Friend or Foe?

Bourtzi (Nafplio) at sunset with silhouettes of a fishing boat and flying seagulls
Bourtzi | Greece | 2021

A few days ago, Adobe released a new beta version of its popular Photoshop application. With it came the launch of its new artificial intelligence (AI) Generative Fill tool, that has the photographic community humming with excitement. While the web is already full of examples of the incredible power of this tool, I thought I give it my own little try. The result you see above. For the “how” and whether I consider the new AI based feature a photographer’s friend or foe, continue after the jump…

The new AI based Generative Fill function is marketed as Adobe Firefly, and is also included in Photoshops latest beta version. It is based on Adobe Stock’s hundreds of millions of high quality licensed images. This will ensure Firefly won’t generate content based on other peoples IP. It is a text-to-image generator and super easy to use.

You can use on of your own images as a starting point, or start using it on an empty Photoshop canvass. You just mark an area of your image (or select a whole blank canvass) and type a description of what you want to appear in the image. Then hit “generate”, and after a few seconds the desired contents appears magically. It embeds itself perfectly in the image, including proper shading, reflections etc….simply mind-blowing. The generated contents appears in three variants, that you can chose from by clicking a button, and is embedded on a separate layer. A disadvantage (for now) is that you can’t move the generated contents around. As the contents includes the area of the selected background, the generated shadows, lighting effects etc. will move with it and won’t fit in other areas of the image. But this might change with a future version.

Is it simple to use the tool? Oh yes! In my test I used a photograph I took during a past vacation to Greece of a sunset behind a small island fortress (more on its history below). I selected a rectangular area in the bottom left are of the image and typed “silhouette of a small greek fishing boat” into the user interface. And voilà…it magically appeared on the shiny surface of the golden sea. Then I selected another area in the top right and typed “silhouettes of two flying seagulls”….and they popped up. Now you look and tell me whether boat and birds look natural in this image. The fishing boat even casts its own natural shadow into the water. Insane.

Now is Adobe Firefly (and its Photoshop interface) friend of foe? Honestly, I haven’t made up my mind yet. On the positive side, you can enhance your own images with a few words and clicks, turn them from average shots into much nicer images. But then again, it is fake. Wasn’t the fun in photography to go hunting for that special moment where it all comes together? Generative Fill enhanced images will still be your creation, no doubt. But what will be in the final image is not what you originally captured. And this is the problem when looking at future coffee table books. No one will be able to tell whether what you see on the page in front of you is an authentic depiction of reality. Well, I’m sure, the discussion will continue…

Now, as promised, a bit on the history of the (authentic) island and fortress that I captured back then in Greece on a beautiful warm summer evening, albeit without boat and gulls.

Bourtzi is the name of the small island in the harbor entrance of the Greek city of Nafplio and the fortress (island castle) located on it, from which the island also got its name. The islet is about 120 meters long and measures 43 meters at its widest point. It is almost completely covered by the fortress of the same name. The distance to the mainland is 400 meters.

The Republic of Venice, which had conquered Nafplio in 1389, first built a tower on the islet in 1473. At the end of the 17th century – after the renewed conquest of Nafplio by the Ottomans in 1696 – the rest of the fortress was built in its present form. At that time, a chain was stretched overnight from Bourtzi to the mainland to protect the port from the entry of foreign ships; hence the Italian name Porto della Catena ‘Chain Port’ for Nafplio. Already in that time, you had to differentiate between friend or foe.

Have a great Thursday


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37 thoughts on “Friend or Foe?

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  1. Another great post. I feel, just like any new tool, it is how you use it. Yes, it will be abused and overused. but it is not the end of photography. They said the same dumb agreement about digital photography. Moreover, Photographers have been manipulating photo since the beginning. This is just a new way to do so. Again, wonderful post.

  2. I often wonder if the pictures we click will simply be a documentation of our memories? With AI you can do so many things, like create a picture. I guess clicking pictures will cease to be as important as it is now. Just a thought.

    I have been to Nafplio, the moment I saw the silhouette of the fortress I could recall the city. I couldn’t visit the fortress, however, I did climb up the Palamidi fortress which is much bigger and overlooks the city. Loved this quiet charming town with venetian connection.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. I love Greece for many reasons. I wish I could live in Greece!

  3. An artist strives to capture the raw beauty of nature. The composition of an AI may be close to perfection. The journey of a photographer to search for the perfect moment is lost with the perfect result that also delights the audience.

  4. Wow that is quite something with the new feature. I am not sure what to make of it though as there will be no way to tell if the photo has been altered significantly or not…having said that I do love what you’ve done with yours!

  5. Wow, Marcus–this is very interesting. AI is really taking over everything. But to the detriment, I am not sure.

  6. Well Marcus, first of all thanks for explaining Firefly. It might be the end of many forms of photography. I am sure for exemple that the good old competiion will change dramatically as will the ‘Art-book”. But my plesure in photography will remain and I doubt I will use Firefly (very) often.Why would I? Today I use Photoshop only for the basic fine-tuning of some pictures that I can’t really get up to spot in Lightroom.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on Firefly, Jim, much appreciated! My first love is street photography, and finding “live” players to fill the stage of life. That is the fun, that AI can’t replace. Marcus

  7. Wow, I really don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand it sounds fantastic… it will be possible to create virtually anything you like just by typing in some text prompts. On the other hand, this is not really photography. It’s a photo-realistic image that has been created, very much like a composite image but without requiring any of the hard work. Not a photograph, a digital image that looks like a photograph. Okay, people are already doing this with Photoshop but having the AI do all the hard work means that the artistic, creative process is more or less gone, or at least much reduced. The result is a nice looking image, but that’s all.

    But is that a bad thing? Not necessarily…

    If the end goal is to create a digital image that represents an idea or tells a story, maybe this is the ideal way to do so. It seems to be a very quick and efficient way to do this. But it’s not photography in the traditional sense, that’s for sure. But then again, photographers have been playing around with making experimental images ever since photography was invented, so maybe it is still a type of photography?

    As you can probably tell, I really don’t know what to make of this!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on image generating AI, Stuart, much appreciated! I can relate to all that you are saying. My first love is street photography, and capturing live as it happens. Finding the stories of the streets is the fun for me, something that AI can’t replace. Marcus

  8. Marcus, thanks for explaining how Adobe Firefly works with your excellent example. I’m not tempted (I know you’re not surprised) but I know AI is here to stay. We need to understand it and your post helped with that.

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