SJM 3D Photography

SJM Technical Media, Bristol, UK

01275 371 107  |

Frequently asked questions

Technical Imaging

What sort of technical photography can you do?

A lot of the product that comes through our studio is technically tricky to shoot. Transparent/translucent components made of glass or silicon rubber, as well as highly reflective biomedical and engineering products. In addition many of these items are often fragile, extremely small or else large, heavy and awkward to support/light/shoot. Most of the imaging we do is technically based and you’ll see lots of examples throughout different section of this website.

Who does all the design work? Do we need to send an Art Director?

Part of our service is designing images from a very basic brief. Often boxes of product just arrive at the studio without a design or a designer. This takes the pressure off clients and designers especially if they have complex photographic projects. 99% of the work on this site will have been designed on-the-fly from a basic brief, so if you have any specific requirements just let us know at the outset. Client’s are encouraged to come on both studio and location shoots if they are interested or want to have some design input on the day.

Our product/service is currently in the prototype stage. Are you able to protect our confidentiality?

As with any professional product photography or design studio, all the products that come through the studio are – by definition – new products. We have worked on all sorts of sensitive projects from medical devices to Formula 1 cars. Because all our post-production is done in-house, this enables us to offer excellent confidentiality. We are used to working under signed NDA (non-disclosure agreement) conditions, although this is very rarely necessary.

Our product is very small. Do you have access to specialist equipment?

Yes we do. In addition to a lot of technical camera systems we have also developed specialist support and lighting rigs for working at these magnifications. Without these, even specialist optics are fairly useless.

People are often confused by the terms ‘macro’ which camera and lens manufacturers tend to bandy about rather freely. Often these consumer lenses should really be classified as ‘close-focus’ rather than macro. The magnification is typically described by a ratio – x:y. This refers to the ratio of real size of the object relative to its image size at the film plane – or digital CCD/CMOS sensor nowadays.

  • Close-up photography can be anything up to about 1:3
  • Macrography is generally regarded as being imaging within the range 1:3 – 1:1
  • Micrography is generally regarded as being imaging within the range 2:1 – 5:1
  • Microscopy is anything beyond 5:1

…as with most things photographic, the lighting systems are often more important in getting commercial results, but precision optics are also key at these magnifications.

In addition to a full range of photographic macrography systems, we also have our own digital and optical microscopes for use on specialist projects. At the very high magnifications these scopes can achieve, preparation of the sample for imaging become a major part of the process.

What sort of clients do you typically work for?

A very broad range of scientific, technical and engineering companies. Within any sector we will provide media into a whole range of niche markets. For example, in the medical field we work for multi-national manufacturers of medical hardware and consumables, distributors of instruments used in the dental and medical fields, right down to small independent companies who provide services and products to these industries – as well as supplying images for international photo-libraries.

Typically we work directly with scientists and technicians in order to understand and visualise their products and services.


Please visit our dedicated Bio-Medical website FAQ

Integrated Video Media

What is the procedure for starting multi-media projects?

We typically sit down with clients and take a detailed brief to work out what they are trying to say, and to whom. This is then made up into a storyboard which shows all the key-frame stages of the project along with any text-slides and notes. Only once this has been approved by the client do we move into the production stages. This saves time and money. We are able to generate high-quality media at a fraction of the traditional costs by using this procedure.

How much is it?

Once we’ve established what clients require, we use a Pick & Mix approach to select video/multi-media techniques to meet the customer’s creative and budget requirements. Having additional budget to play with allows us to add more sophisticated effects to projects. However having tight budgets is no excuse for producing uninteresting media; we will always do our best to give clients the best job we can.

What happens if we want to change some element of our project a few months down the line – do we have to start all over again?

We meet a lot of clients who have had bad experiences with this in the past. As with all our work we believe in charging customers for just what they need. If you need to change a line of text or drop in a bit of new footage to reflect changes in your product line, then we simply charge for the cost of generating the new section of media and re-rendering the project. ‘Re-versioning’ media – as it’s known in the trade – is a very cost effective way of keeping your media current and costs down.

We need to generate projects in different languages – do you have experience of doing this?

