Can you spot the fake parts of this image? (Hint: It’s all of it)


When you look at product shots online or in print – whether it’s a car, phone, or computer – you may have thought to yourself, “How did they photograph it to look so good?” The products look clean and shiny, devoid of any blemishes, which seem too perfect to be real. Of course, no product ever looks that perfect when photographed, and we all know a fair amount of Photoshop retouching is always involved in the post-editing process. But, as Wired reports, designers are now eschewing traditional photography and Photoshop and using CGI to create photo-realistic product shots using software called KeyShot.

By now most of us know what CGI, or computer-generated imagery, is. It’s the tool that’s used to create realistic-looking footage in things like movies and video games, for example, which researchers dub the “uncanny valley.” While it’s hard to fool someone into thinking a giant spaceship hovering above the White House is actually real, you may be surprised to discover that many of the product shots you see today in ads, packaging, and catalogs are actually computer images. That’s right, despite looking like the end product, those realistic images of the Microsoft Surface (shown above) on billboards were actually created with a computer, not shot with a camera.

Many computer-generated product images are created using KeyShot. The software has a benefit that photography lack: CGI renderings are fingerprint-proof and dust-proof. Reflective surfaces, such as the screen on Microsoft’s tablet, won’t reveal the reflection of the photographer or any equipment; lighting can be controlled to highlight details. “KeyShot works by simulating the scattering of photons as they bounce around in a scene and interact with the different materials,” according to Wired. With KeyShot, designers are also able to simulate stretch marks on a jacket or place a clean-looking car in a normally dirty environment, and they are able to do it all very quickly.

According to Wired, KeyShot’s developers are now tackling even more challenging tasks, namely the human face. “With increasingly realistic images being produced in 3-D on MacBooks, a real virtual-reality revolution – without the clunky Lawnmower Man look – could be within sight,” Wired writes.

While the article has a sensational headline (“Hyper-realistic CGI is killing photographers, thrilling product designers”), the article actually doesn’t dive into that dilemma. Judging from the sample photos, however – and realizing that we’ve been duped – perhaps product photography as a profession could one day become an endangered species.