Is Artificial Intelligence Relevant in Photography?



FYI, I did NOT think I’d need to write this post – – but recently, circumstances in the world of photography (& in prestigious photo contests) have forced my hand …

I’m talking about the current infatuation with “Artificial Intelligence (AI)” – the latest shiny object in technology – and how it relates to photography.

Lately, Photoshop gurus have been declaring “THE WAY YOU CREATE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME!” (Yes, it’s all caps in the original email), or “Everyone’s talking about the brand-new Generative Fill in Adobe Photoshop. It’s the hottest new thing”.

So – everyone in the world of photography is thrilled over AI Content Creation being used in photography, right?  Right??

Um, nope.

Look, I’m definitely not a luddite (although I’m admittedly a wee bit of a traditionalist), but I fully realize that the genie is out of the bottle – AI is here to stay in ALL facets of life.

But for Content Creation in Photography?  Why?

Is it even relevant?



Let me start with this sincere belief, based on
40 years of being in this crazy business professionally

AI Content Creation in Photography is NOT Photography – –

no camera or lens is involved! 


In my opinion, AI Content Creation is not the same as Photographic Creation.  It’s part-Photographic Compositing (certainly a legitimate art form in it’s own right), but it’s also so much more – it’s a machines’ interpretation of a scene, which it then further “creates” by adding elements to an image (and those elements more than likely don’t even exist in the real world).

To me, that’s the complete antithesis of what I believe Photography to be all about.  In photography, you create your image in the camera – in a precise moment in both time & place.

Call it what you will (AI Art?), but AI Content Creation in Photography is NOT Photography – no camera or lens is involved!

There. I said it again. Change my mind.


Listen to Baby Yoda!


Not All AI is Created Equal


To further make my case, let me share a few definitions:

    • Definition of Photography: the art, application & practice of capturing light to create a visual representation of a moment in time & place – it’s “painting” with light, using a camera & lens.
    • Definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI): the ability of a machine to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings – “machine learning”.

And here are 2 more pertinent definitions germane to this discussion:

    • Generative AI: algorithms used to create brand-new content (such as “Generative Fill” in Photoshop).
    • Assistive (or Adaptive) AI: algorithms that detect patterns to enhance content & efficiency.

Let’s break this down even further …

•  Generative AI is the creation of brand-spanking-new content in your image by a machine – to me, it’s an absolute “no-no” as it relates to the art & science of Photography.  

Why? Because at that point, you’re no longer the photographer – the machine is also the “photographer”!  I mean, truly – do you really want to “share” the creative content credit with a machine?  Shades of “The Matrix“!

•  Assistive/Adaptive AI, however, is used effectively in quite a few aspects of post-processing in Photoshop (Content-aware Fill, Select Subject, etc.) – but it’s used to enhance your existing photographic capture.

Unlike Generative AI, Assistive/Adaptive AI in Photoshop is generally used to REMOVE minor unwanted objects, OR to create a complex selection for Layer Masks to eventually enhance the original image capture – but it’s not used to ADD a bunch of content to the image that’s been created out of whole cloth (Generative AI). 

It should also be noted that the chores assigned to Assistive/Adaptive AI in Photoshop are frequently something that can be done “manually” or “old-school” (such as the “Select Sky” tool) – used properly, it can be a tremendous time & accuracy-saver.


As you can see, not all AI is created equal.  To me, here’s the key point,
as it relates to the art & science of photography:

Assistive/Adaptive AI = good, Generative AI = bad

Again, change my mind 🙂


Bottom Line:


So, is AI relevant in photography? Absolutely – especially in post-processing!

… but If AI Content Creation (NOT Content Enhancement) is the next big thing in Photography, we’re in for a hot mess – – for the sake of the Art of Photography, I sincerely hope that saner minds will prevail in the future – just sayin’  …




Other considerations:


•  The Future of Photography Contests the San Diego County Fairs’ Photo Contest is an international PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION, not an AI EXHIBITION – and it does not allow AI-Generated images (nor should it, in my opinion).  So, the question for contest coordinators is how to avoid Generative AI in a contest: request thumbnails or RAW files of the original?  Add a category for AI-Generated images (but is it really “photography”??). Or, perhaps technical help is on the way from Adobe and others:


 Is using Generative AI the same as Photographys’ “Film vs Digital” transition controversy from a few decades ago?  Of course not – only the capture medium was changed (still using a Camera and a Lens) – and content wasn’t “generated”.


 Boris Eldagsen won the Sony World Photography Awards for a piece titled “The Electrician”, then didn’t accept it because, unbeknownst to the judges, it was generated by AI.


•  Chat GPT – – Example: should a student use Chat GPT on a school term paper?  No – – when that happens, nobody learns!  As an aside, Chat GPT (as we’ll as its competitors) is not infallible – it’s prone to mistakes (as is the “Object Selection” Tool in Photoshop, for instance.)


•  At this point, AI creation is not copyrightable only human-made creations are eligible:


Current AI Links of interest:


•  Adobes’ AI Art Generator page:


•  Here is a “conversation” between a human & Chat GPT on AI in Photography (or it’s very clever writing – you decide!):


•  I don’t really agree with the author – but the comments on his take are excellent:


•  The overall content of this article is interesting, as it relates to Copyright:




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•  By the way, this is all based on my Photoshop book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”, available exclusively on Amazon:


Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment and forward this to your photography friends!


Thx again, and cheers,


John Watts 🙂



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