Photoshop's days are seriously numbered thanks to the likes of AI, machine learning, and neural networks. The question is, what should photographers be doing to prepare for this big change?
As the years go on, the amount of automation photographers use in their digital workflow has steadily risen. From utilizing actions to process images, to relying on presets for our visual style, to using one of the many "Auto" modes which exist in our image editors. Manually editing our work is becoming a much smaller part of what a photographer does these days. Is it really just a matter of time before we are actually doing none at all? Personally, I think a sea change is coming sooner rather than later.
AI and neural networks can already apply the look and feel of one image onto another, so it wouldn't take much for computers to learn what you as a photographer likes visually, and automatically apply those styles to your unprocessed images. Perhaps, a Tinder-style swipe system could help train AI to understand what you like or maybe computers could trawl through the thousands of "likes" you have already given out on social media to get a better idea. Fast forward even further into the future and this automation could easily be happening in-camera or when you upload your files to the Cloud. If things pan out in this way, it begs the question of what use will Photoshop actually have in the future?
If things play out as predicted, editing programs as we currently know them would quickly become antiquated. Some will obviously adapt and become our automated servants, while other programs will disappear into obscurity. From a workflow perspective, the future looks bright for photographers but unfortunately, it would not be all roses. With automation comes homogenization and devaluation and neither of these is good news for an industry that is already hugely competitive.
The real problem with letting computers edit our photos is that all our work will start to look even more the same. If these machines are not only taking into account your personal preferences but also looking at what types of images are "popular" online then we could easily be on a slippery slope into sameness. You only have to look at some genres of photography on Instagram to see how repetitive things have already become in terms of style and content.
Anything that makes the job easier or allows an untrained person to perform the task instantly devalues said task. Clients and customers are always trying to squeeze the bottom line when it comes to our work and in the future, this will only get worse. When said pictures don't need manually editing by a professional it's one more excuse for them to drive the price down.
So What Can Photographers Do to Prepare for This Gloomy Future?
If our work is going to all look the same and it's not going to be valued as much as it used to be, what can we do about it? Before you decide to throw your camera in the trash and switch professions there are still things that can be done to help you stand out and stay in business in the future.
1. Prioritize Working on Ideas and Creativity
While computers will get powerful enough to do many of the things we currently do, it will still be a very long time before they can match our ideas and creativity. If you don't already, invest a good proportion of your time on generating ideas and being as creative as you can be. Once the playing field is leveled even more so by technology, it will be attributes such as creativity that will be valued more than anything else. Two books I highly recommend are The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. Both these books will help to unblock any creative blocks you may have and allow you to look at creativity in a very different light.
2. Develop a Signature Style That Is Authentic to You
If you still rely on other people's presents to make your images look pretty then you need to stop immediately. While I appreciate such plug-ins can help do the heavy lifting of editing they fundamentally stop you from finding your own style. If that wasn't bad enough, your work will undoubtedly look like all the other photographers that use the same presets. Try to be authentic when you edit and make images that you actually like. Personally, I like my images a little over-cooked and moody when it comes to being processed. I know for a fact that this is not everyone's cup of tea but I don't care as I like it. Being unique is one surefire way to stand out in a sea of similar photographers that is growing by the second.
3. Work on Your People Skills
It pains me to say this, but the personality of a photographer is far more important in the commercial world than many other factors. I don't make the rules but unfortunately, this is the case. Just look at some of the terrible photographers with great personalities who never seem to be out of work. If a customer or client has to spend time with a photographer they will always hire one they like rather than one they don't like. This fact is going to become even more apparent when technology levels the playing field. For this reason, it's a good idea to work on your people skills now. The book How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a great place to start as it details the ways humans like to be treated and how to get the best out of many different interactions. Working on your people skills is not about insincerely manipulating others, but more about getting in tune with those around you.
So there you have it, how things could pan out for photographers when the majority of our editing is performed automatically. The reason I was motivated to write about this particular subject right now was due to the recent advancements made by FaceApp. For those who don't know, this app can transform portraits from young to old (see example above), male to female, etc. I was completely blown away by how convincing and quickly these automatic edits are done. Using the app really does feel like a glimpse into what the future of editing will look like for our industry. The job description of a photographer has constantly evolved over time but a few things have stayed true. Creativity, ideas, and personality will always be important attributes no matter how much the role changes thanks to technology. If you want to future proof your career then it's best to prioritize more time, money, and energy into these evergreen areas and less into things which probably won't matter in a few years.
Are Photoshop's days really numbered? Do you think automation will replace manual editing any time soon? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
Lead image by Pixabay via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.