Technology has automated the craft of photography, how about drawing?

With the advent of advanced picture-taking computers, aka digital cameras, part of the craft of photography was automated. Photography has always been a combination of craft and creativity. In the old days, the act of making and printing a well exposed photograph was more challenging. Digital has simplified this tremendously to the chagrin of old-time photographers. But how about other creative pursuits, like drawing? What if the craft of drawing can also be mostly automated?

I have little skill in drawing beyond what I did in the 3rd grade. But I recently found this fun little app that runs on the iPhone. It takes a photograph and magically transforms it into a watercolor, one of many styles, that you get to choose with a push of a finger. My apologies to true artists but for a hack like me, this tool is fantastic and amazing. In a sense, it takes the craft of drawing and automates it with a set of canned computer algorithms. Certainly rudimentary for anyone with true ability, but for me, it looks pretty damned good. I’ll be happy if I can draw like this.

So what if we automate the craft of drawing or photography with modern tools. We, as human beings, still own the creativity. Perhaps this is just the Instagraming of drawing but technology will inevitably improve. The competitive angst that photographers feel will move to other creative professions. Do you know that there are computer programs that write technical documents that are now indistinguishable from the human created documents?

As you may know, I’ve always had an interest in architecture. That interest has naturally bubbled up in my photography, something I didn’t even realize until a couple of people pointed it out. The thing is, I don’t have the ability to draw those neat looking illustrations like an architect. Perhaps I like this $1 application so much because it sort of creates instantaneous architectural renderings.

Take a look at these. I shot the originals on my iPhone at the Singapore and Dallas-Fort Worth Airports. I captured the images, post-processed them (originally for Instagram) and then used the Waterlogue app to transform them into these illustrations, all on my phone. I picked these styles because they look like architectural renderings.

Drink and Click Watercolor #1 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #2 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #3 - Austin, Texas

Waterlogue in not limited to photos shot on the iPhone. I took these with my Fujifilm X100S at the Drink and Click event and transferred them to the iPhone. I used the app to transform these too, using a more impressionistic setting, one of a dozen available styles.

Drink and Click Watercolor #4 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #6 - Austin, Texas
Drink and Click Watercolor #6 - Austin, Texas

Even in my widest dreams, I know this isn’t real art. Art requires creativity and originality, not just executing an algorithm. But I find it compelling nevertheless. The illustration at the top, a watercolor conversion of a snapshot I took with my iPhone is a little memento from one my recent business trips. The comforting glow of warm light makes even a business hotel look inviting.

I can imagine, not too long ago, an artist hired for a Hilton Hotels ad by some Mad Men. The copy would read “All the comforts of home, away from home” and would feature this image. Now the entire art department fits in a pocket, technology trying to supplant craft. Until the singularity is achieved however, I feel comfortable that the real creativity and art still remains with us. If predictions hold, we can maintain human creative edge for at least 25 more years.


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10 thoughts on “Technology has automated the craft of photography, how about drawing?

  1. Impressive – in particular the first of the B&W escalator renderings and the woman-at-cash-register shot presented as if a combination of simple ink sketch with watercolor tints. None of the escalator conversions is as strong and filled with artistic sensitivity and technique as the original photo, though. That pretty much closes once and for all any argument over whether phone cameras can be taken seriously. Terrific shot.

    1. Thanks, Michael. The iPhone 5S does a good job and I’ve also honed my post processing technique on the phone. Waterlogue is fun. Amazing what you can do these days on the phone.

  2. I really like the car, it’s almost as if I’m looking at the conceptual drawing of its designer.
    It’s quite something, the advancements in automating human actions. It’s something that keeps me occupied in my profession (Assembly QC) and during my free time (e.g. Photoshop). Did you know that every written line on Wikipedia is reviewed and corrected by algorithms? These ‘bots’ even create articles without any human intervention. I personally find that the creativity lies within the programming of this – almost magical – code. Take the “Content Aware Scaling” feature in PS for example, it automatically detects subjects that matter and (re)creates realistic imagery based on surrounding pixels. All that sorcery is performed by hundreds, perhaps even thousands lines of text working in the background, creating photographic material within seconds. If you could explain it to a field expert back in the 80’s that this would all be possible in the near future, he’d declare you mentally insane.

    1. Timmy, I didn’t know they did that for Wikipedia. I need some of those algorithms to correct all the mistakes in my blog 😉

      Imagine what technology will be doing 20 – 30 years from now.

  3. These are great, I like them all but the Singapore and Dallas-Fort Worth Airports set (all eight photos just as your presented them) is an instant favourite for me.

    I would agree that art requires creativity but I do not see that it needs originality. Instead it simply needs a desire to express something which may not be so readily expressed in logical verbal form. The method used to create such expressions does not, in my view, determine whether a piece can or cannot be a work of art. Personally, the Singapore and Dallas-Fort Worth Airports set, I would hang that on my wall. It captivates me and I do not care that an algorithm was used to create it. It’s more important that this set was put together by someone with a creative eye and an understanding of composition and design. (That “someone” would be you in this case 🙂 )

    1. Cedric, thank you so much for the inspiring comments. If the idea is the key for an image, I suppose it doesn’t matter if it was a computer program that executed a particular effect.

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