The man in the moon has Instagram face
This is a loose collection of thoughts based on a brief conversation from the other night. I can’t claim any credit for any of the smart bits.
Let’s take it as a given that Samsung’s attempt to try to pass off high resolution, synthetic moon photos as some kind of enhancement to its phones’ camera systems is boorish and lame. Have some self-respect, Samsung!
The moon is notoriously difficult to photograph, even by professionals with thousands of dollars of equipment. The moon looks different sizes depending on its place in the sky but that’s just our brain playing tricks on us and we don’t even know why. None of this stops people from trying to take pictures of the moon, even (especially!) with their phones. The moon is probably the most photographed single object across everyone’s photo libraries.
Back in 2007 (the year the iPhone and it’s 2 megapixel camera were released), researchers scraped photos of landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Notre Dame Cathedral from Flickr and used those to render fairly accurate 3D models just from the flat photos. Fifteen years later, there are incalculably more photos of even relatively obscure landmarks, taken at higher resolutions, and even more powerful synthetic image generators that can be run on your phone.
I learned to shoot on film cameras. I even learned to process film and post-process in a dark room, actually dodging and burning. In journalism school, we still shot film but scanned the negatives and used Photoshop for cropping, cleanup, and color correction. The threat of failing the entire class hung over everyone who even thought about digitally altering their shots beyond basic darkroom techniques. Online, though, the world blew past that and now we’ve lived through epochs of ‘SHOPPED, Instagram filters, then #nofilter, Snapchat lenses, magic erasers, and now fully synthetic images. Even the supposedly real, unfiltered images we all take on our phones are the result of billions of calculations that compose “computational photographs”. It’s hard to argue with the results.
I certainly won’t be the one to argue that an AI-generated moon is a computational photograph. I also won’t begrudge anyone for wanting to remove that random stranger from the background of their otherwise perfectly composed selfie. I abuse portrait mode on my phone because it makes pictures of my kids look amazing. It won’t be long before we’re all carrying a neural net around in our phones that will compose perfect — too perfect — photos of anything. Even the moon.