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Will AI-Generated Images Replace Stock Photography?

AI is now mainstream: with self-driving cars, robot grocery stockers, and text and image generators that provide near-instant outputs. As a digital agency AI Specialist, one of the tools I use is text-to-image AI, which generates high-quality images from simple text prompts. Teams like ours who once relied on stock photos for their campaigns enjoy the instant gratification of image creation — which begs the question:

Will AI be the end of stock photography? 

Digital platforms fall in and out of popularity rapidly, and it seems only natural to wonder if stock photo libraries are headed for the same cold expiration Vine faced when Snapchat (and then TikTok) came on the scene.

Here are my thoughts on the future of AI and stock photography.

The Difference Between Stock Photos & AI-Generated Images

Stock photography is a collection of high-quality images captured by photographers worldwide, which are available to use without royalties, such as the photos found on Canva, Pixabay, Pexels and Shutterstock. These platforms give marketers instant access to professional photos for various campaigns and digital channels. 

AI-generated imagery powered by cutting-edge technologies, such as OpenAI’s DALL·E and Adobe Firefly, has emerged as a new solution for visual assets. AI uses text-to-image technology to translate written prompts into complex, realistic images that would otherwise be time-consuming and expensive to collect. Some businesses may lack the resources for extensive photoshoots or graphic design — this is where AI-powered tools come in handy. 

Now, let’s dive into three of the most important considerations you should use to evaluate your options.

Pros & Cons of AI Images and Stock Photography

  • Feature #1: Creativity & Personalization

    AI offers a level of customization unmatched by stock photography. Tools like Midjourney allow users to tune the style in which the AI renders an image to generate photos quickly using their brand colors. Creating a high-quality, striking AI image generally takes less time than combing through a stock photography database for the perfect photo, but the stock photo will (unsurprisingly) look the MOST realistic. More on that below.

  • Feature #2: Authenticity

    Although AI-generated images may be photorealistic, they feature people, places and objects that don’t exist. Stock photography imbues content with a sense of honesty AI cannot yet match.

    We’ve had our fair share of failed experiments with AI-generated and AI-edited images: from interior design photos of warped walls and missing chair legs to humans with hot dog fingers. Many other times, AI has created an image that easily passes for a stock photo. The main difference is that stock photos do not need to be carefully reviewed for authenticity (or hot dog fingers).

  • Feature #3: Ethical Considerations

    Licensing agreements control how stock photography can be used for business purposes. AI-generated images have no clear guidelines, as Terms of Use vary by platform. For example, OpenAI grants image ownership rights for all images created with DALL·E. However, the Terms of Service for Midjourney state:

If you are not a Paid Member, you don’t own the Assets you create. Instead, Midjourney grants you a license to the Assets under the Creative Commons Noncommercial 4.0 Attribution International License.

In other words, stock photography licensing agreements are easier to understand. AI alternatives may be less expensive, but you must read the fine print before using your assets in a campaign.

Will AI Replace Stock Photography?

AI technology allows marketers to push the boundaries of visual creativity: providing new ways to tell compelling stories and engage with diverse audiences. However, the value of stock photography remains clear, as it plays a crucial role in providing relatable imagery. So, is one option better than the other? 

Call me old-fashioned, but I truly don’t buy the hype that AI is killing the stock photo industry — both tools are helpful for different applications. Both have staying power.

The synergy between stock photography and AI-generated images allows marketers to leverage their strengths: using AI for customization and creativity and stock photography for relatability and realism. This approach results in content that captures the audience’s attention and fosters a deeper connection with them. Marketers can create aesthetically pleasing narratives, rich in emotional depth, to resonate with their audience on a personal level. As far as I’m concerned, both options belong in my digital toolkit. 

Boost Your Campaign Performance with 1905 New Media

Most teams are searching for the right mix of tools to boost campaign performance, increase reach and maximize ROI. With our team of digital experts and AI enthusiasts, a strategic digital agency partner like 1905 New Media in St. Louis can help you accomplish those goals. 

Ready to make an impact? Contact 1905 New Media to tell us more about your goals.