the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

Posts tagged “artificial intelligence



A first draft, shot on full auto: f/2.8, 1/125sec., 28mm, ISO 640


AT THIS WRITING THERE IS A BLIZZARD OF EDITORIAL CONTENT hitting the news services about the imminent arrival of artificial intelligence, which, according to your viewpoint, is either going to save humanity from itself or speed its obsolescence or a combination of both. Visions of 2001’s Hal 9000 setting plans to replace or murder us are making headlines and causing heartburn across all public sectors. Such trembly dispatches might seem novel to many, but, for photographers, the issue of whether we or our machines are to be the decision makers has been a regular grappling match for decades.

Technology often proceeds ahead of any true appreciation of its real benefits or risks; just ask a planet whose air was being fouled by automobiles for decades before we even started to ask, “do we really need this?” As to photography, ever since the first basic autofocus systems were introduced, cameras have steadily introduced dozens of additional features that are designed to anticipate what we will want in a picture so that it can be provided for us without our direct input. There is no reversing this trend, but the best photographers labor to keep all of it on a short leash, or, more to the point, to keep asking the question Who’s In Charge Here?

Caution: major use of quotation marks ahead.

When a camera shoots on automated modes (even partial ones like Aperture or Shutter Priority), it endeavors to create a “perfect” or “balanced” or “correct” exposure, making its best “guess” as to what you might want. But who is defining these terms, and how can they be appropriate for all the moods and motives that travel through the shooter’s mind? At best they are merely a point of departure, leading at times to, yes, a really great image that captures exactly what we imagined. At worst, they empower a device to assume what we want, creating a picture that it “reasons” will please us. This is the certain road to a tsunami of “good enough” pictures, a vast mountain of mediocrity.


Same subject on full manual: f/3.5, 1/250 sec., 28mm, ISO 400.

In the top image, I responded to a sudden opportunity by shooting on full auto. Now, the result is perfectly okay, in that the exposure is balanced and the range of color values is, how you say in the English, “realistic”, but I feel that the second image, shot on full manual and designed to selectively illuminate some areas while deliberately underexposing others, is closer to how I see the shot. But how can I fault the camera? It, at least, is working up to its full design capacity. In telling it to shoot on full auto, it’s actually me that is abdicating my responsibility for how well the picture works/fails. Camera users have long dealt with the challenges that the population at large is just now facing with A.I., and our advice is: keep your own intelligence in the driver’s seat; something can’t assist you when it’s actually instructed to ignore you.