AI Prompting

AI Image Prompting 101: The Ultimate Guide to AI Image Generation

Generative AI has been a game-changer in the creative process. We’ve all seen those beautiful AI-generated images on social media that catch our attention. Perhaps you’ve considered using AI to generate your own eye-catching visuals for work, business, or personal projects. But the blank prompt field stopped you in your tracks. This article is designed to help you overcome that first hurdle and get started with AI image prompting.

The basic ideas behind AI image generation, CGI (computer-generated imagery), and 3D rendering are similar to those of photography. Much of the terminology used in this article is directly borrowed from photography.

The best place to start crafting your prompt is the subject. In visual communication, it’s ideal to have a clear focal point to draw the audience’s attention. The subject is not merely a component but the star of your visual story. If you have a clear vision of the subject in mind, be as descriptive and specific as you can. Specificity helps guide the AI model in understanding the nuances of your idea or vision.

Physical Description

Providing a detailed physical description adds depth to your subject and also helps the AI model in visualizing it. Dive into the specifics of shapes, structures, sizes, and spatial relationships. Whether it’s the “twisted branches of ancient trees” or “a spacecraft with sleek curves”, articulate the tangible elements that define your envisioned scene. These details will help the AI grasp your creative vision, ensuring a more accurate and compelling rendering of your imagined composition.

Prompt: photo of a large sleek spacecraft on the ground, parked in the middle of a dark forest at night.

Colors

Colors can breathe life into your prompt, influencing the mood and aesthetic of the generated image. Specify the color palette you have in mind, whether it’s the “warm hues of a sunset” or the “cool, metallic sheen of a cyberpunk cityscape.” Experiment with combinations that convey the desired emotions and amplify the visual impact of your AI-generated artwork.

Today, we won’t be exploring the intricacies of color theory. AI image models are trained on millions of images, providing them with a good understanding of people’s color preferences. Generally, people are more drawn to higher color contrast. Contrasting colors such as complimentary colors or the use of both warm and cool colors in an image can be aesthetically pleasing. Monochromatic color themes can also evoke certain emotions. The idea is to experiment and fine-tune the image from prompt to prompt.

Prompt: Concept art of a dark navy blue futuristic vehicle with a mesmerizing cool, metallic sheen, in a cyberpunk cityscape dominated by shades of electric blue.

Materials

Include materials in your subject to bring in texture and detail. Whether it’s “glistening marble floors,” “rustic wooden beams,” or “crystal-clear water,” mentioning materials gives the AI model a base to add intricate details to the composition. This makes the generated image visually compelling and immersive.

Think about how materials impact the feel of the scene. “Glistening marble floors” feel smooth and luxurious, while “rustic wooden beams” add warmth and age. Considering materials allows the AI model to use a broader range of details, making your images more vivid. So, as you create your prompts, think of materials as adding layers to your visual story.

Prompt: A gorgeous perfume bottle made of clear glass, reflecting and refracting light beautifully, simple background.

Orientation

Orientation is where the subject sits in three-dimensional space, covering its position, rotation, and size. If there are many subjects, explain how they’re arranged – whether they come together at a central point or spread across a wide area. You can also indicate where the subject is by positioning it in the foreground, midground, or background. Describing orientation like this helps the AI model create a balanced composition with multiple elements.

Prompt: A tall stack of pancakes topped with fresh berries, maple syrup, and powdered sugar in center of the midground.

Adjectives

Adjectives are the brushstrokes of language, adding character and emotion to your prompt. Whether it’s an “eerie forest,” a “serene seascape,” or a “futuristic metropolis,” the adjectives you choose set the tone for your composition. Try out words that create specific moods or atmospheres, guiding the AI model to understand your creative vision in depth.

Prompt: A translucent, iridescent, holographic sculpture of a lion with an ethereal glow of rainbow colors, in the center of a futuristic, minimalist home.

The Setting

The setting surrounds your subject and fills your AI-generated scene, defining its overall composition and context. Capture the essence of your vision by vividly describing the surrounding and atmosphere. Beyond being a mere backdrop, the setting is the stage where your visual story unfolds. Here, you have the power to evoke positive or negative emotions, deciding whether the subject seamlessly blends in or stands out through deliberate contrast.

