The He(art) of Photography

April 12, 2023  •  4 Comments

The AI storm has well and truly reached us photographers. A few months ago I would see an occasional dialogue about AI generated visuals, last week I got message after message as well as seeing lots of videos and blog posts about this topic.

The He(art) of PhotographyThe He(art) of PhotographyAI technology has started to make its appearance in photography. Ii might be a cause for concern, but we don't need to be lead down a path just because the industry says this is progress or that this will be the future. We do have a choice in the matter and as long as we grant others the freedom to make their own choices as well, we can stay true to ourselves without ending up in overheated debates about the future of photography Already the debate is getting overheated and the photographers who use and enjoy this are getting a lot of hate directed towards them and they then respond by referring to other photographers as some kind of dinosaurs.

I must admit that I have not even wanted to form an opinion about this, because I have zero interest in AI, except for the implications on copyright which are alarming to say the least. After another day with messages and mentions about AI I decided to write this article about my own point of view.

First and foremost, I do not like this hate debate. The entire problem with this screen obsessed generation or should I say: generations, is that people say things to each other in quickly written or spat out posts that they would never have said when being engaged in a normal conversation. People are different and they have every right to be so. I don’t have an opinion about those who use AI to generate visuals, except when they steal or try to make people believe something that is not true. I do not have an opinion about purists who think that everything you do to an image is blasphemy either. I don’t hold that opinion, because I have only one person to answer to and that is myself.

I use AI software only for sharpening and removing noise and the software I use for this is made by Topaz. That is where AI comes in handy and leads to results that I am happy with. What I feel about AI created visuals does not really matter to anyone but myself. Coming from an art and design background in which I made everything by hand, using traditional techniques and also coming from a background of analogue rangefinder photography as early as the late 1970’s, it will be obvious that I hold traditional craftsmanship in high esteem. I honestly mourn the decline of traditional craftsmanship, the disappearance of people who can make things without the help of computers, who can get an idea and then make it come to life by using their hands. I think this is a great loss to humanity. I love unique pieces made by people who have dedicated their lives to mastering their art and craft. I have high regards for those who do not shy away for putting in long hours for years to master something that is hard to do. I love artists who put in the effort. 

Shadow Side Of The SunShadow Side Of The Sun Before I became a professional photographer, I was a designer and artist working for collectors and museums over the entire world. I drew everything with pencil on paper, I cut moulds from cardboard boxes, I made things by hand with needle and thread, sometimes helped by a non-computerized sewing machine. Having created something this way, gave me this feeling of achievement that nothing else ever did. One day, I think I must have been 5 years into my career, a good friend, who is very technology minded, came to visit and he told me that I would become superfluous very soon, because my work would be taken over by 3D printers. Being quite young still, without the experience and perspective that you gain when you get a little bit older, I became very depressed. I did not want to live in a world where machines would take away the one thing that made me feel proud of myself. Fifteen years later I quit and became a photographer, but had the 3D printer taken over my work at any point in time? Of course it did not. I stopped because I had always wanted to be a photographer, ever since I was a little girl holding my rangefinder Canonet 28 film camera, because photography is the one thing that makes me feel happy.

I grew up in a time that technology did not yet rule our lives, without social media, smartphones, internet and google. I liked drawing with pencils, I liked being outside in the woods, I liked to go out and explore, I loved photography. My dad had a darkroom and seeing things appear on paper there was magical. Even then I had a very clear idea of what I liked and so I never wanted to shoot with Kodak films (I am speaking about the consumer market films), and always shot Agfa film, preferably the 400 asa film. This film had grain, it was simply one of the things that I liked about photographs. I am not a huge fan of things looking plastic fantastic and to this day I will not remove noise unless absolutely necessary. I regard it as part of the medium that I have grown to love so much. I compare it to the brushstrokes in painting, they are quite simply a result of the tools used and the choice of the tool determines the character of the brush strokes. Digital colour noise is a different story, this is something that I thoroughly dislike. 

DiaphanousDiaphanous When I became a professional photographer I enrolled in an extensive training program to learn all there was to know about Photoshop. I was a beta tester for a plug-in software firm at one point. This all to point out to you that I am not oblivious to technology. Soon though, I grew tired of all the special effects that were possible, I learned that the use of Photoshop did not have much in common with the reason why I loved photography; my passion for experiencing fleeting moments, my love of nature, my dedication to traditional craftsmanship. This is not me being a dinosaur stuck in ancient history, this is me being true to who I am and not afraid to believe in myself first and foremost. This is me being authentic in my choices and this is me striving to be a person that I feel proud of, even if this takes me a long, long time to achieve. This is my preference for connecting to a side of reality that is very real, yet unseen by many. This is me, with my experience, my beliefs, my personal history, my tremendous love for life itself. 

My point is this; I make my choices based on my own personal beliefs and preferences. I have known myself long enough to know that if technology starts taking over my life, my creating, my art, I will run towards the emergency exit. I am not comfortable in that world. 