Yes we do. We have re-versioned media in many different languages for use all over the world, and do more all the time. The lists of languages we have worked in is quite extensive – and include Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hebrew, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish… Please contact us for a current full list of languages we have worked on if you are interested. Once a project has been completed in its original language – typically English – re-versioning for a different country is surprisingly inexpensive and obviously goes down well with the target audience.

Can you integrate our existing 3D CAD models within media projects?

Yes we can. If clients have 3D media generated in AutoCAD, then we are happy to integrate this and have done so successfully in various projects. We also generate 3D modelled images directly in-house as well as producing 3D photographic images. Many clients, and more importantly their customers, often prefer to see real objects rather than computer generated ones. It demonstrates that products are real commercial samples rather than at the pre-production stage. When produced on specific photographic 3D-modelling software the resulting images are now very hard to tell apart, so we often mix both real and rendered images within the same project.

We’ve seen an effect we like – can you do this…?

We work with a lot of unusual and specialist equipment including aerial camera platform that allow remote-control flying of cameras, through to specialist computer-controlled 3D rotational and tracking rigs, hi-speed and time-lapse systems, as well as lots of specialist software which allow us to add morphing and many other special effects. So if you’re seen an effect on TV or film that you like, chances are that we can reproduce it cost-effectively.

Does it make a difference which operating system/Platform we view movies on?

Not really. Whilst the internal architecture of Macs and PCs is very different, the way they play media and interface with the Web is quite similar. Many of the popular 3D/movie viewers are built into their respective browsers. In broad terms it’s not a problem.

The increasingly popular Flash-based systems are now typically integrated into computers, and JAVA viewers are both platform independent and download-free. Tablet Mac/PC/Android variants are now very popular options for sales and marketing professionals. The choice of output Codecs and resolutions can seem bewildering, but whatever your target audience we can tailor appropriate output formats at the end of a project.

We encourage clients not to get too distracted by output options and variations; this is really a job for the back-room technicians. Good quality initial storyboarding of the elements is much more important than worrying about what it might look like on an iPad.

How is the media supplied to us / how can we use the files?

One of the great things about modern multi-media files is that we can now prepare files at full HD (1920x1080) and then re-sample it down for use on laptop presentations or web use. Often files are made up for trade shows and then down-sampled in this way. We work with designers to produce media that exactly fits specific requirements – web banners for example. In addition we provide a wide range of professional support services for delivering 360° files and integrated video/animation projects that will work on different platforms and devices.

3D: Object Imaging

What sort of objects can you shoot/image in 3D?

Pretty well anything you would normally photograph. We have specialist rigs to spin anything from a small coin to 2 tonne vehicles. See examples on this site and 3D Car FAQ’s section below or check out our sister website

How much will it cost – is it expensive?

We are asked this a lot. Typically it is about the same price as standard commercial photography. And is based on studio time or man-hours. Naturally, larger corporate clients tend to go for more expensive and complex 3D images, in the same way one would expect them to use higher quality photography in advertising and sales literature. However, entry-level 3D imaging can still be of high quality and is relatively inexpensive and can be used in a number of ways – for example in sales meetings, trade shows, websites etc. – so you can get “a lot of bang for your buck”! Unlike 2D (stills) imaging, 3D images can be generated in a lot of ways now – ‘real’ 3D image sequences can be animated, HD video, 3D modelling for example – often we integrate these within one production.

How can we use 3D as part of our projects?

Clients are increasingly turning to more complex integrated 3D video graphics for use on websites and multimedia presentations. By adding a third dimension, customers can interact with your product – promoting better understanding of technical features and encouraging them to buy.

Typically clients use 3D image sequences to show how products look and operate – for example, it is ideal for demonstrating key product features. However, often media sequences showing simple assembly or operation sequences have proved to be very popular with our clients. They solve time-consuming and expensive support liaison with customers and therefore save time and money and avoid frayed tempers and lost customers.

In addition to being able to simply rotate products, the use of high-res. footage elements allows us to freely zoom in and out of objects during any animated sequences without loss of quality.

It is often said: “A picture is worth a thousand words”; this is especially true of animated/3D images as they can save a lot of unnecessary explanation and cut across language barriers – often with little or no re-versioning costs. Unsurprisingly, this is popular with our customers.

