I’ve never really talked about the AI thing and my feelings on it. But this week kind of pushed me to write something about it.

Also, don’t forget that my new ”Lightroom / ACR Portrait Editing System” is on sale for 50% off for a few more days. Stop by and check it out and watch the video at the top to see the training outline and preset list.

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Please Read Before Commenting

Also, I’m happy to have a conversation around this topic. To help keep the comments from becoming yet another string of over-ranted-on ”the ethics of editing” and should we use Photoshop or not, or how far is too far, please just answer this question:

Do you believe AI is helping your photography / photo editing or hurting it. And why? Or What would you like to see for AI in the future.

There are Two/Three-ish Sides of AI in Photo Editing

First I think it’s good to clarify were AI is used in Photo Editing right now. The way I see it, there are three ways:

#1 – Help with the Grunt Work – most of the AI I see out there is to help take away, what I call, the ”grunt work”. AI is being used to sort through photos, and find ones with closed eyes, blurry, etc… so people can quickly weed out the bad shots. It’s being used to detect noisy or blurry photos and improve image quality. It’s also being used to make selections and masking simpler. There’s AI sky selection, subject selections, background selection, and now with the new version of Lightroom… portrait selection. That’s specifically the area I’m going to talk about here.

#2 – AI to actually edit the photos for you – there’s also AI that does the editing for you. Luminar is probably leading the pack there. But there are other programs that will do the editing for you based on their AI software. Adobe even released a photo restoration filter (under Neural Filters) that automatically detects and removes creases and cracks from old photos for you.

#3 – Adaptive Presets – There are AI Presets too. But consider this. We’ve had presets for decades. Before this week we had portrait presets and nobody complained. Now we have portrait presets that actually work better because it can find the eyes, lips, teeth etc… and now they’re bad? All that happened is they work better than they used to. It’s not like presets were just invented this week.

AI Has Been in LR and PS For Decades?

Here’s something to think about. Have you ever clicked the Auto button in LR. Photoshop has had an Auto button in Curves for decades. When you click Auto, the computer was looking at the histogram and tonal values in the photo and making an adjustment. Nobody claimed that ”Auto is ruining Photography and creativity” 20 years ago right? So now that the ”Auto” is just more trained and better, all of the sudden it’s killing photography?

What is AI Really Doing in Most Cases?

I think a lot of the sentiment comes from not really knowing what (most) AI is doing. Take sky replacement for example. Everyone says AI Sky replacement is killing photography. But in Photoshop, all the AI is doing for you is making the selection. You’re still in charge of clicking on the sky you want and that requires a creative skill, talent and an eye for what looks good. Trust me… 90% of the photos people send me are techincally done well. But most of the lack in the creative skills both in camera and in post processing – and AI isn’t helping with that in most cases. The selection part of sky replacement was just a barrier to get to the good stuff, and all AI is doing is helping us get to the good stuff faster and more accurately.

Take the new Portrait masking features in the latest versions of LR and PS. They still require you to know what a good look is. Just because it makes a selection of the eyes automatically, doesn’t mean what you do to them is good. That’s where the real skill is at – knowing what looks good – not making a selection.

Let’s Bring Back the Stick Shift – Manual Transmission!

So here’s what I think it’s boiled down to and it’s actually an age old argument in all aspects of our lives. It’s come down to people thinking that new technology is making (insert whatever activity or career you want here) too easy. Think about it. That’s what all of the arguments are saying – “it’s becoming too easy”.

Some of your cameras have AI in them, with eye focus, etc… I actually had some one tell me that I was cheating beause I was using an AF mode that tracked the subject. By the way… this person had a Sony a1. So you mean to tell me that you bought a $6500 camera… one that’s BIGGEST claim to fame is it’s auto focus tracking… and you’re just going to turn that off and use one tiny point in the center to manually keep on a fast moving bird across the sky? Crazy right? But there are people that feel this way. It’s like saying today’s drivers are no good because they never had to learn to drive a stick shift.