Location and Environment

Define the unique environment within the broader setting to anchor your elements in a distinct world or geological location. Doing so provides essential information for the AI model to generate the scene, incorporating relevant landscape, architectural, ecological, and cultural features specific to the location. This enriches the scene with context and authenticity. Whether it’s a bustling “vibrant Moroccan bazaar teeming with activity” or a “futuristic cityscape towering over Mars,” the setting plays a crucial role in shaping the surroundings of the visual narrative.

Prompt: People strolling through a vibrant Moroccan bazaar filled with activity, daytime
Prompt: A bustling cityscape above the clouds, featuring futuristic skyscrapers and flying vehicles.

Atmosphere and Mood

Even within the same location, the atmosphere and mood can vary drastically due to elements such as lighting, fog, colors, textures, and shapes. Consider the location and environment as the physical foundation, while the atmosphere and mood consist of ephemeral elements that influence how the environment is interpreted.

For example, a log cabin might radiate warmth and invitation on a sunny day but take on an eerie and uncomfortable aura on a rainy night. Among these atmospheric elements, lighting stands out as a prominent one, as we’ll explore in the next section. The distinction between a clear day and a foggy afternoon, the lush greenery of a plant-lined city versus the cold gray of a concrete jungle, or the contrast between soft, fluffy pillows and hard, jagged rocks— all these elements can alter the perception of your scene.

Prompt: A charming log cabin in the forest on a beautiful, sunny day.
Prompt: A creepy log cabin in a dark forest on a wet, eerie, rainy night.
Prompt: A sunny coastal day with waves, a lighthouse, and clear blue skies.
Prompt: A foggy coastal evening with mist, a lighthouse's beam, and a mysterious seascape.

Foreground, Midground, and Background

In building a captivating visual story, it’s not just about where your main subject goes but also how other elements are positioned. Picture your scene in three distance ranges: things closest make up the foreground, objects farthest away from the viewpoint form the background, and everything in between becomes the midground.

Traditional compositions often include foreground, midground, and background to create a sense of depth and dimension. However, you also have the creative freedom to skip one or two layers when shaping your composition.

Prompt: A long shot of a deer grazing in the midground during the day, vibrant wildflowers in the foreground, and a mountain range stretching across the background.

Lighting

In any given image, the interplay of light and shadows (the absence of light), holds the power to transform a scene into a dynamic masterpiece. This section delves into the nuances of crafting prompts that masterfully leverage lighting, allowing you to guide the AI model in creating visually stunning and atmospherically rich compositions.

Light Source

Lighting adds depth and mood to your images. Soft, diffused lighting creates a gentle and comfortable ambiance. Sharper, harsher lighting, on the other hand, enhances contrast and drama.

The softness of the light is influenced by three factors: size of the light source, its distance from the subject, and the presence of physical diffusers. Larger or closer light sources result in softer lighting and shadows, while smaller or more distant sources produce sharper contrasts. Physical diffusers, whether artificial like a lightbox or natural like clouds, increase the softness of light. While you don’t have to know the technicalities of lighting, simply describing the lighting in natural language goes a long way.

Specify the lighting type, whether you’re describing “soft, diffused sunlight casting gentle hues” or “harsh artificial light creating stark contrasts.” Detailing lighting conditions in your prompts guides the AI model in rendering visual elements with the intended luminance and ambiance.

Prompt: Mojave dessert on a scorching day in the afternoon, blinding sunlight beating down, overexposed.
Prompt: Mojave desert on a serene fall night, illuminated by the soft glow of the moonlight deep indigo sky with a few stars.

AI prompt (left image): A marble statue bathed in soft, diffused sunlight, casting gentle hues and emphasizing its smooth contours.

AI prompt (right image): A marble statue illuminated by harsh, artificial light, creating dramatic shadows and accentuating its stark features.

Time of Day

For outdoor scenes, the time of day or the weather can easily change the way the sun illuminates our subject. Around noon, sunlight is at its harshest, beaming down without any diffusion, resulting in overexposed highlights and small, dark shadows. On overcast days, clouds act as natural diffusers, creating a softer light, especially flattering for human subjects. At dawn and sunset, because the sunlight has to travel through the atmosphere at an angle before reaching the subject, filtering the light and leaving us with beautiful dramatic hues of orange. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “golden hour” in photography.

AI prompt (left image): A water fountain in a garden at noon.

