Why Are Brands Ditching Product Photography and Moving to CGI?

Shooting products has been a staple of many photographers, but with the advantages brought by CGI, more and more companies are starting to make changes to how they create images of their products. Why are they moving, and do photographers need to adapt?

Dustin Valkema of PRO EDU Photography explains why companies are increasingly turning to CGI, and the list is compelling: if you were in charge of the marketing for a large corporation, you would almost certainly want to take advantage of the improved speed and efficiency of producing images, not to mention the massively increased versatility of the resulting assets. In terms of being able to recycle and reuse images, CGI renders simply have more longevity, and with an abundance of programmers and fast processors at their disposal, photographers will start to see themselves left behind.

Product photographers should definitely keep in mind that this is a changing market and consider how they can adapt. This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a 3D designer; instead, it can mean creating a portfolio that brings a sense of authenticity to a product that can act as a complement to the CGI within a company’s marketing.

Are you a product photographer that has seen clients move away from conventional photography and towards CGI? What are you doing to adapt? Let us know in the comments below.

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12 Comments

Martin Peterdamm's picture

I really don't get why there is still so much photographed which looks and feels cgi and would be so much easier, cheaper and faster done as cgi. The only answer for that I can imagine is, that agencys earning more when doing it the classic way. It makes a difference if you put 20% on top of a 20k photo shoot or 20% on top of a 3000 € CGI job.

Nick Bentley's picture

Other than being a photographer so I don’t want to see a side of photography lost. I have a hard time with CGI when buying things. I think it will lead to more scams if we get used to CGI images of products how do you know it even exists? Also it never really looks right maybe I’m old fashioned but having a image of the product I’m buying is quite important to me. Especially if it’s a high value item

Martin Peterdamm's picture

for E-Commerce,the Shop images that might be true, but for the Images used in advertising you will never see the difference.

Never Mind's picture

Is he recording with the in-camera microphone?

Ivan Lantsov's picture

his light bad!

Dan Seefeldt's picture

This is a fun game to play with LEGO set boxes as well. Some are photos some are renders.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

CGI can be a little too clean, too perfect and precise and a little boring looking even if it seem very real. I have a client that is getting into some CGI/360 images created in Eastern Europe, but to save money, instead of sending them fabric to digitize, I now get that to do. It has not affected my work so far, so it's a little bit of extra at least for now. I know the client is experimenting with the idea for now, but it will have to be worth spending the money to go all the way with it. I think it will be worth it in some cases, but it won't be worth the spending for everything. But I so see it being great for major companies like Ikea that sells hundreds of thousand of the same items yearly. Now I have a small client I just did some images for on a white background. Instead of an old fashion gradient made with my lights, I shot the individual items, clipped them, made a shadow and created a background with a white that has a little bit of tone in it and a short but strong dark gradient at the top and they love it. These are all aluminum items and I just come to realize after watching this article, that repeating that background does look a little artificial but pleasing. So I guess they liked that CGI look.

Graham Taylor's picture

In theory, this video makes some compelling points in favour of 3D. The reality though is that brands produce new lines at a rate that 3D cannot keep up with. I'm currently typing this from a large e-commerce studio, attached to a huge warehouse. We have around 30 shoot teams (each comprising of 3-4 people) today who will each shoot upwards of 30 individual branded items across different still-life and live-model sets. Per day thats an average of 900 fashion items going on to the web. The studio runs at that capacity 10hrs/day, 7 days/week and 364 days/year. By volume, the amount of stock that comes in every day from these brands to shoot is measured in the tonnes. We have at least two competing studios on that scale within 20 miles, with probably another dozen or so smaller studios that produce imagery for smaller brands. Our commercial online sales are increasing year-on-year by around 600%, making just shy of £1 billion in 2019. That's not taking into account 2020 during Covid where I imagine that growth has been even higher. It's an absolutely huge operation.

While CG makes sense and may well ultimately replace us in the long, long-run, the infrastructure alone you would have to replace to do that represent an enormously difficult task. CG at the moment makes sense for single-spec high value items, like limited edition or flagship models (especially in the automotive world). It has replaced some of the higher end agency shoots which, let's face it, were on borrowed time anyway.

Martin Peterdamm's picture

for e-commerce top-notch cgi is too expensive and the photography solution is too cheap in comprehension. For advertising this is the opposite.

Karl-Filip Karlsson's picture

2014 was 75% of all IKEA product CGi. So i guess they found some good workflow to get I work.

Christian Lainesse's picture

As a consumer, if the product fails to look like the CGI version, I'm not buying it.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

That's right, lots of sales people hate being that situation and when that goes back all the way to top people, there is tension in advertising departments.