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Synthography: exploring the intersection of photography and artificial intelligence

The genie is out of the bottle: Artificial Intelligence, particularly Diffusion Models like Midjourney, DALL-E3, and Stable Diffusion, have disrupted the creative industries. Recently, Adobe has advanced its 'FireFly' project, integrating generative AI into its software suite. Renowned for Photoshop, Adobe has been criticised for prioritising profit over the livelihoods of millions of professionals, even inciting discontent among its own employees. The Association of Photographers (AOP) and the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) have condemned these practices.

A major concern is the machine learning process. Over the past few years, AI has been scraping the internet for content without the knowledge of creatives, learning to generate images. This has angered many professionals in the creative field, raising questions about intellectual property rights, the copying of styles, and the ethics of AI learning from others' content.

What does this mean for future professional creatives?

Nick Millson delves into the complex and ethical considerations of using artificial intelligence (AI) in generative image making. While Millson has developed accomplished skills as a photographer and retoucher, he is a recent novice with AI. Despite his short experience, he has demonstrated that AI requires minimal skill, raising concerns about its impact on his future practice. Millson calls for ethical codes of practice to ensure photography remains a bastion of authenticity. The unstoppable advance of AI poses a critical question: how can photographers generate revenue in this new landscape?

The following text is an excerpt from a larger academic essay exploring Photography in Context, part of a BA (Hons) Professional Photography program.


Authenticity in images is a vital aspect to consider. The distinction between real photography, which involves capturing images of real objects, people, landscapes, and other subjects, and AI-generated images is essential to maintain. This differentiation helps preserve the authenticity of images and ensures that photographers can continue to create work grounded in reality. Moreover, it would also mean photographers still have a role to play.

To address these concerns regarding the perception of reality, it is crucial to establish ethical guidelines and regulations for the use of AI in photography to maintain trust, emphasising the importance of authenticity, accuracy, and transparency (Richin, 2023). Reality-based foundation images should continue to play a critical role in AI-generated photography to maintain a connection to reality and ensure the credibility of the resulting images. Further deliberate actions by impacted people are necessary to explore the implications of AI-generated images on our understanding of reality and to develop guidelines for their ethical use.

Overall, the integration of AI into photography presents both opportunities and challenges for practitioners in the field. It is essential to approach the use of AI with respect and consideration for the impact on the public's perception of images, ensuring that the integrity of photography is maintained. By evaluating the role of AI in photography and understanding the importance of authenticity in images, photographers can use the benefits of AI while preserving the credibility and trustworthiness of their work. The impact of AI on copyright and on revenue generation for photographers is evolving. There is a view that revenue generation will evolve as the technology evolves and the technology’s novelty diminishes then profitability will become paramount (Tadder, 2023).

The impact of generative AI on photography is significant. It opens up possibilities for creating images storyboarded by brand creatives, previously limited by the ability to create them physically. However, this raises the question of whether commercial work for photographers will diminish (Hinton, 2023). To understand this, we must consider the potential impact of AI-generated images on the photography industry and the role of photographers in the age of AI.

Included below (fig. 1- 6) are some images using photography and AI-generated images to demonstrate the intersection of photography and AI. AI is used to create backdrops and stories for images. The images below have been included to demonstrate this. The idea/storyboard is to photograph a fictional character visiting a fictional deserted factory in a remote place in a post-apocalyptic world. The storyboard plan is for the images to suggest this person's story (and leave it up to the viewer to imagine that actual story/narrative) and to create a backdrop/environment to help create context and texture to the image. For complete transparency, the environment/set/backdrop is created by using AI. Prompts were used to establish an atmosphere that illustrates the physical struggle. To create this atmosphere, a setting of cold, snowy blizzard weather was created, implying a harsh, demanding environment requiring considerable effort and struggle to get to the fictional factory. Nike was chosen because it is an easily recognisable, important brand, which would warrant the struggle it takes to get to the factory.

Fig 1. AI generated background image, Midjourney, promt Nick Millson, 2024

Fig 2. Model studio photograph, Nick Millson, 2024

Fig 3. Finished image, Photoshop composite, Nick Millson, 2024

Fig 4. Finished image, Photoshop composite, Nick Millson, 2024

Fig 5. Finished image, Photoshop composite, Nick Millson, 2024

Fig 6. Finished image, Photoshop composite, Nick Millson, 2024


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