Are Apple's iPhone X product images photographs or renders?

Apple’s product images are world class. The detail and clarity is stunning. The lighting and composition is perfect. How are they made?

After spending some time photographing the iPhone X, I compared my images to Apple’s promotional images on I humbly admit I was so perplexed by Apple’s images that I wondered if they were actually renders. The control of lighting is so precise that I’m uncertain how much is actually captured in camera if any at all.

When I am looking at a photo and I see a highlight in a reflective surface, I know that there is a light placed at a position that will reflect the light. In photography this is called the incident angle. So when I see a highlight in an image I can try to imagine the quality of the light that made that highlight. Controlling these highlights is utterly important when lighting a reflective surface.

For instance, looking at this close-up of the front angle notice how the highlights on the side are so finely controlled. Starting from the rear, there is a shadow that runs precisely along the edge. Then a band of highlight that runs along the side and wraps around the rounded corner while maintaining even illumination. Here I would expect some variance in the illumination as the light moves around the corner. In order for the light to maintain constant illumination around the corner, the light would need to maintain equal distance from the surface otherwise the light would vary in intensity.

apple iphone x render or photo.jpg

Towards the front there are two highlights that flank a darker band. These two highlights do have a gradation as they curve and taper to the top. The gradation does look natural but the tapering to a point is impeccable.

Putting it all together, try to imagine what the lights look like that make these highlights and shadow areas. It’s either an amazingly precise lighting set-up, a composite image from multiple captures, or maybe it’s simply a render. I’m not a 3D render artist but it would seem to be easier to illustrate a render than try to capture this image in camera with photography. I imagine that all these elements of the image that are astonishing to me as a photographer are not an issue in the virtual world of illustration. Creating the images as renders also solves the issue of depth-of-field, the area of focus, which is extremely shallow when shooting this close-up with photography. Depth of field is not insurmountable challenge in photography but it a layer of complexity that would not be an issue with a render.    

Also note that there is zero surface texture in these images. Contrast this to an image of the iPhone 5 at a similar angle. In the iPhone 5 image there is visible texture on the side, and the light’s gradation appears more natural as it moves from highlight to shadow along the band. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the iPhone 5 image is a photograph, but it is a different aesthetic and more natural looking than the iPhone X images.

iPhone 5 image has a touch of texture along the side.

iPhone 5 image has a touch of texture along the side.

Even if the iPhone images are actual photographs, or at the very least originate as photographs, their final appearance is decidedly surreal. These images are not meant to convey reality. Does it matter whether the images are “real” or not? Maybe some people would argue that product images should be photographs so that we know what the product actually looks like, that a perfect computer generated image is an unfair trick meant to seduce the unknowing viewer. However, even product images captured in camera are manipulated so much in post-production that I’d be reluctant to claim that photographs somehow represent reality. If we can get philosophical for a moment, this was true even before the age of Photoshop, as photography manipulates scale, idealizes, and transforms reality.

I do know that at some point several years ago that Apple’s product images were actual photographs. Are they now renders? Does it matter? Am I completely wrong in my assessment of these images? Let me know what you think.  

Photograph or render?

Photograph or render?




iPhone X Product Photography

iPhone X Photographs 

This is a series of photos I created of the iPhone X. Apple products are exceptionally designed and manufactured and I was really inspired by the design of the iPhone X. The concept of these images is dramatic lighting that showcases the products form. I used a black background and lighting that came from a rear or side angle. I spent about a day and a half on the photography and another day on post-production. The wallpaper images are also my photos.

The first image, which show a crop of the front at an angle, was the first image I shot. This image was completed using a focus stacking technique. The image is comprised of 14 different images taken at incremental focus points that are later processed in post-production into one composite image. This time-consuming technique allows me to shoot at a very close distance yet maintain focus throughout. It also allows me to shoot an exposure just for the front speaker grill and not have that light affect any other part of the photo.    

If you would like to reproduce these images, please contact Michael.

Apple iPhone X product photos angle.jpg

The straight-on front image of the face of the iPhone X was also a composite image. There is an exposure for each side, top, bottom, volume buttons, speaker and lens. Additionally, there is a overall image for the screen and notch. Shooting each element individually allowed me to light the product without compromising how each light affected another area. In post-production it is all put together into one image. A concern when using a composite technique is to make all the lighting even and appear natural when it all comes together.  


