Extremely Realistic Computer Generated Imagery is Killing Photography Jobs


One half of the face above is a photograph, and the other half is a highly detailed computer generated rendering created using a program called KeyShot by Luxion. Can you tell which is which? If you can’t tell, why should we? (Okay, to be honest, we’re not sure either).

Joseph Flaherty over at Wired writes that KeyShot and other programs that can generate photorealistic renders are being widely used for product photos these days, and are quickly killing off jobs that were once held by photographers.

Flaherty says that many of the product photographs you see these days aren’t photos at all, but similar photorealistic renders that didn’t involve a camera at any stage:

For product shots, KeyShot is a control freak’s dream. Unlike photographs, the images it produces show no greasy fingerprints and are unmarred by dust. “If someone puts their heart and soul to a product, they want the images to be perfect,” says Jensen.

Technically, KeyShot works by simulating the scattering of photons as they bounce around in a scene and interact with the different materials.

Check out this Nikon D60 product photo, which was created entirely on a computer:


The KeyShot website has a gallery that currently has 13 pages full of these renders. Here’s a sampling of the images that might fool your eyes if you were to see them inside an advertisement somewhere (some companies are starting to go 100% CGI for their promotional materials these days):

gallery-0002 copy

gallery-0054 copy

gallery-0065 copy

You can find out more about how this kind of rendering works over on the KeyShot website, or head on over to Wired to read Flaherty’s piece on how the world of photography is being rocked by this technology.

Hyper-Realistic CGI Is Killing Photographers, Thrilling Product Designers [Wired]

Thanks for sending in the tip, Eric!

  • Banan Tarr

    All else being equal, and full disclosure being present, it does not matter how the final image is acquired, whether captured, created, or anything in between.

  • Forbs

    Well, photography will still survive as an art form, and in the form of product photography for people who cannot afford this type of rendering.

    And in the form of people photographing their food.

  • Mansgame


  • CrackerJacker

    Right side is faked. Pretty easy to spot. Even the product shots of lifeless, cold objects are even more lifeless and cold.

  • TSY87

    this makes sense for product photography… It is so annoying trying to get every piece of dust or smudge off an item… then you also have to worry about reflections and whatnot. Sure all those issues can be resolved with photoshop or good planning, but i would imagine a skilled digital artist would be able to create an image from any angle much much faster.

  • Marvin Bowen

    see “Graphic artists vs photography” ca. 1930. (actual dates may vary)

  • Marvin Bowen

    Thanks for the reminder! My lunch almost got away before being ‘Instagrammed’. WHEW!

  • Gregor_Albrecht

    Indeed, The Nikon and RED renders are horrible.

  • Gregor_Albrecht

    A friend of mine works for Ikea as product photographer. They are trying to switch to computer generated images (CGI) for some time now.
    People already produce images you can’t tell apart from photos but it’s still very time consuming and requires a lot of skill.

  • ietion

    From my experience, knowing BOTH worlds (cgi and photography) is the ultimate tool. Some things are easier / cheaper one way, some are not. I very often end up combining both. Having started from CGI, now that I know 1-2 things about photography I realise how important it is. There is more to a photographer than just holding the camera.

  • Adhemar Dellagiustina

    Right side is the computer created. Easy to spot now but getting much better. Give it a couple years and we won’t be able to tell.

  • CrackerJacker

    Does it? I have a couple friends who do product photography and they do gorgeous work in a time efficient manner. I can’t imagine that it is faster, cheaper or better working in CGI. Now if you want a great 3D interactive image, sure, but as a photo replacement, perhaps I just don’t understand the economies of it.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    Well, imagine showing off the samples to a client and them being able to ask: hey, can you rotate that just a little more?

  • TSY87

    im not denying that there are some very talented people out there… but I remember seeing a video of a photoshoot for an iphone use for marketing (actually I think it was posted here). Anyway, the end result looked amazing, but the amount of pictures they took for only one perspective was a lot, then add on the time it took to edit, add in a screen image, etc… Now imagine doing the same thing for every single angle you want to show. Considering most all products these days are designed on a computer it doesnt seem that far off to just use those schematics and dressing them up for catalog use.