AI prompt (right image): A water fountain in a garden at dusk.

Camera

Although AI image prompting doesn’t involve a physical camera, it’s still crucial to consider camera parameters. This is because AI models are trained on vast datasets of real-world images, and the prompts serve as instructions for the AI to simulate the principles and aesthetics found in traditional photography. Even if the final image isn’t a photo, considering a camera’s perspective helps you plan the composition and viewpoint.

This section explores the intricacies of crafting prompts that manipulate camera angles, distances, focal lengths, lens characteristics, and camera settings. By doing so, it equips you with the tools to guide the AI model in creating compositions that reflect your envisioned cinematic style.

Shot Distance

The shot distance determines the distance between the viewpoint and the subject. Each shot distance serves a distinct purpose, with longer or wider shots typically capturing the subject’s environment, and closer shots focusing on intricate details or facial expressions.

Clarity is crucial in prompting to avoid confusion for the AI. In photography, the terms “wide” and “long” are frequently interchangeable when referring to shot distances. However, in AI prompting, using “wide” might be misinterpreted as describing focal length (which will be discussed later). It may involve some trial and error.

Extreme Long Shot (Extreme Wide Shot)

An Extreme Long Shot captures an expansive view, portraying vast landscapes or cityscapes. This shot type establishes context and sets the scene, immersing the viewer in the broader environment. It’s particularly suited for establishing shots in storytelling or showcasing the grandeur of a setting.

Prompt: Extreme Wide Shot of a person standing extremely far away in a vast, fantastical landscape with a distant castle on the horizon.

Very Long Shot (Very Wide Shot)

The Very Long Shot extends the narrative canvas, providing a wide view to capture extensive landscapes or intricate environments. Its purpose is to establish context and immerse the viewer in the broader setting. This shot is ideal for showcasing majestic landscapes or intricate architectural compositions.

Prompt: Very Long Shot of a lone cowboy riding a horse very far away in a Western landscape, under the expansive sky.

Long Shot (Wide Shot)

The Long Shot frames the subject within its surroundings, providing a comprehensive view. It is well-suited for illustrating spatial relationships, showcasing action, or presenting characters within their environment. Commonly used in film and photography, this shot type is employed to establish locations and introduce characters.

Prompt: Long Shot of an astronaut far away in a Martian landscape, under an otherworldly sky.

Full Shot

A full shot frames the entire subject, offering a clear view of their body and posture. This shot is effective for capturing characters in motion or showcasing their complete presence within the scene. Often used in fashion photography or cinematography, it serves to display outfits and highlight physical movements and body gestures.

Prompt: A full shot of an explorer with a torch in ancient ruins at night, surrounded by ancient architecture and overgrown vegetation.

Medium Long Shot (Medium Full Shot)

Slightly closer than the full shot, the medium long shot frames the subject from the knees up. This shot provides a more intimate perspective while still allowing for a comprehensive view of the subject’s body and posture. It strikes a balance between capturing details and maintaining a broader context within the scene.

Prompt: A medium full shot of a musician playing a guitar on a city street.

Medium Shot

A medium shot frames the subject from the waist up, emphasizing facial expressions and body language. It’s a standard choice for dialogues, character interactions, and scenes that require a moderate level of intimacy without sacrificing context. This shot allows viewers to connect with the subjects emotionally while still understanding their surroundings.

Prompt: A medium shot of an artist sculpting clay in a cozy art studio.

Medium Close-Up Shot

The medium close-up shot brings the focus to the subject’s face and upper torso. It’s highly effective for conveying emotions and subtle nuances in expressions while maintaining enough distance to show hand gestures. This shot is often chosen for scenes that demand a heightened emotional connection, allowing viewers to intimately connect with the character’s facial expressions and gestures.

A medium close-up shot of a business professional standing in a meeting

Close-Up Shot

A close-up shot zeroes in on the subject’s face, capturing detailed expressions and emotions. It’s a powerful tool for creating intimacy and emphasizing specific features. This shot is commonly used in emotional or impactful scenes, allowing the audience to focus on the nuances of the character’s feelings.

Prompt: A close-up shot of a weathered face of an elderly person, wisdom and life experiences etched in every wrinkle.

