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AI, Machine Learning and Neural Filters Astound in Photoshop 2021

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Above: Photo Collage / Lynxotic / Adobe

Adobe has added some significant updates to Photoshop in the last 6 months. As a daily user in a digital publishing environment, we have been able to test and use many of the new features in a real-world setting. 

By way of some general background. I was a user of the CS4 bundle up until 2013 when the Creative Cloud system first launched. At first the idea of paying a monthly subscription fee rather than upgrading only when “absolutely necessary” was not immediately a comforting proposition.

However, over time the improvements, along with the huge list of including software, in addition to Photoshop, won me over. 

Adobe does face steep competition from Affinity Photo, which continues to have the “buy once-use-forever” model and also has free updates quite often.

We also use Affinity Photo and it is in many ways more user friendly than Photoshop – particularly if you are not already deep into the Adobe software UX.

At the same time, it appears that the competition has only done what competition is supposed to do: made both products better. 

The world changed when the 99% of the labor disappeared from replacing photo backgrounds 

That same competitive marketplace may even be the reason that, during the last year, Adobe’s upgrades have accelerated and become more than just ho-hum superficial changes: they are now mind-blowing, and that on a regular basis. 

Read more: Books on Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro X and DaVinci Resolve for content creators

In our shop, it really started to get interesting with the upgrade to the “quick selection tool” in June 2020. A new button was added: “select subject” removed the need to painstakingly manually select a subject (such as a person or object) and the new “select and mask” option opens a fine adjustment window to fine tune the mask.

Very often no further adjustments are needed to separate a subject from the background and then begin background layering and various other typical uses for these features. Once again, the time of this upgrade seemed to coincide with competition: a web based platform (that also built a photoshop plug-in) called Remove BG gained some popularity in late 2019, apparently prompting Adobe to fight back.

“Beginning with Photoshop 21.2 (June 2020 release), Select Subject is now content-aware and applies new custom algorithms when it detects a person is in the image. When creating a selection on portrait images, treatment around hair area has been vastly improved to create a detailed selection of hair.”

— Adobe Support

And fight back they did. The new automated “select subject” system was pretty usable at first release. But the upgrades since then have been nothing less than astounding. Sometimes it seems like the performance of this new system gets better daily, as if stealth over-the-air upgrades are happening outside of the official ones. Probably not but the bottom line is this really reduces the time and effort to nearly zero. 

Naturally, for complex or difficult photos, or for situations where an absolutely perfect high resolution separation (of, say, a very fluffy haired top model for a huge ad campaign etc.) the old, time consuming and labor intensive techniques would be required. 

But for everyday digital news style creative collage applications and any situation where it just have to look realistic (or create a fantasy tableau) it is lightening fast and very very usable. 

Neural and AI based updates have begun and will accelerate big-time in 2021

In October, 2020 Adobe introduced 8 new neural filters to the platform. In the video above you can see the general state of the filters around the time of the release. Without getting into granular detail in text, you can see the highlights and the carious methods of use in the video. 

What I want to emphasize beyond the existence and fascinating implications for these new tools is the fact that they represent just a tiny hint at the potential for these and many more totally new functions and applications that are going to explode on the scene in 2021.

These kinds of new capabilities for photo manipulation software are likely to take years to be absorbed in to the workflow and toolkit of the millions of users across the globe. And, even as we “struggle” to learn how to benefit from the lack of expertise needed to achieve results heretofore either impossible or only realized with many hours of painstaking profession work, new even more mind-blowing upgrades are coming. 

Some examples can be seen in the video below. Additionally there will be a new version of Photoshop available in 2021 to take advantage of the Apple Mac M1 chips and mac OS11 Big Sur.

These will accelerate even more the image manipulation and automated creation options within Photoshop and creative cloud. Honestly, it is now the user, with minimal effort, who will be using imagination and creativity, nearly in isolation, to create previous unimaginable images. Think = do. That’s where this is headed. 


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