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Tuesday, 31 October 2023


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I have some sympathy. We've done a good job of being fooled before AI, but the onslaught may soon be too overwhelming to resist against. Maybe a newer generation can find an antidote.

I saw an online ad for a quarter million dollar EV super sedan the other day that can do 0 to 60 mph in 1.8 seconds. Yup, that's what the world needs.

Mike, I still haven’t seen my comment from the “Stuff Breaks” post. I wonder if AI could help with your comment tracking and moderation. 🤪

Artificial Intelligence is a misnomer thought up by marketers. It’s really artificial creativity.

I’m hoping for some kind of registration/certification technology that will define the original work. My guess is that prints will make a comeback with the originator’s “mark” embedded in the substrate not unlike paper currency. It seems any form of digitalization is fair game for A.I. ?

Unfortunately, I think you’re right about AI destroying photography. Surely ‘art’ and landscape photography is already dead or soon will be. Spectacular nature and animal shots will not be far behind – when you have seen it all, it stops being interesting whether real or not. Perhaps the last to go will be the casual family snap shot – there is no point in making an AI picture of your kids to send to their grandparents.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is a backlash from people looking for some authenticity, who start using film cameras and processes in earnest.

Do you mean AI generative imaging? Or do you also object to artificially-intelligent functions that allow camera autofocus systems to identify people and animals or to track moving objects? What about the ability of post-processing programs to identify and draw a selection around the subject of an image or remove a distracting telephone wire from a landscape? Would you reject software that performs focus-stacking, enlarges images through analysis of their content instead of interpolating pixels, or eliminates shot noise or other unwanted artifacts like dust and scratches?

“AI”—a rather vague term; machine-learning is more precise—increasingly provides software capabilities that would have been difficult or impossible to code by hand. Yes, there are programs that generate “fake” images that look like photographs (query: should a hyper-realistic painting be considered fake?), but the technology also increasingly is used to implement the kinds of image manipulation that have been common since the analog photography era.

Mike wrote, "AI Imaging is a Pox, a Fraud and a Thief"

I am the "official" photographer for a local club. From my point of view, the "official" part means that I have freedom to wander behind the scenes at club events and photograph what I want as well as what the club wants.

One of the requirements is that I provide a cover photo for the club's monthly magazine -- usually related to a club event.

Last month the magazine editor asked for an "Autum" image -- outdoors with a certain brand of car. This was not something that I could organize easily or quickly if for no other reason than all the leaves around here were still green. And weather. And a car. And a deadline.

Knowing nothing about AI other than that its proponents claim it is a fast and easy way to create images. Fast ... and ... Easy.

From complete ignorance to a cover image took about three hours of my time spread over two days. And it's a really good cover. Just ask me :).

Will my photographic skills be replaced by AI? Some will. But AI will not replace "being there" to capture real events as they happen -- The start of a race. The finish of a race. A news event. Your kids playing with the dog or graduating from high school. A housefire. Your garden full of flowers.

By the way, I just finished the Christmas cover ... Santa Clause, a reindeer with a bag of wrapped gifts in the snow. In a car. Driving down what looks like a local downtown street.

And no one will mistake it for a photograph.

I've used Topaz Labs AI plugins to reduce noise and to enhance resolution. Before that I used everything from Adobe's built-in tools to Noise Ninja and others to remove noise/grain, in particular. The Topaz Labs tools, at least, are labeled as "AI", and from what I've read they appear to be based on trained synthetic neural networks so they're even AI in the more specific more recent sense.

I also frequently use the spot healing brush, sometimes (in later versions) in content-aware mode. (Compared to on-negative and on-print retouching as practiced commercially in the film days, this is pretty minor.)

And I still consider those works photography (basically for the reason you describe, I feel that they do respect the lens image).

Worse (by some standards), I've occasionally used Adobe's content-aware fill. I don't know the underlying technology of that, but it certainly means some of my photos have significant areas (never, I think, as much as 10% of the pixels, and never big areas of the main subject) of pixels that are not derived directly from the lens image. This happens (with me) in "art" photos, not documentary photos (though, the categories aren't fully distinct of course).

Topaz Labs and Adobe are both aggressively promoting their tools using "AI" as the label. Is that an indicator that this was is already long lost?

Well stated, Mike. Two promising things come to mind: Leica announcing that their newest M11-P model comes with built-in content authentication (not clear on how that will play out), and the continuing persistence of film, which could be seen as the original content authenticity validation method. “Content creation” is not photography, though photography can be used to create content.

Photography and AI-created images are distinct, or should be. No need for you to discuss AI, because it’s not photography. Just like you don’t discuss drawing or painting. They also represent an interpretation of reality, but with distinct media.

Well said!

Well, yes and no!

I fully agree with your statement that "AI has nothing to do with photography".