The rear view is a composite image also using the focus stacking technique to maintain focus. This image uses 11 separate captures.

Apple iPhone X product photo rear view.jpg

As you can see, achieving quality product photography is tremendously time consuming. Studio lighting always takes time and then adding the focus stacking technique makes for a long shoot. The end product is hopefully a great image. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Apple iPhone X side view photograph.jpg

This is a scam

PSA to other photographers, if you receive this email it is a scam. 

Have you received a job offer that just seemed to easy to be real? Did the potential client offer you the job straight away? Did they seem very trusting in you and offered to send payment in advance? Sorry folks, it's a scam. This scam has absolutely nothing to do with Hypebeast, Photoserve, or any other legitimate company. From reddit, here's a summary of how this scam works. 

(1) The scammer sends you a very real looking, but fake, check (often it’s a fake “cashier’s check”).

(2) You deposit the check into your bank account, and within a couple of days your bank makes some or all of the funds available to you. This helps trick you into the false belief that the check was real. (Note that by law, under most usual situations, your bank must make some or all the funds available to you within a few days, BUT THIS IS NOT the same thing as the check or the funds being “verified” or the check “clearing” the bank.)

(3) For various and often complicated reasons, depending on the specific story line of the scam, the scammer will ask you to send someone (who is either the scammer themselves using an alias or an accomplice of the scammer) some of the money by Western Union, or MoneyGram, or even gift cards like iTunes gift cards.

(4) Usually within a couple of weeks (but it can take as long as a couple of months) your bank will realize that the check you deposited was fake, and your bank will remove the funds that you deposited into your account and charge you for a bounced check fee. If you withdrew any of the money that you deposited, such that your bank account balance goes negative when the bank reverses the deposit, then you will owe that money back to your bank, and your bank may charge you an overdraft fee.

This scam is also very popular on Craigslist in which a buyer will offer to send you money. In our case regarding a photography gig, the scammer will get in touch with you about an upcoming gig. Maybe it's a shoot for a popular website such as Hypebeast or maybe a wedding, anniversary, birthday party or bar mitzvah. They will offer some details about the shoot to make it seem real. They will give you some possible dates and specifics about the images. 

Here's a sample text of the email they send. They might also claim to be working with Highsnobiety, and any other number of sites.


I saw your portfolio on and would like to learn more about your services. I’m looking for an experienced photographer to work with on an ongoing blogging and articles. I blog for various online platforms and would love to collaborate with photographers on genre such as beauty, vintage, art, lifestyle, and outdoor.

I am compiling shots for “fashion page” segment and the online fashion magazine is looking for professional and reliable photographers who want to create stunning images- Hypebeast is particularly looking for outdoor and urban looks.

If you’re interested this project, it is important to understand few details about the project. These are:

  1. You will be required to work with 2 models.

  2. There will be 3 outfits per model, 5 looks for each outfit, which totals 30 looks/images.

  3. Outfits/Wardrobe will be supplied by us.

  4. Location, date, and time will be fixed by you.

  5. We want 30 professionally taken pictures in High Res Digital Copies.

  6. Delivery date: August 21.

  7. Compensation: $2000 ($500 upfront and $1500 final payment).

  8. You will hold full image right (Licensor)

As the photographer we want you to handle other aspect of the gig and dictate the creative direction. If you can handle this, please reply with your full name (Business name), phone number, and address (to be written on your check and contract). Click of the link for a sample of my work: I will forward a contract to be signed by both parties.


If you think others will benefit from this post, please feel free to share. Thank you.




Star Wars Original Trilogy Unaltered

As if we are living in an alternative universe, one thing that does not exist in our world is an original unaltered high definition version of the original Star Wars trilogy. The special edition versions are available on Blu-Ray or via streamable purchase but if you prefer your Star Wars without the added and altered scenes then there is no commercially available product for you buy. George Lucas has even said the original versions “don’t exist anymore” suggesting the original negatives were cut during the specialization process. I don’t really mind that Lucas wanted to edit his movie but I do feel that us fans should be able to choose the original versions. When an artist releases their work out into the world and becomes a cultural experience, it becomes a part of history and should be preserved. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, this took Lucas out of the picture and a new hope was created that Disney would find it in their hearts, or in their financial interest, to release a modern high-def release of the original trilogy.  

