How AI Helps Photographers Get More Creative

Machine learning reveals a future that gives photographers more time for creativity

The power of apps such as Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC is in their ability to expand the photographer’s toolbox, providing a slew of new effects, filters and brushes, and ways to organize work. Now that artificial intelligence (AI) is more deeply woven into photo editing and cataloging apps, the relationship between human and machine is taking a dramatic shift — a prospect that is thrilling some photographers, while intimidating others.

“Although this shift towards AI might seem intimidating at first, AI is not a substitute for creativity,” says Julieanne Kost, principal evangelist for Photoshop and Lightroom. “I appreciate having an ‘intelligent assistant’ help me with repetitive tasks such as finding images, suggesting edits, even making complex selections. And when advancements in technology can enable a creative person to think less about the technology or the technical aspects of the profession and more about the content and message behind the photograph, the potential for elevating the visual literacy of an entire society is possible — and that’s exciting.”

More AI-fueled innovations are coming to Photoshop, Lightroom, and other photo-editing tools with Adobe Sensei, our AI and machine learning technology. As Julieanne says, and contrary to what some might expect, these innovations hint at a future where creativity thrives more than ever before.

As we look forward to the future, we believe photo editing tools will transform from mere “apps” into a photographer’s virtual assistant — removing menial, creativity-killing tasks, helping photographers more clearly translate their visions to reality, and increasing their creative output.

A place for AI in creative work

For many photographers, tedious tasks — such as selecting a subject in a photograph to be removed or manipulated — is not a highlight of the creative process. It can be a nerve-racking, frustrating, and time-consuming experience. AI is making this chore, and others like it, less painful.

“We fed an algorithm thousands of images with the most prominent object selected, and it eventually learned how to recognize the most prominent object in any given photo and make a selection of it,” says Photoshop product manager Stephen Nielson. “Now we’ve encapsulated all that knowledge into a machine learning algorithm that just shipped with the latest version of Photoshop. Open up an image, hit one button, and it will select the object for you. It saves an enormous amount of time.”

This same concept has been applied to the unglamorous task of tagging, organizing, and decluttering the images that can pile up in a photographer’s hard drive with AI-fueled auto-tagging features in Lightroom. Without any prompting from the user, the algorithm automatically analyzes images and tags them based on characteristics like facial features, locations, colors, and similar creative “feels.”

“If you type in ‘blue,’ the program pulls up all of your images that are mostly blue,” says Meredith Stotzner, Photoshop product manager. “If you type in ‘cat,’ you’ll see images of cats. It even recognizes hedgehogs. It’s a little mind-blowing.”

These types of AI-powered advancements are just the beginning, according to Sarah Kong, Adobe principal scientist. “As we continue to develop machine learning, we will also be able to help rank your photos based on aesthetics or composition, which does away with duplicate images,” she says.

AI as virtual creative assistant

Jon Brandt, director of the media intelligence lab at Adobe research, says that the ultimate destiny of AI-powered creative applications is to evolve from tools into virtual creative assistants that carry out the orders of the user. “The artist will be able to tell the assistant what to do to create the art he or she envisions, rather than spend the time learning how to operate every aspect of the software,” Jon says.

“We’re not looking at machine learning as a way to replace our creativity,” explains Stephen. “Humans are still the most creative entity in the human and machine relationship.”

The ability to verbally tell your photo-editing software what to do is on the horizon. Voice command capabilities could soon allow photographers to tell their software what basic tasks to complete — everything from cropping to adjusting lighting to more complex things like masking photos — allowing photographers to focus on the design that lets their creativity shine.

But photographers should also be ready for a virtual assistant that has some helpful advice of its own. Sarah predicts, “If the designers are designing, the creative assistant will analyze their document, their design, and will give them more intelligent suggestions — based on the colors they’re using, maybe even the font they’re using, maybe the title. The assistant might recommend a different kind of font to better match the title or a different composition.”

Helping photographers achieve their creative visions

The result is a win for all photographers, regardless of their depth of expertise. “AI raises all boats, so to speak,” Stephen says. “It helps creative professionals achieve their vision more quickly and spend more time on the things that they actually like to do. But it also happens to make it easier for a beginner to be successful too.”

The benefits that AI-powered virtual assistants can bring to their work is obvious to those photographers who have used the features. One such photographer, Ted Chin, acknowledges that the technology is not yet perfected but still touts the benefits. “The subject selection feature may not always be perfect, but it saves so much time. It has compressed 20 minutes of work into three.”

Photographer Gareth Pon already has a favorite AI feature. “As image recognition gets better, it saves me a ton of time I would’ve spent going through images to find and categorize what I’ve shot,” he says. “I’m all about having better tools that allow me to focus on creating more and worrying less about technical limitations. As technology has gotten better, I’m a lot more confident in the results I can produce.”

To those photographers who are wary of AI entering into the world of creative work, Ted says, “Stop worrying about AI. New technologies are coming out everyday, and it’s important to learn and adapt to them.”

For Gareth, accepting the benefits of AI comes down to putting concept first. “I find that the best way for me to find that middle ground is to have concept hold precedent over technology and the tools that I use to create. It’s the process of finding something beautiful, because if that beauty has started at a place of purity or a good concept, then the method of how you got there — whether it’s using AI technology or not — doesn’t really matter.”

Read more about our future with artificial intelligence in our Human & Machine collection.