Professional Photographers are freaking out!!
As a former professional photographer, I follow a lot of photographers. Mostly I follow them on YouTube. Recently, the video title “Is Ai the end of photography?” and the more dramatic, “This is the End” seems to be the headline of every other photography YouTube video posted these days.
As someone who has witnessed the ebb and flow of the photography industry for over four decades, I find it intriguing how the battle cry of “This is the end of photography!” resurfaces with each new technological advancement.
Now, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), it seems to be louder than ever. But let me assure you, that I have heard this doomsday cry multiple times before.
Let me give you some perspective with a few “end of photography” scenarios over the past forty years. You can decide for yourself if you still believe whether or not, Is AI the end for photographers?
When I entered photography school in 1979 I bought my first “real” camera. It was a used Nikkormat that I paid $275 for ( a small fortune in those days).
Up until then i had only owned a Kodak point and shoot “automatic camera” (with the flash cube on the top). It looked similar to this model below.
Photographers shot with film (usually black and white due to the cost of color film). There were exactly 36 available shots on a roll. Film was relatively expensive so you better darn well get a good shot because each roll of film, with the cost of developing was close to $10. That was a lot of money back in those days when as a student, I was shooting a dozen or more rolls a week.
There was no such thing as “auto exposure” with the 35 mm cameras back then. You had to master how to properly set the exposure, iso, and f-stop. We were taught something called the zone system and photography really was a dedicated art form.
Editing? HA!! No such thing existed. You learned to edit with your eye before taking the photo. If not..too bad.
Back then, the only way to “edit” images was to “retouch” them with something called airbrushing. Airbrushing was both expensive and time consuming. It involved sending the final print out to an expert who used an air gun to spray paint directly on the print to make any changes to the image. It could take a week or more to get the final print back. Can you even image that today!
Then came the 90’s and digital cameras appeared on the scene. Photographers were so divided on their opinion of digital cameras. Some embraced the technology, whereas others claimed digital cameras, without doubt, signaled the end of photography as an art form.
I remember how resistant I was to get on board with this new digital technology. It all seemed so complicated and the quality of the images did not compare to film in the slightest!
Eventually though, I too made the switch. The fact that I no longer had to spend twenty plus hours a week in the darkroom was pretty liberating.
Was digital the end of photography? Absolutely not. Everyone adapted and realized digital cameras opened up a whole new creative world for photographers.
As the 90s came to a close, another wave of change swept through the industry.
Online editing tools became popular, like Photoshop, offering photographers a way to enhance and refine their images with just a few clicks. Once again, many photographers voiced their concerns, labeling it as cheating. But, just like before, we evolved and adapted.
We realized that these tools were not intended to replace our skills but to complement and streamline our workflow. Digital editing allowed us to push the boundaries of what was previously impossible. Today, editing is simply part of the photography process and I don’t know of a single photographer who feels otherwise.
The Smartphone camera appeared onto the scene. Once again, photographers cried foul. No “real” photographer would even think of using a smartphone for any type of professional work. Well fast forward to today and guess what? Lot’s of professionals have ditched their big bulky DSLR cameras and use their smartphone (myself included).
As it turns out, Smartphones cameras continue to get better and better and more professionals have discovered that getting a great image is less about the equipment than the person using the equipment. I even wrote a blog post about this very topic. When a Smartphone is as good as a DSLR camera.
And now, here we are, in the era of artificial intelligence. Once again, photographers are freaking out, fearing that ai will be the death knell of our profession. With Al-powered algorithms capable of generating stunning images and automating editing processes, it’s understandable why photographers are scared.
Will ai replace some photography genera’s? Unfortunately, yes. Product photographers are probably the most immediately threatened. Ai can create any imagine imaginable using any product. However, photography that requires an emotional connection to their subject such as portrait photography or wedding photography can not (as of yet) be easily replaced.
However, as we navigate this new terrain, it’s important to remember the unique qualities that make us human photographers. Al may generate technically perfect images, but it can never replace the emotional connection or artistic vision we bring to our work. Our ability to capture our own unique human perspective is something ai can never duplicate.
My perspective after witnessing forty years of photography changes is that photography is a resilient art form. There will always be a demand for the “real thing,” for the human touch and the genuine artistry we, as photographers, bring to the table.
I think of the ai controversy similar as to what is currently happening in the home industry. The consumer demand for handmade, bespoke items is very much prefered over mass produced impersonal items from overseas.
We want to hear the story of the piece. We value it more if human hands touched and created the product with love and intention.
The same is true of photography. Maybe for advertising and marketing ai will be the norm but for the art we create and choose to put into our home, I truly believe we will choose the human created art over the ai art…. Time will tell.
Is AI the end for photographers?
Finally, to put things into perspective, photography itself was invented in 1940. At the time there was a huge uproar from painters! Many painters declared it the end of painting. They were completely unnerved and angered by this new technology that could create a more realistic scene then they ever could with paint.
Well obviously, it was not the death of painting..and as far stopping the evolution of photography?
I don’t think anyone would choose to go back to this, which without question, is the purest form of photography.
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