The Shutter Shift - what does AI mean for the photography industry?

In the ever-evolving realm of photography, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a game-changer, significantly impacting the way photographers approach their craft. For product and food photographers, this technological revolution holds both promise and challenge, reshaping the industry landscape in a fascinating way. Although it can seem scary, I have been delving deep into this topic for the past few months, experimenting with AI, reading up about the legalities around using it and figuring out how I can actually use this in my own work.

At one point I even felt the need to set up a company purely based around AI photography because I truly felt it would take over completely. Using photo generators such as MidJourney and Stable Diffusion, I was able to create product photos from learning how to utilise prompts and this is where its art is. When I started using it, I couldn't get enough of it - playing around with it and seeing what could be created and how I could use these prompts to refine these AI images even more.

However, what I have found with these text to image creations, is by itself, it lacks emotion and expression, a level of warmth, human connection, wit, adaptability, to name a few - photography needs a human touch.

Below I will delve deep into the benefits and drawbacks of AI in photography.

The benefits:

Automated Editing: AI-powered software can quickly process and retouch images, saving photographers valuable time in post-production. This allows for faster delivery of high-quality images to clients.

Colour Correction: AI algorithms can maintain consistent colour tones across a series of product or food shots, ensuring a cohesive look for a brand's marketing materials.

Image Enhancement: AI tools can suggest enhancements, like adjusting lighting or adding filters, offering photographers creative inspiration and a starting point for their artistic vision.

Creativity: AI-powered tools can assist photographers in brainstorming and idea generation. They can analyze vast image databases and generate moodboards or suggestions based on trends, styles, and concepts, helping photographers explore new creative directions.

Utilise an image in various different ways: AI-powered tools can analyse and transform a single image into multiple variations, each tailored to different purposes. This versatility allows photographers to maximise the value of their work by repurposing images for various marketing materials, social media posts, or creative projects. It not only saves time and resources but also ensures that the same image can serve multiple functions, enhancing the overall efficiency of a photographer's workflow.

Cost Reduction: AI-generated images are becoming increasingly realistic, offering a cost-effective alternative to expensive photoshoots for certain projects.

Image Sorting: AI can help photographers categorise and organise their vast image libraries, making it easier to locate specific shots for clients or personal use.

The drawbacks:

Humans like realism: Realism in experiences, especially with for example food, is highly valued by humans due to its sensory engagement, emotional connection, and cultural significance. While AI can assist in various aspects, the authenticity and trust associated with real food remain essential for satisfying and meaningful dining experiences.

  • How would you feel if you were looking at a restaurant and all their food imagery was created with AI - would you still go?
  • What about if you saw an AI created model using a lipstick or moisturiser - would you be more or less inclined to buy it?
  • Would you prefer to buy a product based on a fake photo or a real one?

Depersonalisation: Some argue that heavy reliance on AI may lead to a loss of the human touch and personal style that photographers bring to their work.

Retailers: Many online retailers in particular want to sway away from more fake looking imagery to more realistic imagery so the customer knows exactly what they are getting.

Ethical Concerns: The ease with which AI can create deepfakes or manipulate images for unethical purposes raises ethical concerns. Misuse of AI in the photo industry can lead to misinformation, fake news, and privacy breaches.

Copyright: When using AI tools that involve the processing of images or other content, it's crucial to ensure that you have the appropriate rights and permissions to use the source material. This includes respecting the copyright and licensing terms of any images or elements used in your work. You can also never say this image is entirely your own copyright.

Licenses: Photographers and content creators often use licensing agreements to specify how their work can be used by others. AI-generated content may require specific licensing agreements to clarify its use, distribution, and ownership.

Ownership of AI created content: Determining ownership often hinges on the question of whether the AI tool is considered the creator of the content or if the photographer maintains ownership due to their creative input. In many legal systems, the initial ownership of content generated by AI is attributed to the creator of the AI tool or software. This means that the individuals or entities who develop and own the AI algorithm or software may have initial copyright claims to the content it produces.

Inaccurate Results: While AI has made significant strides, it's not always perfect. AI-driven enhancements or retouching can sometimes produce undesirable results or artifacts that require manual correction.

Lack of creativity: AI-generated content can sometimes lack the depth of creativity and emotional resonance that human-created art possesses. AI may struggle to capture complex or nuanced emotions in photography.

Loss of authenticity: AI tools can easily manipulate images to the point where it becomes challenging to distinguish between real and digitally altered photos. This raises concerns about the authenticity and trustworthiness of visual content.

Job replacement: AI-driven automation can potentially replace certain tasks that were traditionally performed by photographers, retouchers, and editors. This may lead to job displacement and a shift in employment dynamics within the industry.

The Future of Product and Food Photography with AI

As AI continues to advance, it's poised to become an integral part of the product and food photography landscape. Here's what the future might hold:

Watermarking: AI generated images may have to be watermarked in the future, indicating when AI tools were used in the creation of a photograph. This could help clarify the source and ownership of the work.

Collaborative Creativity: AI-Assisted Photography: Photographers may collaborate with AI to streamline their work, allowing them to focus on the creative aspects while leaving repetitive tasks to machines.

Customization: AI tools could be personalized to match a photographer's unique style, enhancing rather than replacing their creative vision.

Ethical Guidelines: Transparency and Ethics: The industry may establish clear guidelines for the use of AI in photography to maintain authenticity and ethical standards.

Augmented Reality (AR): Interactive Product Visualization: AI-driven AR could enable customers to interact with products virtually, enhancing the consumer experience and providing new opportunities for photographers.

In conclusion, AI is reshaping the world of product and food photography, offering unprecedented efficiency and creative possibilities. While it presents some challenges, the future holds exciting prospects for photographers who embrace AI as a tool to enhance their artistry. As technology continues to evolve, the fusion of human creativity and AI's capabilities promises a vibrant and dynamic future for the industry. Photographers who adapt and harness the power of AI are likely to thrive in this ever-evolving landscape. The journey has just begun, and it's a thrilling time to be part of the photography world - as long as it is used in the right way!