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Everything You Need to Know About Virtual Photography

With the booming growth of eCommerce showing no signs of stopping, high-quality digital representation of products is critical to soaring sales and low return rates. Experts expect retail eCommerce to continue to increase by 13.7% in 2021, exceeding pre-pandemic estimates and accounting for $908.73 billion in sales. 

Accuracy in product depiction can have a big impact on returns (and purchases). Research shows that 22% of shoppers return items when they don't look how they expected based on the photos online. 

Virtual photography is a progressive and increasingly essential tool for instilling consumer confidence and converting sales. 

Whether you're looking to get started or to simply up your graphics game, we're answering some of the most common questions when it comes to the rise and use of virtual photography.

 

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What is virtual photography?

Virtual photography (or 3D product imaging) is the process of producing images that represent real-world items but are created using technology blending flat graphics and 3D models. The result is a reproduction that looks like the byproduct of a high-end photo shoot but actually shows a virtual product that viewers can interact with.

These interactions–whether zooming in and out, rotating viewing angles, or swapping out color combinations–help consumers envision exact versions of an end product before making a purchase decision.

When done well, computer-generated imagery (CGI) can't be told apart from real-world photography. Using digital tools and alternatives, creators have more control over the final output and can add creative flair that would be difficult (if not impossible) to represent in a standard photoshoot.

 

Benefits of virtual photography vs. traditional photography

While creating virtual images may sound like a lot of work that requires tech knowhow, the results can actually outweigh those of traditional imagery. 

Save time

If you only have one or two products, traditional photography might be the way to go. That is, if you can get the lighting, angles, shadow, shading, and everything else just right.  

 

Virtual renderings take the prep work and hassle out of staging a photoshoot. Companies can showcase their products and even create virtual tours all using digital tools to cut down on project turnaround times.

Show variations

If you offer multiple versions of a product streamlines (for example, different colorways), you'll need to bring one of everything to a traditional photoshoot. The team will then have to work to ensure that each item is photographed identically for consistency and accuracy.

Not so with virtual options. You can replicate a single item in limitless variations, or against different backgrounds, without constant restaging.  

Streamline costs

Photography can add up, and fast. You need the right equipment, for starters, and a quality DSLR camera can cost thousands. Then, you need someone who can operate the camera properly, requiring hiring or outsourcing a professional photographer. The time it takes to capture all of the right images can also add up, becoming costly for everyone involved.

 

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How does virtual photography work?

The predominant way to capture virtual photography is on a computer. At a high level, creators gather the requirements, base images, and 2D assets or CAD files to create baseline for the image. 

From there, they create 3D versions using a variety of software packages that stitch together images for an end result that allows for zoom, pan, and interactive elements. The initial output is similar to a model and is then filled in with additional design elements, depth, and texture. 

Virtual photography is not just about replicating items from real life. In many cases, a single source image or product can be used to create an entire series of images, showing various lighting, colors and options. For products that offer add-on features, this method allows for novel ways to show different components in combination with one another. 

 

Can you sell virtual photography?

If you own the rights to the creative represented or to the virtual images themselves, then you can sell 3D images. Remember that you should not pull still images from a 3D rendering and attempt to sell those graphics if you have not purchased the rights to do so. 

Many marketers or designers will purchase virtual photography, similarly to how they purchase rights-managed or stock photos for 2D images. 3D graphics provide realistic imagery without the costs of staging a real-world photoshoot to create designs. 

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What are the benefits of virtual photography?

In addition to saving time and costs over traditional photography, virtual images offer a wide range of benefits: 

  • Product visualization helps consumers make the best real-time purchase decision for them. 
  • Image interactions increase time on a website, which can lead to increased conversions.
  • High-tech elements offer professional appeal to consumers looking for established, quality brands.
  • Interactive elements such as color swaps and zoom instill confidence for first-time buyers.
  • Speed-to-market is reduced when leveraging technology to create marketing assets for product launch.
  • 3D viewpoints give consumers control to inspect the features that matter most to them. 
  • Seeing high-quality professional photos makes social media viewers 40% more likely to share your content (and boost your reach).
  • Digital options allow for social distancing as well as collaboration with teams and experts from any location.
  • Updates and additions to an existing product offering or catalog are easy to add and alter on demand.
  • Virtual reality experiences help buyers see how the end product will appear after purchase.

 

How do I get started with virtual photography?

To get started, you can create your very own virtual photoshoot by combining two offset 2D images to create a three-dimensional effect. 

Here are a few methods you can explore:

  • Try taking HDR shots with a DSLR camera from slightly different viewing angles and then layering the images. 
  • Smartphones with depth maps (or two cameras next to each other) include options to create 3D images.
  • Tech-savvy users can design images in Photoshop and then create 3D content using texturing software like Adobe Substance.
  • Partner with experts like the Threekit team to help you produce images using best practices and industry-leading tech stacks.


Why is virtual photography becoming so popular now?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, buyer behaviors were trending toward preference to online purchasing. Access to variety, price comparisons, cheaper shipping, and consumer reviews led the charge. 

Add to the increase in eCommerce transactions the fact that 75% of shoppers use photos to decide whether to buy. Using virtual photography ensures that images are crisp, clear, and connecting with buyers. 

Consumers also expect variety. From styles to colors to sizes, there are few one-size-fits-all options anymore. People have come to expect choice, and sellers have responded in kind with variations. Virtual photography makes it quicker and easier to create the images to support go-to-market efforts for different SKUs.

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Virtual photography stats & facts

The numbers support the story that high-quality virtual photography has a large, positive effect for eCommerce companies. 

Here are just a few keystone statistics to demonstrate buyer behaviors and business impact: 

 

Who uses virtual photography?

If you have a product or service to sell online, you can benefit from using virtual photography. A number of industries already make heavy use of these services, especially those that create a large variety of product lines and variations. 

These images are also helpful for showing potential buyers how products can appear in different environments without the expense and trouble of staging. 

Here are just a few of the businesses and industries using virtual photography to fuel their sales growth:

  • Home and Outdoor Furnishings & Fixtures
  • Jewelry and Accessories
  • Clothing, Shoes, and Wearables
  • Car Dealers and Manufacturers
  • Trades and Field Services 
  • Food Services Suppliers
  • Kitchen and Bath Fixtures 

 

 

Why use Threekit's Virtual Photographer?

Threekit knows 3D. We've designed our Virtual Photographer to help customers produce high-quality product photography without the need for cumbersome and costly photoshoots. 

Put the depth and variety of your products in the spotlight with support from a team of professionals. You input your content, and we output photorealistic catalog images ready for your eCommerce site. 

Modernize your customer experience with Threekit. Schedule a demo today.