What I’m seeing most recently with the introduction of the AI Portrait features in Lightroom and Photoshop is that it’s taking the creativity out of photography. But I wonder if people realize that these AI features they’re talking about are simply making selections for you. That’s it! It’s grunt work. There is no fun and creativity in making complex selections. As some one who’s taught this for 20 years, It’s the most hated part of photo editing.

From there, the argument goes to ”Well I learned how to make complex selections 10 years ago, and I feel everyone should know how”. So now people are saying that you should have to learn the hard way?

I almost feel bad for the amount of pessimism it requires to look at the world that way. Think about it… With nothing but progress behind us, some people see nothing but doom and the destruction of photography in the future. How odd?

I’ll 100% admit that it is becoming easier. But isn’t anything that removes barriers to overly technical and complex areas, in a hobby or job, a good thing? Hasn’t it happened in every single aspect of our lives? Many of you reading this would never have taken up photography or photo editing at all, if it weren’t for improvements in cameras, computers and software. Try having a good photo workflow in 2001. It didn’t exist!

Good Will Always Prevail

Good always wins over evil right? 🙂 I’ll start wrapping this up by saying great photography will always win. I have yet to see a contest winner or scroll through photo websites or social media and be wowed at bad photos that were simply fixed with computer editing. I see photos all the time where people have done crazy amounts of editing and you know what… it ALWAYS looks like it – 100% of the time. A great landscape photo can be made better with a sky replacement, but you still need great light and you need to be in a great place. No sky can hold an amazing landscape photo alone. So what if you do a sky replacement? I’m sorry to say. But on a lackluster subject, it won’t make a difference.

Great wildlife photos come that way out of the camera. I’m sorry to tell you that NOBODY has made an award winning wildlife photo in Photoshop. If you didn’t take a photo of a great subject, doing something great, in at least “okay” light, no amount of editing will make it great.

You Are In Charge Of How You Feel

I’ll finish with this. You are in charge of how you feel about your photography. The vast majroity of people reading this are in to photography because they like it, not because you’re doing it for a business. So let me ask you… Why do you care what AI is doing to other people’s photography? It’s not your place to judge anyone’s photos. No program REQUIRES you to use it. So if you don’t like it, simply don’t use it, and stop worrying about what some one else is doing.

Contests are notorious for archaic rules. So if you enter contents, you’re a LONG way away from having AI edited photos to compete with. So you’ve got nothing to worry about there.

If you’re a working photographer, I hate to tell you – suck it up. Every job in the world gets made simpler by technology. And the people that are good, figure it out and excel in the new landscape. The ones that complain about ”how we used to do it” get left behind. AI is here – it’s not going away – so figure it out or get ready to be left behind – and if you’re one of the ones complaining I hate to tell you but you’re on the brink of getting left behind if you haven’t been already.

Lastly… I believe, for the most part, that happiness is a choice. And in photography, for some one that is simply doing it because it’s enjoyable for them, you can choose to be happy and ignore all the AI stuff. Or you can choose to complain about how it’s ruining photography (even though it has zero impact on you).

Final Harsh Advice

So I’ll finish with some harsh advice. Mind your own business and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. If you want to “walk to school, uphill… both ways, in the rain, snow and blazing sun all in one day, like you did when you were a kid” – go for it! No software you use requires you to use their AI features. So forget about the features you don’t like – use the tools the way you want to use them, and CHOOSE to be happy with your photography and photo editing.

Oh… and you should also CHOOSE to swing by and check out my Lightroom/ACR Portrait Editing System which is on sale for 50% off 🙂

Thanks for reading and please READ THE COMMENT GUIDELINES ABOVE so this doesn’t turn in to another ”what’s acceptable in photo editing rant”. We’ve got too many of those already 🙂

Do you believe AI is helping your photography / photo editing or hurting it. And why? Or What would you like to see for AI in the future.


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