Australian camera seller duped by AI photo launches man vs. machine photo contest

AI-rendered image of waves on beach

After first being fooled by an AI-rendered “photographic” submission, an Aussie camera maker decided to embrace the concept. The retailer, called DigiDirect, did so by launching a human vs. AI photo competition.

As AI-rendered photos become ever more realistic, it’s becoming hard enough to tell them apart from the real thing that even professional photo judges can be fooled.

In the case of DigiDirect’s photo competition, this was made plain for all to see when their professional judges were apparently tricked so thoroughly by a piece of AI photo rendering that they gave it the top prize.

The image, which shows waves breaking along a beach at sunset or sunrise, is visible above.

The business has now responded to the embarrassing incident by launching a whole new photo contest in which both human submissions and AI-rendered fake photos are welcome.

screenshot of photo competition advertising

image source: DigiDirect

The professional details of the party that submitted the first contest’s winning image should have been something of a giveaway too: the image was put forth by a Sydney-based AI agency called Absolutely AI.

In fact, they supposedly did this specifically to test just how convincing AI rendering can be. Overall, the whole stunt was quite a success, enough so that the attention it brought to both parties makes one wonder if it wasn’t staged right from the start.

Absolutely AI admitted to its piece of trickery shortly after winning and willfully forfeited the cash prize they would have been owed.

Since then, photographers have weighed in to say that the fake winning image was obviously rendered and shouldn’t have fooled any observant pro, while others have been a bit more awed.

Some photographers have probably also felt more than a touch of fear about the future of their profession with this further sign of things to come.

After a number of media sources around the world noted the suspicious details of the winning photo, DigiDirect responded via Instagram.

The company stated, “It’s been a crazy few weeks at digiDirect! We woke up to so many news articles featuring our weekly contest online and on social media.”

They also made sure to add,

“We are proud of our response and we are proud that our next competition (which is live on our site) involves photographers and AI artists. We are excited to see the outcome of this battle as the entries keep rolling in! Stay connected to see who will win Human or Machine.”


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A post shared by digiDirect (@digidirect)


Again, while I’m completely speculating here, DigiDirect’s judges not only supposedly being fooled by the AI image but also giving that one particular photo top prize out of all other submissions seems like a bit too much coincidence.

To this writer, the photo certainly looks like a well-done fake, especially if scrutinized as thoroughly as a winning image submitted by an AI company should be in an age of photorealistic AI art.

That the whole episode raised international media attention which the company could then take advantage of to promote its next photo competition is also fairly convenient. Absolutely AI could certainly also plausibly benefit from the same media ripples.

Whatever the case may be, DigiDirect’s current contest is indeed an interesting concept that will surely raise a ton of genuinely worthwhile consideration, so long as its judges can decide impartially.

“Man vs. Machine” is now live and letting both photographers and digital creators submit their real or AI-rendered photos to see which ones emerge as winners.

The new competition has no specific theme for submissions and the winning submission will receive an AU$1000 gift card. This is roughly $690 US dollars. The competition runs until February 26th and its site for submissions is here.

Title image credit: Absolutely AI

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Shotkit Journalist, Writer & Reviewer

Stephan Jukic is a technology and photography journalist and experimental photographer who spends his time living in both Canada and Mexico. He loves cross-cultural street photo exploration and creating fine art photo compositions.

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