AI Software Controversy: The End of Photography?
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
It seems the photography world is up in arms about Skylum's (soon to be released) latest iteration of it's quite popular photo editing software, Luminar. Though Luminar has previously incorporated elements of AI into its software (best known for its AI sky replacement), its newest update is all about the AI and has many asking if this is the end of photography as we know it? Where do we draw the line between traditional photography post processing and converting a photo to digital media/art? Do we even need to draw that line?
The question put forth is this, if all it takes to get a "good" photo is to take a quick snap with your phone or camera and upload it to an AI based software program; that with just a few clicks or slides magically makes it look awe-inspiring and surreal (both good selling points for Instagram photos apparently), then why bother learning photography basics at all? What would be the point of learning composition & light and how to best utilize your camera settings? Knowing how to go out and take a great photo and being a talented photographer could potentially be replaced by software that just makes you appear to be a talented photographer, without the commitment of learning. So basically, why learn something, when you can just fake it?
Before you all start leaving me comments about how I'm a hater and I just don't like change, well, you're partially correct. Change isn't always for the better and I tend to avoid jumping on bandwagons, especially when I don't think it's going in a direction that I need to go. That being said, I personally know of talented photographers who love Luminar 4 and are really looking forward to Luminar AI. They have strong opinions on this software, just as many of us do, and we are all entitled to those opinions. So, even though AI isn't for me, I respect other people's choices, and I try to be diplomatic in voicing my opinions.
I'll be honest here, I wasn't the first to jump on the film to digital bandwagon either. I just felt that digital lacked that special nuance that only film can bring to the table, and I wasn't convinced I needed to make that switch. And I didn't until about 2005, and even then it was just a digital point-n-shoot to supplement my film camera. It wasn't until 2011 that I fully immersed myself in digital photography with the purchase of my first dslr. And now here I am still shooting with a dslr while everyone else seems to be making the switch to mirrorless cameras. Will I make that switch? Well, I have purchased a few mirrorless in the past, Fuji & Olympus to be exact, but they just weren't for me. So no, until my Canon 5D Mark IV dies (it's a beast so I'm sure I won't have to worry about that for many years to come), I'll stick with what I have. I don't feel the need to chase the latest and greatest when what I have is excellent.
I guess one of the things that bothers people about AI in photography post processing is that some photographers are taking photos and then manipulating them beyond reality with AI software, and yet representing them as a real depiction of the scene. The problem therein lies in the deception, and how the manipulated image is being represented. Is the photographer owning the fact that this image is heavily manipulated and doesn't depict reality, or trying to pass it off as a true photographic representation of the subject? At what point do we as creatives and artists need to disclose that an image is no longer a photograph, but a piece of digital media/art?
Now some people say it's no different than taking your photos into photoshop and manipulating them, and maybe they are right, in some regards. But in my observations people who are making composites in photoshop are generally quite honest about their works being composites and not reality. They aren't trying to make you believe that they are actually stuck inside a light bulb, riding snails, or plugging a phone into their arm. They are using photography and photoshop as a part of their visual art. Their purpose is to convey a surreal world in which fantasy and imagination abound, and that is obvious in its representation. So for me, that argument falls a bit short.
Now, are there photographers out there who make huge changes in photoshop and try to pass it off as reality, sure, there's one in every bunch. And for the record I'm no fan of anyone using software in a manipulative way to create images that are flat out lies but are represented as reality, no matter what software was used, AI or not. That includes using photoshop to make people skinny, perpetuating a thin is pretty stereotype that causes people to feel inadequate and gives them poor body image and self esteem.
I feel that the discussion surrounding the use of AI in photography has caused me to reevaluate how I do things with my own photography. I don't use AI software or photoshop beyond spot removal and making logos for my websites, but I have been known to use lightroom presets, and even started creating and selling them on Etsy a few years back. I have long since stopped creating new presets and no longer have my Etsy shop, but I still routinely use presets to jumpstart my photo edits. And though I don't feel it's the same as AI, I can understand where people make the argument that AI is no worse than using presets. Though comparing lightroom presets and total sky replacement seem to be a bit of a reach.
Below I have posted an image that I loaded to Skylum's Photolemur 3, which is an AI software that I downloaded for free in order to make an example for this article. I honestly just don't see the appeal, but to each their own. I took this photo on a beach in Florida back in 2016. Ah, those were the days, when you could travel without fear of COVID. Sigh...
Anyway, those were just some thoughts I have on AI. If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment below. Do you use Luminar 4? Are you looking forward to Luminar AI? If so, I'd love to hear your side of things. Until next time, make sure you are following me on Instagram and Twitter and that you subscribe to my blog. I promise never to send you spam, just notifications of new posts. Remember to be kind, be loving, & be better!