CGI and Photography - What Matters, What Works, and What it Means

Presented by

Walt Jones

Is CGI going to replace photographers? Should we all throw away our cameras and start learning computer graphics?

Are these even the right questions to ask?

There’s no doubt that CGI – Computer Generated Imagery – is changing the landscape of photography as we know it. Whereas ten years ago car ads, product brochures, architectural images and fashion spreads would have been shot with a physical camera, they’re now increasingly turning to CGI as a way to cut costs and increase artistic flexibility. These days it’s hard to find an image that wasn’t in some way touched by a computer. But, as it turns out, CGI isn’t the death knell to business that many photographers make it out to be. In fact, not only does CGI offer up new and exciting opportunities for photographers, but CGI simply couldn’t exist without “traditional” photography working behind the scenes.

About the seminar

Learn about the exciting new opportunities CGI affords photographers while also seeing how many of the old business models still hold. Using real-world examples from past projects, I talk about the how CGI and photography are natural colleagues, the inherent challenges of trying to do things "fully-CG" and why it's nearly always a hybrid solution in the end. I talk about CGI's parallels with traditional photography, the steps involved in creating an image from start to finish, and the tools, software and "digital assets" required. I talk about how photographers can see themselves as producers and designers, and not camera operators.

Photographers are called “artists” for a reason, and digital technologies - including CGI and Photoshop - are simply the tools of the trade that offer increased creative freedom and allow the ability to create better imagery at lower costs.

This seminar is not about convincing people that they need to learn CGI to survive. Ultimately, it’s about opening eyes to new tools and technology, allowing them to see it for what it is while dispelling the myriad misinformation constantly spread through the photography community.

Take your imagery further by understanding and exploring some amazing tools that enable you to do more.

Topics Covered
  • What is CGI, anyway? If we take a picture with a digital camera and use Photoshop, is that "computer-generated?"
  • What is CGI good at? What is CGI bad at?
  • How does CGI work? What is the production “pipeline” like?
  • How do CGI and photography work together in today’s world?
  • Can CGI exist without photography?
  • How can photographers integrate CGI into their workflows without having to learn a whole new set of tools and techniques?
  • What does the future hold for CGI and photography?

    Case Studies Presented
  • CGI and photography in architecture
  • CGI and photography in product and automotive imagery
  • CGI and photography in editorial and fashion “photography”
  • CGI and photography in film, television and music videos

  • This seminar has been presented to rave reviews at events held by the ASMP chapters of Los Angeles, Chicago, Ohio and San Francisco. Home - To CGI or not to CGI? The Seminar Case Studies Getting started in CGI Twitter Feed About Contact
    Good CGI isn't possible without photography... and a number of more traditional photographers are starting to utilize CGI more and more as a tool to expand creative freedom and open up new markets. Here I've collected some of my favorites that help paint a picture of the current state of how these industries are moving together.


  • Over the years, Paul Debevec has lead the way on graphics research including high dynamic range imagery (HDRI) and photogrammetry.
  • Greg Downing has a lot of examples of gigapixel imagery, digital sets, photogrammetry and HDRI.
  • The ICT Graphics Lab page on their Parthenon film.
  • EPOP offers a number of 360° panoramic solutions for virtual tours, HDRI, etc.
  • 3D models constructed entirely from photographs? Two videos show the results: Hall and Gallery


  • Viki Yeo’s tutorial on the making of the “Young Girl” image.


  • Archiform 3D is one of the leading companies in the business of architectural visualization.
  • Alex Roman’s The Third and the Seventh site contains still images and links to his short films, including the Exeter film. There’s also a good interview with him from Motionographer that can be found here. APhotoEditor had some recent commentary on his work.


  • offers stock models and HDRI panos, as well as full creative services.
  • TurboSquid is one of the biggest and most-respected stock model companies, offering over 250,000 models for purchase.


  • Stanislav Petera takes you behind the scenes of his work on the Dolce Vita “Superdiva” project. He often partners with Tomáš Müller, a commercial artist.


  • Nigel Harniman is an automotive photographer who uses a lot of CGI in his work. He’s also one of the guys behind Air CGI. There’s a good article that describes some of his process for a recent campaign that can be found here.
  • Del Padre Digital and Trinetram do a lot of work in CGI product imagery.
  • A quick article on car photography without using actual cars.


  • A good video from Stargate Studios showing virtual environments being used for film and television.


  • Dylan Cole has created digital matte paintings for a variety of film projects including Lord of the Rings, Superman Returns, The Kite Runner and Memoirs of a Geisha.


  • Work we did on Superman Returns a few years back to allow Marlon Brando to reprise his role as Jor-El: Making-of Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Used photogrammetry, modeling from photographs, photographic texture remapping, photographic foreground and background plates, etc.