AI Generated Images: The Next Big Thing in Stock Media

Where some time ago the new big thing was 360° photos, VR, and 3D visuals, in 2022 it’s all about AI generated images: pictures that are entirely created by artificial intelligence software. 

The latest visual technology lets anyone create incredibly realistic photos that were not shot with a camera or technically flawless paintings that were not painted by anyone but rather computer-generated from text descriptions.

As an entirely new genre of imagery, AI-generated art is gaining traction in the stock media industry, posing new challenges and opening gaps for new software tools to fill. 

Today, we’ll have a look at what’s the state of things in the field of AI photos and AI-generated artwork. It’s exciting!

AI Generated Images are an Entirely New Media Format

The novel thing about AI generated images is that they introduce a completely new concept in visual creation: synthetic media aka generating images. 

Synthetic images are those created not from a camera and not from a manned digital illustration/painting program, but from intelligent text-to-image creation software. 

Instead of capturing or drawing an image, you are introducing a brief description of a vision, and AI is creating a visual representation of that vision from the text prompt, from scratch. 

vAIsual, a pioneer company in this field that is excelling in AI generated imagery, calls this technology an “algorithmic camera”, and it’s a very accurate description. 

AI Generated Visuals are Potentially Limitless

The core value of AI photos is in the potential it opens for creatives. You could create a perfect oil painting, even if you don’t know how to hold a brush. You could create realistic images of the pyramids of Giza, even if you never left your small town in the US.  

AI Generated Art

Deepart > AI Generated Images: The Next Big Thing in Stock Media

With AI pictures, everyone can be a visual artist, and no image is out of bounds. Or at least, that’s the premise.

And some tools are already available to test this. Deepart.io a AI art generator or fotors Go Art editor, for example, are AI art generators that let you upload an image, select from a wide array of art styles (think Claude Monet, surrealism, etc.), and then generate a beautiful painting from your input. Of course, this is a previous instance of full-on AI art, which would be to have a tool with the ability to create AI-generated art from a text prompt instead of from existing images, for example. But, we are getting there.

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Besides that AI art app, there is a growing number of AI photo tools out there that can truly shift your creative process!

AI People Is The Real Gamechanger like AI Art

No image is out of bounds for AI, and that includes lifestyle photography (a.k.a. Photos of people), the most prolific stock photography genre of them all. 

You see, while photos of real people are an all-time best-seller, they are also considerably more difficult to create. You have to have models –professional or not–, and model releases. Licensing photos of people involve respecting sensitive use clauses, too. And even then, no model release is ironclad, and image misuse can still happen.

Enter AI photos of people. These are, simply put, fake people photos: realistic photos of people that aren’t real and don’t exist in the world. 

vAIsual: a Pioneer in Legally Clean, Fake People Photos

vAIsual home > AI Generated Images: The Next Big Thing in Stock Media
vaisual logo > AI Generated Images: The Next Big Thing in Stock Media

vAIsual, a company specializing in licensable, synthetic stock media –the brainchild of stock media legends Michael Osterrieder and Nico Menijes, together with business industry veterans Mark Milstein and Istvan Novak– is truly ahead of the game as earlier this year they launched their collection of AI generated faces: generate images and headshots of people that aren’t real. They achieve this by using GAN (generative adversarial network) and text-to-image tech, and their own training data. 

Not only that, but they also released their datasets for you to generate your own, high-quality fake faces images. This solves not only the issue of hiring models but also gives you complete control over how the new faces in your images look (age, gender, ethnicity, emotional expression, hairstyle, everything to your specs). Not to mention, it speeds up the production times.

vAIsual people photos > AI Generated Images: The Next Big Thing in Stock Media

And equally valuable, realistic faces of fake people eliminate the need for model releases, concerns about sensitive use, and limitations regarding how these images can be used. 

Furthermore, vAIsual has partnered with PantherMedia agency to bring their unique library of legally safe, AI headshots of people into SmarterpixPantherMedia’s free photo site–, and they’re already working full-speed to make full-body AI people photos happen. 

One interesting development in the industry regarding AI generated images is how the legal aspect of image licensing is changing to cover and regulate AI photos. See, AI has to be trained in a neural network before it can successfully turn text input into images. The way most companies are training machine learning algorithms is through real-life photos, including those of existing images of humans, most specifically their facial features – what is called biometric data. 

This brings up the issue of biometric data security, which has been of increasing relevance ever since the first AI generated images reached mass media –think of Deepfake, and the concerns several celebrities expressed over software that created realistic, animated molds of their faces that could be used in potentially any kind of way. While not as famous, lots of other people have brought up their objection to having their facial features used to train AI software, without their consent. 

