I was wondering about the term 'photorealistic' in regards to rendering and was wondering how this is used.

Is it used to describe a shader (or set of) that have certain quantifiable features? Or any rendering thats not meant to be abstract, like the cartoon effect seen in Borderlands? Or is it just a subjective term meaning 'really really realistic'?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure it's just really really realistic. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 12, 2011 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ When looking at a rendering and thinking it's a photograph. The last one I've seen was a scene in 3dsmax, render time: 60 hours. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave O.
    Feb 12, 2011 at 14:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the responses everyone, whenever i've seen the term used its usually fit well with subjective use but looking around at various 'photorealistic' examples I just wanted to see if there was anything more to it. Im not really sure how to pick answers for questions like this so I selected Roger Perkins as that was the first in, but up votes all round as all are very helpful :) Thanks \$\endgroup\$
    – sebf
    Feb 12, 2011 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ (My account from SO has not 'migrated' so I may not upvote yet but I will as soon as I get required rep here) \$\endgroup\$
    – sebf
    Feb 12, 2011 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dave, do you know where I can view that render? \$\endgroup\$
    – sebf
    Feb 12, 2011 at 17:47

2 Answers 2


I've worked on a few games that have been described as photorealistic and I'd have to say it's purely subjective, especially as what we might describe as photorealistic today won't in a few years (as hardware improves, rendering gets closed to perfection and people's expectations of games goes up).

You can apply the term to anything that is rendered, I would take it to mean that what your describing looks as real as you can make it (be that the shading, textures, lighting, etc). In an ideal world, a screenshot would look just like a photo taken on a camera.


When I've seen the term "photorealistic" used, it's shorthand for "trying to be photorealistic." That is, aiming for the rendered picture to look as real as possible, and using as much real physics with regard to lighting that the machine can handle.

Most rendering is photorealistic, or trying to be. If you make a conscious choice toward the stylized, as in Borderlands, you're no longer photorealistic.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly what I was going to say. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Feb 12, 2011 at 16:24

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