Also, I hope that as things evolve that folks attempting to misrepresent AI-derived "counterfeits" as photographs are dealt with harshly using the law centered around fraud because that is what it is.

Of course all of this will depend on a reliable and general definition of photography. This is where I disagree with your post.

In my view, photography at its most basic involves the impinging of photons on a light sensitive surface... full stop... end of story. The light sensitive surface may be photographic emulsion or a digital sensor of today or some device of the future.

Lenses are not necessarily involved, think pinhole/zone plate cameras. Nor are sentient beings necessary, think automated cameras.

What happens to a photograph after the photons are 'captured' is not part of the definition of photography per se and requires a different discussion.

How far a photograph can be altered before becoming something that is only based on photography is, to my mind, much less clearly defined than what a photograph is.

Here it is useful to think of the work of Jerry Uelsmann. His images clearly begin as photographs and are made using the tools of photography. However, they have little to do with what was seen through the lens. I am no expert, but I think that most of the art world considers Ulesmann's work to be photography.

In the digital realm, the situation is similar. Only the tools and their ease of use are different.

Once, in the early 1980's, a pro-level drummer friend of mine was asked by a somewhat younger, aspiring musician-type person: "Aren't you worried about [the competition from] the new drum machines?". Computer-controlled musical synthesizers aka drum machines were new then.
The reply was: "I would be worried if my goal was to play like a machine."
When sitting alone and pondering my place (if any) in the photographic world, I often share your general feeling of grim foreboding on the decline in the value of photography through the flooding of the world by machine-created images.
On the one hand, AI isn't creating photographs; it's creating illustrations that appear to be photographs. On the other hand, vast quantities of people in the world will not make, will never make, and are not interested in making the distinction between the two. While every photographer daydreams that, under good circumstances, his/her stuff might be be seen and appreciated by many, how much do we care about what the people that can't tell the difference think?

Hear, hear. Beautifully and eloquently said.To be printed and posted on every Photo club noticeboard across the land.

What you say about AI, is what I have been saying about any image correcting software for years. I do everything behind the camera to make my image the end-item as soon as the shutter closes. If it ain't right, I messed up and didn't get the job done. Adjust your f-stop, shutter speed, pick the right lens for the subject make sure your white-balance is right for the light, compose and take the photo. If you can't do these things, then "photographer" might be overstating your skillset.

"Fix it in photoshop" is the AI of the previous decades to me.

As for not doing photography because the cheaters cheapen it, if you like it then do it for you without comparing your apples to someone else's oranges. I shoot hundreds of photos a year that haven't been seen by anyone because I get to look at them.

This is very well written! Mike, you have nailed it, and I totally agree with you. A photographic image “must respect the lens image” is very good. Your passionate declaration is close to being a manifesto I think.

The Washington Post agrees with you:
Google Pixel’s ad campaign is destroying humanity
If you want to muddy the line between truth and invention in your Instagram feed, this is the phone for you.
Opinion by Matt Bai

But an art group is embracing AI created art and running classes on how to use it:

Mike, here is the current conversation on the GetDPI forum about AI and its likely effect on commercial landscape photography:


I could not agree more.

On the bright side there is… the Leica M 11-P which is the first camera incorporating a dedicated chip which is complaisnt with the content authentication initiative (CAI). Basically the chip provides information about the original picture taken and subsequent editing.

CAI was started by Adobe and should be available on other cameras in the future. Good to know since the M11 is a little expensive…

AI is a problem if you call the results a photograph, simply call it art.
Artists have used technology and instruments in making art forever.
Think of all the statues etc which are not carved by hand but moulded/computer cut etc. They do not require the skill of a sculptors hands, they are different and we perceive them as different.
AI is like a string of photoshop filters mixed with a collage of images from who knows where.
AI can/will be attractive to people, it is simply imagery.
Mike like the vast majority of images on the web they will be nothing to get worried about.

Is the concern simply that you think someone will look at an image and believe that someone released a shutter and the image appeared and that totally devalues the photographer who does manage to capture a great image by simply pressing the shutter button at a perfect time.

I am a B/W enthusiast and I enjoy the hunt for an image.
I see AI as a more developed SLOT MACHINE where the aim is not 3 CHERRIES/BELLS but an attractive image. Like the slot machine AI will fail most of the time but with an imaginative operator who can 'program' AI you can get interesting images but they are not photographs the result of a click of a camera shutter.
Like Large Format or film or Platinum Prints, conventional photographs will always be appreciated but not in the way/volume they were in the past.

