This AI-powered Photoshop rival is the end of photography as we know it

Photoshop has been steadily adding AI-powered tools to its menus in recent years, but an incredible new demo from an independent research team shows where the best photo editors are heading next.

DragGAN may not be a fully-fledged consumer product yet, but the research paper (picked up on Twitter by AI researchers @_akhaliq and @icreatelife) shows the kinds of reality-warping photo manipulation that's going to be possible very soon. This AI-powered tech will again challenge our definition of what a photo actually is.

While we've seen similar photo editing effects before – most notably in Photoshop tools like Perspective Warp – the DragGAN demo takes the idea and user interface to a new level. As the examples below show, DragGAN lets you precisely manipulate photos to change their subject's expressions, body positions and even minor details like reflections.

The results aren't always perfect, but they are impressive – and that's because DragGAN (whose name is a combination of 'drag' and 'generative adversarial network') actually generates new pixels based on the surrounding context and where you place the 'drag' points.

Photoshop's neural filters, particularly those available in the app's beta version, have dabbled in similar effects for a while, for example giving you sliders for 'happy' and 'anger' expressions for tweaking portrait images. DxO software like Photolab also has U Point technology that lets you point at the part of a photo that you'd like to make local adjustments on.

But the power of the DragGAN demo is that it combines both concepts in a pretty user-friendly way, letting you pick the part of a photo you want to change and then completely changing your subject's pose, expression and more with very realistic results. 

When a refined version of this technology ultimately lands on smartphones, imperfect photos will be a thing of the past – as will the idea of a photo being a record of a real moment captured in time.

DragGAN also offers more granular controls, too. If you don't want to change the entire photo, you can apply a mask to a particular area – for example, your dog's head – and the algorithm will only affect that selected area. That level of control should also help reduce artifacts and errors.

The research team has also promised that in the near future it plans “to extend point-based editing to 3D generative models.” Until then, expect to see this kind of reality-warping photo editing improve at a rapid pace in some of the best Photoshop alternatives soon. 

Analysis: The next Photoshop-style revolution

A woman sitting on a beach in an early version of Photoshop

An early demo of the first version of Photoshop, showing the iconic ‘Jennifer in Paradise’ photo being edited. (Image credit: Adobe)

These AI-powered photo editing tricks have echoes of the first early demos of Photoshop over 35 years ago – and will likely have the same level of impact, both culturally and on the democratization of photo editing.

In 1987, the co-creator of Adobe Photoshop John Knoll took the photo above – one of the most significant of the last century – on a Tahiti beach and used it to demo the incredible tools that would appear in the world's most famous photo editing app.

Now we're seeing some similarly momentous demos of image-manipulating tools, from Google's Magic Eraser and Face Unblur to Photoshop's new Remove Tool, which lets you remove unwanted objects in your snaps.

But this DragGAN demo, while only at the research paper phase, does take the whole concept of 'photo retouching' up a notch. It's reforming, rather than retouching, the contents of our photos, using the original expression or pose simply as a starting point for something completely different.

Photographers may argue that this is more digital art than 'drawing with light' (the phrase that gives photography its name). But just like the original Photoshop, these AI-powered tools will change photography as we know it – whether we want to embrace them or not. 

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How technology advancements are disrupting the business of photography

Technology innovations in the camera began disrupting the photography industry 20 years ago with the advent of digital sensors replacing film. 

Advanced post-production software brought even more innovation over the past decade. 

Today, sophisticated workflow automation technology powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning is disrupting the way photographers run their business, enabling greater productivity behind the scenes.

The photography business in a time of instant expectations

While many technology advancements in photography have been about camera, editing and printing improvements, there is a new emphasis on the business side of the industry. In the same way that digital images delivered instantaneous results bypassing film processing, new business solutions for discovery, scheduling and payment are now available right in the palm of their hand to help photographers succeed.

Photography pros and clients alike are smartphone-equipped, mobile-optimized, and social-media enabled. The photography business ecosystem must be able to deliver sleek, easy-to-use business experiences to stay ahead of clients’ rapidly evolving expectations for instant gratification.

As a business partner (and SaaS developer) for photographers, it is imperative to help customers deal with the challenges of today and plan for the needs of tomorrow. Photographers need and expect a comprehensive technology platform that helps them stay ahead of the curve. 

