Studio Photography & AI

So you can’t escape the fact that AI is hot news right now – whether that be for good reasons or for bad and it seems to be gathering pace.  Whether we like it or not, it is definitely going to change a lot of things very fast and photography is definitely one of the areas that will be impacted.

Recently Instagram have added a ‘Label as made with AI’ button to posts to encourage people to be transparent about what’s generated and what isn’t.  I kind of thought I’d know the difference until I saw the picture of the Pope in a white puffer jacket then I realised just easy it is to just assume something is real!

So a lot of photographers have been up in arms since this button was added as some images have been flagged for minor edits which has really muddied the waters in a couple of ways.

The first reason is that Photoshop (and Lightroom) have elements of AI involved in their editing processes in terms of subject selection and, latterly, generative fill.  If you haven’t heard of it, it basically uses AI to replace an item according to some content according to text prompts or presets.  Changing the sky in an image would be a simple example, so to replace a cloudy sky with a blue one or add in a sunset – that kind of thing.  This is where the ‘Label as Made with AI’ gets a little murky as yes, you’ve changed an image using AI but have you really made it that way?  It’s essentially a true image and a lot of folk are arguing that changing a sky was always something we could do in an editing suite, it’s just easier and quicker with AI getting in on the party.  I’m kind of with them on this one – why wouldn’t we take a shortcut in an editing process that saves us time but gets to the same (if not better result)? I wouldn’t call that an AI generated image and I think it was a bit over keen of Insta to start labeling that stuff – I expect that was just a glitch and it’ll work itself out over time as the process refines. We’re in new territory to a degree here so it’s going to take some time before everyone gets on the same page.  Either way, it’s a bit less relevant to what I do in the studio than the next bit.

The other way that AI is getting in on the act is with something called Neural Filters in Photoshop which uses AI to accomplish all sorts of things in terms of image editing.  There are some very cool things in there if you’re looking to create artwork – like being able to apply a style from one image to another – but there are also some things that are more relevant to using AI to manipulate images of people. I actually have a slider that allows me to remove years from someone, alter their expression according to mood and within reason, the results are pretty convincing.  So, I’d think that here I would be on potentially shakier ground when it comes to arguing that using these wasn’t creating an image that wasn’t in part AI generated.  Anyway, I don’t use those features for my studio work and I wouldn’t ever.  I feel the same way about them as I do about those Facetune filters – you’re perfect as you are and I’m not going to mess with that. When it comes to editing, I’m going to make sure that you are showing up as your best self so a bit of light skin smoothing and removal of temporary blemishes but never any face or body shaping.

Just because we can, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should in terms of my type of portrait photography. I’ll light you and pose you to look your best and that’s part of my craft and a reason to visit a professional photographer.