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AI innovations coming to school portrait market


Artificial intelligence (AI) is making inroads in almost every aspect of society today. AI suggests which TV shows you watch, what songs you listen to and what products are shown while online shopping.

TJ Rak

In the portrait market, AI is starting to make in-roads, too. TJ Rak, who grew up in his family’s portrait studio in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, is one such innovator. His latest startup, Skylab, shows how AI can bring efficiency and production enhancements to volume photography, without sacrificing quality. While AI may sound intimidating, Rak says it’s too valuable of a tool to not use.


“AI is based on user data,” he explains. “ ‘You like this, so you might like that’ type of suggestive selling. It’s everywhere and it’s not necessarily something to fear.”


And the benefits are obvious, he says. Skylab uses artificial intelligence to provide professional volume photographers with a single tool for retouch, crop, color, and extraction.


“AI doesn't get tired after about four hours retouching,” he says. “It doesn't start losing its focus, quality, and consistency. “


In a tight labor market - especially the current one, due to COVID-19 - AI-powered tools are becoming more important.


“It was one of those innovations by necessity type of problem for us this past year,” he said. The family business couldn’t have a lot of operators in the lab or in the darkroom. “We had to figure out a way to keep production moving with the short staff.”


Even when analyzing data from over a decade of images, though, brought a set of challenges. A long-time operator may have an understanding of color from years of experience but trends and biases can change over time. All this needs to be considered when deciding what the baseline will be.


“When the machine starts giving you a ground truth of a color value,” he said, “you’re making it your friend. You can work with it and you can manage expectations on how to us it. It’s a tool.”

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