The future of product and lifestyle photography

Why computer generated imagery is going to take over the place of traditional photo shoots.

May 18, 2020 · 10 minutes read

This article is the beginning of a series designed and written for marketing and sales professionals who would like to gain insight into the technical challenges of leaving behind the traditional way of marketing material creation and switching to the 3D approach. Computer graphics is a complex topic and the goal of this series is to give enough technical details to allow for the right business decisions, however, do not overwhelm the reader with unnecessary details or mathematical equations.

The problem with the traditional method

When manufacturers create a new product, they then need to create marketing material in order to generate consumer interest. This can include pictures, videos, press releases and brochures amongst others. Regardless of which options they decide on, they will almost 100% of the time create professional photographs. On the surface this does not seem like much of a problem. Photography is a well established and well understood technology with what appears to be no competition in terms of image creation. However, this lack of competition and reliance on the current state-of-the-art is what makes it so difficult to see the serious limitations and inefficiencies that exist within the product photography process.

As you dig a little deeper, it becomes clear that several distinct problems appear within every product photo shoot. When a manufacturer devises a new product and decides to take it to market, the very first thing it must do is create a physical version. Knowing that they cannot sell the product without photography, their marketing director must then find a location, book a photographer, find a crew of assistants, rent and transport accessories to the studio, travel to the studio with their stylist and then execute on the marketing concept that took two months to draw up. The execution of the photo shoot can then take from one to three days to complete. Once everything is organized, companies must transport the chosen products from their manufacturing facility often in Asia to a photo studio in Europe or North America, which can take a month, or more.

If they have been lucky enough to get through all of that, the marketing director then faces some problems that can cause the entire project to be re-shot, meaning everything needs to start over again from the beginning. The inability to finish the shooting on time is by far the most damaging and difficult to avoid. Post shoot problems can include a product change, a marketing concept change or simply poor quality outputs from the original shoot. In order to get an impression how complex such a shooting is, have a look at the video below.

When you review the entire photo shoot process from start to finish, it becomes clear that the individual issues that appear throughout the process are not actually the problem. The process itself is the problem.

The process of product photography is flawed from a procedural standpoint. However, it should be noted that the current state-of-the-art technology used to create photography is also not ideally suited to the process. Cameras have been designed from day one to capture a moment in time, whether at a birthday party, a concert or shooting as a nature photographer. Cameras may be perfectly designed for capturing a moment, but marketing directors manufacture moments. This is a small but very important difference.

The future of image creation

Rather than trying to correct each problem individually, colormass has devised a system for digitization and automation that moves the traditional product photo shoot into the cloud. By going digital you can remove the need for a physical product, a location, a team of people, accessories, stressful execution days and even the camera. More importantly, you can eliminate costly reshoots, since all 3D assets are reusable and the sets are never broken down. Watch our video presentation to see what we can achieve using the latest technologies in computer graphics:

We make this possible thanks to two major technological innovations in the field of 3D: the colormass Scanner, an automated surface digitization system and the colormass Platform, a web-based virtual photo shoot tool.

The same marketing director will now be able to complete their project using a few simple steps. To begin with, they can send us some basic information about their products including dimensions and a couple of mobile phone snapshots. As a next step, from the relative comfort of their desk, they can log into the colormass Platform and upload a mood board or some example images which match the style of the desired outcome. Based on this information we create a first version of the image and upload it to the platform. Now they can comment on different parts of the image regarding any desired changes. These become action items for our 3D artist team. Once the changes are ready, we upload a new revision of this image to the platform. This feedback cycle continues till they are satisfied with the final result. Since all the revisions are kept track of, it is easy to compare them and see the complete life cycle of each image.

The complete process of image creation takes place virtually. The only physical samples we require are the fabrics, in case we do not already have them on file. Normally we request a 1 m × 1 m sample for each fabric which we digitize using our in-house material scanner. This ensures that the products look exactly as in reality on the final pictures. The result of the virtual photo shoot are image files in JPEG, TIFF or any other format as you are used to from a digital camera. They can be viewed, edited and printed the same way.

Where to go from here?

This post obviously raises many more questions than it answers. What are all the components needed to create a photorealistic image in the end? How do the products actually get created in 3D? What does it mean to create a product in 3D in the first place? What is the difference between a CAD model and a 3D model for rendering, if any? What happens with the fabric samples we receive? How does colormass keep track of all the data? These and many more questions are going to be answered in the future articles of this series.

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