So I was putting together some promotional material for my company this week, and it really got me thinking about the differences between photography and 3D illustration from a viewer's point of, well, view. :) I mean, some of our illustrations have been mistaken for photographs. Visual qualities can be very comparable when looking at good 3D illustration and good photography side by side. And obviously I am partial to the type of work I do over other mediums. So why do my clients and so many other marketing and training professionals swear by 3D illustrations and denounce photography in most instances?
I think that answer can be boiled down to 3 major differences: Environmental Control, Hero Clarity, and Production Setup
This one is probably the most obvious. The illustrator has 100% control over the entire scene, including lighting, angles, backgrounds/environments, and "props." While a lot of this is certainly touchable by a photographer, none of it is as easily manipulatable by one.
Take angles, for example. It's nothing for a 3D illustrator to get a nice "shot" of the underside of a car engine. With just a few clicks of a mouse, the engine is rotated perfectly in the scene. A photographer needing that same shot needs all sorts of equipment to hoist the engine into the air high enough to get underneath for the shot. Not to mention those straps holding the engine up are probably covering up some of the components that need to be in the shot.
Also, once the environment is set up, tweaks or changes can easily be made to the illustrations, even months after the originals were made. A photographer would have to set everything up all over again, hope he/she can get everything configured exactly like last time.
This is really an extension of control, but I bring it up as a separate point because a good representation of the "hero" is so important. For those unfamiliar with the term, a hero is simply the main focus of the shot.
To better describe what I'm talking about when I say "hero clarity" I'll use a story from personal experience.
One of our medical device clients recently sent me some *very* graphic photographs of both a shark attack victim's injuries and the placement of bone plates and nails to repair various fractures that person had. Let's just say they weren't pretty! At all. And I was eating a sandwich when I opened the email(which by the way contained no warning of the content) that contained these photographs. My instructions were to "make these in 3D, but without the gore and unnecessary soft tissue." We were able to accurately recreate the injury, remove the unnecessary/distracting damaged tissue, and create a crisp and clear representation of what really mattered. These illustrations that have been used in both marketing brochures and in surgical technique guides.
Studio time can be expensive, not to mention shooting in a studio can be very restrictive to environmental choices. The location you want to shoot might not always be available. Outdoor shots can be postponed for weeks and even months due to uncooperative weather conditions. Basically what I'm saying here is that with photography, time isn't always on your side. You are at the mercy of many factors you and your photographer have no control over. 3D offers a simple solution in that everything you need can be created on a computer on demand and rendered to look amazingly real.