We featured Nikon’s advertisement Natural Intelligence, which shows breathtaking landscape images from around the world taken by different photographers. However, after some investigation, it appears that the images used were creative commons photographs from sites such as Unsplash and Flickr.
It’s highly likely (though we are still waiting for confirmation) that the majority of those photographers were not compensated for their work.
Our antenna at DIYP was raised when we saw a post in a Facebook group that showed some pretty sketchy Photoshop work on one of the images. The Dragon’s Blood tree, shot by Andrew Svk, can easily be found on the free stock photo site Unsplash.
Poor use of Photoshop’s clone stamp
It’s a smaller image than the one used in the Nikon ad, and the eagle eyes of photographer Antti Karppinen spotted some careless clone stamping going on to extend the image. You can clearly see repetitive elements, which is a classic example of clumsy Photoshop retouching.
Use of royalty-free images
Obviously, bad cloning is not a crime, although I would expect better from a major camera brand such as Nikon. However, the fact that the image was found on a free-to-use site such as Unsplash got me wondering. Where did the rest of the images come from?
After a short amount of time searching online, the answer to that question turned out to be Unsplash and Flickr. Both of which are synonymous with free or Creative Commons use images. Essentially, the photographer can upload their images and choose whether to make their photograph free to use for commercial purposes.
The majority of these images fall into that category and have been heavily Photoshopped by presumably Circus Grey, the branding agency that created the advert for Nikon.
Were the photographers even paid?
The part of all this that really jumps out is the fact that most of these images were taken by amateur or hobbyist photographers who put the images up on what are essentially social media sites for photography. We’ve reached out to a few of the photographers, to Circus Grey, and to Nikon to find out if the photographers did receive any kind of compensation, however, we are still waiting for an answer.
“In Latin America, for example, editorial and advertising photographers are called increasingly less by brands, and they are slowly losing space, work, and profits,” writes Little Black Book about the campaign.
“Nikon has an important commitment to all the photographers in the world, who, with their talent and art, allowed us to enjoy the most beautiful and amazing images, which is why it was so important for us to take the initiative and support what has always given us a purpose as a brand, photography.”
– Charlie Tolmos, chief creative officer of Circus Grey Peru
At this point, I’m seriously doubting Nikon’s commitment to paying photographers for their work. They seem to think it’s OK to exploit amateur photographers and use creative commons images for major advertising campaigns in an effort to sell more cameras. The hypocrisy is a little hard to take.
Once you find the images on their various free photography sites, you can clearly see which camera was used to shoot the images. At least, unlike Samsung, Nikon has kept strictly to using images shot by Nikon cameras.
However, several of the images were shot with unusual choices of camera. Ken Lund shot his image of Fly Geyser with a Nikon Coolpix E5200, that’s basically a point-and-shoot camera that isn’t even available to buy anymore. Yes, you read that correctly. Nikon used an image shot on a 5MP camera from 2004 for a major ad campaign!
Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Except that Nikon is telling us in the ad to “get outside and use our cameras” and conveniently ignoring the copious amounts of Photoshop that it took to get these images up to the level of an international brand campaign.
Furthermore, the whole premise of the campaign is to devalue the use of AI in photography. The natural world, we are told, is so much more vibrant and strange than anything we can create with an image generator. Except that, perhaps, the poor cloning might have been improved if they had used Adobe’s new Generative fill feature.
And more hypocrisy abounds when you really think about Nikon’s latest cameras which feature, yes, you guessed it, a lot of AI! The new firmware update for Nikon’s Z9 allows it to automatically capture photos and videos based on subject motion, subject distance, and subject type. Presumably, it uses some form of AI in order to be able to do this accurately.
Direct Contrast to the advert’s message
So, in the end, does this really matter? Nikon wasn’t actually doing anything wrong, and they credited all of the photographers. One of the photographers, John Fowler, who had two images used in the campaign, even says on his Unsplash page, “I get paid for my photos by knowing that you like them. Use them as you wish and make beautiful art.”
So the photographers are happy to get their work used for free, but does that make it right that a massive camera brand such as Nikon, who is claiming to support photographers, then uses free images to sell their cameras?
For me, it’s all about transparency. Had Nikon said, “We found passionate hobbyist photographers and asked them to submit their photos”, then that might be different.
But don’t go around claiming to support professional photographers who are losing work to AI image generators and then not actually pay for the images used. Once again, I will reiterate that I have no actual proof that the images were not compensated for. However, the evidence does point to that fact.
Nikon, we expected better from you.
DIYP has reached out for comment to some of the photographers whose work has been featured, Nikon and Circus Grey – the producing agency, and at the time of writing, is still awaiting an answer.
UPDATE (19/06/23): We received a response from Photographer Andrew Svk and learned that he was not aware that his photo was used for this campaign. Here is what he told DIYP: “I did not even know that they used my photo, I randomly found it on Twitter.”