The Blue Skies Debate: Does Realism or Idealism Make Better Project Images?

Posted by Justin Bourn


The ‘Blue Skies’ debate has been a controversial topic in project marketing for a long time, and it begs the question: what makes the most impact on the target market – photorealism or idealistic imagery?


In an increasingly competitive market, property developers, architects and marketers are all seeking new ways to impress their audiences. That’s why they believe people want to see images of the project that feature bright, blue skies that reflect how we see the world.


This is the type of image that the industry has been using for years, and images that feature clear blue skies are seen as ‘what works’ when appealing to the target market. However, this is always something that has frustrated rendering companies whose artistic endeavor is to seek photorealism.


It’s not as simple as just capturing blue skies in an image. In fact, most images with bright blue skies have been heavily edited to capture the aesthetic that the project team is looking for.


So, while blue skies might be the preferred aesthetic, they’re not always the most realistic.


That’s why this is a controversial issue for both project marketing teams and the artists/3D rendering companies producing the imagery.


Below we explore a real-life example. The top image was preferred by the studio, and the bottom image was preferred by the client.



What do Design Clients Want?

In terms of what marketers and property developers want, the answer would appear to be photorealism – which would mean white skies.


One of the questions in a recent study we ran at Blank Canvas asked industry professionals how they preferred their rendered images to look. The answer was overwhelmingly ‘photo-realistic’.

Interestingly, this opinion is usually contradicted when a marketer or developer sees an image with a white sky. They’ll often ask for more blue to be added.


Can People Tell the Difference Between Real and Fake Skies?

A study by the University of Warwick in the UK shows that only 45% of their 700 participants could spot a doctored photo – so, if these doctored photos can’t be recognised as fake by the target market, and they are having a positive impact, it’s easy to say that there’s nothing wrong with them.


The Designer’s Perspective

More realistic images (without the blue skies) can actually make the project look better, and help the potential buyer visualise themselves living in the project.


Realistically, when we take a photo of an interior, it is likely that the outside will appear more white than blue. By creating a natural, bright feel and realistic lighting we lose the blue sky but produce a stronger image that showcases the interior better than an image with blue skies.


In the daytime, the sky is normally the brightest part of the scene. If we lower the exposure of a photograph or change other settings to darken the sky it causes other elements of the image to be under-exposed.


Anyone with a smartphone has experienced this issue when they try to take a picture looking outside from inside on a bright, sunny day.



Bring the focus to an interior (left), and the bright background looks white. Bring the focus to the bright background (right), and the interior darkens. So when skies or backgrounds are artificially coloured and the interior stays the same, the resulting image is less realistic. This is an oversimplified representation of the issue, of course, but the example serves to illustrate the general basis of the debate.


Incorrect or inconsistent background photography is one of the most common mistakes in the production of 3D renders (as we talked about on the blog, here) and it can have a negative impact on the project’s overall marketing efforts, so it’s crucial that the artist get it right if they are going for the realistic image.


If 3D renderers were to use CGI to add a blue sky to every project, it wouldn’t reflect the realistic imagery that they are trying to create. If a client or customer wants true architectural visualisation, then shouldn’t they have the real picture? Developers and architects are trying to sell the idealistic dream, but the reality of the project might resonate even more with their target market.


So What’s Better: Realism or Idealism?

The answer to this question depends more on how images are perceived than the way they actually look.

In order to find out what the common preference is, we put it to a vote! We decided to put the debate to the people.

We received over 800 responses to our survey!

And the results were (drum roll please)…

White Skies: 449

Blue Skies:  336

White skies came out on top!

What do you think? You can check out some of the responses and cast a vote of your own on the Facebook post linked below.

Vote on Facebook!

Justin Bourn

Justin Bourn

Justin Bourn is director of Blank Canvas who specialises in 3D visualisation images for architectural, interior design and property marketing.
Justin Bourn