There has been no official word from Disney about this possibility, but in the meantime there are some hard-working fans who have personally recreated these sought after versions. A leader in this arena is Harmy who has most recently posted his 2.5 version of Episode IV. Harmy has created the high-def versions by using the 2004 DVD release, the current special edition Blu-Ray releases, as well as rare sources like recordings of a television broadcast and film print scans. The source materials also have their own issues, for example the 2004 DVD release was wrought with color correction issues, so Harmy has even had to fix the source material. In some cases, multiple sources were masked and combines to recreate parts of one scene. A tremendous effort by Harmy that is a service for all Star Wars fans.

Getting a copy of these versions takes some hoop jumping. This google doc will walk you through the process. You will have to download and install software on your computer for the file download as well as create an account on a suspicious but harmless website. Keep in mind that if your end goal is to watch these downloaded movie files on your television then you will need some means to get them from your computer to your TV. You'll either either burn the download onto a Blu-Ray disc or convert it to a movie file for playback. It may look daunting and technically challenging but I promise it’s worth it.


Super Mario 64 "Watch for Rolling Rocks: A Press Challenge"

Fascinating video about how far this Super Mario 64 player has deconstructed the video game. For context, an A Press Challenge is playing through a level of Super Mario 64 with as few A presses as possible. What this player does here is way beyond the anticipated quick reflexes and precise movements. He's broken through the matrix and playing an entirely different game.  

Squarespace vs Wordpress: Why I switched

As of this writing, this site is hosted by Squarespace but I was previously on Wordpress with a Prophoto template. I’ll discuss the differences between the two and why I decided to switch.

Design Choices

WordPress offers some very basic designs but most likely you will want to find a template that enhances your site’s look and functionality. There are a seemingly endless supply of templates from free to cheap to not so cheap and also subscription based offerings. With all this choice also comes wasted time weeding through junk. I would definitely skip any free options since the template provider has no obligation to you. If your site should not work then you have no place to turn. Look for a template provider that looks like it’s in the business for the long haul and can provide top customer support. Prophoto templates were well implemented and had good customer support.

Squarespace has a limited choice of templates but they are all nicely designed and are easily customizable. You can take the tour of their design on their site which are organized by type such as restaurants, photographers, musicians and so on. If you see something close to your liking then it’s likely you can tweak it enough to achieve your desired design. Even though there is less choice, at least you know every choice will work. You won’t waste time weeding through a load of junk. 

With either Squarespace or WordPress you can always hire a web designer to help you build your site if you need something very custom. If your site requires very specific design and features then neither Squarespace or WordPress is the right choice. 

Setting up your site

Getting your site up and running with Squarespace is very simple with a few caveats. Sqaurespace provides the hosting so you don’t need to find a separate hosting vendor. Squarespace will provide a custom domain name with the annual subscription but if you already have your domain name registered then you point your domain to your Squarespace site using domain mapping. Squarespace can provide a custom email through their integration with Google's G suite service. G suite is $5 per month per user including 30GB of Google Drive online storage. You can also migrate a current custom email address to G Suite if you desire. Alternately, your domain registrar might provide email or you can use a service such as Yahoo Business Email or Office 365. In short, Squarespace is easy to get started with if you are not already tied to a domain name and custom email address. If you already have a custom email address and domain name, you have a few options and technical hurdles to overcome.  

Using WordPress and a custom template means you are likely dealing with three to four entities to manage your site. You will need your own hosting and custom domain name as well as your email address. This might be provided by one or three companies. WordPress is free and your hosting company will likely have simple instructions to install. Then you just need to install the custom template onto your WordPress site. This process isn’t terribly difficult but the problem becomes what to do when something is wrong and you’re not sure who is to blame. For example, if you site loads slow, is it your hosting, something wrong with your template, or possibly a rogue plugin?  

Ease of use

This is where Squarespace and WordPress really part ways. I really can’t oversell how easy it is to design a site using Squarespace. In fact, ease of use is so obviously and clearly the main goal of Squarespace and it shows. Everything is clearly laid out and explained. Plus you can see the changes you make to your site as quickly as you make them. Squarespace help provides useful videos guiding you through the process.

