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A Closer Look

Increasingly we are finding, particularly with residential marketing images, that the requirement for the so called 'vignette' is becoming a major part of our workflow.  These more detailed images started to gain increasing popularity in 3d several years ago with the advent of more accurate and easier photographic control in render engines including depth of field and bokeh providing increased photographic realism.  Often by the time the project is released it is these more ambiguous detailed vignettes which constitute the bulk of the marketing material taking precedence in some cases over the originally commissioned 'main view' of a space.

This will come as no surprise to anyone in the 3d or photography industries who understand that an image which evokes a feeling of a space rather than a complete illustration of the reality is going to be far more seductive to prospective purchasers at a glance.

This is intended as a short description of our general approach to the vignette and some examples of how it is successfully adopted in other industries such as food photography, automotive, furniture etc.

I generally like to start by thinking of the following things:

1. Subject

Identify the subject of the image.  Rather than with a general view which may be trying to illustrate the entire space a vignette is usually about focusing on a detail and using the surrounding imagery to provide atmosphere and framing.  

The examples above are from our Renzo Piano project in Miami Beach, Eighty Seven Park in which we used the specified Byredo products as the focus in the bathrooms whilst making sure we gave a hint of the most salient features of the space.  In this case, freestanding bath, shower enclosure, terrace and ocean view. 

2. Camera lens

Typically needs to be longer than for a general view.  30-40mm may be normal for a general interior view.  70-100mm would be more typical for a vignette.

35mm lens main view

200mm lens vignette

3. Depth of Field

Greater depth of field creates greater focus.  A shallower focal plane controlled by having a wider aperture can be used to create blurred elements in the foreground as framing devices or a kind of natural vignette.  Blurred background objects can provide a feeling of space, light and depth without actually describing or revealing the space fully.

In this instance Bertrand Benoit rather cleverly uses DOF and the chair itself to simaltaniously create an up close material and tonal quality of the mid-ground subject whilst providing a natural framing element.

The example above by urban photographer Jeff Krol illustrates an extreme use of DOF and bokeh which shows how, with a very limited amount of actual information in an image, a detailed story can be told but with a sufficient amount of ambiguity that the viewer must fill in the gaps.  A bike (probably a bmx) on a stand or leaning against a kerb in an urban environment at night...perhaps?  

4. Lighting

This is is of course a key component of any image.  When considering a detailed view it is often preferable to relight the space specifically for that image so that you can easily manipulate the light balance to draw focus to the subject matter.  In the example below there are three ies spot lights and a plane light with a basic Corona volume materiel to provide volumetric lighting effects and lens effects in the frame buffer

70mm lens

150mm lens

5. Non-standard Camera Angles

Sometimes more obscure camera angles may work with vignettes which would normally be avoided in classic architectural photography such as three point perspectives, fish eye distortion or even roll on the camera orientation.  

I always liked these two images produced years ago by Guthers of an expanded mesh which he had created with a displacement map.  In the daytime image the focus is the reflection of the sun peeping out from behind a cloud.  In the dusk alternative, with the same camera position and lens, the focus is shifted to the inside of the space by lighting alone. 

The above image of the Carey House by Henry Goss Architects shows how a three point downward looking perspective with a fish eye lens and natural vignetting with geometry and light has been used to create quite a focused but illustrative image. 

Below are a few examples of how vignettes are commonly used in different industries, for example:

Automotive:

Food:

Note the incredibly shallow focal plane.

Bathrooms/Sanitaryware:

Nice motion blur and highlights on the water droplets 

Furniture:
These furniture examples are all from Bertrand Benoit who has to be the all time master of furniture CGI vignettes. 

Finally, below is a basic camera setup in Corona for 3ds Max illustrating just how simple it now is to get some great effects with minimal effort.  This is just a box with a few basic props, a few ies spot lights and a Corona Volume Material used in the global slot under the Scene tab in render settings.  I use a max Physical Camera with a CoronaCameraMod but some people still like the Vray physical camera in the studio.  There are a few ways of setting the DOF up but I like to do it this by enabling the DOF in the physical camera and then overiding the focus in the mod.  Interestingly the physical camera DOF overides the DOF in the Corona render settings meaning one less box to check.  Sure people do this differently but this way works for me. 

150mm lens, 10 minute 2k render with denoising straight out of the frame buffer