Extreme Close-Up Shot

The extreme close-up shot zooms into minute details, focusing on a specific part of the subject, such as the eyes or hands. It intensifies emotional impact and highlights intricate elements. This shot is employed for heightened tension, intimacy, or to draw attention to specific details, creating an intense visual experience.

Prompt: An extreme close-up shot of a person's eyes welling up with tears.

Viewing Angle

In this article, I will use the terms camera angles and viewing angles interchangeably. While shot distance defines the space between the subject and the viewpoint, the viewing angle indicates the vertical relationship between them. Put simply, it describes whether the viewpoint is above, at the same level, or below the subject.

Top-Down Shot (90°)

The top-down shot, captured directly from above, is ideal for showcasing layout, patterns, and intricate details. It’s commonly employed in scenes requiring an overhead view, such as architectural designs, landscapes, or organized compositions.

High Angle Shot (45°)

A high angle shot looks down on the subject from an elevated position. It’s often utilized to convey the subjects’ vulnerability or power dynamics. This angle can also emphasize the subject’s surroundings and create a nuanced atmosphere.

Prompt: high-angle shot 45-degree from above photo a woman standing and looking up at the camera from a distance, expression of uncertainty.

Eye-Level Shot (0º)

The eye-level shot is a classic, capturing the subject straight-on without any tilt. It establishes a direct connection between the viewer and the subject, making it suitable for portraits, interviews, or scenes requiring a neutral and straightforward approach.

Prompt: eye-level view of a cheerful black man with a friendly smile, wearing light blue oxford shirt, city background

Low Angle Shot – Hero Shot (-15°)

The low angle shot is also known as the hero shot. This view introduces an upward angle, highlighting the subject’s stature and creating a heroic or empowering effect. This angle is commonly used for character introductions or moments of triumph.

Prompt: low-angle view of a heroic knight on horseback exiting a castle gate, against a vibrant sunset-lit sky.

Extreme Low-Angle Shot – Worm’s Eye View (-60°)

The extreme low-angle view, often referred to as the worm’s eye view, is captured from a dramatically low perspective, evoking feelings of awe, dominance, or vulnerability for the viewer. This angle is particularly impactful in scenes where the subject towers over the viewer, creating a strong visual impression. However, be cautious when using the term ‘worm’s eye view’ in your image prompt, as it might occasionally lead to confusion for the AI.

Prompt: Extreme Low-angle View of a majestic, massive Sequoia tree, saturated colors, against the backdrop of a pale blue sky

Focal Length

Focal length, measured in millimeters (mm), is a characteristic of a camera lens representing the optical distance from the point where light rays converge to the camera’s sensor, forming a sharp image. While you don’t need to know the physics behind it, understanding focal length can help you generate better images with AI as it influences the field of view, magnification, and lens distortion.

Field of view controls how wide an angle of the scene can be captured. A wider field of view (smaller focal length) will produce less magnification and a rounder appearance of the objects in the frame. A narrower field of view (larger focal length) leads to higher magnification, and objects in the frame will appear flatter.

AI models may not always accurately interpret various focal lengths. Experimenting with focal lengths, shot distances, and apertures can help create more realistic images that match your artistic vision.

18mm Focal Length

An 18mm focal length offers an ultra-wide-angle view, capturing expansive scenes with a broad perspective. It’s ideal for landscape photography, architectural shots, or any scenario where you want to emphasize the vastness of the environment. While wider-angle lenses exist, the 18mm remains a popular choice for prime lenses and serves as a solid starting point for this comparison.

Prompt: Close-up of cute squirrel in a park, 18mm ultra-wide-angle lens, lens distortion.

24mm Focal Length

The 24mm focal length offers a versatile wide-angle view, well-suited for portrait, street, and landscape photography. While wider-angle lenses exist, the 24mm remains a popular choice for prime lenses and serves as a solid starting point for this comparison.

The wide angle is great for capturing expansive landscapes and offers a broader background view in portrait and street photography. However, due to its wide-angle nature, it introduces significant distortion, making elements in the image appear rounded as if within a sphere. This distortion is more noticeable at the edges. Also, it often requires a closer viewpoint to properly frame the subject.

Prompt: Close-up of cute squirrel in a park, 24mm wide-angle lens, lens distortion.

35mm Focal Length

The 35mm focal length offers a moderate wide-angle view that is slightly wider than the standard. This makes it an excellent choice for street photography, environmental portraits, and scenes where the aim is to capture a broader context without introducing excessive distortion.

