This is why AI will never really replace photography

Aug 11, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

This is why AI will never really replace photography

Aug 11, 2023

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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AI replace real photos

The moment chatbots and text-to-image generators appeared, artists and all kinds of creators started to dread – will artificial intelligence replace us? As a writer, I might soon be easily replaced with ChatGPT. And as a photographer, there’s no way I can create the stuff Midjourney can, especially not that fast.

I have to admit, I’ve felt a little pessimistic about all this, wondering what my place in the world is anymore and reevaluating my interests and my choice of career. But then it came to me – there still is something I firmly believe AI will never be able to replace – genuine human experience! In this article, I’ll discuss this idea. Hopefully, it will help you get a bit more optimistic about the whole AI thing, too.

Yes, AI can be useful

Before we move on, I want to disclose that I am not against AI, and I don’t avoid using it. On the contrary – I find it useful for everyday stuff and even at work. For example, I made some quizzes with AI-generated images (you can play them here and here). I also occasionally use AI-generated images to illustrate articles, as sometimes it’s just impossible to find a stock photo that fits.

For personal use, I’ve used Midjourney to create backgrounds for my smart watch so it matches my outfit. I made coloring book pages for a friend and desktop backgrounds for me. I made tons of images just for fun, imagining all sorts of stuff that I couldn’t draw or paint.

As a photographer, you can find Midjourney helpful too. It’s excellent for creating a concept so that you can take a photo later. Especially if, like me, you can’t really draw well and represent your ideas in a sketch. This is something I’m still exploring, and it’s pretty cool.

Finally, you can just play with it and imagine all sorts of fun and creative scenarios. You can print the ones you like and decorate your home if that’s your cup of tea. The bottom line is – the applications of text-to-image generators are virtually endless and they’re not necessarily bad or harmful.

But what is potentially bad is AI imagery replacing photography. It’s already happening with stock photos. Still, I firmly believe that AI will not replace you or me as photographers with all our knowledge, experience, and unique personalities. And this is what I want to talk about in the next part of the article.

AI replace real photos
After a heavy storm in my hometown. No filter, no AI, just pure magic of nature right after its devastating force

But what can AI never replace?

Put briefly, AI can never replace the feelings and experiences we had while taking photos. If you take photos to immortalize your experiences, emotions, and pieces of your life – you just can’t replicate that with AI. If taking photos helps you relax, calms you down, excites you, and helps you retrieve the balance… Nope, again, no AI-generated image can replace it. In cases like this, even an old snapshot is way more valuable than the most aesthetically pleasing image you create in Midjourney.

To illustrate my point, I’ve prepared some examples. In the next part of the article, you’ll see some of my images and even one painting, along with some AI-generated work. I made the AI stuff based on some of those images or their descriptions. And I’ll share my stories that show why these AI creations, although gorgeous, will never be something I’ll enjoy more than my average photos any my crappy paintings.

Why AI can’t replace real photography and art for me

The most beautiful place in the world

When I first visited Corfu, Greece, I was smitten. It remains the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to, and I’m happy to say that I’m finally returning there soon.

While in Corfu, I also visited Vido Island, a crucial place in Serbian history. Other than the historical significance, this place left a huge impression on me thanks to its wildlife, the scent of pine trees, and the kindest, wisest woman I met while taking a walk. I can’t even begin to explain how I felt after the entire experience, and I took this photo while waiting for a boat to get me back to Corfu:

AI replace real photos

For the sake of this article, I recreated it in Midjourney. It’s pretty… But it doesn’t carry all my emotions, experiences, and memories from Vido.

A Bloody Fairytale

I visited another historically significant place a few years ago. It’s here in Serbia, in the city of Kragujevac, and it’s called Šumarice. The “Interrupted Flight” monument is one of the most famous in Serbia, dedicated to the hundreds of children murdered here by German soldiers on October 21, 1941.

AI replace real photos

I cried a lot. I cry as I’m writing this, more than two years later. Midjourney created some much more interesting, non-existent monuments… But it can never recreate all the sadness one feels once they visit this place.

Self-soothing

Back in 2018, I had a tough time after some major life changes and health issues. I was trying to get over it the best that I could, and one of the things that made my life more bearable back in the day was photography.

This is one of the photos I took back then. Not a perfect composite, but it remains one of my favorites to this day. It reminds me of what I’ve been through and how much I’ve accomplished since then. And it reminds me that I’ll always have myself to rely on because I’m one tough son of a gun. :)

AI replace real photos

I recreated it with Midjourney at a perfect time, considering that I recently had another depressive episode. Sure, these are pretty… But it just didn’t give me the same satisfaction and sense of accomplishment as photographing myself — a person made of flesh and blood and all those damn feelings.

Mr. Moonlight

Okay, don’t think I’m only made of depression and sadness; I can feel pleasant emotions, too. For example, seeing this moonrise in the mountains right after arriving at Uvac and playing with the friendliest stray dog I’d ever seen. My former partner and I were all alone in an empty parking lot, trying to figure out where to find food. It was dark but not scary at all – just incredibly calm. The dog came out of nowhere and gave us all the love it had… We played with it, and after it left, I turned around and saw these clouds and the moon. I was enchanted. I used my car roof as a tripod and took this shot:

AI replace real photos

Midjourney was pretty good at recreating it… But it doesn’t have the love of a dog, the scent of a chilly fall evening in the mountains, and the peace of being there with your loved one, just enjoying the view.

