow photography trends, listen to Radio 4 or read the Guardian, then you will have already heard that one of the winners of the Sony Photography Awards, didn't accept his prize, as his image was generated through A.I. ( artificial intelligence ). The person in question has over 30 years photography experience, he entered the image into 3 different competitions and on being announced as the winner, came clean that the image was fake, as he wanted to get a debate going around A.I. Well he has certainly done that in spades. In the process he has also increased peoples awareness of his work by countless more times than had he actually won the award. I say good on him! I, for one wouldn't have been writing a blog about it, had it not been so heavily debated.

Being a bit of a photography geek, who listens to lots of podcasts and watches many Youtube vidoes then I was already aware of A.I.. You can see its influence in the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop, Canon cameras have deep learning embedded within the firmware - the camera actually learn to recognise subjects and they are now even remembering faces. A.I. isn't just within photography, it's everywhere and there is serious debate at the moment about should the pause button be pressed until we fully understand the associated risk. Elon Musk, despite investing in it, is one the the growing number of voices, expressing concerns. I am sure we all remember the Terminator Films, where Sky-net developed it's on consciousness and then went about trying to destroy the human race. Now, not for one minute am I expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger to appear from the future, with the goal of killing everyone and anyone but you get my point. A.I. is with us, it's here to stay and if used properly, I am sure it will advance us as a species over the coming years, decades and centuries.

Anyway, let's get back to photography. As we all know, photography is art. Your style and how you choose to express yourself if up to you. If other people don't like your work, well that's up to them, so long as you are happy then that's all that really matters. Being very generalist, there are 2 parts to photography. You take an image with your camera and then you edit the image. But what happens if you can remove the taking the photo part. What happens, if you can just create images, you could even sell then and make a good living? Does this mean that you are not a photographer any more and are just an image creator? This to me is where the grey area exists. I can see how AI is going to open up countless opportunities to take my work to the next level, but and it is a massive but, my passion will always be taking the photo. I will never loose that side of my work flow. What the new A.I. programs are allowing you to do is create images without having to take a photo in the first place.

The 2 images that you can see in this blog, were generated on my computer using some A.I. software called Mid Journey. There are lots of other programmes on the market, Dall E being another one. Just type A.I. software into google and see what comes up. Mid Journey has been around for about 12 months now and in that time, what it is able to do is so much more complex, the speed of progression, apparently has been staggering, the software has learnt by itself. All you have to do is put a command into the interface and then give it some keywords. It then trawls the internet and produces images for you. It is as simple as that. Now for the scary part. I downloaded Mid Journey this morning. I watched a 2 minute YouTube clip on how to use it, I entered the relevant command and put in 3 key words. It literally took me minutes to create these images with next to no knowledge. Just image the results when I know what I am doing and when I can use my own images. However, there is the crucial point. If, I load my images onto the platform, will the programme learn, will it start using parts of my images for other people, do they then use them, sell them and if they do, how does this effect the copyright? When you look at the images, I think it is pretty clear to see that they don't look real. But remember this is the result of playing with the interface for 10 minutes. What will the results be like in 12 days, weeks or months? When will it be impossible to know what is real and what is fake? Will people think, wow Steve is just an amazing photographer, when in reality all I am doing is creating fake images. Would the quality of my work, mean that people would be more inclined to come on photography workshops to learn how to take great photos? Would I sell more images?

The answer to those question is very simple. No, as I would never post anything that was fake and claim it was real. I value my reputation as a landscape photographer far to highly than to ever fall into that trap, In all honesty, I can't see A.I. having a massive effect on landscape photography, specifically in people attending workshops or indeed getting into the great outdoors with their cameras. The reason we love landscape and dark sky photography is because we have to get out in all conditions to create our images. Being outdoors and capturing the landscapes in front of us is the key driver. So why would we choose to take this away?

On the other hand, I can see it have a huge effect on product, portraits, weddings to name but a few. I have no doubt that A.I. will effect the income streams of photographers who specialise in these genres, how soon that will be, I have no idea, but it's coming.

I know that I have probably posed more questions than I have answered in this blog. I don't claim to be a subject matter expert, but from what I can see, the future is accelerating towards us very quickly and A.I. is going to be and is a major contributor to that.

Are you using A.I. already, if so how? What are your thoughts on the subject, please leave a comment as I would love to know.

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