AI and Photography | Can Artificial Intelligence Replace Artists?

A very controversial topic lately is the rise of AI art and pretty much any content generated by artificial intelligence. You can literally tell the AI interface to create a photograph of a beach in Hawaii with a rolling wave and sure enough, it'll create an image for you. Is this photography? Is this art? Well, we can't call this a photograph if it wasn't a real scene that was actually captured by a camera or can we? How can it be a photograph if the image it generates doesn't actually exist in the real world? Can you have art without a human touch? As photographers and creative artists, we've been through a lot of revolutions but there's always been once constant, the photographer.

Can Artificial Intelligence Create "Art"?

All art to this point has a human touch and element to it. It takes a human to paint with a brush, a human to go travel and take a photograph, a human to sculpt a statue, etc. It's what connects us to art and that even though it's created by someone else, that someone is a living breathing human that you can relate to. So, I guess we're at this crossroads where we have to ask ourselves, can artificial intelligence create art? The definition of art according to Wikipedia is, "Art is a diverse range of human activity, and resulting product, that involves creative or imaginative talent expressive of technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas." Yes, there's that word again...human.

a beautiful photograph if a bridge leading into a bamboo forest on the Pipiwai trail near Hana, Hawaii.  Hawaii photography by Andrew Shoemaker

This little scene just seemed to encompass the experience of hiking along the Pipiwai. You're instantly just transported into another world simply by crossing a bridge. As a first time hiker stated it to me, "it feels like I've been hiking in a movie". Pretty much sums up this incredible part of Maui.

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What Does "AI-Photography" Look Like?

First off, to quote a fellow photographer friend of mine, "Photography is created by photons. AI-Photography is generated by electrons therefore it is not photography." Nonetheless, I decided to see what this even is so I typed in "Maui Hawaii Beach Sunset" into the input field and this is one of the images it created below. This is not from Maui, or Hawaii or anywhere for that matter. That palm tree also wouldn't be able to grow in the waves either haha! It is a completely fake scene generated by AI that doesn't resemble anything on Maui of course.



In photography there have been many revolutions over the years. First, there was film which was the gold standard for generations. Different types of film could create different looks and different colors and they each had their own character. You used to take your negatives to a print lab where they would be developed and even the casual photographer would order prints to show everyone about their most recent trip. When digital was born, of course, there were a lot of holdouts hanging on to their film and it did take around 35 years before digital really got to the point of overtaking film. Now, try and find someone to develop your film! Most films have been discontinued but there still are some folks out there making beautiful images with film and they can certainly make some very nice enlargements.

Digital Revolution

We're all very familiar with this medium as we snap gazillions of images with our smartphone cameras every day. The first digital camera was ironically invented by Kodak in 1975. Yes, the largest maker of film invented something that would eventually cause its demise. It took really about 30 years for digital to reach the point of matching film, but now you can now snap hundreds and thousands of images without the expense of film since everything is stored digitally and have the capacity to take photos all day and all night.


With the digital revolution came photoshop. While still controversial today, almost everyone has to use it in some way or another but it's how people use it which can be controversial. We've all seen the photographs of models and movie stars that have been manipulated or the landscape photographer that takes a photo, and then a different photo and combines the sky from one with the other. At this point, is it a photograph or a digital creation? That's always been a logical question but whichever side you're on with that argument, at least there was a human touch involved.

panoramic photograph of the biggest wave in Hawaii Jaws at sunrise with very vibrant and dramatic colors.  Photographed on the North Shore of Maui

A magnificent sunrise at Jaws (Peahi) here on Maui

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Rage Against the AI-Fine-Art-Machine

There seems to be a war against any AI-created content at this moment and rightfully so. Do you really want to read articles 100% generated by artificial intelligence or would you rather have an actual person write the article? I guess you could argue that AI might not be biased like a human, but this all just depends on how the AI is programmed and what it's fed. Do you really want to view fake scenes and lighting generated by artificial intelligence or would you rather view real photographs from a real photographer that was actually there to capture them? Google has already come out and stated that they don't want AI-generated content. It's sure thought provoking isn't it? We find ourselves here in 2023 and it's something that we're going to have to confront sooner than later. This is something that all of us have to navigate and there will be some positives and some negatives with this technology.

Is AI Art Fine Art?

Let's settle this now...absolutely not! What value does this have in the art world where you can have something else generate so-called "art" for you? It's very intriguing for content creation but I just don't see where anyone would want their walls decorated by AI-generated art. Imagine that conversation, "Where is this image taken"?...... "Well I'm not 100% certain as it's generated by AI"?. To me, taking all of the reality out of photography is just that....not real and should not be considered photography. AI art will need it's own category and should be considered separate. After all, it's borrowing from a rich universe of human-created online content, combining that and making that product it's own.

an abstract panoramic image of sunset at La Jolla shores beach creating a painterly feel with camera movement.  Abstract photography by Andrew Shoemaker

An abstract image I created from a beautiful oceanfront room at sunset at La Jolla Shores beach. A technique called intentional camera movement was used to create a painterly, abstract feel to this special image.

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So, Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Artists?

For the long foreseeable future, I don't think so. Artists I think will always be valued more than what some algorithm can create. The human touch I believe is something that we're going to savor more and more going forward and honestly, I think human-generated art may even become more valuable in a world saturated with AI content. Maybe somewhere down the line, AI will punish me for publishing this but at that point I guess we're fully in the matrix! Stay human everyone!

a panoramic photograph looking down Scripps Pier in La Jolla, California captured by fine art landscape photographer Andrew Shoemaker

One of my favorite scenes in California is the view down Scripps Pier in La Jolla. After days of cloudy skies, I was rewarded with a beautiful California sunset for my patience.

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a lone boat reflects in the calm waters of the pacific ocean off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Molokai.  Fine art limited edition Hawaii photography

Mornings in Hawaii can be very special. I had found this beautiful boat as a subject the night before and returned at sunrise to find it so calm and serene to where the water is like a mirror. Endless beauty

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