Don’t let AI ruin photography

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Oh no, not one of those who can accept technology and progress you might think. But please continue reading and I will try opening up your mind about what photography is and why it’s important to preserve the very idea of taking photographs.

I am not a Luddite but it may be the reaction of many when I talk about avoiding AI as much as possible in photography. Let me explain.

For 35+ years I have been through a career as Photographer of changes from day one. Followed by all the technical changes and still keeping up on technology a daily basis.

Very early I got my hand on the Nikon Coolpix when it came out eager to learn the new digital world of photography, skipping analogue photography right after.

Berlin, 2024. Photo by Morten Albek.

For video production, I also am a vivid user of new cameras and I am not afraid going in other directions than many. Just to underline, this isn’t about being against progress. I am for any progress that makes sense and stays true to photography and storytelling.

I see a great risk when AI take photography out of the hands of the creator because it ruins the belief in the craft and art produced by HI (Human Intelligence).

AI photography is like planting plastic trees to make a forest. It will never grow beautiful. You will not have the sensation of the earth and leaves. It will not live. It will just stay dead, uniform and boring. 


From Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”: 

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in  

This beautiful poem/song with the line “There is a crack, a crack in everything – That’s how the light gets in” is exactly what I find the beauty of life, art and photography. Let the imperfections be the key to beauty.

Museum in Berlin, 2024. The image is not perfect but its alive and its true to my experience.

Pictures don’t have to be picture-perfect. The small unsharpness that wasn’t meant to be, the lines that aren’t in line, the blown-out highlights in the sky and more, are bringing the photo alive and feeling real. AI-produced images are cleared from all of this, adding perfect skies into a dull heaven, ruining the imperfect image and taking away the magic. 

Unfortunately, some street photography platforms among others have selected a whole section of AI-created images. Working against the real photo experience.

Berlin, 2024. Photo by Morten Albek.

I think it’s sad to see that technology takes over from real work where only the clever photographer will capture the moments seen and sensed by a human. This makes a great difference to the work behind the captured image. The great talent of being sensitive to situations, bonding with people on the street or framing differently than usual belongs to the human perception of society. Being apple to feel and express is more important than technical skills and a good camera working tool in our hands. Its the mind and observing eyes who create the story with the use of a glass lens and a camera with a sensor or film to take up the light.

In a good photo, you can feel the presence and you will feel like you are there, standing and observing a moment of life, lifted into poetry or drama. 

Pictures taken by a photographer are based on a life experience which flows through the mind and leads the eye to look for certain scenes. We all are formed by our past which leads us towards subjects of personal interest. This is not machine-driven but the human brain and what’s beyond creating a perspective of a situation or scenery.  Using the camera and lens as a tool to present what was experienced.

Berlin, Friedrichshain, 2024.

Photos edited are like headlines and adjectives in a text

AI-free photography is the only option to stay true to yourself and your work. Walk the extra mile and be happy with what you get. Add the basic adjustments to bring the best out of the files, and that is it.

I see the post-editing as a tool comparable to writing. The headline is important to draw attention and adjectives are used to describe the mood and feelings. 

In photography, we use contrast, colors or monochrome, framing, cropping and light to express the story told. If it is a down toned silent portrait or a scenery where a lot is going on it is the same basic tools that make the expression change.

I only use brushes, the crop tool and color adjustments to bring the best out of the image and adding some film emulsion layers to remove the dead digital feeling. I do not let the technical side decide what I want to express. I am the one in control.

Being true to the story I see is the most important thing. Perfect pictures do not interest me. Expressive photos interest me.

Rejecting the use of AI is not just about avoiding perfection but also avoiding being tempted to cheat. Adding anything to a photo that isn’t captured will be a fraud, not only cheating on the viewer but also yourself. Is it fun to win a game when you know you cheated? I hope not. 

Berlin, 2024. Photo by Morten Albek.

Teach to see

In the world of today, we need to teach our children and young citizens that they shouldn’t believe what they see without questioning it. Learning to watch and understand photography has never been more important. False informations are spread and some try to skip the handcraft and hard work with the ease of AI creating and doing the work for them. 

We need to take a step backwards and understand photography and its soul in order not to go down the wrong path and ruin photography.

AI can be used as much as possible for commercials and graphics where it isn’t about making people believe they see something real anyway.

For street photography, photojournalism and any other genre of photography where we want people to feel a hint of reality, no matter how arty, poetic or dramatic it might be, truthful images created by a simple camera and a lens are essential to trust. 

A large camera manufacturer just recently published that they urge photographers to embrace the technology and use it fully. Now why do they do that? The answer is simple. Money.

Finally, after having developed more pixels than you will ever need for a sensor, a new commercial flagship is born. Now all sails are set to make the professional and amateur photographer need to have this new AI-tool that will make everything easier. Wait and see. A new version of cameras and post-editing tools will be released in the next years and everybody forget about pixel hunting. 

My social media feed is plastered with AI post-editing tools promising to restore unsharp useless images. If a photo isn’t sharp it isn’t sharp, and using such a tool is making a false image from something that wasn’t sharp. It wasn’t there but is recreated with the use of algorithms recreating something it guess is there.

You can cheat with photography easily if you wish to. Many historical photos prove how people have been edited out in the darkroom and people are removed from photos for example.

Historically photos have always been manipulated. One example is Russian former leader Stalin who was known for removing his enemies from photographs.