Prompt: Close-up of cute squirrel in a park, 35mm wide-angle lens, lens distortion.

50mm Focal Length

The 50mm focal length is often referred to as the “standard” or “nifty fifty.” It closely approximates human vision and is versatile for various applications, including portraits, street photography, and general-purpose shooting. Its field of view is roughly similar to how the human eye perceives the world, resulting in images that feel intuitively familiar. This characteristic makes the 50mm a preferred choice for distortion-free portrait photography, maintaining the natural appearance of facial features.

Medium Close-up of a cute squirrel in a park, 50mm lens.

85mm Focal Length

An 85mm focal length introduces a telephoto effect, narrowing the angle of view and providing a flattering perspective for portraits. It is preferred for capturing subjects with a more natural and less distorted appearance. Due to this quality, it is quite popular with portraits and food photography.

Prompt: Medium Close-up of a cute squirrel in a park, 85mm lens.

105mm Focal Length

The 105mm focal length continues the telephoto trend, offering even more magnification. It is great for portrait photography, providing a comfortable working distance while maintaining a pleasing compression of facial features. It is a popular focal length for macro photography where you want a shallow depth of field (blurry background) to isolate the subject.

Prompt: Medium Close-up of a cute squirrel in a park, 105mm lens.

135mm Focal Length

The 135mm focal length further narrows the angle of view and provides magnification. It is the longest practical focal length for portrait photography. Some portrait photographers prefer this focal length, especially for capturing headshots with a smooth and ‘creamy’ background blur (bokeh). However, personal preferences play a role, and it’s important to note that its magnification requires the viewpoint to be quite far to properly frame the subject.

Prompt: Medium Close-up of a cute squirrel in a park, 135mm lens.

200mm Focal Length

Focal lengths of 200mm or higher belong to telephoto lenses, ideal for isolating subjects from a distance. These lenses are preferred in wildlife photography, sports photography, astrophotography, or any scenario requiring bringing distant subjects closer. As the focal length exceeds 200mm, the image examples may appear similar, and the distance between the subject and the viewpoint needs to increase to maintain a consistent framing.

Prompt: Medium Close-up of a cute squirrel in a park, 200mm lens.

Special Lenses

There are times when you want to introduce special effects to your image. While these effects can be artificially produced with image editing after the fact, they were once created only with special lenses. In this section, we will explore the use cases of these camera lenses.

Fisheye lens

While we were just on the topic of focal length, fisheye lenses are a type of special lens that can have a field of view of up to 180 degrees. They offer an ultra-wide-angle view with pronounced distortion, creating a convex, spherical appearance. They are great for capturing expansive scenes or tight spaces with a surreal, distorted aesthetic. Fisheye lenses are popular for experimental and creative compositions.

Prompt: Fisheye lens, medium close-up photo of a cute dog playing on the beach.

Tilt-Shift Lens

Tilt-shift lenses are often used to create a miniature effect. These lenses enable the photographer to tilt and shift the lens elements, providing control over the plane of focus and perspective distortion. These lenses are often employed for architectural photography to correct converging lines in buildings or to achieve the miniature effect by manipulating the depth of field (focus vs. blurriness).

Prompt: Tilt-shift lens of a bustling cityscape, emphasizing miniature-like buildings and streets.

Lensbaby

Lensbaby lenses introduce selective focus and intentional optical aberrations, allowing photographers to achieve dreamlike and ethereal effects. They are versatile tools for creating unique portraits, emphasizing specific elements within the frame while adding a touch of artistic distortion.

Prompt: Lensbaby:1.5 portrait of a person in a field of wildflowers.

Infrared Lens

Infrared lenses capture light beyond the visible spectrum, producing surreal, otherworldly images. These lenses are often used for landscape photography, emphasizing the contrast between living vegetation and non-living elements, resulting in ethereal and mystical scenes.

Prompt: Infrared Lens photo of a beautiful lake and mountain.

Pinhole Lens

Pinhole lenses eliminate glass elements, relying on a tiny aperture to create ethereal, lo-fi images. They produce soft focus, infinite depth of field, and a distinctively dreamlike quality. Pinhole lenses are favored by artists seeking a minimalist and experimental approach to photography.