Do you have experience of working with high-speed [slow-motion] and time-lapse systems?

Distorting time with digital media is becoming increasingly inexpensive. We often incorporate some sort of time-warping sequences into projects as it provides inexpensive visual interest for the viewer. In addition it can produce specific advantages. For example, time-lapse sequences make it possible to show busy work environments such as offices, shopping malls or workshops without the need for expensive models or the issues associated with getting staff or members of the public to sign model release documents.

We also have our own high-speed video equipment and have access to even more sophisticated pre-programmable tracking hardware. In addition we have specialist software, which allow us to seamlessly ramp the speed of video events up and down. Not only can this allow the viewer to see formerly imperceptible detail it looks great too.

360° Object movies – post-production options

We believe that we produce some of the best photographic (non-rendered) 360° object movies in the business. All of our production footage is captured at high resolutions and typically post-produced at this native resolution. Most of our files are digitally vector cut – frame by frame – to produce a crisp (typically white) background. Consequently our clients often use these images elements for printed media as well as enjoying the quality this produces in 3D.

However, we realize that clients have different requirements. As this strikingly crisp finish is time-consuming to achieve, we offer the option of a ‘budget’ range of 360° object movies. These are shot on a slightly modified rig which reduces some of the laborious post-production. The saving in time is reflected in the lower cost of the final movie. These movies are a sensible option for clients wishing to use quantities of 3D imaging for on-line catalogues—e.g. ceramics giftware or production engineering components.

Can you create stand alone 360° movies that can simply be e-mailed to customers?

Yes. Over the years this has become less difficult as the technology develops. Most web browsers have integrated viewers. There are a number of different ways to create self-running movies – creating self-extractable file set containing all the required images that the user requires. We can also create a single .exe file that the user simply has to click to run.

Can you create presentations that include both object and panoramic images?

Yes. This is increasingly becoming one of the most common ways of using these technologies. Customers tired of poorly prepared PowerPoint-style presentations are increasingly moving to more complex integrated media projects. These can contain not only 3D object and panoramic imaging, but technical animation, CAD work, text overlays, voice-over, sound effect and music. We also re-version these in many different languages. The beauty of this delivery system is that our clients can chose the elements that want to use based on the message they want to get across, their target audience and their budget.

What output options are available for 3D object images?

This continues to change as software technology advances. Generally speaking exterior (spin) movies are now often output as Flash, QuickTime, QTVR or Java applets. The chosen route is dependent on how the client wishes the user to interact with the media – some prefer a more hands-on approach, other like their customers to be able to just sit back and be guided through the USP’s of the product.

3D: Automotive Imaging

What types of vehicles can you shoot in 3D?

We undertake 3D photography projects from motorcycles and small town run-arounds right up to massive 4x4s and people carriers. We have also developed systems to shoot much larger vehicles such as military tanks, JCBs, trucks and aircraft by using different equipment and techniques. Our specialist 3D car turntable has been equipped with automatic indexing to stop and start it at specific angles for 3D photography – it can also run smoothly and almost silently for video shoots.

Can you give us some ballpark prices for shooting cars in 3D?

This is one of the few areas of photography in which we need to establish an accurate specification before we can offer a meaningful price.

360 degree car photography can be specified with different numbers of horizontal “bands” of images, as well as different numbers of images in each rotational band. For example a single band movie – normally called a “spin” movie – could typically have 18/24/30/36 frames (20/15/12/10 degree advance-angles). The more images there are in a movie, the more post-production time is required and costs increase in proportion. So choosing the number of frames in a 3D movie not only effects its quality but also has a direct bearing on the post-production costs. Multi-band (Spin and Roll) movies need to specified even more tightly to keep post-production times down and costs under control.

Be very wary of anyone offering simple answers to the question “How much is it?” as they probably will not have understood the issues involved. We have amassed a lot of experience in costing these jobs, so please call us if you need a quote.

Can you shoot 3D cars in my garage/warehouse/field/studio?

The short answer is probably no. Although it is possible to set-build a working 3D environment on site, the number of man-hours and equipment necessary to make this work means that it is impractical for all but the highest budget jobs.

