Artificial Intelligence is there to serve us by making our lives and routines easier, and is already an integral part of our photography. But, are we right to question it? Dima Sytnik, CTO and Co-founder of Skylum shares his thoughts on the subject.
Earlier this year I wrote my first article on mixing photography and artificial intelligence, and shared my findings with our readers. Just doing very brief research online, you'll quickly find that there are numerous types of software and pieces of equipment that already utilize the benefits of artificial intelligence, from the way our equipment works, to the way we can create art nowadays, and of course in post-processing, as well as analyzing and categorizing our work, and more. One of the companies I mentioned in my article were Skylum, who has released different types of editing programs and plugins that heavily use artificial intelligence as part of their workflow to enhance the user experience for both beginners and professionals, who know exactly what tools they require.
Since writing my article, I have been contacted by Skylum and an idea arose to discuss artificial intelligence through the eyes of someone who has closely worked with these ideas, tools, and products from the very start. Sytnik is not just the person behind all of their products and innovations, but he is a photographer himself, too.
Artificial intelligence as a concept and as a part of our current life, and as a definite part of our future, may seem a daunting concept for some, even if its sole goal is to simplify our lives. When it comes to photography, Sytnik explains that by helping us to do things faster and easier, it's simplifying the process of taking and managing photos, which may be a hurdle for those who don't wish to delve into the technicalities of photography and instead want to simply focus on taking, editing, and storing their photographs. Skylum and many others are heavily investing in the research and development of artificial intelligence, a rational decision considering how integral it may become in our lives.
My concern is whether artificial intelligence is capable of hindering our learning and understanding of photography and editing by relieving us of information that, arguably, might be beneficial to our personal and professional development. Sytnik counteracts this by explaining that in reality not everyone is interested in spending time and resources to learn how certain adjustments or actions work, and thus having access to tools, that on the onset appear as very basic but in truth involve heavy behind-the-scenes work, can enhance their experience. For example, a simple slider called Accent AI, available in Luminar 3, swiftly fixes adjustments, such as the tone, details, exposure, depth, color, and others, which allows us to work faster and more intuitive due to machine learning.
Although artificial intelligence can imitate the work pattern of fixing white balance, exposure, details, and other tools that a human editor would apply to the image, especially at the beginning stage of post-processing, Sytnik admits that the image still needs to be taken by a photographer, although he is hopeful that artificial intelligence will gain the ability to add a creative touch. Creativity is not a part of the process yet, however, you can also question where does basic editing end, and where does creativity begin?
Although these tools can give you assistance in speeding up and simplifying your workflow, it won't necessarily make you a "great" photographer, neither will it give you "an eye for photography". More importantly, it won't help you recognize or capture the emotions in your subject or scene. Technology cannot fully understand why and how we feel emotions nor can it understand "the human experience". Sure, it can judge certain aspects within an image, such as lighting, but Sytnik believes that it takes a real human to truly evaluate the context of the scene, meanwhile a computer does not carry the emotional capability to comprehend a narrative. In order for machine learning to adapt to our needs and perhaps become more powerful in adding a creative touch, it still needs to be learn from us.
Sytnik notes that currently the biggest hurdle in developing artificial intelligence based tools and software is research and development. Although you may have created a great concept for a feature and have already begun working on it, you may struggle to bypass performance complexities. It's also likely to achieve completely different results from what you initially hoped and set out to achieve in the first place. Sometimes you also have to accept defeat because you may realize that "something may not work after all", however, regardless of current difficulties, the future is looking promising for artificial intelligence.
Although nobody knows exactly what future holds, Sytnik believes that artificial intelligence will rather enhance, not replace, traditional imaging. With tools, such as GauGAN, a software that turns simple drawings into realistic looking landscapes, or a digital face generator, we can start seeing the giant steps that artificial intelligence is already making. But once more, Sytnik reminds that while the progress is undeniable, it still is a "way of copy-pasting existing knowledge — it imitates, but it doesn't create".
For those who aren't concerned with creativity, artificial intelligence can be a money saving answer to tackling time consuming tasks, for example, a real estate business requiring high quality HDR photographs showcasing their listings or an online retailer letting the machine automation take care of batch-processing images. For those who thoroughly enjoy the creativity and human aspect of photography, artificial intelligence should not be feared but rather seen as a tool that can help us reduce time spent on tasks we rather avoid, and allow us focus on things that matter to us, instead.
What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence becoming a part of our photography experience?
All images used with the permission of Skylum.