There is an ongoing debate as to whether computer-generated imagery (CGI) will replace traditional photography. Whilst I personally don’t think this will (or should) happen, there is a strong argument in favour of using CGI for business in certain situations.
CGI has become much more affordable in recent years and is now becoming a viable option for product photography for businesses of all sizes. Detailed below are a few of the benefits that CGI has over traditional photography from a business perspective.
Reduced Logistics and Cost Saving
Producing product shots is often an extremely costly exercise. Hiring a professional photographer, hiring a location and building a set is a very expensive operation. Lower budget shoots are possible but cutting corners often results in an increase in time required to set up the shoot, as well as configuring the product shots, plus there will always be a minimum cost associated with good lighting.
Working with CGI studio can address many of these issues. There would obviously still be a cost associated with hiring the studio but costs associated with location hire, set building / configuration and lighting are now non-existent. Not only that, but there are no longer physical limitations in terms of set size. It is also possible to decorate the set to mirror a high-end shoot, without the costs associated with buying or hiring such decor. More often than not, producing a digital set saves a significant amount of time, which inevitably results in cost savings.
Re-usability is also a key advantage of CGI. Once a 3D scene is set up, it can exist indefinitely, as can all of the assets within that scene. This means that assets can be reused in future campaigns, significantly reducing costs.
Lighting is the most important thing when it comes to photography (both traditional photography and CGI) and for traditional photographers, consistency with lighting can be extremely challenging, particularly natural lighting (sunlight) or shoots over a number of days, where equipment must be packed away and set up again at a later date.
Once built, CG sets are permanent (unless amendments are required). The set, camera, lights and objects with a scene remain there until moved by the designer. This means that all shots will look the same and there are significantly less variables affecting how the final image looks.
Once the digital set is built and the product is in place, it is extremely easy to take any number of digital images. The camera can be located in virtually any position and there is no need to set up camera rigs. Lighting can be changed dramatically if required and then dialed down to achieve the perfect setup, which can be exceptionally time-consuming for a traditional photographer. The set can be changed with ease and products can also be swapped or added to. High quality shots can be produced throughout the shoot, to ensure the client is satisfied. There are also fewer time constraints; a CGI studio is available indefinitely and doesn’t need packing away and setting up again the following day, as with extended traditional photography shoots.
In addition to the practical benefits of CGI in terms of flexibility, there are also some additional benefits. With many companies racing to introduce their products first, physical products are often not available when images are required. This is not a problem for CGI, as the product would be created digitally anyway.
Once traditional photos have been taken, there is significantly less flexibility in terms of changing the shots compared to CGI. More often than not, serious issues are only identified once the shoot has taken place, meaning the project must be abandoned or re-shot which is obviously extremely expensive. With CGI, it’s much easier for the studio to work closely with the client, to ensure images are correct from the outset. If any issues are identified further down the line, it is much more straightforward (and less costly) to correct these.
Another longer-term benefit is the ability to change images further down the line. An example of this is a home accessory retailer, showcasing a number of products in one shot. If supply of one of the products becomes unavailable, the retailer is likely to stop using that image, which could be quite costly to the business. In a CGI shot, the product can simply be removed and the shot re-rendered, often at low cost due to the relative ease of this process for the studio.
Precision and Quality Control
Traditional photography often needs retouching, due to things outside the photographer’s control or issues only identified after the shoot has taken place. CGI gives total control over the environment in which the digital shoot is taking place. This often results in images that are “too perfect”, with 3D designers adding subtle imperfections to add to the realism of the image.
Stills and Animation
When it comes to CGI, there are surprisingly very few differences when it comes to setting up a scene for still images or animations. Most 3D design software comes with the ability to animate 3D scenes, so from a design perspective, it’s relatively straightforward to take shoots to the next step and bring the scene to life by introducing animation. This could be in the form of a subtle camera movement, right the way through to exploded product views, product demonstrations and customisation animations.
Lighting and Physics
An infinite number of lighting options are available in CGI, all of which can be produced extremely quickly. This includes natural lighting; simulating sunlight and / or clouds at any point during the day. Traditional photography is obviously very limited when it comes to shooting at a particular time of day or if the shoot is weather dependent.
In addition to real world lighting, real world physics are also extremely important in CGI, particularly in terms of animation realism. However, these physics can be tweaked to produce animations that defy the laws of physics, if a more creative scene is desired.
CGI also allows for improved capabilities of cameras compared to real world DSLRs, such as improved depth of field capabilities (i.e. how blurry the background is in relation to the object(s) in focus). Lenses can also be changed by the click of a button, rather than having to physically replace a camera lens.
CGI is great for taking advantage of future possibilities, particularly in terms of technology. The emergence of virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality means that CGI can be consumed in different forms. An example of this is showcasing CGI replicas of products in the real world using AR (which is becoming increasingly popular with furniture retailers), allowing 360° views of products in a real-world environment.
Whilst CGI does have many benefits, it would be unfair not to mention the limitations of CGI. CGI software has come a long way in recent years and it is now much easier to produce photorealistic results using 3D design software. However, some 3D models are still difficult to produce within reasonable timescales, namely clothing, soft furnishings (such as cushions), people, animals and plants, to name a few. In such circumstances, it is possible to combine CGI with traditional photography, which can result in lower costs, increased flexibility etc.
Modelling a large number small products may also be inefficient in terms of CGI. The complexity of modelling many different small 3D objects can be quite time-consuming and in these situations, the benefits of traditional photography would probably outweigh the benefits that CGI can offer, particularly from a cost perspective.
I strongly believe that there is a place in business for both traditional photography and CGI. Whether a company should use CGI, traditional photography or a combination of the two needs to be judged on case-by-case basis.
There is no escaping that fact that traditional photography has a charm that CGI will never have. However, in an increasingly competitive marketplace where speed and cost-saving are critical, you can understand why companies are increasingly looking to CGI studios to produce their product images.
About Horama Creative
We are an independent CGI / 3D graphic design studio based in Northamptonshire, UK. We work with many companies from product startups to large corporations, helping them reduce their costs by providing an alternative to traditional photography / videography. If you would like to know more about how we may be able to help your business, please get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to discuss whether CGI would be the right option for you.