Fake Plastic Trees

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As photographers or artists, are we obligated to give away our creative secrets?

I’ve been dwelling on this question since grade school, when I refused to teach a friend how to write bubble letters because it felt like a magician revealing their sleight of hand. Decades later, I recognized a generosity of spirit while watching my favorite photographers give away their trade secrets so that anyone could create their style of photos.

I wanted to develop this quality of openness in myself, and squash out any kind of “lack mentality” that operates like there’s a scarcity of inspiration or creative methods. Art begets art, and sharing is a good thing.

Failed Experiment #1
An AI moth pasted onto a photo of a miniature sky with grass.
Are those legs? Antennae? Does a moth like grass?

But here I am, all these years later, wondering: Should I announce that my photos contain fake bits? Is it a deceitful secret? Does that fact steal away the magic I’m trying to create and cheapen my creative endeavors? Do I overthink everything and need to be sedated? 

For years I’ve collected “background” photos – images I would deem worthy if only they had a creature to sit in its center. And suddenly, with the revelation of AI generators like DALL•E, these photos are finally getting their subjects. 

Failed Experiment #2
An AI deer pasted onto a pic of a Christmas tree lot. That smeared look is a telltale sign of an AI image.

You guys, my animals, of late, are fake. 

I’ve discovered the wizardry of conjuring a counterfeit focal point for my real photos, via AI. This clearly breaches the border between photography and digital art, and I feel sheepish about using it without full disclosure. But this is very exciting for someone like me. Limitless possibilities with no copyright infringement and no need for a trained bear or taxidermy duck.

An AI dog pasted into the back of a real truck.
An AI cat pasted into a real alley. My prompt requested a “backlit alleycat”.

What do you think? Do you feel compelled to announce your methods? Is AI an innocent fiction or a fraudulent scourge on all things art? 

An AI rabbit gently placed into a real pile of sticks at the park.


  1. Our family (as you can imagine) have been playing with AI for a while. But not as beautifully as you. And I think that’s the key here; even if I knew how to do this theoretically I bet the results wouldn’t be nearly as pretty as these. I think your secret is safe with me!

    • That is such a lovely thing to say. Thank you ❤️

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