AI image wins "historic" photography competition

Australian AI company Absolutely Ai entered a machine-generated image in a photography contest and won. The image is a bit ridiculous (for starters, check out the direction of the breaking wave vs the direction of the waves at the top of the image), but somehow judges overlooked that. IMHO, it’s OK to call AI-generated images “images”, but not OK to consider it photography. I’m still undecided as to whether they should be considered art.

For background, threads from Michael Christopher Brown and Keith Ladzinski.

(edited to fix the spelling of Michael Christopher Brown’s name)


If this was a “normal” photography competition, excessive manipulation was not allowed. So, it’s no big deal to win with a completely artificial image. I am sure humans could (still) do better in such a category.

Defining what art is, is impossible. Rivers of ink have been spent on the matter. For sure AI creations are entering our not-only-visual landscape with such a disruptive force right now I would never ever been able to predict one year ago.
Maybe we should think of AI as (A) a new media or (B) a new technique. If you think of it as a new media, probably those who master this media should be considered “artists”. If you consider it as a new technique, those who master this technique should be considered excellent “artisans”.
After all also maneuvering Darktable to produce something that looks far away from the original take - but still has added value (aesthetically, technically, emotionally) - means exploiting computer power to convey a (new or not new) message.

EDIT: corrected grammar. Sorry I’m not an English native.

Absolutely. And as far as the winning image is concerned, we have no idea how much or little input humans had in the generation of the image.

There seems to be a lot of photography competitions out there. Many are scams or just not very good. What is that image even supposed to be? Why would it have any merit as a photograph even if taken by a human? Looks like a movie poster gone bad.

This is just one big marketing circlejerk and an attempt to generate some publicity for the firm.

The issue here is not “how good (or bad) AI is at rendering an image.” I don’t think there is any dispute that AI image generation is getting really good, really fast (the article seems to think this is a controversial take??).

The issue is that the creators of the image were dishonest about it. And they entered in a contest which was for photography with an image that is not a photograph but is photorealistic. The controversy should be that the proprietors of these tools seem to have no moral values.

As for the image itself, its an obvious fake… How many sources of light are there in this photo? At least two. How unnatural does the wave break against the shore look?

This is marketing overstepping its bounds and robbing someone else the joy of winning a (relatively small? Seems the prize is $100 gift certificate??) contest. That’s gross.


I agree in principle, however in the article it does say that they confessed (my words!) and returned the prize after winning - so I think that does excuse it a bit. But the image certainly doesn’t look like a photo…!

Absolutely it does not. “We were dishonest and cheated, but we didn’t reap any of the winnings!” is total bullshit. They were not interested in the prize, but rather the attention they thought they could generate by gaming the system.


Mmm, ok. Yes, I think I was a bit generous… I see your point.

On the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything very special about the “historic” competition either - it’s only a weekly, run by a big consumer electronics chain.

Not exactly Nat Geo or something!

Oh, and I think the worst bit is calling it a photograph - if that’s a photo I’ll eat my hat!

You’re free to believe otherwise, of course. But to me, this just reeks.

If you read the article on their site, I mean seriously? This was an instagram social media contest and the “cash” prize is a $100 gift certificate for the retailer that runs the contest, as far as I can tell. The judges are probably the intern running the social media account and the marketing manager.

The article on their site reeks of self important techbro bullshit, from the “historic photo competition” that they won, to the interview one of the engineers gave afterwards where they said:

“As a creator, it is terrifying. I look back at the work that I have created. And if I’m being honest, it all looks so basic,” he says.

“I’ve won photography awards. I’ve won awards in filmmaking and things like that. And my stuff doesn’t look as good as what a machine can generate.”

I mean, wow, come on…

How many times are these AI companies going to tell us that they have absolutely no morals before we actually believe them?


Exactly why I put “historic” in quotes in my post title, whereas they didn’t.

This is clearly a brazen publicity stunt. But it won’t be long before we are confronted by vastly better AI images than this with less hucksterism attached, and we’ll all need to figure out for ourselves what our personal acceptance level for AI images is.

Apple is already starting to use AI in iPhone photography, and it won’t be long before we start seeing it in our “serious” cameras; at least in those cases, there is still a lens, a sensor and a human involved in image creation.

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The line has been blurry already for some time. Sky replacements, tons of photoshopping, composites.

Some contests ask for raws, some have rules against “excessive” manipulation. Things will just have to continue to adapt, as it has always been.

What makes this hilarious is that the image it terrible if you look give it more than the 2 second instagram look.


That image is pretty obvious, the waves in the back and moving perpendicular to the ones in the front which isn’t really possible physically.

The shadows don’t look quite right either, look at the waves in front of the breaker, are those supposed to be taller? Also it looks to me like the sun is in the middle rear and there are shadows going off to the left at the shore.

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It is not a photograph, so there is no reason for it not to look “surrealistic”. But it should have been entered in an AI image contest not a photo competition.


I agree.

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That still doesn’t explain how it got passed judges who were, as far as they were concerned, judging a photo contest and not a so-called AI art show. It’s clearly something rendered or in the very minimal heavily composited.

It’s like judging a horse show and someone drops by with a goat that kinda looks like a horse. It may be a very fine goat but I’m sorry say sir/ma’am this is a horse show, your goat is not a horse.