Traveling through time

The final example isn’t a photo but a painting. And to prove my point – it’s a terrible one. :)

A few years ago, my friends and I met at my friend’s (now my) flat to paint and drink. The theme of the evening was Cuba, as my friend had just returned from there, so we drank rum-based cocktails and listened to Cuban music while painting, talking, and laughing.

Each of us had a topic and a style, and mine was “Traveling through time” painted in the style of Futurism. Needless to say that I had to google Futurism before I started. This is what I ended up with, it looks nothing like Futurist art, but it still hangs on my wall to remind me of one of the best nights with my favorite people:

AI replace real photos

Midjourney did a way better job than me. But although much prettier, these only remind me of yet another evening of staring at a monitor:

The bottom line

The advancement of AI certainly evokes a mix of excitement and fear among creators. But while AI tools can generate impressive imagery, the very essence of human emotion, memory, and experience just can’t be distilled into algorithms; at least that’s my two cents.

Each photo we take, each piece of art we create, is an intimate reflection of our individual journeys, laden with memories, feelings, and stories. Sure, AI might replicate the visual appeal and even your distinct style, but it will never truly encapsulate the depth of human sentiment.

So, if you’ve also wondered about your place in this AI-augmented world, remember: technology can imitate, but it can never replicate the heart and soul you pour into your work.

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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13 responses to “This is why AI will never really replace photography”

  1. Libby Sutherland Avatar
    Libby Sutherland

    Personally I love AI and any “photographer” who shows extreme disdain must not have much confidence in his/her skills. While the computer stuff may be stunning, it’s that human click of the shutter that will win hearts.

    What would be the ultimate cool — an AI Camera. An intelligent mode where you say “select main subject” then juice up the background! I could have some real fun with that.

    Thanks for your article — lots of food for thought 😀

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      Thanks, Libby! I still have lots of thoughts about it myself, I had a hard time making this relatively short and on point haha. :)

      1. Libby Sutherland Avatar
        Libby Sutherland

        Hey someone made my dream camera LOLOL! https://petapixel.com/2023/08/14/ai-camera-transforms-your-photos-into-something-surreal/ Would likely be a novelty item only for me though. I would probably use it a few times and it would go in the drawer.

        1. Dunja0712 Avatar
          Dunja0712

          Hahaha many gadgets end up in the drawer collecting dust, I have to admit. :) You’re right Libby, this would definitely be one of them. :D

  2. Tim Reidy Productions Avatar
    Tim Reidy Productions

    AI images are not photography, so I don’t know photo sites are discussing this instead of better aperture settings.

    1. Alex Baker Avatar
      Alex Baker

      Tim Reidy Productions because there’s only so much you can say about the virtues of f/8…

  3. Stan A. Malek Avatar
    Stan A. Malek

    Artists once freaked at the thought that a camera could replace a pencil and paintbrush.

  4. Aleksi Lausti Avatar
    Aleksi Lausti

    Well written article and spot on in it’s analysis. Thank you.

    1. Dunja0712 Avatar
      Dunja0712

      thank you for your support and kindness :)

  5. Davorin Palijan Avatar
    Davorin Palijan

    I get eczema when people call their generative images “photographs”. And its not because some snobbish elitism – its just plain wrong and missleading!
    NO LIGHT (photos), NO PHOTOGRAPHY!

  6. Del Vincent Avatar
    Del Vincent

    As a hobby, something to do… AI will only replace photography if you decide you want to do AI rather than photography.

    As a profession? It already is replacing it. I personally have already lost jobs to AI and many other professional photographers I know have as well – and this is whilst the AI is still in its infancy.

    1. Johnny Martyr Avatar
      Johnny Martyr

      Del Vincent I think that on a professional level, photography will need to be identified as “artisanal” or similarly in order to distinguish itself from heavily edited photography.

      I shoot b&w 35mm film professionally. Digital photographers have long mocked me for “making a big deal” out of the fact that I shoot film, citing that just because something is shot on film doesn’t make it a better photo. And I agree.

      But by telling consumers that something is made differently, regardless of if they can appreciate the difference visually or not, they can appreciate differences in cost and time to create and some will bare the difference in cost of choosing a human created image and a computer created one.

      The applications will just have to change. As a film photographer, weddings are great because they don’t require an overnight turnaround. Genres that do require a faster turnaround are more challenging for me. You find ways to keep doing what you’re doing.

      Best of luck!

    2. Del Vincent Avatar
      Del Vincent

      Johnny Martyr absolutely there are ways – the problem will be that the supply and demand is going to be massively skewed. In a recent discussion in the product groups (I’m a commercial photographer) literally dozens were saying “we will just do weddings instead” (on the basis that AI can’t replace weddings) but the wedding market is already saturated, so if thousands of commercial decide to do weddings…

      However it pans out, it is going to have a massive affect on our industry, that is for certain.