We all know what difference great product photography makes when it comes to influencing consumers. What if I told you that a large number of the product photography you’ve been admiring over the last couple of years, wasn’t even a photograph at all?
From cars to kitchens, many of the stunning images that have been influencing you and me to part with our hard-earned cash aren't even real.
During the last decade there has been a sustained shift by both manufacturers & retailers from traditional photography to computer-generated imagery (CGI).
There’s nothing new about CGI. The first computer animated film, for example, was made in 1967. Now, however, the technology and skills involved in this application of computer graphics has reached such levels it is almost impossible to tell a digital rendering of a product apart from a photograph.
One of the pioneers of this technique are Swedish flat-pack giants Ikea. In 2006 Ikea commissioned their first CGI product shot of a humble pinewood chair. Today the company has a dedicated in-house production studio, responsible for a staggering 75% of all product imagery.
The fact that this switch to CGI has gone mostly unnoticed is testament to the quality of the imagery being produced. To ensure their products are represented as accurately as possible, the virtual models are created on a real life scale. Finishes & textures are then scanned in from a physical source, resulting in images so lifelike you can actually see the individual threads of a fabric.
Head of photography at Ikea, Anneli Sjogren, suggested in an interview with the Wall Street journal that the use of CGI was predominantly an exercise in cost saving stating:
"It's a clever way to save money. We don't have to throw away kitchens in the dumpster after the photo shoot."
It’s not just cutting back on waste that saves money. A virtual representation can be easily reconfigured. For example the same product could be shown from infinite different angles and situations, all with perfect lighting.
Cost saving isn't the only advantage that technique provides however. CGI allows businesses to create photo-realistic imagery before the product is even manufactured, allowing marketing campaigns to worked much earlier than before.
CGI also removes the limitations of what’s possible in the real world, meaning considerations such as location, weather and even the laws of physics won’t get in the way of a good photo.
For the first time in centuries, photography is no longer the best and most cost effective way to capture an image of a product.