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Will AI Image Generators Replace Photographers?

By Josh Harrison |

There has been a lot of hype around AI recently with the launch of ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion. I'll admit I haven't really been paying too much attention to it but with a lot of talk about content writers, web designers, software developers, photographers and other professions becoming obsolete I thought I'd try it for myself. I'm by no means an IT expert, personally I think a lot of tech is pretty unnecessary, but I like to think between my photography and web design work I have a pretty good understanding of IT systems and technology so here is what I found and how I think it will affect photography in the future.

Will it affect your business?

Unfortunately I think it will affect any photography business in the long run, but obviously regulation and licencing will play a part in that, which is probably why Getty have already filed a lawsuit against Stable Diffusion. Stable Diffusions images are generated from a database scraped from the internet. I created some images while testing the software to see how it would affect my commercial photography work covering some of the subjects I sometimes photograph for my commercial clients, it even generated the watermarks showing it had obviously sampled various stock images. The prompt I used was 'blonde woman getting haircut at a salon' which created an unrealistic face, so I added 'beautiful face' to the prompt which had slightly better results.

While a lot of the generated human faces resemble the character Legion from an old Red Dwarf episode, whose face is an amalgamation of the other characters faces (see examples below), with the correct prompts they could probably have been a lot better and this technology is still relatively new, so it's only going to improve and at the end of the day, cost will be the determining factor for a lot of people. If you only need generic photos of people in various situations and an AI can create something of the same quality and do it cheaper than a photographer can, then that’s what people are going to use.

Ai Generated photograph

Woman with beautiful face getting hair cut at salon

Ai Generated photograph

Man installing Worcester Bosch boiler

Ai Generated photograph

Female solicitor in courtroom

Ai Generated photograph

Electrician installing ev charging point in city

Commercial photography will still be necessary

AI generated images are undoubtedly going to affect the photography industry, but I think commercial photography will still be necessary and that’s because AI images are created based on existing data (images).

For some subjects there are probably hundreds of thousands of images giving AI a potentially huge database to create new images from. According to Pete Wardens Blog 'How many images do you need to train a neural network?', for deep learning and training AI there is a general rule of thumb of about 1000 images being required per subject class.

So, for example, if you wanted an AI generated image of your team having a meeting, the database would need around 1000 images of the team at least, ideally 1000 images of each person to create something that looked like a realistic photo of your actual team.

Having images of your actual staff is important because it shows your business is authentic and builds trust with potential customers before you even meet them, so for the same reason I wouldn't recommend using stock images of people on your website, AI generated people still won't show the real people in your business, although as you can see in this image it will give your team some cool sunglasses. The prompt for this image was 'people in a meeting'.

Ai generated team meeting photo

People in meeting

What type of photography will it affect?

While I think commercial photography and subjects like portrait and wedding photography will still be necessary because AI can't create images of you without having a database of reference images to work from, subjects like wildlife and landscape photography will be most affected by AI image generators because the more images that that exisit of a species or location, the easier it will be for AI to create new ones. Personally, I would like to think an authentic image of real life will always be more popular.

As an example, I generated this image of a Red Squirrel in a tree and while it's not perfect, I've seen worse real photographs so it could easily pass as a photo for most people scrolling through their social media on a small screen. With a large enough database of images of Red Squirrels, you could conceivably create any Red Squirrel photo you wanted in any weather condition, from the comfort of your home without spending hours sat in the woods waiting for that perfect moment.

The question then becomes who earns money from AI generated images, if one of my Red Squirrel photos was used in this database then surely, I should be paid for that each time it's used? What do you think?

AI Generated image of a red squirrel

Red squirrel eating a nut

My Conclusion

Ultimately, I think AI generated content will become more prevalent, but hopefully original content created by people will still be more valued and the creators of the original work used in the AI databases will be suitably compensated.

I guess like any industry it will require people to adapt and while I don't think photography is going to become obsolete, it might just make it harder to make a living from it. But even if it gets to that stage, I'll still be out there taking real photos of real life because it gives me an opportunity to travel to incredible places and meet so many interesting people.

As you can probably tell, I'm more of a photographer than a writer, so the temptation is there to use an AI writer but it would have been a bit hypercritical to use an AI writer so I spent the best part of the day writing this blog. It won't be perfectly written, but it was written by me. Thanks for reading.

A Real Red Squirrel Image

A real photo of a Red Squirrel in the Yorkshire Dales