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CGI vs. Traditional Photography

Many organizations struggle to decide whether to use CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) or traditional photography. The answer depends on what you're shooting and what your overall objective is. There are immediate and long-term cost-saving arguments for using CGI, but there are also times when using traditional photography makes the most sense. Below we compared the benefits of CGI vs. real photography to help you determine the best option for your next project.


The initial costs of CGI are often times higher than traditional photography, but once the assets are created they can be used again and again at a fraction of the cost. Traditional photography does not have that luxury.

With CGI, there are also substantial cost savings from the ability to generate high-quality images without the need for photographing expensive prototypes. Plus, initial advertising needs can be fulfilled before products are in full production.


CGI gives you the flexibility to do easier cutaways—and more of them. CGI is great for creating a variety of cutaways that highlight other areas with minimal changes to the original scene, so you're never tied to a particular version.

With CGI, you can create exploded views without ever having to actually destroy any products. Exploded views created from CAD files are more easily set-up and refined. Like all CGI scenes, they are never broken down and remain ready for any further needs. On the other hand, photographing exploded views is time-consuming and difficult to do accurately. As with any photograph, any changes to individual parts essentially means starting over and setting up the entire scene again, driving costs up further.

Another benefit to CGI is there’s no expensive shipping costs because you can virtually ship your products to the studio via email, FTP or a secure web-based file delivery site.


Computer-generated sets never break and do not need to be dismantled. They are archived along with any files associated with that particular job, which means that the exact same setup can be used at any time in the future. Camera and lights are exactly the same, making it possible to achieve a level of consistency that is very difficult with traditional photography.

Traditional photography setups need to be torn down immediately to make room for other projects. Plus, there is the potential for difficult lighting situations that need to be taken into account. Depending on what and where you're shooting, physical limitations of reality and gravity make it difficult if not impossible to photograph certain subjects the way you might want to. The camera may be too big to fit in tight spots. There might not be a lens that's capable of holding that amount of depth-of-field. Or you may find it impossible to get light back into that black hole. It may even be something as simple as not being able to place your camera in the perfect spot because there's a huge, supporting (permanent) column in the way.


A computer-generated studio is completely dust-free. CGI doesn't suffer from the effects of airborne particulate matter and doesn't require the costs of removing it. Computer-generated materials and surfaces are, by nature, perfect in appearance and don't require an automatic line item on the estimate labeled, "General Clean Up and Retouching." However, if you want base, fog, dirt and dust in the image, we can easily add them to the CGI.


A computer-generated environment is limited by all the same constraints as the real world, with one exception: physics. We're in control of physics and all of our surroundings. Gravity can be turned off and that huge permanent column mentioned above can be made invisible to the camera. Don't like where the sun is? We'll move it. If the shot would look better at dusk, we move the clock forward. Our cameras are small enough to fly through a human hair. Our lenses hold as much depth-of-field as needed. And that black hole? Our lights can be just as small as our camera. If necessary, we can make anything any shape and turn it into a light.

However, there are some restrictions when using computers to put together a scene. We try not to completely ignore every law that dictates how our universe behaves because if we did, the resulting image will look extremely fake, which defeats the purpose of using CGI. Just because you have the ability to manipulate quantum physics doesn't mean you should. If used carefully and sparingly, the resulting image will have all the visual cues that traditional photography would have.


With CGI, there are potentially higher up-front costs, but they are usually offset by reduced or nonexistent retouching costs. When shooting traditional photography, it is impossible to clean every speck of dust from your subject before taking a picture. Retouching becomes the only answer, and retouching costs money. Plus, every natural or manufactured surface or material has defects in it. There's no way around it, and the only way to remove these imperfections in a photograph is through retouching.


CGI is not a magic solution. The process isn't simplistic, and it's not exactly cheap. Certain products or objects can be challenging to create for CGI. Typically, soft goods like clothing or bed linens, organic shapes like plants or people, depending on the level of complexity, are time-consuming and therefore usually more suited for traditional photography.

Well-built CAD files are essential for a successful CGI. Software companies have made great strides toward better integration of CAD programs and files into the 3-D graphic workflow. However, these latest advancements don't negate the importance of having well-built CAD files to start with. Substandard CAD files can require significant time to clean up and prepare for use in CGI.

CGI vs. Real Photography

The decision on whether to use traditional photography, CGI, or a combination of the two should be taken on a case-by-case basis. It's important to know the benefits and shortfalls of both techniques before deciding which path to take. AT TRG Multimedia, we'll always discuss your options, so you can make an informed decision about what works best for your project, saving you time and money.

TRG is a professional photography studio that specializes in digital photography and computer-generated imagery. Contact us today to see how we can help take your project to the next level.

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