• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Will AI steal their jobs? Nigerian stock photographers face uncertain future


The Nigerian stock photography business has been a silent but lucrative sector with local stock photographers in Nigeria capturing the country’s vibrant culture and diverse landscapes. However, after adapting to different eras of technological advancement like camera upgrades and editing apps, they are bracing themselves for the next tech disruptor, generative AI.

Stock photography of Lagos Island by Levithegrapher

AI-powered image generation promises a vast library of stock photos at lower costs, potentially impacting the livelihood of photographers.

Before the rise of AI, photographers sold their works on websites or companies. These companies can pay from $0.25 to $15 on average for a single stock photo depending on the resolution. But most companies have discounts for bulk purchases.

Stock photography has been a popular way for industries to visually communicate ideas without the high cost of commissioned photos. However, the emergence of AI technology that can generate realistic images from simple descriptions is posing a threat.

AI generated image of mother and child by Design Dynamo

This new technology offers clients a faster, cheaper, and more customisable alternative, potentially rendering traditional stock photo libraries obsolete. Some photographers, like Shannon Fagan speaking with Wall Street Journal, fear that their work will become irrelevant in the face of this new AI-powered approach.

Ayorinde Olajire , an Ibadan based stock photographer known professionally as Starjirexmedia who specialises in product shot and street photography says that the emergence of AI has seen the demand of his work reduce by 40 percent and can now only sell 5 of his work on websites a month at the price of $0.25.

Stock photography by Starjirexmedia

Ayorinde is just one of thousands if not millions affected. According to WSJ, stock photography company Getty Images’ 2023 creative revenue, its term for stock sales, declined 1.1 percent from the year before to $578.7 million while Shutterstock’s subscribers declined 10.8 percent, although its sales increased.

Spotting the difference

While AI-generated images offer a new level of creative control, some key differences distinguish them from photographer-captured photos.

Photographers like Oluka Levi, a Nigerian travel and documentary photographer point out that their work reflects the real world, capturing the nuances of everyday environments. AI, on the other hand, can introduce fantastical elements or futuristic settings that may not resonate with audiences seeking a grounded feel.

Additionally, Ayorinde highlights the difference in texture, noting that real photographs possess a natural quality, whereas AI-generated images can have a glossy, artificial finish. These differences are crucial for clients seeking authenticity and realism in their visual content.

While there is a fear of the worst, some think the market is still open for those who prefer originality.

“I definitely believe that the rise of it (AI) would reduce the demand of my works in certain areas but as a documentary storyteller, my clients don’t just purchase beautiful images, they purchase the reality of the story behind the image,” Oluka said.

He added that AI could be an alternative for clients who want low budget visual representation of their ideas which would have an impact on his income but sincerely believes that clients who are big on originality would still opt for real stock images.

Ayorinde, despite seeing a 40 percent decrease in demand for his stock photos since the advent of generative AI stands on the opinion that the new tech wave cannot take the place of a photographer when it comes to capturing images like a wedding ceremony and the likes because it can only generate pictures and is yet unable to capture memories as a photographer would do.

Swim or die

Despite their confidence in traditional photography, stock companies are hedging their bets by developing their own AI image tools. This allows them to cater to clients seeking AI-generated art and positions them well to capitalise on a growing market and future advancements in the technology.

Last year, Adobe introduced Firefly, an image-generating AI model trained on its Adobe Stock library and content in the public domain, Shutterstock launched an AI image generator powered by OpenAI and Google AI tech, and Getty Images partnered with Nvidia to create Generative AI by Getty Images.

Local photographers are also integrating AI to their work as confirmed by Ayorinde and Oluka. They both claimed to be using AI to make their productions easier, faster and efficient.

Oluka on incorporating AI in his work said that keywording and metadata creation used to be a time-consuming manual task, but with the rise of AI, one can easily use AI tools or features to do this in seconds which saves one time and mental energy.

“The truth is that one cannot fight technology, we can only find ways to ride and incorporate it into our works. AI has made editing very easy for photographers, which gives them the opportunity to focus on the idea creation while AI helps them to bring the vision to life in a few seconds instead of them spending hours on it,” Oluka said.

While some photographers fear obsolescence, others like Oluka and Ayorinde see AI as an opportunity.

Oluka suggests photographers diversify into niche markets and embrace the creative potential of AI. He acknowledges the need to adapt, believing there’s room for both traditional photography and AI-generated imagery as stock companies themselves seem to agree, by offering both options.

The future of visual content creation seems headed towards a hybrid approach, where AI-powered tools supplement, rather than replace, the irreplaceable human touch and perspective that professional photographers bring.