    I dont think we are at that level yet for people…. but for most consumer goods, I think CGI is the way to go.

  • TSY87

    considering it was an image of the d60… it was probably a very old render… the RED camera doesnt have much of an excuse though… the ipod and windows 8 tab look good though!

  • CrackerJacker

    iPod is also a Nokia, so it can’t be THAT good! ;)

  • Monteraz

    Look good at this ridiculous web size, I would like to see this in a larger print size compared to a good DSLR (or whatever) photo…

  • TSY87

    hahaha FAIL on my end…

  • Scott Verge

    Even if you can tell the difference, the general public won’t care and won’t notice.

  • Marco

    This is hardly new. Almost all car commercials are computer generated. Whether you’re a CG artist or a photographer, you still have to be good at what you do.

  • Michael Choi

    Same is happening with actors in the TVs, Movies, and Games.

  • Chris Newhall

    And portraiture. Nobody wants a CGI render of their family.

  • Dave

    Which begs the question: Why not just take a photo of it? At least for now when CGI rendering resources may still cost more than a photographer.

  • Dave

    Interesting. I picked the left side for the CG work.

  • Christopher Eaton

    Yep, you’re right, the right one is obvious. And, your right as well on the depth… they are all flat without any pop.

  • Chris Pickrell

    So what do we do when everything is created by computers, and no one can afford to buy it because they dont’ have jobs? Will we finally have a Star Trek economy/culture like I’ve always wanted?

  • photoman

    I guess for product photography this will be the way to go, since for most stuff the necessary 3D models area already created during design. It is then only a matter to do a render which can be done reasonably quick.

  • Chris

    This won’t kill photography. They forget to mention how many WEEKS and MONTHS it can take to build a model, texture it, rig it, etc… Metal? Easy – anything more organic and things get tedious. This program renders fast and that’s all good and fine… but the what it’s rendering isn’t cheap or fast to initially build. I once almost got a custom cgi room made for commercial background. I just wanted a simple room, no frills – $3,000 was my quote, and that’s from a small market shop. Ended up shooting at a convention center with a nice architectural design – $0.00

  • Michal Rosa

    Yes, sure, killing jobs. When the “talkies” were introduced theatre musicians protested that it would cost them their jobs so movies should remain silent. I’m sure horses felt the same way when they saw the first car.

  • Forbs

    There’s probably a great future for this in porn though.

  • Eziz

    Market dictates! It might “kill” photography jobs, but won’t kill photography. I think the latter is more important, to me at least.

  • tertius_decimus

    How this is going to kill photography? Constructing and texturing are much more complicated than usual setting up everything in studio and BANG! If something is going to be harder, why anyone will choose this time consuming thing over photography?

  • Ed Steinerts

    As someone who does both, CGI, or as I call it “Product Visualization” has one big advantage. I can provide an image of a product before it leaves the shores of where it’s manufactured, that can be used in marketing literature or website.
    In my case, our products are not very pretty, they are not meant to be. They are made of cast metals, with an unattractive texture, under any light. It take a few days of cleaning up to get a decent photo.
    With CGI I can take our CAD files, create a virtual model, place it in my virtual lighting studio, bring in my library of colors and textures, and have something for our brochure in a couple of days, maybe sooner.
    Ever try to do an exploded view of a 600 pound piece of equipment with photography before the days of photoshop? I used to have to do that. Ain’t easy my friend. With CGI it’s a walk in the park.
    My decades of photography experience has taught me how different textures react to light, which helps me when I create textures for my CGI surfaces.
    The only photographers that should be threatened by CGI are the ones that refuse to learn it. To me it’s another tool, like a tripod, monolight, or filter.

  • MMielech

    “Which begs the question: Why not just take a photo of it?”

    Because, (a) it obviously eliminates the whole stage of photography in the image process, and (b), if done correctly, also eliminates a lot of retouching to make that photography look good. “IF” is the key word. As some have stated, it is a difficult thing to learn – the curve is steep. A good 3D renderer is worth his/her weight in gold right now in cost savings for catalog and other product photography users.

