Random Thoughts on AI

Okay fine, I’ll admit it. Maybe perhaps almost there’s a possibility that I might consider thinking about the idea of trying to incorporate some Artificial Intelligence (AI) into my photo work. I won’t lie—it makes me twitch. Why do I need to conjure up AI-anything when I have the ability and the tools to conjure up just about anything I can imagine already in Photoshop? And aren’t the tools in Photoshop crazy enough? I have a few friends that would laugh about that and say “nope LB there’s never enough crazy for you…” which is kinda true but we probably shouldn’t talk about that here until alibis are established.

Another truth—I used to look straight down my nose at cell phone cameras and now my iPhone is an imaging weapon of choice always within reach. Don’t get me wrong…it’s never to be confused with the array of Nikon cameras, lenses, lighting gear and assorted toys, but it’s definitely on the short list of Toys That Travel.

I’m also a FAA-licensed drone pilot, so it’s not like I completely avoid new technology—I just hang back a bit and let the kinks and bugs get worked out first. So I can be taught. Convinced. Educated. Shown the Light. But sometimes I stumble upon an opportunity to learn–and occasionally I’m smart enough to embrace it.

I recently worked with a client who had sent out a relative’s image to an online canvas print service and was decidedly unhappy with the results. Using some sort of AI software, the black and white image was colorized and just looked fake. (The partial missing ear and newly-generated teeth that also wound up in her nose didn’t help.) He found me with an internet search and sent the original image and the “new” image for comparison. Egads, I thought, scoffing at the AI software and wondering again what’s the big deal about AI, because this result was just so out of place.

After corresponding with him a bit and asking some questions, I was able to gather enough information to make some educated guesses about colors to give him a cost which he accepted. I then set about colorizing the image with a much more subtle approach, befitting the vintage of the original.

My first challenge was the image itself—it was low resolution and quite pixelated, but it was all he had and there was no access to the original photograph, so I had to figure it out. I sent a couple of proofs back and forth to ascertain colors and tones, but then he asked for the one side of her face to be lighter. The original image had very heavy shadow and there was NO detail on that side of her face. I was going to need to do something with her eye as I made that side lighter or the whole piece would look crazy-weird.

Here’s where a new level of magic came up for air however—after studying that AI image, I was able to incorporate parts of the eyes from that image into what I was creating. Not a straight-up copy and paste because that would really have looked strange, but just some blending here and there. Once I was done with her eyes, I used a similar technique with her mouth and then added some subtle details to her hair.

Well. What have we here? Could it be that my business coach has actually been right all along when he said he could see AI being a tool I could incorporate into my work flow? (For the record, years ago he pegged the drone thing too.)

There’s a lot of ethical questions to be answered before I embrace the AI concept fully, and frankly that’s a barrel of snakes right there. That said, now that I’ve incorporated it into a job, I can almost maybe consider the possibility of thinking about the idea of incorporating AI into my photo work a bit more often. Perhaps.