Creating Photorealistic Renderings and Movies – Lighting Setup

Before you start, consider what type of rendering you want to achieve – photorealistic, or artistic? There’s no right or wrong way to do a rendering, and it all depends on your intentions and what you want to convey when presenting the rendering of the space to your prospective customer. The answer to this initial question will affect how you should go about renders.

Image source: Some images in this article are from REDsdk’s documentation.


Lighting Setup

1. Use Area Lights for Ceiling Lights

To provide soft, evenly spread illumination for the space, check the Use Area Lights option in the property box when using the Ceiling Lights in the Lights Extension:



Original image to the left, image with the Use Area Lights option activated to the right


2. Avoid Using Omni Lights Unless Necessary

All light sources should have a visible source that the viewer can determine where the light is coming from. Omni lights can result in unnatural looking renderings which depict an invisible light source casting shadows all around. Overusing omni lights can result in slower renderings as well.



3. Experiment With Light Settings

Use the Light Settings in the quick properties box of the light to adjust the brightness, and other light settings such as Shadow Softness, Temperature, or Direction to achieve different results. Group the lights in Light Groups to change the settings all at once. However, note that different kinds of lights have different behavior with regards to the settings; e.g. some lights do not light up as much with a +10 brightness compared to other lights. Hence, be mindful when combining multiple light sources.


4. Preview Results Before Render to Avoid Over- or Underexposure

Use the Preview feature in Photo Lab or Movie Studio to preview the lighting of the space before rendering. Avoid overexposure by removing unnecessary light sources or toning down the brightness settings, and avoid underexposure by first trying to increase the brightness of existing lights before adding additional light sources.


Overexposed image to the left, and underexposed image to the right


5. Use Natural Light Presets such as Product Lighting or Natural Lighting

These presets provide a good starting point for background lighting, and have the best settings for photorealistic light and shadows.

About Light Presets

Light presets in CET Designer influences the way lighting and shadow effects are rendered in CET Designer, and provide a template for sunlight and ambient lighting. Two main types are Normal presets (Realtime, Multiple Suns, Normal, Office Lighting, etc.) and Natural light presets which are of higher quality and provide a greater degree of photorealism, with enhanced subtle details like color bleeding, indirect light reflections, and shadows. Some of them are:

  • Product Lighting – uses a soft, even, ambient lighting for renderings. However, sunlight or camera is not available. This preset works best with standalone product shots, or open space designs that let ambient lighting fill the space.
  • Natural Light – uses the same ambient lighting as Product lighting, however, you will be able to configure the sunlight and camera light to add natural realism.


6. Choose Light Preset Based on Your Space

  • For open spaces (standalone product shots or scenes without ceilings), use Product Lighting preset. This should provide good lighting with minimum effort.
  • For closed spaces (with ceilings and windows), the preset choice is depending on the look you are going for:
    • If you just want an even illumination throughout the scene, use Product Lighting, place area lights, and any supporting lightings as necessary.
    • If you want a more realistic feel, use Natural Lighting, adjust the sunlight settings as appropriate (for example afternoon sun or evening sun), place area lights, and any supporting lightings as necessary.
  • However, light presets do not automatically add lights in indoor scenes where sunlight and ambient lighting is unable to reach. For indoor scenes, it remains the responsibility of the designer to create a proper lighting setup to ensure that it is well lit.


7. Use High Quality Setting

This increases the quality of the model used in renderings, and is especially important if you have lots of glass or reflective materials. High Quality setting ensures that shadows through multiple layers of glass, reflections and refractions are properly rendered.

2 Responses to “Creating Photorealistic Renderings and Movies – Lighting Setup”

  1. Gabriela Carrasco says:

    Is there any way to make the renderings more picture like?

    • CET Designer offers amazing rendering features, and the final result can indeed be truly picture like! With that said, there is not a tool or magic wand that will make any rendering look like a photo. How your rendering will look comes down to many different factors such as:

    • What does the space look like?
    • Is it a closed or open scene, i.e. with or without walls, floor and ceiling?
    • What materials/textures are used?
    • Are there light sources?
    • What render settings are you using?
    • There are some general guidelines available here:
      We also offer webinars that cover different CET Designer topics and you can find a schedule here:
      Although there is not a Photo Lab webinar listed right now, it could come up in the future.

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