Try 1x for free
1x is a curated photo gallery where every image have been handpicked for their high quality. With a membership, you can take part in the curation process and also try uploading your own best photos and see if they are good enough to make it all the way.
Right now you get one month for free when signing up for a PRO account. You can cancel anytime without being charged.
Try for free   No thanks
Photography versus Computer-Generated Imagery or CGI

by Editor David Williams

So, this is a taboo subject.
I am sure many of you have already made up your mind by the title of this article. 
Indeed, it is a very touchy subject nevertheless a subject that needs addressing.

Allow me to start by saying I am not a purist.  I use a DSLR as well as Photoshop and Lightroom for making my images better. But in my opinion, there is a line that separates Photography and, well.... Digital Art shall we say.

Many, if not most people use a computer for processing their images and there is nothing wrong with that as it is the modern darkroom, hence the name Lightroom.

There are darkroom techniques that are still used today in Photoshop and Lightroom.
These include:
- Dodge and burn
- Masking

I mainly use these techniques for my work plus sharpening.

Digital art
There are images that are pure CGI and they aren’t hiding the fact. There are some stunning CGI images on but we need to remember that they are CGI.

Unfortunately, there are also images that are half and half and passed off as photography. This is what I really want to address. Sure, these images have their place but let’s not pretend they are real images. Own up to the fact they aren’t 100% real.

Personally, I see some “images” and I get angry, yes, I do, and I bite my tongue and I am guilty of that. I need to open my mind more and accept that technology is getting better every day and CGI images are here to stay. Am I asking you to do the same? No, but I think we must accept it like it or not.

The separation
So what separates real photography from CGI??
Call me corny but real photography has a certain charm, a romantic feel to it. You can never beat the feeling of walking around and seeing something that captures your eye and imagination. Or physically setting up at a location with lights, flash, backdrops etc.

I am an animal photographer primarily also I am a sports photographer. I see action, I anticipate it and I learn the sport to be able to capture the special moments. I see animals at zoos and I capture their feelings, their anxiety.
I travel long distances, I wait for hours in extreme weather conditions to get “the shot” this is photography to me and many others.

Adventure, excitement and being able to look at an image and remember what I went through to capture it. A hopeless romantic? Maybe, but for me it’s better than sitting in front of a computer for hours to make something that has no soul.

Closing words
CGI is here to stay, technology will only get better and we can’t fight it. We must be true to ourselves and take photos for ourselves, not to please others.

Enjoy the adventure and be proud of your original work.

David you have touched here an excellent subject. We could discuss day and night about CGI pro- and contra. CGI free photographs have very difficult position. I am still friend and supporter of "natural" photography without heavy use of Photoshop and similar software. Of course I use Photoshop for small touch up, but I don't if it is not absolutely necessary. To see own photo published is nice, but is it all?? IMO each photo is in some way nice even if it is not perfect. Before digital age I was taking photos using slide film. This was always very exciting exercise. It took longer time to select the subject, adjust the camera, etc and then to wait sometimes longer time for the result (most of the time without having the opportunity to repeat the shot later). And CGI that time? Some more or less successful attempts in dark chamber. Even though I was surprised to find that one photo which I have taken with my analog camera in 1989 and scanned to digital in 2016 was published by National Geographic Magazine; this is a good prove that CGI photos may still be attractive. I has been active in few photo clubs, similar to 1X.. Unfortunately the CGI trend is very much preferred by the curators, and most probably by the buyers as well. So we can not stop this "Progress"; My message to all photographers is "enjoy and love your photo work, with or without CGI, try to find your own way". I hope the you do agree with me.
Hi there Milo Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. Always appreciated. As you said, this subject could be discussed day and night and more some LOL. The main point of this article was about using CGI mixes with photography and passing it off as real. I also use PS and LR to make my images better and as I said there is nothing wrong with that. Many people strongly believe that 1X is a photography site but as you and I said, CGI is here to stay and we have to accept that. It has its place sure. The main aim is to have people own up to it if mixing it and place the image in the correct category. We hope to have more categories added when uploading a photo. Best regards, David :)
Sorry, Miro not Milo
this is exactly my point of view - I totally agree!!
Thank you very much for reading and commenting. It’s always appreciated. I am glad you enjoyed the article.
I am with you Yvette! I can t explain my thoughts because of my english.. you know :) But I hope it is not a "status quo".. I believe. At qite last... what we appreciate more - embrace or keyboard.
Thank you, Mihail :) I understand what you mean :) thank you for reading and leaving a comment . Always appreciated.
Many thanks for your reaction, Mihail ;-)
"... I doubt they have real experience in 3D modelling with Maya / After Effects, 3Dsmax and the outcome. So how should they judge a CGI? Like a photography because it ends up in the same category on 1x? I don't consider that fair. Either get a CGI expert on board who can judge renderings as such or don't consider it photography. The least 1x should do is putting them in a separate category so people know what they see" ( mike kreiten)

Dear mike, I know the software "Bryce" and others since before 2000. At that time, I was doing experimental works with this software and with other similar ones, rendering virtual creations that I then combined with my own analog captures.

As far as I'm concerned.: In the last years (until July 7, 2018) I have done the job of "curator" and while this was the case, the images that I had the possibility of observing and selecting (it is possible that all of them could not be controlled by the great number of work that exists to be selected), I assure you that they have been categorized (whenever possible) in "creative editing"

The creative edition, in my opinion, should always have a photographic base, since we are talking about a photography website. The main objective of photography is to achieve "communication". It is a discipline and an artistic medium with a mechanical and technical base that serves to express the world that surrounds us as we see it, live it and feel it.