WordPress is a Frankenstein nightmare. When you install a template with WordPress you will see the template and all it’s options. The problem now is that some of your content will be managed by the basic WordPress options and some by the template. For example, since I was using a photographers portfolio template I had the option to load a gallery of images via the templates gallery feature. However, images that went into blog post were added via the WordPress images library. All blog post are added via the basic WordPress editor but the look and style of the blog page is edited via the template. WordPress also has something called widgets which mostly add content to the sides of your design. Widgets are a part of the basic WordPress install but may be utilized by the template. I was always looking through all the editing options trying to find where to edit some part of my site before I remembered it was a widget. Fonts are not edited globally through your site so you will have to copy and paste styles from one area to the next. For example you can not easily set your headers and menu to the same color without a series of steps. 

Plugins are another option in WordPress. Most seemed to geared toward improving your site’s SEO but their are also social network plugins, analytics, and really anything you can imagine. They of course come with yet more options.

I could go on but I’ll stop there as I think I’ve made my point. I suppose you could argue that WordPress is giving you the most options to build your site and get exactly what you want. In practice, I found this was not true because there are too many pieces of the puzzle to make it all fit. I wasted so much time trying to find a good template, then constantly trying to find where certain parts of the site were edited, and installing and deleting plugins. It’s just not worth it. Sure you could bump up against the limits of the Squarespace editor and it doesn’t offer any third party plugins but the loss of options can be freeing. 


I have no idea the security of Squarespace. I googled around and couldn’t find anything about Squrespace sites having malware, viruses, or any other security vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, I am intimately aware of WordPress security as my site was hacked and infected when it was on WordPress. To summarize, I was infected, lost Google traffic, then paid a service to have my site cleaned and monitored. I then deleted all my plugins. This is my experience and yet another reason I left WordPress.

Future proof

For the most part, once you get your site designed you will just have to add content as needed. There are however web standards that change like we’ve seen from mobile and high resolution displays and it’s important to keep up with these changes. I found that WordPress was very slow to provide solutions to changes on the web. For example, responsive design (a site will automatically change it’s layout to fit the screen) is becoming more popular as people are accessing the web on a growing number of screen sizes. Some WordPress templates have this feature but some do not. My template provider offered an outdated mobile design that I chose not to use. This forced me to use a font size that was too large for desktop displays so that it could be readable on mobile displays. Squarespace sites are all responsive designs and automatically vary the font size for the display. WordPress/custom templates were also slow to offer support for high density displays such as those found on current MacBook Pros. Squarespace had high density display support more than a year before my template service offered it as a paid upgrade. I’d recommend Squarespace over WordPress if you want to stay current with web technologies.  


I confess the main reason I picked WordPress over any other website platform was that I understood it to have the best SEO, or search engine optimization. In short, this is howto optimize your site in order to have high Google rankings. Good SEO means more people will find your site. Now, I actually can’t tell you if WordPress actually does have the best SEO. I could compare my traffic before and after I switched to Squarespace but there are too many variables to make a fair comparison. In the end I switched to Squarespace because I felt I could spend more time improving my SEO by updating my site with more images and writing more instead of troubleshooting a WordPress site.


In short, I prefer Squarespace over Wordpress because it is far easier to use and design a site.

80MP Medium Format Leaf Credo Sample Image

Occasionally, I have a client request to shoot with a super high resolution medium format digital back. In these cases, the client needs the ultimate in detail and resolution either to show the super fine detail of a product and to have the greatest printing resolution for making large high quality prints. In the past, I’ve used the Hasselblad H3D or the Phase One Mamiya body with a IQ180 digital back. More recently, I shot with a Leaf Credo 80 on a Mamiya body. Regardless of which camera gear, I’m always amazed at the quality and detail these camera will output.

This image is captured with an 80 megapixel sensor which outputs a 240 megabyte tiff file measuring 10328x7760 pixels.

First, the full view of the image, a cross section of metal pipe.

High Resolution Product Photo

Cropped to 100% view.

Macro image photograph

Again the full size image showing the zoomed area.

Product photo OC

The full area you see is about 3.5 by 2.5 inches. The 100% crop is showing an area about 1/4 inch across, the typical length of a red ant. The camera is mounted with a Mamiya 120mm macro lens to achieve such close focus and incredible detail.

These cameras are pricey. A basic kit starts at $35,000 plus a few thousand for each additional lens. Luckily, professional rental houses will rent these camera kits for about $800-$900 per day, provided you have the proper insurance. There are less expensive kits to purchase for as low as $10,000 but those sensors have much lower megapixels.

Please get in touch if you are in the market for high-resolution photography.