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Is Artificial Intelligence the Next Major Step for Photographers?

Eye autofocus, insanely fast burst rates, 8K raw video, and more. There is no doubt that camera features are getting better and better at a crazy pace. But the thing I am most excited for is not on a camera, it is in post-processing: artificial intelligence.

Photoshop is an incredibly powerful program, no doubt, and it has been moving toward higher levels of automation in recent years, but for the most part, more intricate procedures still require mostly manual control and thus, fair amounts of time investment. I certainly do not mind that sort of investment for passion projects, but on the other hand, for purely work-related projects, I have always been ready to embrace whatever levels of automation that could be found. Such automation has been around for a while, but it has not been until the last few years that it has made major steps forward, and now, I think we are on the cusp of an AI-powered revolution.

I will admit that until just a few days ago, PortraitPro was never seriously on my radar. After seeing a few ads for it many years ago, it just looked like the sort of software that overly smoothed skin and produced unrealistic results. I honestly forgot about it until another Fstoppers writer raved about it to me a few days ago. I trust his opinion, and I am always looking to try new things, so I grabbed my credit card and bought a copy. Suffice to say that I am truly impressed. A typical headshot edit takes me about 20 minutes in Photoshop — 15 if I am really hyperfocused. After spending 10 minutes learning the ropes of PortraitPro, I loaded in an unedited headshot and had a finished image that was just as good as a manual edit in about 90 seconds. And for the occasional blemish it missed, I could open the exported version in Photoshop and run the healing brush over it in maybe 20 seconds. No doubt, the increase in efficiency was impressive.

Luminar 4 has been another fantastic addition to my arsenal. I have been particularly fond of the automated sky replacement feature. If you have ever replaced a sky in Photoshop before, you know that for anything but the simplest horizons, it is a rather involved process. Luminar 4 does an impressive job of automating the process and gives you enough granular control to tweak it to increase its believability. The thing that I love about it, though, is that it invigorates my creativity. Replacing a sky is not something I would do on a whim manually in Photoshop. But when I can just cycle through different options with a single click, all of a sudden, I can explore all sorts of creative avenues, and photos that might have gone straight to the trash bin before suddenly have new life.

A common counterargument against this is that using automation removes the creative touch of the artist, and there is certainly validity to that. But it is also important to remember that you do not have to use it. I certainly enjoy the manual process and prefer it to automation for passion projects and personal work. Rather, the usage of these tools falls into two categories for me.

Let’s be honest: a lot of post-processing is not a magical creative process; it is just plain tedium. Working on a landscape can be a really special thing, but I doubt many photographers will say how much they enjoy editing 200 corporate headshots.

We already have batch processing to a certain degree in lots of applications, but I have to admit that I was truly impressed by the capabilities of PortraitPro 19. I could establish a certain edit and style I wanted, then batch-process an entire set of photos in just a few clicks; that includes things like blemish removal and the like — everything that you would normally do for a complete edit. After that, I just double-checked all the exported files and touched up the occasional missed blemish in Lightroom.

This sort of capability has the potential to revolutionize workflows for a lot of photographers. A photographer doing multiple days of corporate headshots and coming home with hundreds of images to edit could see post-processing of that massive set drop from multiple days to just a couple of hours. Wedding photographers, who typically shoot on the weekends and spend weekdays post-processing, who have to touch up dozens of formal portraits and the like, could free up large amounts of their weekdays for other tasks or personal time. Furthermore, this has potential to ensure greater consistency.

Similarly, consider a real estate photographer. They can’t wait until a day with partly cloudy weather for the perfect complement to whatever house they are shooting. Still, upper-level clients will expect that complete look to show their properties in the best possible light. Like the portrait sets, AI sky replacement can save a lot of time. And it can also set your work apart when you can put every single property against a nice sky.

I look at it as augmenting creativity and inspiration. You are not obligated to use this technology. But when I am stuck on where to take a shot that I know has potential, being able to cycle through a variety of editing options in just seconds can shake me out of that creative rut and give me an idea of where I want to go with the post-processing.

In the last few years, AI software for post-processing has made some real leaps forward. And not only does that have the potential to enable new creative routes for photographers, it also has the potential to significantly streamline workflows by alleviating majorly tedious and repetitive tasks.

There will always be room for taking whatever level of manual control you want to have. Have you integrated any artificial intelligence tools into your workflow? Do you find they have become advanced enough to make a significant difference? Tell me about your experience in the comments.

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