My photo base is analog. I have always respected the technique that I know, but at the same time I have always wanted to "incorporate" experimental novelties and alternatives in my work, in order to get to say what I want to say at every moment. I have used image software since 1992 approx. And I know the 3D editing software.

I think you're right when you say that there should be a category for this type of "experimental creations in image" It would be convenient a new category "experimental", it would be the right thing. But as long as it does not exist ... they are categorized (if accepted) in "creative editing"

All the best.

Thank you, Sol Yes as I said, creative edit but unfortunately I see a lot of work that is half and half and not put into creative edit and still get published even when there are very bad editing skills present. This is why I wrote this article and obviously by people’s respones, I hit a nerve. So yes, a new category would be the answer as well as the curators instantly rejecting if not placed into this category even if half and half.
Dear Sol,

Im happy to read I was wrong, at least for the period up to July this year. And honestly, I'm familiar with the sensual photography you do, probably you would have been the last person I would have expected to have experience in modelling / render software.

But I'm also happy we share the opinion it should be separated from photography more. I hope I'm still wrong and somebody in curators team can select CGI works by state-of-the-art CGI criteria. This technology developed so fast and far in the last 10 years, at some point photography could become obsolete for some genres. Like product photography for example, from drinks up to cars, why would you photograph it? At that point, 1x could simply delete all photography categories and keep the new world, renderings :-)
Best regards,

Thank you for your interesting response, dear Sol! I'm so glad you are taking part of this topic. You're in a privileged situation and know better than anyone what about this discussion as an ex-curator. Heartfelt hugs, Yvette
Thank you for bringing this up, David. I started the same discussion a couple of months ago, but just a few people jumped in: I had the same hard feelings about renderings that can easily represent a "perfect world". But coming from that industry a while ago, I also tried to share a feeling of the quality of publications here compared to sophisticated technology today. I would be perfectly fine if there was a category for CGI, just mixing renderings and photography in one genre I perceive unfortunate. I think creative edits have a lot to do with collecting and finding suitable elements, having a view for light situations, and it would be evenly unfair to have them in one "class" with renderings. Have a look at the examples I used in the discussion. Many might be surprised what's doable in CGI today. Best regards, Mike
You're right, Mike... Thanks for pointing this out. We can indeed find them in "conceptual" and "abstract" too. They are considered and accepted as CGI by the curation, I guess. May be hard to put them under one single category as CGI. It would make it more complicated for people looking specifically for conceptual or abstract images. Best greetings, Yvette
Dear Yvette,

I don't agree at all. If you had a look at the entry I posted in the forum, especially the three examples I linked there, it must be obvious you cannot mix photography and CGI in one genre.
If you didn't, please do:

The renderings I listed below, they are very basic, easy to recognize as CGI. With today's technology, you can't see a difference. Any sharpness, any POV, any bokeh or reflection, beyond boundaries that are given in photography, it can be achieved in CGI. A focus from 0,5 cm to infinity? Why not...

Rendering is a completely different sport, it's about modelling reality, using effects to come across obstacles like hair and natural structures of e.g. skin. You place lights by mouse clicks, ambient, spots, at any angle you want. As you can see in the lion, still life and guitar examples, you can create perfect worlds.

1x is a photography site. Yes, we alter, modify, tune & tweak, but the base is catching light with a camera. That's where our curators are good at themselves. I doubt they have real experience in 3D modelling with Maya / After Effects, 3Dsmax and the outcome. So how should they judge a CGI? Like a photography because it ends up in the same category on 1x? I don't consider that fair. Either get a CGI expert on board who can judge renderings as such or don't consider it photography. The least 1x should do is putting them in a separate category so people know what they see.
I hoped to get to that discussion with my post 4 months ago. Of course I know it's not your decision to handle CGI contributions that way. But you're close enough to Ralf, Jef and Peter to take some influence. Hugs, Mike

Hi David, thank you so much for the food for thought. I agree that this is a topic that should be discussed at 1x. I have seen more and more pictures at 1x lately, which are obviously - as you call it - "pure CGI". I also agree with you that this tehnology will stay and get better and better. And I appreciate this also in many places. For me the question is whether such "pure CGI" images are at 1x in the right place or whether 1x should focus on photos that are not "pure CGI". Of course it is then necessary to become clear about the demarcation. There will certainly not be a clear demarcation with a fine clean dividing line. But maybe it is possible to describe some basic characteristics. If your article encourages to have clearer statements at 1x, I think the 1x profile could also be drawn more clearly. Many thanks again, David. Best regards, Knut
Hi Knut, CGI images are more than welcome on 1x but they have to be categorized as "Creative Edit" even if there are just small computer generated adds. Such images are automatically rejected in curation if they are not in the right category. Best regards, Yvette
Yes, exactly what Yvette said :)
That's not exactly correct, Yvette. We see them in "Conceptional":
We can find them in Abstracts:
And if you have a look at the examples in my thread, they could be anywhere - without being recognized as such.
Dear Yvette, Maybe we were thinking past each other. But may be my understanding of "pure CGI" is wrong. In my view "pure (!) CGI" is an image which is not based on an exposure of light sensitive material (be it a sensor or an analog film) but exclusively made at a computer screen. And I read that "1x is a gallery where photos are reviewed by professional curators" (see Best wishes, Knut