    But, (c), and even more important, is that the 3D image is highly malleable, in that the angle, or position of the object can be adjusted on both the x and y axis radically, and lighting, surface, and radical color adjustments can be made fairly quickly. Certainly much quicker than going back to reshoot, or, even, remanufacture.

    You guys better not scoff this stuff off. It is and will be as revolutionary as digital photography. I’m pretty sure that, if someone showed you that picture of that half and half guy up top, and both side were 3D, and they didn’t tell you it was fake, you would be fooled.

  • Cemal

    Even if they were really perfect, the need for a photographer may go down but these images don’t just appear out of thin air. One needs people with sufficient technical skills to produce these images. I am almost certain that there are far fewer of these people than there are photographers. What could be the savings in a less competitive field?

  • MMielech

    You don’t understand. Most products are designed in CAD like programs today. You are and will be bypassed directly to a CGI guy with that cad design, right into a 3D image. It still is a little difficult right now, but, make no mistake, there are hundreds of bright, young, hard working Chinese perfecting it and making it more efficient right now.

  • Chris

    I respect the guy for highlighting the topic, but these kind of articles make me cringe.
    I used to see the same articles like this 8 years ago.

    I’m a CGI artist, and have also worked with photographers for quite a number of years now.
    In this industry while working with professional clients, It’s down to time and budget.
    We’re expensive and so are photographers, the client will choose how they want to spend the cash.

  • Dave

    Thanks for the description and info. Nope, I don’t think I will be scoffing anything off nowadays, and the image above has fooled me I believe. Still not sure which side is real but would love for the artist to reveal that.

  • brob

    does anyone else find it ironic that a Camera company like Nikon, would use a CGI image of a Camera they hope to sell. Wouldn’t they want to use their own CAMERA to show off their own products? makes no sense

  • Clint Davis


  • JJ Black

    Nice thinly-vieled advertisement for KeyShot you’ve got here.

  • Michael Zhang

    Why would we link our readers to a Wired article if KeyShot were paying us to feature them? No paid content on PetaPixel, sorry JJ.

  • Justin Manteuffel

    The face isn’t a great example. The CG artist almost certainly used photographs both as reference and to build the diffuse color material for the skin and likely the bump texture as well. CG faces definitely have their uses, but photographs are nearly always part of that workflow.

  • Chris

    I do understand and I should be be more clear – the creation of the *environments* for a product photo (assuming anything nicer than white sweeps) can be very time consuming. That’s the irony. They will probably take a real photograph (stock shot or even commissioned) and use it as the background to save on modeling costs. In the end – the final image is created by a person with an artistic vision – that person will never vanish. A lot of 3D films have hired traditional cinematographers to frame and direct lighting – ironic isn’t it? It won’t “kill us off” – our eyes and visual taste are still worth money even if we do get to a point where its more cost effective to build whole worlds than do a real world photo shoot.

  • Chris

    Don’t forget the need for a campaign to be led by someone with artistic vision, style, taste, etc… Even if all real world shoots stopped – they’d still need our visionary skills.

  • G

    Just as there’s more to CGI than pressing few buttons on a computer ;)

  • stripey

    The Right side?

    ‘Killing photography jobs?’ Come on, mannnn.

  • simonhowes

    Some work I have done in the past this year will be CGI. Work for a major furniture and a bed manufacturer. It’s no cheaper for the client in most cases.

    One of the most well known companies that uses 100% CGI is Ikea. Their catalogs and advertising are all made in the box. Only exception is people, they’re composited in afterwards.

  • Earl Brooks

    We’ve been working on these kind of visualizations for TV ads couple of years ago. Nothing new and as noted, the consumer doesn’t really care and won’t notice.

  • Dave Reynolds

    So the choice is between someone who is talented in using KeyShot to create a “close enough” artificial image or someone who is talented using a camera to create a real “light passed through a lens” image. Where is the higher cost: increasingly expensive KeyShot talent due to increasing demand or the cost to set up and shoot real images?

    Clients apparently pick KeyShot because they see lower overall cost with a quality level indiscernible from real images in the eyes of consumers. Perhaps this technology will compel photographers to simplify
    lighting or innovate new techniques to quickly create images in order to
    compete with expensive KeyShot talent.