Using AI to create stock images

For years, I’ve used repositories like Unsplash, Pexels or Nappy to find stock images for websites and blog posts. Openverse is another great spot to find Creative Commons licensed photos. These sites are winsome because the images come from amateur photographers all around the world and don’t feel staged.

Last week, a friend expanded my horizons by using OpenAI’s DALL•E 2 to create striking images. My experience with AI has largely been limited to annoying chatbots, but DALL•E 2 is different. It generates clever and unique images from text descriptions, using a dataset of text–image pairs across billions of parameters. The creators have found that it’s especially good at “creating anthropomorphized versions of animals and objects, [and] combining unrelated concepts in plausible ways.”

In my experience, DALL•E 2 is remarkable at designing imaginative poster-like scenes. But it also very serviceable for creating less dramatic images on obscure topics.

For example, I recently struggled to find a lead image for a blog post about blockchain data storage. The stock photo sites didn’t have any images close to this topic. So I asked DALL•E 2 to create a “detailed 3d diagram of large blockchain purple background”:

DALL•E 2 image results

I selected one I liked and overlayed an image of a hand holding a USB drive. Voila! The blog post image was ready in minutes:

Data Storage on a Blockchain

A few notes on my first efforts with DALL•E 2:

  • Photos come as square PNGs about 2 MB in size. That may work well for some applications, but will probably need to be downsized to load quickly. Also, the highest resolution is 1024 pixels across which makes them a bit too small for edge-to-edge photos.
  • Longer descriptions work best with DALL•E 2’s algorithms. Naming the background colour and style of art helps with the final product.
  • Whatever DALL•E 2 makes is essentially yours to keep. The terms of service are very friendly – equivalent to Creative Commons’s CC0.
  • Current costs are fairly reasonable at $15 USD for 115 image searches
  • Image searches on DALL•E 2 can be highly entertaining. You never know what will pop out!

Lead image: a “futuristic city skyline with small spacecraft, sunset in background, digital art” by DALL•E 2

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