Don’t Let AI Ruin Your Photography

Don’t Let AI Ruin Your Photography

This week, Google’s AlphaGo program beat the world’s best Go player, Ke Jie, in 2 straight games in a best of 5 series. Go is considered to be the world’s hardest board game, and some AI experts didn’t think that a machine would be able to best humans for another decade.

In the area of photography, companies like Google have already introduced various aspects of machine learning allowing users to search for photos by keyword without having ever entered keywords. Combined with other features like facial recognition give the user surprisingly accurate and useful results. It’s clear that AI has reached a powerful inflection point.

It a not-so-surprising development, entrepreneur Ryan Stout launched a Kickstarter campaign for a camera accessory called “Arsenal” which uses machine learning to help you take better pictures. In his words “Today’s DSLR and mirrorless cameras have amazing optics and sensors, but they do very little to actually help you take a good photo.”

The statement isn’t completely accurate. Various modes on a number of different cameras do almost exactly what Arsenal purports to do – optimizing for various settings (e.g. shutter speed for sports) depending on the situation. Arsenal allegedly uses machine learning, fine tuning “18 different factors” to yield the best photo.

The more practical features of the device include automation for techniques like focus stacking, HDR, and time-lapse. The wireless features also appear to be pretty great (1:1 zooming) assuming the app software is as responsive and bug-free as the video depicts.

Kickstarter hardware projects are notorious for being late, if ever delivering. Many well-intentioned entrepreneurs frequently run into the complexity and difficulty of fulfilling a physical product. And I would certainly urge caution that a $150 device could be delivered by January 2018 by a first time camera hardware entrepreneur.

But the larger issue is one of human creativity. Computers have been able to emulate the musical style of humans for many years. But that doesn’t mean that I enjoy listening to or playing with a computer. For many people, photography is a sole (soul) creative outlet – one that doesn’t require copious amount of time, but still flexes the creative muscle. Using machine learning with a dataset of images of a certain provenance leads to predictable results. Water is always blurred because the algorithm told us so. High dynamic range scenes are always rendered as such. We might still control where we point our camera (for now), but the serendipity of creating a different photo because we tweaked the knobs instead of a computer is lost. What then, is the point of even taking a photo if the result is a postcard image like every other postcard image?

Arsenal’s package of features is impressive – especially at the price point – and the major camera manufacturers would be smart to consider how they might integrate some of Arsenal’s features into their own future cameras. But I hope some of the 2,000 backers (and growing) of the project stop to consider what photography means to them, and how this device might hamper rather than help their photography.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 8 comments for this article
  1. CJ at 8:29 pm

    If its good, it will learn. Just look to how well are on cars, you aren’t well informed enough on tech.
    If hus software can escalate this guy is already a billionaire.
    Ans don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love photography and to get it valuables skills, artistic expression overall​. But lets face it with realistic view, a software well created can resolve many cliche photography very well.
    So in my opinion, not that I like it, this will be not just helpful but even can replace comercial photographers on some fields.
    That or it will be bougth by a big G or an apple for being inside of your phone but connected to their AI.

  2. Kayoss at 12:48 pm

    I think the reason why i’m interested in this device is the fact that it may eliminate a lot of the post work that happens on the computer. For example, taking multiple exposures and combining them, photo stacking. It also eliminate some if not all after market lens filter such as ND filters. I think if this device can reduce my time on the computer then it is well worth it.

  3. Ron Kusina at 12:13 pm

    Having seen first hand how technology, and in a more direct manner, how digital photography, has changed the landscape for image making, I believe AI is but another promising new photo development that will only get better as it is applied in the field. I’ve been pursuing the light for more than 50 years, and I’m happy to give Arsenal a try. If it doesn’t work as anticipated, I’ll move it along to an aspiring photo maker. Primarily, I see it as having an accomplished pro standing next to you. Take the advice, or unplug it and do your thing. Give it a chance!

  4. pjcamp at 3:00 pm

    Back in the days of 35mm film cameras, I used to read all the photography magazines where every image had a caption that detailed the film used, ASA setting, focus and shutter, etc. that was used. I thought professionals must have some deep understanding that I didn’t have, that they could make these decisions and dial in the perfect shot every time.

    Turns out they just burned through a ton of film and threw away everything that wasn’t good. Motor drive and deep pockets were what set a professional apart from an amateur.

    The brute force technique is something that everyone can use now with digital photography. The incremental cost of taking another image is zero. Why not try things? The only remaining question is do I want to learn the cryptic, user hostile interface of my camera or use something more friendly and intuitive?

    I put this editorial in the category of the long ago computer mags, pretending that photography is a priesthood you have to labor to enter when it is really just trial and error. If this device makes that process easier, then it is a good solution for people. Condemning it because Real Photographers sweat for their images is a little arrogant and a lot detached from reality.

    • Kent at 1:03 pm

      @pjcamp Did you just say, “Motor drive and deep pockets set a professional apart from an amateur?” No. What sets professionals apart from amatuers is that professionals have the talent to make a living with their creativity and yes, their full knowledge of how to use their camera. This is a good solution for you because you don’t know what you are doing and you need to rely on a gadget to take a photo that the gadget wants you to take. You have no intelligence. That’s why you need to find something artificial.

  5. Umhambi at 10:34 am

    Well, our Arsenal probably got “lost” in the post. We have been writing to Arsenal for over a month now and all they tell us is that they can only give us a refund once they get the Arsenal back. Is that my problem? I don’t even want it any more. What kind of company policy is that? Shocking!! They should refund us our money and take it up with the shipping company.

  6. Michael T Babcock at 12:50 pm

    I don’t see any way that using Arsenal can hamper your photos. Its quite useful for things its good at and can be shut off the rest of the time.

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