Again, we have to mention vAIsual’s innovative approach. They pitch themselves as the “clean data guys”, and they truly are: their AI people images are created on the base of neural networks trained with their own, in-house shot portraits. Furthermore, all real-life models featured in those portraits signed biometrical release forms, and vAIsual owns all copyright to the synthetic images they produce. This means both their datasets –which you can license– and the AI generated images created with it, are legally clean and safely licensable. 

Not too behind, the household name in stock photography Getty Images has taken steps towards the future, too, by recently updating their model release to include AI, machine learning, and biometric data. With their new Enhanced Model Release form –developed with input from the DMLA–, the stock photo powerhouse aims at offering data privacy for models regarding the use of their likeness to train machine learning algorithms used for AI photo creation. While the legal framework for biometric data protection is still in the works, the fact a major agency like this one is already adapting their legal forms to include it, is very telling that this is where the industry is moving towards. 

Emerging Tools for AI Photo Policing

In connection with biometric data privacy, another tech field that seems to be developing is that of AI pictures policing: tools that can detect/flag photos as AI generated. 

Here people images also are the main focus. In a world where almost every platform, social media and beyond, demands a user profile picture, it might become a necessity to be able to identify fake people photos from real life ones – how sci-fi does that sound. 

And some such tools are already available. V7 Labs recently released an AI-based Chrome extension that identifies AI-generated people pictures (intended to flag fake profiles online). It claims to have a 99.2% accuracy. However, we would take that number with a grain of salt, because we tested it with vAIsual via Smarterpix AI people images… and it did not pick up a single one of them. 

vAIsual via Smarterpix fake people photos > AI Generated Images: The Next Big Thing in Stock Media

Accuracy of this specific tool aside, it is undeniable that with the perspective of AI people images spreading, it will be important to be able to tell them apart from real people photos in certain contexts. If you want to use an AI person as your video game avatar profile, that might be harmless. But if someone is using an AI photo in a fake LinkedIn profile to scam people, then it’s a problem. 

OpenAI's DALL-E
We couldn't possibly end this article without mentioning DALL-E, the AI image generator from Elon Musk's OpenAI consortium showing funny images like an astronaut riding a horse.
Much like the other pioneers we mentioned above, OpenAI developed DALL-E as an image generation system, based on their proprietary CLIP technology –which used a neural network to extract comprehensive descriptions from images–. While the original DALL E had relative effectiveness to generate images from text (combining objects in collage-style images, for example.) it was low-quality in terms of pixel count. DALL-E 2, which is currently in limited testing mode, seems to produce results of a higher quality. This system isn't intended for mass use, though, only for research.
Interestingly enough, DALL-E has also taken biometric data privacy into consideration. For example, there are a number of “tabs” that the system out rules, such as celebrity names, which prevents users from generating images with said celebrities' likeness.

AI Generated Images FAQ

As an emerging field, AI generated pictures are still unknown in a lot of aspects. Here we will quickly address the most frequently asked questions about AI generated photos.

What is generated photos? What is AI images?

The terms generated photos and AI images are pretty much interchangeable today. Generated photos refers to photography that is generated, not captured by a camera.
AI images are pictures generated through artificial intelligence software. Basically, digital images created out of thin air from a text prompt.

Can AI generate images?

Yes. A few years ago we would have to say no (or rather, not yet), but today's AI technology is capable of creating images with very impressive results, parting from text instructions and a visual database.

What is an AI art generator?

An AI art generator is a software tool that creates visual, digital art –paintings, illustrations, etc.– using AI technology. These tools let you create technically superb visual art even if you are not an artist.

Can I sell AI generated art?

Cautiously, yes. The legal frame for AI generated images to be licensable is still in the works, but as this article explains there are several companies pioneering in this aspect, particularly regarding AI people photos and biometric data management, in a way that makes it possible to sell AI generated pictures safely.

AI Generated Photos Can Only Go Forward

And that’s what’s up with AI generated images right now. It’s quite significant, if you ask us. 

To recap, vAIsual and other groundbreaking companies are making possible to create pictures of everything, including people, out of thin air. Getty Images –and potentially the whole stock photo industry– are already updating their legal forms and data security policies to cover biometric data in connection with AI software training. And other developers are coming up with tools to tell an AI generated photo from a “traditional” one. 

And the field is only in its infancy! We have to wait and see what else is to come. Are you as excited as we are? 

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Ivanna Attié

Ivanna Attié

I am Content Manager, Researcher, and Author in StockPhotoSecrets.com and Stock Photo Press and its many stock media-oriented publications. I am a passionate communicator with a love for visual imagery and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Lucky enough to enter the wonderful world of stock photography working side-by-side with experienced experts, I am happy to share my research, insights, and advice about image licensing, stock photography offers, and the stock media industry with everyone in the creative community. My background is in Communication and Journalism, and I also love literature and performing arts.

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