The progressive development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the wake of digitalization not only offers opportunities that a few years ago were unheard of, it also poses major challenges for companies and consumers. The same applies to stock photography; after all, the editing and selection of image material by AI is no longer a dream of the future, rather it has long since become a reality. In a sector in which emotionality, creativity, and a keen sense of good imagery are more important than almost any other, the pressing question is “How creative can a machine be?”

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In a sector in which emotionality, creativity, and a keen sense of good imagery are more important than almost any other, the pressing question is “How creative can a machine be?”

Senior businessman using digital tablet, looking for computerised cars - KSHSF00010

AI in visual communications

Westend61 has long been concerned with this question and has thought about the way in which AI will influence communication in the future as well as the conveyance of visual messages. The result of these reflections is clear: “Of course we tested whether deep learning algorithms could edit our images in order to offer the customer an optimized and beautiful experience, but they can’t,” says Westend61 CEO Gerald Staufer. The reason: A good picture must arouse feelings in the viewer and direct his thoughts in a certain direction. 

Portrait of smiling businessman looking at robot - KSHSF00003

This emotionality of good and purposeful imagery, however, often comes about through fine nuances in the image design. But even the smartest digital assistant is likely to be overwhelmed with the psychological intuition that is needed for this. As useful as such assistants may be when it comes to collecting and analyzing large amounts of data and automating recurring processes, they can hardly keep up with the many years of experience and a feeling for that certain something which distinguish good art directors and photographers.

The human touch

Despite their openness to the opportunities of digitalization, Gerald Staufer and his team continue to rely on the indispensable “human touch” as the trademark and core of the colorful photo world of Westend61. “Because many emotions, which are found in the subtleties of a good picture, can only be seen by people,” explains Gerald Staufer. 

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For him, working with people of flesh and blood (and heart) is therefore an indispensable prerequisite for building up and expanding an image portfolio that can meet the highest standards. “We have a larger team of knowledgeable experts who evaluate the images and provide our clients with the best search results tailored to their needs and purposes.” This requires not only a sure feeling for the major trends, big and small, but also a feeling for the constantly changing picture language—and thus requires a flexibility that an AI software can hardly offer.

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A further core element of this creative process is Westend61’s cultivated personal contact and constant exchange with photographers. After all, women and men are constantly out and about with their cameras, keeping up with the pulse of the times. They invest a lot of money not only in their equipment, but also in great models and locations that aren’t available for free. Even the most “human” machine can never replace their enthusiasm, their originality, and their nose for the somewhat different visual message that stands out above other digital images.

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After all, it is the technical expertise and creative potential of the photographers who, interacting with the Westend61 creative team, create the material from which premium images are made. That’s what Gerald Staufer stresses after all: “We value the fact that only the best are with us. No, we do not advertise with 250,000 photographers and 250 million pictures, but rather with 700 very good photographers and one million outstanding pictures.”

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This is appreciated by the many users of Westend61’s pictures. They follow the motto “class instead of mass.” They understand that they need ideal images for their projects—and that human, and not artificial intelligence, is more likely to succeed when it comes to attracting the attention of customers.

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