Dorothea Lange kept a quotation by the English essayist Francis Bacon on her darkroom door: “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention." As Fred Picker said in the March 1994 issue of Shutterbug, "This Koudelka (print by Czech photographer Joseph Koudelka) on the wall contains the most amazing combination of things that I know happened, because when he made that photograph there was no electronic imaging. Here are two horses, standing in a certain position, a boy sitting on a bicycle wearing an angel suit with angel wings, here's an old lady scolding him, all in magnificent light and beautifully composed. Today, that picture could be made by some guy sitting in front of a computer. Knowing that would take all the wonder out of it."
In actuality, it isn’t likely “some guy sitting in front of a computer” would make such a picture, because those who create AI "photographs" are limited by their imaginations. They can only do what they can conceive. But photography goes beyond human imagination. As novelist Tom Clancy has said, “The difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to make sense.” The magic of photography is that life holds so many amazing and wonderful things that are entirely unanticipated, unexpected, even unimagined in the deepest sense; that is -- no one would ever have thought of such a thing happening. And then, suddenly, right out of the fabric of life, there it is. "I can do a beautiful illustration, but it doesn't have that 'instant of wonder' that a photograph will have." (Art Director Tony Anthony, quoted in "Photo District News," February, 1987.) Photography shows us things that lie beyond our imagination and compel our amazement because they really happened. It revels in the beauty, the mystery, and the strangeness of life.

Thank you for this post. I especially appreciate the use of “ligature”. Writing, like food, can be rich when intensely flavored.

In 1992 I began a Bachelor of Information Technology degree. At that time, judging by the current rate of computational progress, I forecast that by 1997 computers would be able to create fully fledged business systems by themselves, with design parameters specified by verbal input from a layperson.

My point? AI is garbage. In a decade it will still be garbage. Here's the why - at its core, it's not AI. It's SI. Simulated Intelligence. Give it something it hasn't encountered before, and it will fail.

Given that this world is defined by endless change, it will fail. There are edge cases where it can accelerate the understanding of epic datasets. But that's it. It will never "know" the difference between a human hand, and a spoon. Every thing is just a "thing".

Sentience is the pervue of the sentient.

Here's some AI insults, if you ever need to vent.

Hi Mike,

I will respectfully have to disagree - and agree.

I share some of your despairs, and have different perspectives, but I don’t think putting it at the feet of AI is accurate. Also, AI won’t stop you from doing everything you do now. Please keep shooting, writing, and enjoying doing so. The genie is out of the bottle, grumbling won’t achieve much other than the pursuit of further negative thoughts. Please don’t disappear down that rabbit hole.

In my opinion, one of the allures of photography is the ability to create realistic looking images - to reflect the world around us and reproduce what was in front of the lens. However, photography can just as easily be used to create impressionistic and unrealistic images, based on the light that passed through the lens. I humbly submit the Blur Baker’s Dozen as exhibit A, Your Honour. Thanks to you I found the Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) movement.

AI is a tool, like Photoshop, that can be used to create realistic looking images. How humans use or abuse those, and other tools, is a different matter. I see it as part of the same problem we have with social media sharing so-called ‘news’. I despair at the post-truth world we now live in, where facts are irrelevant and perception is everything. AI has the ability to exacerbate that, but it’s the humans that choose to do so.

See also the ‘fog of war’ occurring around Israel and Gaza - not even the major media organisations have a decent chance at picking facts from fiction, so what hope do the rest of us mugs have.

In this, I whole-heartedly commiserate with you Mike. But, it’s not the first, or last war, unfortunately. And other humans are pushing back on post-truth too. I applaud you for wanting to do so too - I’d just suggest re-framing of how you see the problem.

I agree with what you say about imaging AI but I don't entirely agree with the outcome. Real photography will become more valued. Film photography may experience and even bigger come back. I see that Leica have released the M11-P. It has secure metadata to stamp the image as genuine under what they call the Content Authenticity Initiative. It will cost £8000 without a lens. But hey, you get a case and a wrist strap!

I fear you may be correct.

I think you need to be clearer in saying what *kind* of AI. I am guessing you are [rightfully] upset about the kind that replaces people's heads with an allegedly better, smilier version, which is honestly creepy. But there is also assistive AI which stitches together a panorama, or which segments the field of view to recognize sky and ground and applies different exposures to prevent highlights being blown out, recognizes background and blurs it out, etc, all of which strikes me as quite benign.

I remember back in the 20th Century thinking that 'Photoshop' was already incorrectly named. I was an architecture student and most of the features I was using it for were simply not photographic in nature.

Years later, and here I am, sure enough, working (sort of) in architecture. We work with photographers, illustrators, 3d visualisation experts, and we all sketch (with actual paper) like there's no tomorrow. We use Photoshop ALL THE TIME, and some of these new AI features can be pretty handy for creating our imagery (sky selection or smart erasing, particularly) but we'd never dream of calling that photography. 'Visualisations' is probably the term that gets used most often, though 'artist's impression' is one which seems to hang around in the press.

For my actual photography, and the various minor digital manipulations which I'm still happy to think of as photographic exercises, I use LightRoom.

You can't go back and change the name of one of the most famous bits of software on the planet. But it sure seems like you wouldn't pick 'Photoshop' if you were naming it, today.

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