Car studios are quite unusual spaces – extremely large, smooth white or grey seamless coves, usually with one open end into which vehicles can be driven. Some can even take several articulated lorries at once. 3D studios are similar but they have no open end – or at least a close-able side once vehicles are in place. This ensures that the lighting and reflections do not change as the vehicles rotate. It’s fairly obvious when you think about it, but often gets overlooked.

My car is very valuable – will it be safe?

Yes it will. We take a great deal of care with vehicles whether they are new production line cars or valuable classics. Some of the vehicles we have shot have been worth millions of pounds, so we are used to it. You’re welcome to come on the shoot and stay with your vehicle(s) if you wish.

Do you shoot Classic cars?

Yes we do – and we enjoy it. We understand that whilst collectors are often delightfully keen and knowledgeable, they are not always rich! Commercial jobs for big car companies are easily funded, but individual collectors/restorers and clubs can benefit from our discounted rates if we can get groups of vehicles together to share the overheads of using professional 3D car studio space. If you were at the NEC Classic Car show in Autumn 2007 you may have seen our show stand. Talk to us about this if you are interested as we always enjoy working with enthusiasts.

What output options are available for 3D car images?

This continues to change as software technology advances – the main decision now is whether to shoot HD video or an animated still image sequence. This decision is affected both by how you want the end-user to interact with the digital files and whether the vehicles require any modification in post-production. Generally speaking, stop-frame animated exterior (spin) movies are output as QuickTime, QTVR, Flash or Java applets. Interior (2-axis and 3-axis) movies can be output as QTVR, Java, or directly to Flash. Additionally we can export the external QTVR spin movies at 2x or even 3x their native viewer (on-screen) size. This increases the file sizes a bit, but allows the user to zoom in to sharp detailed data.

Where can we purchase the kit you use for your interior automotive imaging?

Most of our specialist equipment is designed and built for us in-house. The equipment is constantly modified and improved to suit different commissions. Our 3D imaging rig allows us to shoot inside cars from the driver’s eye position, allowing the viewer to see the instruments as if they were sitting in the driving seat. We are not currently manufacturing this equipment for use by other studios.

Can you photograph my car on site?

See answer to similar 3D question above.

If the image is going to be used as a still only – not in 3D – then yes, vehicles can be shot on site. However there is a big difference in the way professional location and studio shots are organised, lit and post-produced. In particular issues regarding reflections of the surrounding environment in the bodywork and glass surfaces need careful thought. A lot of commercial car images which appear to show vehicles on location – e.g. cars shot on a cliff top at sunset or speeding around an empty section of freeway – are actually shot in studios and seamlessly blended into their location images.

By comparison photographing car interiors on location is relatively painless.

3D: 360° On-Site Imaging

What sort of 3D spaces do you photograph?

As a result of R & D spin-offs from working in the aerospace and automotive industries we have developed systems for shooting in very confined spaces – car cabins and flight cockpits for example. These systems can also be used to image more mundane spaces such as toilet facilities, bathrooms, and kitchens for example.

Bigger spaces such as operating theatres, offices, health spas etc are readily imaged in 3D, although the issues involved in photographing these bigger spaces can be quite different in terms of preparation and forward planning. High quality results come from attention to detail when choosing and preparing the shooting sites. We have plenty of experience in both producing 3D imaging of both very small and very large spaces.

Can you do generate ‘old-style’ panoramic movie tours?

Yes – we have used this technology for over 15 years. The traditional panoramic tour with clickable hotspots has now been superseded by more sophisticated presentation systems. So whilst we are able to generate these hot-spot tours and/or interactive map to link 3D panoramic movies, it’s worth talking through the current options. At the simplest level we provide good quality panoramic movies to other design professionals or web developers, who integrate them into their own 3D environments. This interesting technology can be used more intelligently when integrated into a more sophisticated media wrapper and we have used this in a number of successful projects.

Do you have experience working in clinical/scientific environments?