A photography business suite of tools should deliver technology solutions for:

– Elegant portfolio presentation
– Effective discovery methods to attract clients
– Streamlined, automated scheduling and payment
– Easy post-shoot client proofing and image selection
– Hands-off print/product sales and delivery to clients
– Ongoing, automated marketing and sales incentives

Technology to help clients find and hire a photographer

Traditionally, a client seeking professional photography services relied on recommendations by friends or was forced to choose between photographers who had hired a professional website coder/builder and those using rather inflexible “vanilla” site templates.

Now, drag-and-drop website building technology empowers photographers to present their work by creating unlimited online portfolio variations, branded in their own style to set them apart from others – without writing a single line of code. 

Using extremely intuitive starter templates, a photographer can design a beautiful portfolio site in minutes by simply dragging and dropping content blocks into place, uploading their images and writing the stories they want prospective customers to read. 

An animated image of a woman looking at a photo file

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

A good business technology partner will take it steps further by providing tools to optimize the site content for maximum exposure to search-engines to help their website get discovered, optimize image upload and download speeds, and ensure the security of images from the nefarious threats of the web-based world.

It’s Business 101 – attracting clients, doing the work, collecting revenue. By listening to clients and working to understand their challenges, we realized that while many other industries had moved to an online back-end business environment, photographers were still managing bookings and payments manually. Or at the very least, they were using multiple online tools from multiple companies to make it all happen. 

The required back-and-forth calls and emails with clients took time away from completing more photoshoots and selling images. 

Photographer portfolio availability

Completely automated scheduling disrupts this experience by evolving from a pen and paper calendar, beyond Excel and Google calendar entries, to an end-to-end suite of tools automating an entire client experience prior to the shoot. 

Consider how a resource like a fully automated booking tool takes over the process after a client finds a photographer, not only automating the entire scheduling, invoicing and payment process, but also enabling a photographer to fulfil pre-orders that they might have sold as part of the service at the time of booking.

An animated image of a man looking at a calendar

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

BookMe is auto-synced with a photographer’s calendar enabling a client to instantly see their availability and get immediate transparent pricing. Once booked, a new private client gallery is auto-generated, ready to accept uploaded images after the shoot for clients to review, comment on, and select. 

Print and photo gift orders can be placed by the client right in the user interface, right on the spot. Orders go directly to the lab, get processed and shipped directly to the client. 

Automated booking, scheduling and direct payment saves photographers an average of more than 40 hours every month by streamlining the client on-boarding experience. Better yet, it increases bookings and revenue. Photographers are able to reallocate time usually spent on administrative tasks to ones that bring in more revenue.

Technology to support the post-shoot process

Technology advancements beyond the automated booking and payment process expedite the post-shoot experience by not taxing a photographer’s online resources.

Uploading that doesn’t result in downtime

If the image uploading process ties up a photographer’s online bandwidth, it can cripple their ability to do other things during the time they are waiting around for photos to upload. 

Zenfolio, for example, engineered a multi-threaded, non-blocking uploader enabling photographers to upload multiple galleries simultaneously as they work on their website or refine the price list for their online shop. 

An animated image of a woman sitting on a cloud with an arrow pointing up with three images below

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

Eliminating the need for a photographer to configure each client gallery individually is another way to save time and get images to clients faster. Zenfolio's gallery preset feature lets a photographer define presets while uploading a new gallery. The preset automatically applies layouts, prices, privacy and access settings, and many other configurations.

Facial recognition technology to easily find a face in a crowd

A good photography business technology partner  – and SaaS provider – pays close attention to business trends and emerging genre specializations. Event photography is growing in popularity to join established wedding and sports genres. 

A photographer or client can spend giant chunks of time inspecting a gallery full of people to find specific faces and manually tag or share those photos. Why not apply the latest facial recognition technology used in other industries to expedite this process?

A simple and effective facial filter tool enables a photographer to locate faces and organize hundreds of images in a matter of seconds. Originally intended as a photographer-only tool, the Facial Filter can be enabled for client use. 

Let’s face it – most brides are probably more interested in looking at photos of themselves and their new spouse than browsing pictures of their uncle “getting low” on the dance floor. 

