If you’re a photographer who makes a living photographing people, you need to prepare for this.
I’ll be the first to admit that as a landscape photographer, I don’t claim to know much about the art of photographing people. However, I do know that the majority of photography money comes from photographing humans. Weddings, portraits, portraits, family photos, fashion, sports: you name it and it probably involves people.
Unless you haven’t been following any news, you’ve probably caught the recent wave of AI-generated images from platforms like Dall-E-2, where you can type in search terms and get a plethora of different outcomes, sometimes with chilling realism or comedic mishaps. Even in his early days, he created artwork good enough to win a contest or two. The results, on average, are very random, but it’s really interesting to see what it can give.
What happens when you take that power and give it a little more direction, especially in the photography industry?
The end of professional photography
Lee Morris touched on this topic a few months ago, showcasing examples of people who don’t exist, created in seconds, with incredibly detailed results. I cover this in my video above, but take it a step further to cover what happens when you enter yourself as a topic? Recently I came across a service that does just that, so obviously I gave it a try.
The service I came across is avatarai.me, which currently costs money. I expect these services to start becoming mainstream very quickly. They ask you to send 20 images of yourself: 10 face close-ups, 5 breast-plus images, and 5 full-body images. Within hours, you receive a set of images that depend on the theme based on their services at the time. For example, Christmas is a current theme generated by this service, we will come back to this later.
Here are some of the images I collected. They are me, but they are not me. Some of them are awfully good, while giving no direction to the system that created them. When you start to think about what the possibilities could be with just a little direction, you really start to realize how much this is going to change the photography industry.
Head shots, vacation shots and stock images
Let’s start small while remaining realistic. I don’t expect any photographer reading this to make their income solely from overhead shots or vacation shots, but I imagine many help subsidize studio costs and residual income with studio sessions of various types.
It turns out that the service I used provided some examples of professional portraits. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. Can I use them professionally? Not yet. But imagine a web service that only creates professional portraits, where you can set a few parameters like maintaining your facial structure and eye color to something like “reality”, and then get over 100 images of you in a professional setting. You don’t need to dress up, work with a photographer, or even leave the house.
It’s possible at present. It’s not something in a few years. Give an AI service a little more computing power, a little more time, and ask it to do one thing, like professional portraits, and it will absolutely be a service that people will start using. This will absolutely have an impact on photographers who are working right now.
The service also returned some vacation style photos that are less than perfect. But by continuing the above sentiment of using a serve with direction and more power, I suspect the results will continue to improve. We’re not quite to the point where you can provide the AI images of four family members and collect holiday postcards, but I don’t think we’re far from it. You don’t have to argue with the kids, your partner, buy outfits, or worry about a bunch of individual factors.
Consider services like Shutterstock and Getty, which provide countless generic images for different purposes. Why keep paying photographers for more images or people when they can just use their own libraries to start generating images themselves? It could happen right now and have a direct impact on photographers who make money from stock images of people.
Let’s take it a step further and think about where this takes us. Lee has already covered this pretty well in his article, showing the possibility of creating fake people in portrait or editorial mode. It happens. Imagine you are a major clothing brand and instead of having to pay a photographer, makeup artist, model, etc. to create images of a new fashion line. You just serve the service images of new products and let it work creating realistic images that you can use without worrying about copyrights, usage rights or even something controversial like the model in the photos that can earn negative press (think Kanye).
I suspect that a company will start or is already starting to develop this service and work with big fashion brands for the future and completely change the industry. Think how beneficial it is for businesses not to have to worry about many of the factors that go into creating editorial imagery for ad campaigns like the ones I’ve highlighted above. Similar things like this have happened before in the industry on a smaller scale. When you visit an online store for a clothing brand, you may find faceless images and clothing swapped over stock style modeling images.
If you are a wedding photographer and feel safe personally, I think even this market could be impacted in the future. Imagine that in 10 years you are attending a wedding and you are asked to take as many pictures of the wedding as you want on your iPhone 24 or Pixel 17. Then everyone drops all the pictures of the wedding into a folder, serves them up as a type of wedding AI generator and creates aesthetically pleasing wedding photos that reflect the moment in time, all without hiring a wedding photographer.
What a time to live. I won’t say the sky is falling, nor will I claim that this is the end of professional photography. I think that will start to impact monetization within the industry. It won’t make photography obsolete as a profession, but it will inspire the industry to adapt and change. I think this will definitely impact people looking to make a living in the future of portrait photography. Do you agree? What do you think of these services? Do you think it won’t change anything or will it revolutionize the future?