Photography vs. 3D Modeling: Which Should You Be Using?

Travis Wade

Imagery is an important tool for conveying information in a memorable and interactive way. When people hear information verbally, they're likely to remember only 10% of it three days later; however, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people can retain up to 65% of the information three days later. 

But, producing quality images can be inefficient in terms of both time and cost. Getting the right lighting in the perfect setting can cause headaches and lots of money and time spent on photographers and staging. To help alleviate some of this frustration, many companies have started turning to 3D modeling. 

3D modeling is the process of making a virtual representation of an object from scratch in specialized software like Cinema 4D. Architects have been using this method for years to visualize floor plans and the flow of light in a space, and it’s starting to catch on in the marketing and design world. 

3D Modeling

Reality doesn’t always sell. It’s a disappointing fact, but beautifully staged images are what’s going to catch a viewer’s attention. And getting those images can be difficult. The lighting needs to be just right. Every material and person in the photo must be perfectly positioned. And what if the product changes, and you have to start over?

With 3D modeling, minor tweaks can be made without having to reshoot an entire scene. There isn’t any color correction or retouching needed. Everything is created in controlled conditions where changes can be easily made. 

When we designed the JAWS website, we created 3D models of their products, placed them in 3D room environments and exported final photo-realistic images of the scene. Using this process, we could easily switch out labels on the bottles, move props in the room scenes and adjust camera angles and lighting countless times, saving the client time and money on shooting multiple products in multiple environments.  

Reasons to Use 3D Modeling

Flexibility

If your product is frequently updated, you might want to consider creating a 3D model. This way, products won’t have to be regularly reshot if you change an element of the design. Digitally-created images also allow for endless creativity. Modifications are easy and can be done over time. For example, products that come in multiple colors don’t have to be photographed individually—you can just change the color digitally. 3D modeling also allows for a digital scene to be saved with consistent lighting. Thus, products can easily be moved in and out, and changes can be made quickly. 

You can also start designing a 3D model while a product is being developed. Designers can start working on the prototype, so your marketing campaign can start as soon as the product is ready—or even before. No need to wait for photography and post-production editing. 

For Dana’s Ultimate 44™ axles, the team at CG combined video animation with 3D renderings. We mounted GoPros underneath a Jeep Wrangler, motion-tracked the footage and composited the 3D renderings onto the video, creating a life-like way to represent all of the axle’s features. 

These graphics helped customers to see the part in action—without actually having to look under the car. We were then able to use the 3D model for Dana’s other marketing needs.

Interactive

Products that might appear flat and boring in a 2D image can now be interactive and engaging in video animations. Photography simply cannot capture 3D images or allow you to create an interactive user experience. 

When building a custom chair configurator for Biofit, Concentrek Group used 3D renderings to design an interactive and personal experience for customers who are looking to create their own chair. Customers can see in real time exactly what their chair will look like by adding and removing different features until they find a combination they like. 

Time and Resources

Traditional photoshoots can be a drain on resources. Lighting, set construction and location selection can all be a burden on time and budget. Then, consider having to replicate it all for new products or redoing a photo campaign every time a new product is released. With 3D modeling, your image and background can be created digitally, without any travel or lighting concerns. Little details, like plants, food and artwork, can be added in as needed without having to worry about having them on location for photography purposes. 

Precision

No longer do you have to deal with waiting for the perfect lighting or weather. Everything is produced under controlled conditions. Windows and doors can be placed wherever you need them, and post-production photo editing becomes a thing of the past. 

Ikea made the shift in 2012 to use more 3D modeling in their catalogs in an attempt to keep costs and resources to a minimum. In doing so, they’ve saved time in staging and transporting materials, as well as developed greater flexibility in the images they want to create. New products can easily be added to existing campaigns and sets. 

They’ve now built up a bank of individual images that can be combined into a staged room for new catalogs. Their 3D-rendered images are not only used for their website but also for their catalogs, printouts and in-store marketing efforts, making it cost-effective and efficient. 

Ikea has also transitioned these 3D renderings to be used as part of a 3D kitchen planner. This easy-to-use software allows customers to design a new kitchen, seeing it in real-life on the computer screen. This would have been nearly impossible to do without the 3D images. 

Photography

Keep in mind, though, that not all projects call for 3D modeling. Fabrics and textiles, commonly used in the fashion industry, are better suited for photography. The fashion modeling industry is still thriving because clothes sell better on actual people, not just alone on a white background. Sometimes, 3D models can’t quite capture the detail and emotion that photography can.

Products that are also very time-intensive to design, like those with lots of details, would be better off with traditional photography. One-time products are also best suited for photography, as building up an image library isn’t necessary. 

Photography is still best for capturing landscapes and people, too. No 3D modeling could recreate the natural beauty of a landscape, city or college campus. For educational marketing, pictures of the campus and student interaction shots are the best option for capturing the spirit of the school. As such, we use photographs when advertising for our education-based clients.

For advertisements featuring people, photography is also still the best option—human interactions cannot be recreated in computer software. 3D modeling is not the solution to all photography woes, but it can help with time and cost constraints on some product marketing.  

Which One Should I Use?

Both photography and 3D modeling can help in marketing your product. It just depends on your financial capabilities, the product you want to showcase and your end goals. Ultimately, both options will help you to market your product successfully.

No matter which route you decide to go, our team of creatives can help you best showcase your product. Let CG help you with your digital image needs—contact us today!

Contact Concentrek Group

Contact Concentrek Group

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