I don’t condemn those who like to do things differently. I understand, I really do. But to be my best self, my best artist self, who, I must admit, are hard to keep separated, I need to stay true to who I am and my love for what I believe the he(art) of photography to be, which is capturing the fleeting and the timeless. It is about time for me. A visual, no matter how beautiful it is, can never replace the moment in time, spent in reality, seeing something that will never ever happen again just like that. It is why I chose photography, why I love photography and why I am totally dedicated to it. I could have painted or drawn if I had wanted to make nice visuals, but instead I chose photography, because to me it is about showing me the side of reality that is so often overlooked and a side that I very much needed to see growing up. I was in desperate need to see something in this world that was beautiful, magical and good. My camera connected me to it. It was the only way I could be happy, that I could close myself off from the darker reality of my everyday life. To this day, my camera is like a best friend showing me the brightest side of life. I am not willing to give that up. Not ever. I would be betraying the only person that I want to trust more than anyone else and that is myself. I can’t break that trust. I have made a pact with myself to stay true to who I am, even if nobody believes in what I am doing. I have learned to stand on my own and even though this is not the easiest way to go through life, it is the only way to not let myself down. 

PropheticProphetic AI is here, it is not going anywhere, but I have a choice and I cherish the fact that I have that choice, that I am free to be myself. So are you. Free to make up your own mind, free to express yourself in what you create as long as this does not involve stealing from others, free to be true to your own beliefs. Grant others their own right to hold their beliefs, even if you thoroughly disagree. Do what makes you feel proud of yourself.


As always I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in my photography and writing. I highly appreciate it. I aim to keep writing these essays without sponsorships from third parties to keep my integrity and stay autonomous, but of course writing them takes a lot of time and effort and if you feel compelled to support my work, please consider buying a print or my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography. Prints are now available for many more countries in the EU. If you would like to buy a print and can't find the image in my print shop, please let me know and I'll try to make it available.

My new mentorship program is open for registration, only a few one seat left for 2023. 

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Bob Keller(non-registered)
Cheers to you, Ellen. Well said.
Dearest Ellen: I most definitely agree with you, pretty much on everything you have expressed on this topic. A little technology used well, or to make practical life easier, is one thing. Giving our creative process over to it, that is a whole other ball game. The question is: are we really creative if it's a computer or other machine doing it all for us?
Also, an artist who uses ai as part of the way in which they are creating their own vision and bring it to life, I'm good with that. But are you really an artist if you let AI do the whole thing for you? I believe not.
It can be fun for a while, I am sure, just as it was fun to discover all that photoshop could do and all the fun and fancy edits. But then it passed, at least for me it did, like for you. I find that I prefer to create the best image possible in camera, and these days my edits are, when needed, a touch of White balance, a bit of pop and sharpening, and that's about it. Special effects are really not my thing anymore.

Like you, I am also an artist, the kind that uses pencils, brushes, canvas, paints, paper.... I think an artist who uses learned techniques to transfer a vision (which often takes on a life of its own), does more than that: he/she also transfer their essence, energy and love into their creation, and the viewer receives that transfer, whether consciously or subconsciously.
I cannot see that happening with AI, as AI has no soul.
I also feel that, by and by, people will get tired of the fakeness of AI, just like we got tired of the fancy Photoshop edits. Even the artists themselves who, right now are having fun with all that is possible with AI, will eventually also no longer feel the satisfaction and joy of creating from their soul, with their hands and their hearts.

All of this said, I also feel like you: my good opinion, friendship and love for people I know and appreciate will not be altered by the fact that they might choose to use AI.
However I do ask that this be disclosed, even if just in a hashtag.

In the meantime, I will do like you, continue to do my thing my way because it makes me happy to do so.
Blessings to you, my friend.
Andrew McKinney(non-registered)
Hi Ellen ... Such a thoughtful article! thank you!. as I read your thoughts, I resonated with so much of what you expressed as it seemed to express how I feel about my reason for engaging in photography. I live next to the seashore and up against forests and hills, so being in nature with a camera is liberating. Blessings. Andrew
Reinier de Man(non-registered)
Thank you, Ellen, for sharing these thoughts with us. Actually it is a logical follow-up on your previous blog in which you explained why intensively scouting locations is detrimental to your creativity. You mentioned the use of Google Earth and all sorts of apps for finding the ideal spot for making the ideal picture under ideal situations. In that case, the photographer has already a (too) clear idea of the picture he wants to make. He uses technology to find exactly that particular picture. He is no longer discovering the unexpected but trying to find the planned frame. He can use apps based on AI. Actually the I in AI is better interpreted as ‘Imitation’ than ‘Intelligence’. On the basis of an analysis of thousands of beautiful pictures, AI derives rules by which it can create new ‘beautiful’ pictures, not because it is intelligent, but because it is a great imitator. By using this type of technology the artist replaces his own intelligence and emotions by algorithms that imitate the work of other photographers, thereby reproducing conventional stereotypes. Even if the result is acceptable (in the eyes of the public), essential elements of the creative process are being lost: the emotions of discovering new and beautiful realities, the satisfaction of a (sometimes difficult) personal creation. This reminds me of a very different yet comparable experience. I like to learn foreign languages. After a lot of effort, I manage to have a simple conversation in Polish. Of course, I can use Google translate and speak into my cell phone which generally produces acceptable results, but without the satisfaction of mastering a difficult language.
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