Prompt: Pinhole camera photo of a street view, heavily distorted.

Camera Settings

So far, we’ve covered the spatial relationship between the camera and the subject in the form of shot distance and camera angle. We also looked at how different camera lenses can affect the appearance of images. Now, let’s explore camera settings, which are mainly focused on exposure—controlling how light is being captured by the camera sensor.

The three key settings to know are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These variables, dating back to the era of film cameras, have served photographers in capturing a diverse array of images even with identical camera setups. Given AI’s ability to replicate these settings, understanding them remains essential when crafting your AI image prompts.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the duration (in seconds) for which the camera’s shutter remains open, determining how long the sensor is exposed to light. Fast shutter speeds freeze motion and capture crisp details in dynamic scenes, making them ideal for sports or action photography. Conversely, slow shutter speeds introduce motion blur, conveying a sense of movement or emphasizing the flow of time. This setting plays a vital role in controlling exposure and creatively manipulating the perception of motion in AI-generated images.

Short Shutter Speed (Fast Shutter Speed)

This is one of those prompt elements that might confuse the AI a bit, as a fast shutter speed will produce a completely still or slower-looking image. To keep it clear, use ‘short’ instead of ‘fast’ when referring to a fast shutter speed in your AI image prompt. Short shutter speeds will give you still images with little to no motion blur. Since the shutter opens and closes quickly, not much light gets in, making the image look darker. Usually, adjustments to aperture and ISO are made to compensate for the lower light exposure.

Prompt: Sharp photo of a flowing river in a forest during the day, 1/1000s ultra-short shutter speed, crystal-clear water.

Slow Shutter Speed (Long Shutter)

As you probably guessed, slow shutter speeds will create an image with lots of motion blur. Generally, shutter speeds slower or longer than 1/8s (one-eighths of a second) will create very obvious motion blur. The shutter speed can be as slow as 30 seconds or even longer. You can think of it as taking a video clip and stacking all the frames into one still photo. Since the shutter stays open for a long time, a lot of light is captured by the sensor, and the image can easily be overexposed without adjusting other settings to compensate.

Prompt: Photo of a flowing river in a forest during the day, 1/2s long shutter speed, crystal-clear water.

Aperature

Aperture is the opening in the camera lens that lets in light. It is represented by the f-number (sometimes called F-stop), such as f/1.8 or f/16. A small f-number means a wide opening, and vice versa. Aperture affects brightness and depth of field (what’s in focus vs. what’s blurry).

The aperture is often adjusted in portrait photography to emphasize the subject. Conversely, a narrow aperture (large f-number) increases depth of field, keeping more elements in focus. Understanding aperture equips you with the ability to guide the AI model.

Wide Aperture (Small f-number)

A wide aperture is indicated by a low f-number, typically between f/1.4 and f/5.6. Opening the aperture to its widest setting is often called being “wide open” in photography. With a wide aperture, only a small range of distance from the camera is in focus. This is particularly useful for portraits and product photos, emphasizing the subject’s details against a blurry background. As the f-stop number decreases, fewer objects in the frame are in focus, resulting to a blurrier background.

Prompt: Photo of Diego, a Hispanic teenager, at a vibrant park with towering trees, expansive fields, and a picturesque landscape, f1.8 aperture.

Narrow Aperture (High f-number)

A narrow aperture is represented by a high number, generally between f/11 to f/32. It allows a large range of distance from the camera to be in focus. This is ideal for landscape, architecture, or any scenes where you want to capture a lot of details in the frame. The higher the f-number, the sharper everything in the frame becomes.

Many AI models appear to struggle with recreating portraits with a narrow aperture, as most tend to prefer using a wide aperture for portraits. To be honest, it took me a while to craft a prompt for this example. After many rounds of trial and error, I ended up using a negative prompt along with the original prompt.

Prompt: Photo of a vibrant park with towering trees, expansive fields, and a picturesque landscape, and close-up portrait of Diego, a Hispanic teenager, f32 aperture. Negative Prompt: Bokeh, shallow depth of field, blur, blurry background.

ISO

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) measures the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. While also influencing brightness, ISO is the final piece of the puzzle after configuring shutter speed and aperture. It’s often used to compensate for insufficient lighting, especially in low-light conditions. But the tradeoff for increased light sensitivity is undesirable image noise.

