Virtual photography: Picture-perfect photos, no studio required.

In the realm of commercial photography, 3D technology is reshaping traditional photoshoots with virtual photography. Learn how it can speed up the production of marketing assets, save money, and offer greater flexibility while still delivering the visual impact expected from traditional photography.

What is virtual photography?

Virtual photography is imagery that has been crafted to resemble traditional photography and represent images of the real world as shot through a camera lens. But there are no camera and no lens involved —  it’s all crafted on a computer using a combination of 3D models and materials and 2D graphics and images, plus artful lighting to blend everything together. When done right, a virtual photograph can look just like the real thing.


Originating from the world of gaming and visual effects, cutting-edge 3D technology is powering a new frontier of visual asset creation. More and more companies are incorporating 3D-based assets into their marketing and production workflows to save money over expensive studio shoots and produce and distribute assets for the marketplace quicker than ever before.


Brands like Wayfair and Unilever are already leveraging 3D technology to benefit from the flexibility it offers when iterating design concepts. The technology can also provide massive improvements in speed and efficiency and help ensure product and brand consistency across multiple design and marketing initiatives — crucial to any brand, big or small.

Virtual Photography Watches

Can you tell that this image was created entirely in 3D?
Credit: Image by Vladimir Petkovic. Model by Jean-François Bozec. Created with Adobe Substance 3D.

The advantages of virtual vs. traditional photography.

Virtual Photography Advantages

Using 3D expertise, virtual photography can meet marketing needs quicker than traditional photography, and it allows for more freedom and flexibility along the way. By working solely in the digital realm, you can craft that elusive perfect product shot without needing to build and iterate resource-heavy physical mockups.


Apps in the Adobe 3D and AR ecosystem make it easier than ever before to achieve photorealistic scenes that can be viewed and rendered from every angle, providing production-quality assets for all marketing channels. Substance 3D Stager provides what is essentially a virtual photo studio to stage your scene from scratch, and material authoring from Substance 3D Painter, Sampler, and Designer lets you take it to the next level and achieve true photorealism. With dedicated practice using these tools, you can create images that users won’t realize were produced digitally. Real-world workflow benchmarks show that using Substance 3D Stager for images is much faster than traditional methods and can produce more desirable end results.

Virtual Photography Couch

Credit: Vladimir Petkovic. Created with Substance 3D. The sofa model is actually available on Substance 3D Assets — it was textured in Painter using a leather material made in Sampler from a real-life sample before being brought into Stager for staging, lighting, and rendering.

Virtual photography can help you fulfill all your asset needs by making it easy to alter backgrounds and objects in the shot to create infinite variations. Craft a product shot against a kitchen countertop, and then change it out for a coffee table or nightstand so you can cover all types of lifestyle imagery. Or do something as simple as swapping packaging language on product shots to account for every region the product will be sold in. You can also share templates and scenes among marketing teams across different channels, making it easier than ever to keep things evergreen by allowing designers at both ends the flexibility to update photos as needs arise. This might involve a new angle, a new crop, or a new color, with no need to start from scratch — the creative possibilities are endless.


Showcasing 360-degree views of items on web marketplaces can help customers get a better sense of a product than 2D images can provide. It allows them to view it from multiple angles, rotate and zoom in and out in real time, as well as change styles, sizes, and colors with just a mouse click. A company can leverage those same models for interactive AR experiences that allow customers to visualize how the product might fit into their own space in the real world. Furniture companies like IKEA offer AR apps that do just that, letting you “place” couches and chairs in your living room via IKEA Place to see if they’re a good fit (in both style and size) before deciding to buy. It’s just one way AR creations can make it easier than ever for companies to showcase their wares — and for customers to decide if they’re right for them.

Virtual Photography CPG

Credit: Vladimir Petkovic. Created with Substance 3D. Built and rendered in Stager using Illustrator dielines as editable textures and decals, as well as materials from Substance 3D Assets. The background is a photograph.


An example workflow for consumer packaged goods (CPG).

Design your 2D elements.

Use whichever app suits your needs best for creating any 2D components you might need. Adobe Illustrator is great for crafting graphics and logos to place on 3D objects, while you can use Adobe Photoshop to create brand images or edit existing photos.

Create new 3D materials using the Substance 3D Collection.

Refine the appearance of all the objects in your scene by adding a range of realistic materials. Access materials from the robust library and, with more 3D practice, personalize your textures using Designer and Sampler. 

Build your scene in Stager.

  • Place 3D models of the objects you need in your scene. The Substance 3D Collection plan comes with a library of models, materials, and lights. You can also browse Adobe Stock for even more choices, or import models from other sources.


  • Place the graphics, logos, and other 2D images (possibly from Photoshop or Illustrator) on the 3D models, either as decals or fills, and then adjust the layer’s material properties to get the look you want.


  • Arrange the objects in the scene where you want them. Experiment with different camera angles, adjust the lighting and materials to find what works best, and add a background to your scene. Use Match Image to automatically create realistic lighting based on the background image, or adjust the Environment Light and Sunlight settings yourself. You can also use physical camera features such as depth of field and focal length.

Export and share 2D and 3D files from Stager.

  • Export the images as final files to be used for any type of marketing needs, such as websites, ads, or even virtual product showrooms, and import them into Adobe InDesign to lay out for print and digital media.


  • Share and publish traditional 2D images or 3D designs with 360-degree views (with bookmarked camera angles) via web links or embedding on the web. You can also use assets in augmented reality experiences created in Adobe Aero to offer immersive experiences that can showcase products overlaid in the real world. The free Aero app gives viewers an engaging experience that lets them interact with your designs in a whole different way.

Export assets to Photoshop.

By importing the finished image files into Photoshop, you can make minute changes and touch up your images right down to the pixel to further add to the photorealism.