Why Product Photographers Need CGI and CGI Artists Need Lighting Knowledge

I love a good debate – the more heated the better! That's why I went live on YouTube and Facebook to discuss whether 3D CGI will soon bring about the death of traditional product photography.

With CGI artists producing ever-more photorealistic results, software like Blender available to download for free, and tens of thousands of ready-made models available to download, the CGI takeover seems to be well underway.

So are cameras, studios, lights, modifiers and, most importantly, photographers on their way to becoming obsolete?

Is product photography doomed?

To answer this question, I compared photographs with CG images, talked about the pros and cons of each discipline, and answered a ton of questions from viewers keen to glimpse the future of photography.

Check out the replay in the video above.



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© Ethan Davis

All about supply and demand

The bottom line from a commercial perspective is that it all comes down to supply and demand. Clients will always want the best results at the best price. Beyond that, they are unlikely to care how an image was made. All that matters is the result.

When I compared a CG Apple Watch image created in Blender by Ethan Davis with my own photographic version, many live viewers found it hard to spot the difference. So if the outputs are almost indistinguishable from one another, all that matters from a client’s perspective is which of us can produce the assets at the lowest price.

Tag Heuer CGI

© Ethan Davis

Lighting expertise will always be essential

Of course, the main reason Ethan’s CG image looks so good is that, as a skilled product photographer in his own right, he already has the lighting expertise he needs to light his models adeptly.

Without that lighting knowledge, no CG artist will be able to produce top-quality results (unless they get extremely lucky after a long, drawn-out period of trial and error!).

You can see Ethan and I go head-to-head in a series of Photography vs Blender 3D Shootouts. The results are fascinating!


Apple Watches Shootout

Watch a play-by-play breakdown of the action as two masters of the visual arts go head-to-head to match one another's amazing work.
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Dior Sauvage CGI

© Ethan Davis

Futureproof your photography by learning 3D CGI

So, is product photography doomed? The answer is, it's complicated!

But one thing's for sure: the future belongs to hybrid photography-CGI artists equipped with a deep understanding of lighting to match their skills with software like Blender.

Rather than being scared of CGI and burying your head in the sand, my advice is to start learning to use it now. Bottom line: you won’t regret getting acquainted with 3D CGI, but you may well regret ignoring it.

That's my two cents on the matter. But what about you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. Shimmy

    Hi karl. As always, I have enjoyed your class. However, I want to kind of ask you a similar question as was the last one answered in the video – about AI generated imagery. I am not sure when was this video uploaded, but I would say at least a year ago since you are calling the platform still Karl Taylor and not Visual Education. Many things have changed since then in AI world, now even with it taking big leaps in video. So my question is – do you think, now, with what we see in AI advancements in 2024 – that CGI is still a way to go to kind of “fuse” with photography, or good and believable results can be achieved with AI even faster and more efficient still? Like an example of that bottle shot where Ethan built a background (those barrels in a cellar) for your photograph.


    1. Hi Vanya, thank you for your comments – yes this video is from a while ago and things have moved on significantly especially with Ai image creation. However Ai image creation, whether video or stills is still quite a random process with the results provided. With CGI it delivers an expected result based on exact paramaters of a product, shape, size, label, texture etc. Unless Ai provides the same control of paramaters then there will still be the requirements for photography and CGI to deliver what a client needs, also currently Ai is quite low resolution compared to photography and 3D CGI.

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