Yes, I am a Jack of all trades ...

Back in July 2023 I resigned as a director from the studio I shared with 3 other photographers. For months I had not really been shooting much and I had lost a lot of the desire to arrange shoots. To some, not seeing my social timelines riddled with models was a Godsend whilst others were saddened and the requests to 'hold your lights' started to dry up. A quick check on my PurplePort profile tells me I have been shooting with models for 9 years and I will be the first to admit it has been an immensely pleasurable phase in my photography and not one I will be giving up completely.

2024 sees a big change for me though, I am planning to move to South Wales and I am hoping to re-kindle my original love of landscape photography as I will be just south of Bannau Brycheiniog - the Brecon Beacons. Also, several years ago, I invested a not inconsiderable sum of money in a 400mm telephoto lens which I would very much like to use on some wildlife. Back in 2019, on my first visit to South Wales, I also had a stab at some astro-photography capturing the galactic core featuring the (literally) bright lights of Merthyr Tydfil.

I have always enjoyed a wide variety of photography from my early days of owning a Praktica MTL3, blowing my college grant on a Canon EOS620 and a couple of lenses, entering the digital world as far back as 2000 with a. 1.3MP Kodak camera, and in recent times becoming an early adopter of mirrorless cameras with the Fuji X Series cameras. I have been in camera clubs, given talks for camera clubs, run workshops in the studio, even judged competitions. 2010 was a highlight for me when I gained my Royal Photographic Society Licentiateship. Photography has been a huge part of my life.

I have a problem though ...

The Galactic Core

Shot in Bannau Brycheiniog, 2019. Not the greatest piece of astro photography but I was quite chuffed with the outcome and more importantly, I had never seen as many stars as I did this night. Watching them just appear as my eyes became adjusted to the dark was an amazing experience. It is just a single image, f1.6 @ 15 seconds, ISO 2500 taken on my Fuji X-T2 and using the XF-23 1.4 lens.

We're not playing spot the ball now ...

I am not going to sit here and tell you that photographs have never been manipulated in the past. The idiom that the camera never lies is one of the greatest lies there is! I am sure some of you remember, long before digital images, your parents or grandparents playing spot the ball in the newspapers. 22 footballers all appeared to be kicking an empty space where the football had been removed and you had to find. As I thumb through a book on my desk - Ansel Adams - 400 Photographs, I know landscapes have been painstakingly dodged and burned to create dramatic effects. Dodging and burning is something all photographers can do relatively easily these days with digital images and software, as is removing unwanted objects. Photographs have always been manipulated, it is just a lot easier to do it these days.

Generally speaking these edits are done to improve the original shot. Someone still stood on the windswept mountain edge waiting for the right light, someone waited patiently for hours in a snow covered graveyard trying to capture a wild animal (a long story for another time), someone still held a tricky balanced posed , someone carefully applied makeup, someone still thoughtfully set up some lighting. Someone composed a shot.

Location shooting

A fabulous shoot organised by a friend. A venue, models, makeup artists, hairstylists, and outfits all contributed to making this an amazing an enjoyable shoot.

Model - Georgia Bliss

Makeup - Kerry-ann Wells

Hair - Lisa Kennedy

22 Curious aliens playing spot the planet

In just the last year things have changed massively. Once, you could look at an image and guess that somethings in it had been altered, distractions removed, colours subtly changed, tones enhanced, skin retouched to within in an inch of its life, and body parts pulled and squashed, maybe well, maybe not so well. Now that is not true. The whole image could be artificially generated. All you need to be able to do is describe, to a piece of AI imaging software, what you want. You can also take a real image and ask AI to alter it. In someways I hate this even more than straight AI generated images where it has opened up hyper-realistic deep-fakes. I have seen some 'interesting' photos of well know celebrities recently, in social media posts, and enough comments to see some people clearly are already unable to spot reality.

Slightly exaggerated!

OK, I think we can all see this not a photograph but I am picking a bit of a surreal idea. I did just ask Adobe FireFly to generate an image of aliens playing spot the planet - my 21st century take on spot the ball. It is important to note, for those that do not know, that FireFly, and other AI image generators, does not just grab a random image from the internet. It creates a whole new image based on images found on the internet. I'm not breaching any copyright here by using somebody else's image, it is basically my creation.

Models - Left Alien, Right Alien, and Green Head Alien

Makeup - Au naturelle

Hair - Not required

Slightly more real!

This though is asking Photoshop to take the location shoot image above of Georgia as a reference and generate and image based on the simple text 'girl in a 50s diner'. Okay, when it comes to the plastic look, she is giving Barbie (or Cindy for old time UK people) a real run for her money but to be honest I have probably been guilty of retouching to similar levels in the past!

As someone that has frequently been in arguments about who is better looking, Wilma Flintstone or Betty Rubble, I have to say this 'girl' is quite cute!

Model - AI Generated

Makeup - AI Generated

Hair - AI Generated

If it's art what's the problem?

I am not saying what AI generates is not art. It is an incredibly exciting time for digital artists, and even better for non-artists like me, to get creative. Let your imagination run wild. Also, I don't mind seeing images manipulated with AI to create some kind of style like taking a portrait and making it steam punk themed or how you would look as a viking (beware most of the apps doing this kind of thing are just harvesting your facial data) as long as it is clearly being done for fun or artistic license. I guess the issue I have is being deliberately deceived.

I can no longer look at a photo and think what a great job the photographer has done composing it. I am starting to look at an image and wonder if it is real. On the flip side I feel like I need to tag photos now to explicitly state 'No AI was harmed in the making of this image'. At the moment it is not too much of an issue but I have seen predictions that by 2026, 90% of content on the web could be created or edited by AI.

"If I didn't tell you it was AI generated would you have known?"

—Snow Covered Mountains

We could argue that compositing photos, which has been done for ages, is no different but at least some element of those usually involves some real photography. The title image for this blog is an example of mixing compositing with AI. The entire background of the Versailles styled palace was created using AI and then I composited the image of a real ballet dancer, Freespirit, into it. I can just about cope with this level, it is no different from buying a printed background. I would still have preferred to shoot it in a real location though.

Several years ago there was controversy surrounding the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year, when the overall winner was later disqualified for entering a set up shot. This contravened the rules of the competition. Imagine how hard it will be going forward, with the rate of development in AI imaging, to determine if an image is even real or not let alone set up? This level of competition has checks in place such as seeing the original RAW files but how will poor old camera club judges fair with small camera club competitions?

The big tech companies like Adobe, Microsoft and Google are trying to find ways of digitally marking AI content. They are using watermarks and meta data tagging to establish the provenance of images. It's not perfect but it is a start. Even so, it kind of takes the edge off my viewing if I have to go and check out image data just to establish if a stunning landscape view is real or not.

I don't feel AI is an evolution of photography like moving from film to digital. It is a new stream of art. I just hope, going forward, people distinguish the two things that way. Unfortunately though it will inevitably be used unscrupulously by many.

As for my problem, I have to make sure I get my motivation back, physically go out and take photos, arrange photoshoots, and not get jealous of a computer that seems to be, or at very least is on the verge of, doing it better.