Technology that improves the proofing process

Proofing typically requires quite a bit of back and forth between a photographer and their client, and this is often complicated by the fact that you and your client might not be referring to the same photo. 

The best way to automate your workflow is to enable your clients to interact with you directly on the specific image they’re looking at.

A suite of technology tools should enable a client to select an image as a “favorite” and add a comment or editing direction right on the image. Photographers see every comment as they edit the galleries and photos. 

The comments even flow through to their favorite editing tool, and edited photos can be replaced without losing the metadata or original comments.

Technology to automate marketing to clients

The pandemic brought the photography industry to its knees for months. Unable to rely on income from upcoming work, photographers had to earn passive income from past shoots.  

Automated ecommerce campaigns that reintroduced past images to clients with an incentive to make a purchase helped photographers bring in revenue and survive the challenging period.  The pandemic also revealed an interesting fact – clients stuck at home enjoyed reliving photo memories and ordering prints on their devices. 

Automated client campaigns

Zenfolio created and launched the only automated Client Campaigns feature in the photography industry. 

A photographer can opt into predefined seasonal marketing campaigns designed for Mother’s/Father’s Day, July 4th, and other secular and religious holidays. 

Select galleries can be attached to each campaign and the rest just happens on auto-pilot – clients order, the lab processes and ships directly to the clients. 

An email coming out of an evelope

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

And more revenue opportunities are available from coupon-based campaigns that are implemented on gallery banners and emails to clients. 

These cool marketing features leverage both the workflow automation platform and relationships with leading print labs to help photographers sell thousands of products on their websites and client galleries – all without lifting a finger.

Technology to analyze business data

Any smart business platform should provide actionable data, which means it exists to help photographers learn and run their business. Key insights about how photos are getting viewed, favorited and downloaded should be available at the gallery level. 

Apps to maximize success

The widget dashboard must be an easy-to-use user interface that offers a quick way to see how many visitors a photographer is driving to their site, to see upcoming bookings and how print and digital sales are working. 

The app also guides them on what they should focus on next to become more successful. Like every aspect of a photography business platform, the technology must be built with a razor-sharp focus on usability, simplicity and efficiency.

What's next for photography innovation

By automating key workflows, photographers can spend more time behind the lens, interacting with their customers and working their unique brand of magic on creating photos – and less time doing administrative and marketing work.

Technology advancements will continue to disrupt the photography business in the best of ways on both sides of the camera. Photography customers experience automation, streamlining and convenience from other industries in their everyday lives. 

They expect it from their favorite photographer as well. And the photographer’s business technology partner is here to help them meet those expectations, along with a few new tricks.

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Nikon D6 to be showcased at The Photography Show in March

Ever since its development announcement back in September 2019, there's been very little chatter about the Nikon D6. Canon, however, has already beaten its rival to the punch, officially announcing the EOS 1D X Mark III at CES 2020, while a D6 prototype was quietly displayed near the Nikon booth.

Come March, though, Nikon is going to be taking the D6 to the UK to be showcased at the annual Photography Show to be held in Birmingham between March 14-17. The Japanese camera maker has announced that it will also be showcasing the newly released Nikon D780 DLSR as well, along with the entire range of Z series mirrorless cameras and the latest CoolPix P950.

“On the stand this year, visitors will be able to experience all our latest products, including the full Z Series range, the brand new D780 and COOLPIX P950. We can also confirm that the much anticipated D6 will also be on display for the first time in the UK.”


Joining the cameras at the Nikon stand will be some of the company's newest lenses, including the  58mm f/0.95 Noct, the AF-S Nikkor 120-300mm f/2.8E and the Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S.

Whether Nikon is going to make an official launch announcement at TPS 2020 is unclear, but there have been rumors that the D6 could be announced as soon as February 12.

While there's no official announcement date, we're looking forward to seeing the D6 in the flesh to confirm some of its rumored specs, including the 20MP sensor that offers better autofocus and ISO performance than the Nikon D5, the 14fps burst speed and 4K/60p video capture.

If there's any truth to those specifications, the competition from Canon might just outdo the D6, but we won't know for certain till Nikon reveals all.

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