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You can use the Lensa AI app to turn your photos into artistic portraits

You can use the Lensa AI app to turn your photos into artistic portraits

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

While scrolling through Instagram this weekend, I noticed an unusual trend in my feed: artistic renditions of my friends’ selfies. A credit to these masterpieces is the Lensa AI app, and here’s how you can use it to get your own.

Lensa AI is a free to download photo editing app launched in 2018 and available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. In late November, the app launched a “magic avatar”, which skyrocketed the app’s popularity and placed it #1 on the Apple App Store charts for both the free app category and the photo and video category.

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The “magic avatar” turns 10 to 20 selfies you upload into artistic portraits of you – as an anime, fantasy or cosmic character, among other renditions – using stable diffusion. So how do you make your own?

Although the app is free to download, you still have to pay to have your photos rendered. Once you open the app after downloading, you’ll be greeted with subscription options. To access all AI editing tools and create your “magic avatar”, you need to subscribe to one of those options.

Thankfully, there’s a seven-day free trial option available, but don’t forget to cancel it before the seven days are up or you’ll be charged $39.99 for the whole year.

Once you get past that and try to create your magical avatar, you’ll be taken to another paywall where you can choose which pack of photos to buy. I chose the 50-photo package for $3.99.

People are taking to social media to share their disbelief that Lensa AI users are paying to have these images rendered. According to Lensa AI, there is a fee for these images because “magical avatars consume massive computing power to create awesome avatars.”

After making your payment, you’ll be asked to submit 10 to 20 selfies with a warning that there’s no guarantee that all views will be good. The app advises you to submit as many selfies as possible to eliminate as many mistakes as possible.

In the privacy agreement you sign before using the app (you know – the long contracts with fine print, which we read so you don’t have to), Lensa says the photos you upload are used to train the AI, but then be removed after 24 hours.

However, in the terms and conditions, you agree to grant Lensa the right to “perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid-for, transferable, sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, distribute, create derivative works of your User Content, without any additional compensation to you,” according to Lensa.

While using a photo editing app probably poses no greater risk than general social media use, it’s worth considering the company’s policies given the history of some of the apps. A few years ago, the popular FaceApp was even flagged by the FBI as a “counterintelligence threat.”

After submitting your photos, you’ll need to wait about 20 minutes to get your results, and you can choose to be notified when your AI artist is done with your painting.

The renderings I received were very nice, and I only had about two complete duds in which the photo was disfigured in some way. My problem, however, was that most of the photos, while beautiful, didn’t really look like me. As shown below, the people in the photos don’t even look alike.

Results from the Lensa AI app

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

If you’re buying these images for a specific purpose, like getting a cool new profile picture, then it might be worth it because you can find at least one cool picture. However, if you’re just doing it for fun, like me, you’re stuck with some photos you’ll never use and you’re out $4. My suggestion: go grab a coffee instead.

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