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RPS members share their views of AI

Dr Michael Pritchard

AI and photography: RPS members share their views

Last month the RPS asked its members what they thought of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and photography. Over 400 members responded presenting a pretty good – albeit self-selecting – response. Much like the curate’s egg the responses were both positive and negative about AI and its impact on photography. 

Despite the rapid growth of AI-based applications in our cameras, smartphones and in software that we use for image processing – both algorithmic and generative – RPS members overwhelmingly (95 per cent) think that traditional photography is still needed. Only 2 per cent of respondents thought we didn’t need traditional photography and the rest were unsure. Much like the rise of digital photography in the late 1990s and early 2000s it will be interesting to see if there is a shift in this split if we asked the same question in a few years time. 

Allied to this question the survey asked if AI created images could be considered ‘real’ photography. Leaving aside what ‘real’ photography is respondents were slightly more ambivalent. 81 per cent said no, but 16 per cent thought ‘maybe’. For organisations such as the RPS AI raises fresh questions of what we mean by photography and how we define it. Earlier technical changes to photography from daguerreotype to collodion, to dry plates, celluloid, integrated circuits and digital can be seen as progressive or evolutionary changes to photography and how it was made. AI represents a more fundamental shift in how images are created and at some point we will need to re-define what photography is if the RPS and photographers are to remain relevant. Like digital we need to embrace AI rather than ignore it.

On the subject of photographers’ rights there was a strong view that it was unfair (85%) for AI to be trained using images without the permission or payment to the photographer. News this week suggests that AI developers are waking up to this – perhaps fearful of being sued. A new AI startup Bria AI announced that it has licensed content from Getty, Alamy and Envato suggesting photographers will get a payment of sorts. In reality such payments are likely to be tiny but it’s a step forward and sets a welcome precedent.

More generally the survey asked whether AI would lead to a rise in fake news. Unsurprisingly 95 per cent of respondents thought it would. Look at the platform formerly known as Twitter and others AI generated images are all over it: some for fun, but others purporting to be real news pictures. There are calls for any AI generated image to be watermarked as such, but that’s probably impractical and relies on honesty which is in short supply in some areas of the internet.  It’s incumbent on the RPS, and an opportunity for it, to highlight this and help instil a new visual literacy in children and the general public.

Finally, we asked members to choose two words which described their view of AI. Respondents were broadly split between those who see AI as an opportunity (24%) and those who see it as dangerous (19%), but with 40% cautious it’s fair to say that organisations like the RPS and individual photographers have much more to do to explore the opportunities and their concerns around AI.

If you want to read more attached are two press releases that the RPS has prepared for the general media and the photographic press.

The forthcoming conference on Photography and AI which is both live and livestreamed will explore some of the themes raised by the survey. Register for the conference here.

Do continue to share your own views. 

Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS
13 September 2023

This blog post represents the personal views of the writer, and not necessarily the views of the RPS.


Survey Results:

The RPS survey asked the following questions of its membership with 423 responses: 

  1. Do we need traditional photography if images created by AI are better and quicker to create than photographs taken by people?
    Yes:  95% / No: 2% / Maybe: 3%

  2. Do you consider AI created images to be real photography?
    Yes: 3% / No: 81% / Maybe: 16%

  3. Is it fair for AI algorithms to be trained using images without permission or payment for the original creator?
    Yes: 4% / No: 85% / Maybe:10%

  4. Could AI imagery lead to a rise in fake news and lying?
    Yes: 95% / No: 0% / 5%

  5. Which of the following best describes your view of AI for photography (up to two responses)?
    Cautious: 40% / An opportunity: 24% / Dangerous: 19% /
    Fearful: 12% / Excited:5%