When it comes to AI prompting, ISO isn’t a significant concern. Most AI models can enhance lighting without introducing image noise. It’s only useful when aiming for realism.

Low ISO

Low ISO values (e.g., ISO 100 or 200) produce images with minimal noise and high image quality, making them suitable for well-lit environments.

Prompt: Photo of the Venice Grand Canal, at night, ISO 100, 1/20s shutter speed, f11 aperture, very dark.

High ISO

Higher ISO values (e.g., ISO 800, 1600, or beyond) are employed in low-light situations but may introduce grain or noise.

Prompt: Photo of the Venice Grand Canal, at night, ISO 6400, 1/20s shutter speed, f11 aperture, noise.

Artistic Style

Up to this point, our focus has been on achieving realism through physical descriptions of the subject, lighting, and camera variables. Even if you aim to create a stylized image, real-world variables still apply. Consider Disney’s Toy Story; despite being an animated movie, its creators incorporated real-world techniques to deliver believable and immersive results.

Art Media and Stylization

Specifying the art media and stylization helps the AI in transforming your prompt into the desired artistic form. Whether you want to generate a serene watercolor painting, an expressive chalk pastel drawing, or a surrealist oil paint masterpiece, your options are endless. Depending on the AI image generation platform you’re using, some may offer a direct option to select an art style on their interface, while others might require you to include it in your text prompt.

The provided image examples share the same text prompt: “Portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.” The only variation in their prompt configuration is the inclusion of the selected art style. For those not available in the style dropdown, I simply specified the art style at the beginning of the text prompt.

Photographic

Style: Photographic. Prompt: Portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Neon Punk

Style: Neon Punk. Prompt: Portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Anime

Style: Anime. Prompt: Portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Digital Art

Style: Digital Art. Prompt: Portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Fantasy Art

Style: Fantasy Art. Prompt: Portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Watercolor

Style: Auto. Prompt: Watercolor portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Oil Paint

Style: Auto. Prompt: Oil paint portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Pencil Sketch

Style: Auto. Prompt: Pencil sketch portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Chalk Pastel

Style: Auto. Prompt: Chalk pastel portrait of Sujin Kim, a young woman, backdrop of a bustling street fair.

Reference Other Artists or Photographers

Draw inspiration from other artists and photographers to gain insights into stylistic choices and techniques. Identify creators whose work aligns with your envisioned style, and include the artist’s name into your text prompt. Remember to give proper credit to the artist by attaching the text prompt to your image.

Tips and Tricks

Hopefully, this comprehensive guide to AI image prompting has provided you with the knowledge to kickstart your journey into AI image generation. To sum it up, a formula could look something like this:

{Artistic style / Art media} of {Physical descriptions}, {Colors}, {Adjectives}, {Subject(s)}, with {Materials}, arranged in {Orientation}, placed in {Setting}, illuminated with {Lighting type}, at {Time of day}, captured at {Camera angle}, from {Shot distance}, using {Focal length in mm lens} / {Special lens}, with {Shutter speed in secs}, {Aperture f(1-32)}, and {ISO (100~16000)}, {Optional artist name(s)}.

This formula serves as a flexible framework for you to input your ideas and fill in the blanks. AI image prompts can be as concise or detailed as you like. Adjusting the prompt strength determines how closely the AI follows your text prompt. Adding more details to your text prompts also means more control over the image generation process. On the flip side, shorter prompts allow the AI more creative freedom.

A useful strategy is to gradually increase the length of text prompts. Start with a vague prompt to brainstorm ideas, then refine it based on the generated images. Don’t hesitate to tweak the prompt if the AI misunderstands. Look for elements you like and specify them in each round, gradually increasing prompt details.

AI image prompting is a journey of trial and error. So don’t let the empty prompt field stop you from generating images. This guide should provide you with a solid framework and the tools to build your repertoire. With practice, AI image prompting will become second nature and a valuable skill in your creative toolbox. Happy prompting!

Kelvin Chow

About Kelvin Chow

Kelvin is a product designer with over a decade of user-centered and business-focused experience. He has spent years leading end-to-end design for mobile apps, web platforms, and software-hardware experiences. Passionate about empowering creatives and entrepreneurs, he also founded Adept Dept, an AI-powered SaaS platform helping bring ideas to life with ease.