Should I care about AI in my nature photography?

creativity & photography experiences in nature Mar 29, 2023

While I am not on Social Media and connected to the chatter, buzz, hashtags, or other items that often time let you know when something is trending, sparking debate or bringing about discussions or discourse I do know that AI (Artificial Intelligence) image generators have been creating quite the stir.  I personally don't care at all about AI Image Generation and how it might impact my creative work but that doesn't mean that you should feel the same way or might feel the same way.  

I have appreciated some the really well thought out articles from photographers and creatives I respect and have a reputation for putting forth thoughtful observations.  Here are a few of those articles if you want to take a deeper dive.

Matt Payne on Nature Photographers Network The Ramifications of AI on Photography

Tristan Todd What does the advent of photorealistic AI image synthesis mean for the world and our photography?


I am sure if I typed into one of the AI Generators "Shit ton of King Penguins" I would get an image similar to this.  But just generating an image does not remotely compare to how seeing, smelling, and experiencing this event has been permanently etched into my brain.


Who should care about AI Image Generators?

Stock photography is largely dead and I don't know a single photographer making a living off stock photography and I would say with AI, this line of work will be obsolete very soon.  A similar thing might exist shortly for product photographers, however I can still see higher end brands wanting the unique artistic view.  I would also think if you are photographing people and having to deal with things like model releases or other logistical headaches you might find some relief in removing that from the equation.  

This is exactly the kind of image that could be easily reproduced.  But not the experience.  Huddling behind a tree as this beast walked towards me while giving him ample space and watching him move through the landscape.  

How is AI viewed legally?

So far the US Copyright office has ruled that AI generated images cannot be copyrighted.  This largely hinges on the facts of a lack of "human authorship" in the creation of the work.   What remains to be determined and will likely be fought out in the courts over time is what happens if an AI image generator steals your work?  Are you protected?  The short answer appears to be yes, the burden of proof remains quite difficult and most likely cost prohibitive.  

How can I protect my work if I do care?

The following comes to me from NPC client and friend Bill Saltzstein who is up to speed on how to best protect himself though a program called Glaze. 

 As people invent things, other people invent things to defeat them (and abuse them, but that’s another topic).  I’ve been watching the progress on one such method designed to target Generative AI that creates images, the Glaze Project,  Head over to their website, they do a really good job of quickly going through the issue and their solution.

 Here are few examples of recent work that Bill's run through for your viewing and reference.  The software and its database are going through fairly frequent updates, so just note that these were run on Glaze 0.0.1 (0001).  He ran glaze on the same jpg files posted, and used Low Intensity and Medium Render Quality (since these are for web viewing).  You can click in the (i) information icon to find out particulars and tell which are Glazed, and see a screenshot of the user interface below. Bill's own conclusion is that while he can see some artifacts in color and texture, many of them are good enough for my purposes.  When there is a lot of smooth area without texture, it becomes pretty obnoxious and not good enough (sunsets, snow, water reflection).

Another issue right now is the time it takes to ‘glaze’ an image, though they can be run as a batch so you can just start the process and walk away.  He also certain that the team will make it a lot faster going forward.  It took approximately 105 minutes for 7 of the images on a 2021 MacBook Pro with an M1 Max and 32GB of memory.  Also note that the glazed jpgs are 15-20% larger.

Why Don't I Care About AI Image Generators

Fundamentally the reason I photograph is to be out in nature.  To spend the time connecting to the natural environment and to deepen my understanding of myself and how I interact on this planet for this limited time that I have.  The people that buy my work at art fairs or from galleries want that connection to the artist and the experiences that I have in the natural environment.  I am not driven in my approach to photography to further my social status, increase my reach, or impress other people.  The images I produce are mine and mine alone, designed to communicate that which I experienced not what which I wish to impress upon others.  

This also means for me that in the long term I think AI is going to be good for my professional aspirations as a nature photographer as it will potential limit the numbers of people that go to some places.  Why post an image on Instagram of Yosemite at sunrise when you can just generate one?   For me, I want to be in those places, with or without a camera!


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