New AI tools make it easy possible to edit photos and add elements that are not there. Words from a digital online magazine; “AI Photography is a revolutionary field that combines smart machines with traditional photography techniques. These smart machines can understand and analyse scenes just like humans do, making our cameras and software even more powerful.”

This is the path we shouldn’t follow. The human brain and all our diverse ways to sense a scenery and capture it with our cameras is what keep photography alive and vibrant. Not letting any random algorithm select it for us. Imperfectness and feelings is a what drives a photographer both finding the scenes and selecting the framing.

Features like intelligent autofocus may help us focus but AI does not know how to be out of focus at the right time and place and focus on what is important for the picture. 

It is said AI in cameras will soon recognize scenes automatically and make our pictures look better in real-time. How awful can it be? It will make every picture be framed equally from a set of parameters, and will never break the uniform traditional composition and challenge the viewer.

Berlin, 2024. Photo by Morten Albek.

We just started the evolution of photography. Don’t let AI ruin it!

We need to be set free. Let the mind and mood and sometimes off compositions make us think differently of what we normally see. Let the coincidence and sudden idea change the way a picture may look like. Or let it be traditional but made by a human. Not a machine.

Left, the first experimental picture was taken in 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce.

The mistake is that we think we already know what a photo should look like. We base that on a brief history of photography where the first experimental picture was taken in 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce. Earlier experiments were done but 1826 was the first time an image was captured and fixed with a camera, which took many hours of exposure and the earliest results were very crude.


Berlin, 2024. Photo by Morten Albek.

Lost in translation

AI solutions “revolutionize” the process of machine learning algorithms quickly analyzing and categorizing images, making the photographers make their final selections much more quickly and giving them more time to focus on their creative endeavours.

But stop a moment, please!

I have often gone through the images captured and stumbled upon an image I didn’t think was a keeper, and found it was because it showed something unexpected or surprising. This would be lost in AI translation most likely when the algorithm preselects based on what I may often select. This may lead to unwanted disapproval of the best photo in a series. So steadily going through my images, manually, one by one, is something I will never give up. It is a joy, and also disappointing from time to time when what you thought was a great shot shows not be. Then there is that one you didn’t see at first, but the one that stands out is the best picture of the day, but you didn’t realize it before your own eyes found it. 

Technology has developed a lot since that first real picture was taken and still is. Cameras went from film to digital and Leica celebrated its 100-year history recently being an iconic camera still believing in the simple with the Leica M-series.
Technology has improved and many fine and advanced cameras are around today. but the basics are still about capturing light, balancing exposure and framing. The choice of image is up to the photographer.

Berlin, 2024. Photo by Morten Albek.

But think about it again. It is just a brief history of photography we have in our bag and we set this as being all the knowledge we have about taking photographs.

This is a very short time to develop an idiom. Compared to paintings that date back in time to artefacts and artwork created by pre-historic artists, and span all cultures. The painting represents a continuous, though periodically disrupted, tradition from Antiquity. Music and writing have a story comparable.

In this light photography is just invented and we pretend to know it all and let AI rule on the algorithms of what has been done over the last few years. 

If we do not keep exploring and developing photography with our minds and hearts detached from AI we risk setting it back in development, losing the freshness of experimental photography, art and being truthful. We are just beginning. 

Camera and lens-based photography

The concept of photography is capturing a scene with a camera and lens. Framing it and adding basic corrections, cropping either in the field when selecting what should be shown or afterwards in the post editing. What is selected is what is shown.

It can be very artistic or basic. But nothing must be removed within the selected frame, toned out or added to the scene if it wasn’t there originally. These shortly told are the basics of photojournalism and basically the rules set by the Danish Press Photographers Association.

The same ethical standards I teach at my street photography workshops and it is my approach to photography in general.

AI is a tool that ruins the authenticity of photography and when used it should be labelled as not being an original photograph. 

Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) initiative

Leica Camera AG is a partner of the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) working towards a sustainable protection of digital image authenticity. An important step in a world of fake AI images floating around. The newer Leica M11-P version is one of the cameras where this feature is built in.

Leica M11-P camera equipped with Content Credentials Making the Content Credentials of the image being checked and any changes monitored.

The photography website PetaPixel writes that “Nikon, Sony, and Canon will bring out support for the Content Authenticity Initiative’s (CAI) C2PA digital signature system in 2024 as the CAI pivots its messaging as a way to combat AI.”

PetaPixel further writes “In addition to supporting the CAI’s Verify system, a web application that is able to show the provenance of an image if it has been embedded with the correct digital signature, Canon is also reportedly building an image management application that can tell whether images were actually taken by humans or if they were made with AI”.

Leica M 9 with Summilux 50mm f1.4. An earlier version of the Leica M series and here you just have to trust the photographer. And you can. It`s me.

All of these initiatives will be on upcoming camera models and are likely not firmware updated helping those who already have a camera and will continue using this for years to come. Aimed mostly for professional use.

This still leaves out the common viewer who is likely not searching for authenticity in every picture posted online. The responsibility lies on the individual who posts and shares pictures.

We can’t rely on technology alone but have to show responsibility and mark photographs as being authentic as much as possible to secure the trust in photography created with a camera and lens by a trustful photographer.

Berlin art Museum, 2024.

Our kids are just learning to see photographs and they are exposed to them in big numbers at Social Media. Many do not question what they see, so there is a big risk that we educate the next generations to accept what isn’t real and human made, and that’s a really dangerous red line to cross. Don`t let AI ruin photography!