Adobe Throws Photographers Under the Bus Again: ‘Skip the Photoshoot’

There has been a decades-long relationship between photographers and Adobe. However, the company’s recent public discourse and marketing have made some photographers feel uneasy and, in some cases, furious.

Adobe Sells the Concept of Skipping Photoshoots Thanks to AI

As Adobe has focused much more heavily on AI technology, the company has crafted AI features that empower photographers to create better work. However, with the things Adobe executives have been saying, it’s easy to wonder how much Adobe cares about visual artists as part of its long-term plans. If Adobe takes Firefly to the places it hopes to, will real photographers, especially professional ones, have a place at Adobe’s table?

Thanks to a programmatic Adobe advertisement circulating on various social media platforms, these fears are even more pressing and reasonable. Photographer Clayton Cubitt shared the ad on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“So glad as a photographer I’ve given Adobe tens of thousands of dollars only to have it pivot to selling ‘skip the photo shoot,'” Cubitt writes.

These frustrations are echoed by others, including Brian Winkeler, who writes on LinkedIn, “‘Skip the photoshoot.’ What will Adobe be telling customers to skip next? And when will their consumer message fully devolve down to ‘Skip all the experts’?”

“Really, Adobe? You’re telling folks to ‘skip the photoshoot?’ This isn’t about not using AI to enhance images, because that is here to stay and has already been a part of your image editing workflow for a while now, they’re just calling it AI now,” writes The Nerdy Photographer, Casey Fatchett. “No! This is about word choice. They could have chosen copy that reads ‘Enhance your photoshoot’ or ‘Get more from your photoshoot’ instead of ‘SKIP THE PHOTOSHOOT'”

Where Does Adobe Firefly Leave Photographers?

Fatchett hits the nail on the head when he says that the ad is not aimed at photographers — even if many photographers are being served it — this ad is aimed at businesses.

Adobe seems keen to advance its AI to the point where it can sell businesses content creation that is as easy as typing short strings of words into a text box.

Where does this leave photographers? In the parlance of AI image generator prompts: Firefly, create a photorealistic image of a photographer in the fetal position in a frozen tundra landscape. The photographer is emaciated, their camera is broken. 50mm lens, f/2.8. Bokeh. Cool tones, blue hour.

Interestingly, this is not the first time Adobe has floated the idea of “skipping the photoshoot” to customers. Even before Adobe Firefly hit the scene, the company wrote about how its software solutions could help people “Skip the shoot” and still “Get the shot.”

An excerpt from a Creative Cloud event in 2020 shows how people could create photorealistic product “photos” without hiring a photographer at all, thanks to Adobe Stock.

At least in this case, the stock image required a photographer. A photographer made something and was paid for it. With AI, the logical next step is getting rid of the photographer.

What Does ‘Ethical’ Mean in AI? It Means You Won’t Be Sued

Adobe proudly explains how Firefly is an ethical AI at nearly every opportunity. A cynic might suggest that “ethical” is code for “commercially safe” — and conflating morality with defense against lawsuits is a dangerous game — but in any event, Adobe claims to have built Firefly without stealing content.

There is no reason to doubt Adobe here, as its results were at first far enough behind known thieves that it seems like Adobe probably did anchor its boat in legally safe waters. However, the newest version of Firefly shows that Adobe has essentially caught up to everyone else.

Adobe, a company that got off the ground thanks to software designed to help artists, has many passionate and talented people working there today who desperately want to make people’s lives better, whether they are photographers, musicians, videographers, or illustrators. There are many great people there making excellent software that, despite numerous controversies, remains unmatched in the space.

There were reports last July that some Adobe staff worried that the AI the company is building could kill the jobs of some Adobe users.

Some employees called the situation “depressing,” and said they were having an “existential crisis.” Adobe Firefly has gotten much better since then, making the threat all the greater.

Conflicting Interests

However, Adobe, as a publicly traded entity, doesn’t answer to its individual employees or its users. Like all corporate giants on the stock exchange, Adobe answers to its stockholders. The company must make as much money as possible, or heads start rolling.

While there may be occasional overlaps between what everybody wants, if Adobe believes it can extract more profit by catering to different people than it always has, it will — even if that means helping destroy photographers who have each given Adobe thousands of dollars over the years and captured the photos that ultimately helped build Firefly in the first place.

Adobe Says It Isn’t Aiming to Replace Human Creativity — Says Nothing Specifically About Artists

For its part, Adobe tells PetaPixel it isn’t aiming to replace human creativity. It is worth noting that PetaPixel specifically asked Adobe about the “skip the photoshoot” ad and what the company has to say to photographers. The response it got instead is vague, at best.

“Every massive technology shift offers opportunities to deliver new innovations for our customers, and we are focused on harnessing the power of generative AI to amplify human creativity and expression, not replace it,” Adobe says.

“Adobe is committed to empowering creativity for all and as we develop AI, we’re introducing it in line with our AI ethics principles and in a way that empowers our customers and creators. The latest AI innovations in Photoshop deliver greater control for professionals and new superpowers for all Photoshop users. These latest innovations empower professionals with tools that eliminate mundane tasks, so they are freed up to focus on bringing their visions to life more easily and work more productively,” the company continues.

Adobe also explains to PetaPixel that it “advocates” for creators by doing the following:

  • Empowering creators to monetize their talents through our Stock marketplace.
  • Compensating Stock contributors and creators through paid programs like Stock royalties, Firefly contributor bonus, Adobe Missions, and payments for custom content.
  • Advocating for laws including a new federal anti-impersonation right (FAIR Act) to protect artists from people misusing AI tools to intentionally impersonate their style.
  • Pushing for transparency around the use of AI with Content Credentials, which are like a nutrition label for digital content.

Conspicuously absent is any mention of photography, photographers, or even artists.

It’s all about “customers” and “creators,” with no mention of who does the creating. I know who I believe Adobe cares about most moving forward, and it isn’t photographers.

Adobe Answers To Someone, and it Isn’t Photographers

Adobe has every right to squeeze every last dollar out of photographers and other visual artists it can before it believes it can make more money by actively undermining human-led artistic creativity through AI image/audio/video generation. They’re not the only ones building something that could outright replace people’s role in creating art. Adobe might even be the “least bad” in how it has gone about building an AI image generator, as low of a bar as that is to clear.

However, Adobe has something other major AI players lack — a decades-long history with photographers and other artists. Something about Adobe advocating users “skip the photoshoot” feels worse in that context. Much worse.

Adobe executive Scott Belsky says AI “is the new digital camera” and “we have to embrace it.”

No, Adobe, you’re choosing to embrace it because you can sell this “new digital camera” to customers, your relationship with human artists be damned.

Image credits: Header image created using assets licensed via Depositphotos.