SJM shoot a lot of clinical and sterile areas – hospitals, dental surgeries, operating theatres and also sterile packing areas that are used behind the scenes. Sometime this involves scrubbing and gowning in order to cover surgical procedures which may go on for several hours – these may have start and stop times that may change due to medical complications. In addition, manufacturers of medical systems and research equipment use us to shoot their products and production areas. Clients often like to employ contractors who have previous experience of working in these areas, who can offer intelligent imaging solutions without having to be brought up to speed with issues about hygiene and contamination of prepared working sites.

We shoot both single and multiple camera set-ups in clinical environments, both as stills and HD video.

Concepts and Effects

Do you have much experience in producing Special Effects/Concept imaging?

The SJM studio has a long track record for the production of Special Effects and Concept photography for both trade show and editorial use. Generating images that convey clear messages – especially for products for which there is no specific hardware to shoot – is often useful to clients. These images are used directly by industry and for international photo libraries. We work to very high standards, both designing and producing these images in-house. We have done this sort of work for many years – long before the advent of computer-based imaging.

Can you generate a set of concept ideas for us?

Yes, we offer this as both as a production design service and also as part of our more extensive consultancy services. Pencil and paper scamps prepared with – or presented to – clients by our team allow us to fine-tune initial sketches right through to final output without potentially expensive re-working of ideas. Very often people are now too keen to jump into technological solutions before they have a clear view of where they are going; our approach is pragmatic and very cost-effective.

Can we buy off-the-shelf images from you?

As long as they are not related to another client’s project then yes you can. Even better, we regularly modify our existing ‘library’ images to suit a client’s design layout and can add products or other design elements to these images. This can be an extremely cost effective way of producing striking commercial images.

Food Technology

Are you able to shoot food images/media as well as packaging sytems?

We do all sorts of food and drink imagery for packaging plus advertising for food retailers, supermarkets, even hotel groups. This not only includes food but also soft and alcoholic beverages, snack foods, fresh fruit and vegetables etc. Generally we try to produce bright “high-key” fresh images – this seems to work well for most clients, but we’re happy to follow a specific design brief.

We have a basic kitchen set-up in our main studio, but sometimes hire a larger drive-in studio when necessary. This has a larger kitchen area, but food preparation has never proved a problem in any case. All our shots are planned in advance with food stylists, so we tend to pick up potential snags at an early stage and deal with them long before the shoot day.

Do you do food photography on location?

Sometimes. However, rather like automotive imaging there is a specific application for location imaging; often controlled studio spaces with overhead lighting systems is much more appropriate.

Do you have experience of working with prototype/innovative packaging materials?

Yes we do. Over the years we have worked on a range of novel sytems, many of which have now become mainstream. We have produced material for a wide range of companies – these include confectionery, dairy, cereal, meat and beverage products.

Can you produce 3D images for packaging prototypes?

Yes we can. Our teams have a very wide range of expertise in producing high-resolution still and video media in both 2D and 3D. In addition to simple product visualisation and axis rotation work we are also able to offer unusual animation options by combining tradition animation techniques with the use of sophisticated pre-programmable 3D tracking, rotational rigs which we have developed over many years.

General FAQs

Do you have your own production facilities & equipment?

Yes we do. In addition to two production offices for stills, video and audio editing we also have our own fully equipped studio, plus a wide range of specialist equipment available for use on our projects. Unlike many other production companies we do not normally need to hire in any equipment, indeed many hire from us.

What do you do about safety and insurance?

All our kit is fully tested and up-to-date. We always endeavour to carry back-up systems where possible and also have both medical and safety equipment when appropriate. We are covered for Public Liability Insurance. With 30 years of experience working in different environments we can typically recognise any potential issues that need addressing before we even start.

What do you do about “Model-release”?

This is quite an important issue and one that we see a lot of clients falling foul of when shooting their own images. It is important to understand that anyone who is recognisable on a commercial image should sign a form to say they that they are consenting to the image’s use. Dealing with this ahead of time is best as fiddling about with model-release paperwork on a busy shoot is a major headache, especially where the public are involved. Even in controlled situations, staff leaving or being made redundant after shoots can cause problems for the client. Consequently we try to shoot people with a slight movement blur or keep them out-of-focus, this make spaces look busy and modern. Obviously this is not an issue with professional models, so one simple solution is to use models in the foreground of the shot if customers have the budget.