If you’re a photographer who earns a living photographing people, you need to be prepared for this.
I’ll be the first to admit that as a landscape photographer, I don’t pretend to know much about the art of photographing people. However, I do know that the majority of money in photography comes from photographing humans. Weddings, portrait work, headshots, family photos, fashion, sports: you name it and it likely involves people.
Unless you haven’t followed any news at all, you likely caught the recent wave of AI-generated images from platforms such as Dall-E-2, where you could input search terms and be delivered a plethora of different results, sometimes with frightening realism, or comical mishaps. Even in its infancy, it has created works of art good enough to win a contest or two. The results, on average, are very hit or miss, but it’s genuinely interesting to see what it can come up with.
What happens when you take that power and give it a bit more direction, specifically within the photography industry?
The End of Professional Photography
Lee Morris covered this topic a few months ago, presenting examples of people that don’t exist, created in seconds, with insanely detailed results. I cover this in my video above, but go a step further to cover what happens when you input yourself as the subject? Recently, I came across a service that does exactly that, so obviously, I gave it a try.
The service I stumbled upon is avatarai.me, which does cost money currently. I fully expect these services to start becoming more widespread very rapidly. They ask you to send in 20 images of yourself: 10 face close-ups, 5 chest and above, and 5 full-body images. Within a few hours, you’re delivered back a set of images that are theme-dependent based on their services at the time. For example, Christmas is a current theme generated by this service, more on that later.
Here are a few of the images I got back. These are me, but they aren’t me. Some of these are scarily good, all while giving zero direction to the system that created them. When you start thinking about what the possibilities could be with just a little direction, you really start to realize just how much this is going to change the photography industry.
Headshots, Holiday Photos, and Stock Images
Let’s start small while also remaining realistic. I don’t expect any photographer reading this to only make their income from headshots or holiday photos, but I imagine many help subsidize studio costs and residual income with studio sessions of varying types.
It just so happens the service I used delivered a few examples of professional headshots. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. Could I use them professionally? Not yet. But imagine a web service that only creates professional headshots, where you can set a few parameters such as keeping your facial structure and eye color set to something like “reality” and then get delivered 100+ images of you in a professional setting. You don’t have to get dressed up, work with a photographer, or even leave the house.
This is possible right now. This isn’t something a few years down the road. Give an AI service a bit more computational power, a little more time, and direct it to do one thing, such as professional headshots, and this will absolutely be a service people start using. This will absolutely have an impact on working photographers right now.
The service also delivered back a few holiday styles photos that are far from perfect. But continuing the sentiment above to use a service with one direction and more power, I suspect the results will just continue to get better. We aren’t quite at a point where you can serve the AI images of four family members and get back holiday postcards yet, but I don’t think we are far off. You don’t have to wrangle the kids, your partner, buy outfits, or worry about a bunch of individual factors.
Think about services like Shutterstock and Getty, who provide countless generic stock images for different purposes. Why continue to pay photographers for more images or people when they can just use their own libraries to start generating images themselves? This could happen right now and directly impact those photographers who earn income from stock images of people.
Let’s take it a step further and think about where this is heading. Lee already covered this pretty well in his article, showing the ability to create fake people in portrait or editorial settings. This is coming. Imagine you’re a big clothing brand and instead of having to pay a photographer, makeup artist, a model, etc. to create images of a new fashion line. You simply serve the service images of the new products and let it go to work creating in realistic images you can use without worry of copyright, usage rights, or even something controversial such as the model within the photos possibly gaining negative press (think Kanye) .
I suspect a company will start or is already starting to develop this service and will work with big fashion brands for the future and completely change the industry. Think about how much it benefits the companies to not have to worry about many of the factors that go into creating editorial images for ad campaigns like I highlighted above. Similar things like this have already happened within the industry on a smaller scale. When you visit a webstore for a clothing brand, you can find images without faces and clothing interchanged on stock style modeling images.
If you’re a wedding photographer and feeling safe, personally, I think even that market could be impacted in the future. Imagine 10 years from now, you’re at a wedding and you’re instructed to take as many images on your iPhone 24 or Pixel 17 of the wedding as you want. Then, everyone deposits all the images from the wedding into a folder, serves it to some 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 be alive. I won’t say the sky is falling, nor will I claim that this is the end of professional photography. I do think it will start to impact the monetization within the industry. It won’t make photography obsolete as a profession, but it will pressure the industry to adapt and change. I do think it will absolutely impact people looking to earn a living within the future of portrait photography. Do you agree? What are your thoughts on these services? Do you think it won’t change anything or that it’ll revolutionize the future?