The Last Stock Photographers Await Their Fate Under Generative AI

Katie Deighton

The Wall Street Journal

May 7, 2024

Photographer woman taking a picture with her camera on a trip.

Digital photography ravaged the business of taking and licensing commercial photos. Some fear AI will kill it off entirely.

Stock photographers who survived the disruptive advent of digital cameras and online sales are bracing themselves for the next great tech shock: generative AI.

Some are predicting the worst.

“The stock photography industry is going away,” said Connecticut-based photographer Tony Northrup. “AI is ending it for the remaining photographers who figured out how to stay profitable.”

Photographers’ concerns highlight a growing unease within the wider commercial creative industries that AI will wipe out jobs that until now have relied on artistic talent and decades of experience.

Industries such as marketing, publishing, music and news have long relied on stock photography to create, illustrate or promote their products for less cost than commissioning photos would require. AI’s new capability to generate realistic images from simple text prompts is now giving stock clients an affordable, fast alternative that comes with greater control of the final image.

“I’m concerned that my best efforts to be a creative photographer and responsible business owner will quickly become all for naught,” said Shannon Fagan, a Memphis, Tenn.-based photographer. “I anticipate that it will make my stock photography collection somewhat obsolete.”

The companies that broker stock imagery say doom-mongering is unfounded. Consumers are still proving hostile toward AI-generated images, and so are marketers looking to convey an air of authenticity, according to executives.