I am a photographer. Before v5 of Midjourney came out, I was pretty confident that photographers wouldn’t be replaced by the text-to-image generator. “Humans” in Midjourney images looked like mannequins, plastic and soulless. And the images seemed to have a highly stylized look of a movie set that looks superficially real, but ultimately artificial. People using Midjourney can spot this “Midjourney look.” And photographers, who spend their lives examining every fine detail of images, sometimes with a magnifying glass, can spot the fakeness a mile away. I used to believe Midjourney’s artificiality would preserve real photographs from extinction.
But, after March 15, 2023, when v5 came out. I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m downright scared. Scared that commercial photographs can be replaced.
Why? Midjourney v5 has rapidly improved its capabilities to render images that look closer to real photographs. The “humans” in Midjourney are getting closer and closer to the look of real people.
Examples of human portraits rendered by Midjourney v5
I tried to create a portrait with the model’s eyes in sharp focus, shot at 2.8f with great depth of field. (Originally, I tried 1.4f, but Midjourney seemed to have a hard time keeping the eyes in focus based on the prompt “blue eyes clearly in focus, razor sharp” or variants of that prompt.) Although I tried only a few times with Midjourney, today’s cameras with eye auto-focus tracking do a better job in focusing on a person’s eyes in capturing an image, in my opinion. But I’ll bet Midjourney improves on eye-focusing.
Sample 1 portrait of person rendered in Midjourney v5
After a couple tries, the best portrait, with the sharpest focus of the eyes, was this image above. If you zoom in, the details in the eyes are not completely in focus. So, a camera with eye AF would most likely produce a sharper image, with the eyes 100% in focus–this is what commercial photographers get paid to do! But we are really talking about fractions.
More importantly, the woman in the image above looks startlingly like a real human. Perhaps some people can still tell something fake about the person above, but I’m not able to spot it as easily as I could with v4 of Midjourney. Back then, I spotted fakeness right away. Now, I don’t.
Sample 2 portraits of a person in Midjourney 5
In the same batch, I also got this image below, which I then prompted Midjourney to create in 4 variations. If you zoom in, the eyes here are even more out of focus than the image above. Yay for human photographers! But the human rendition appears to be comparable to the one above, especially if one were just flipping through a fashion magazine and not closely inspecting each image for fakeness. The person looks pretty real.
Sample 3 images of a fashion shoot in Midjourney v5
How about fashion shoots? Hanne Van Briel shared on Twitter stunning images of a fashion shoot. It’s very hard to tell the models aren’t real people! Can you?
And, if you want to see a known celebrity in Midjourney, how about Nick St. Pierre’s rendition of Paris Hilton below. I think glancing at it, it does appear like it could be an ad with Paris Hilton in a magazine. (Of course, Paris Hilton has a right of publicity so she can stop people using her likeness in ads to sell products! Don’t worry.)
Sample 4 images of home interior rendered in Midjourney v5
Now let’s take a look at some samples of images of home interiors that you might find in a magazine shoot. Everrett World has shared on Twitter some incredibly realistic images rendered on Midjourney. This look real! Of course, real estate and architectural photography requires depictions of the real thing. Midjourney does enable one to use an actual photograph as a reference, so it might be possible to recreate and enhance the actual layout of a room.
Sample 5 images of Ferrari ad
What about commercial ads for products? Well, here’s a cool set by Linus Ekenstam:
What about landscapes?
I specialize in landscape photography. So far, I haven’t found something that strikes me as a substitute for the real thing. But I will continue to scavenge Twitter. [More to follow.]
Should commercial photographers be worried?
I think yes. In this economic downturn, companies can save money by not having to hire photographers or models for advertisements and other graphic campaigns. Big corporations aren’t likely to switch overnight, however. But as the capabilities of Midjourney and other text-to-image generators become so realistic, the cost savings on advertisements is hard to ignore.
There are other factors that may make companies nervous about adopting ChatGPT text-to-image generators for their ads and campaigns. First, there are several copyright lawsuits pending against several companies offering these ChatGPT tools, including Midjourney. How those cases are decided may affect–potentially limiting–the functionalities being offered now. The copyright litigation creates a potential risk that big corporations may avoid.
Plus, the backlash against AI in its creating “soulless” images and in its displacing jobs for humans–photographers, models, and other creatives–may increase as the job losses increase in the future. Smaller companies and businesses without the money to pay for glossy advertisements might not be deterred by such backlash. But the big brands might.