Master the art of lighting a 3D scene

Rohit Jagadisha on how three-point lighting can really bring your characters to life.

Make the unreal feel more real with proper lighting

One of the oldest lighting techniques in the book is called three-point lighting. Once you understand this, you're well on the way to understanding all lighting. The three different points in this type of lighting are the key, the fill and the backlight.

The goal of three-point lighting is to create the illusion of a three-dimensional subject in a two-dimensional image. While you can create dimension in a number of different ways, there's no doubt that using light and shadow is a powerful way to accomplish this.

To set the scene (in 3ds Max) create an area light with Use Light Shape switched on and in the Lights shader, under Custom Shaders, assign Mia-portal- light. Enable Sky portal and change the intensity according to the lighting.

Light sources

The key light, as the name suggests, is the most important light and is the primary light source that provides most of the illumination on your subject. You place this light about 45 degrees to the model's right or left and about 45 degrees above, aimed straight at the face. Feel free to adjust it later if necessary. It's providing most of the light, it needs to be extremely bright. Make sure that you haven't burned out your whites. You should get strong shadows and a good tonal range.

The fill light is the secondary light source, usually the same height, and it is placed on the side of the camera just opposite to the key light. Set this to about half the intensity of the key light; its main purpose is to soften shadows created by the key light.

Finally, the back light illuminates the space above and slightly behind the model. Its purpose is to give some sense of separation between the model and the background, and provide a three-dimensional look.

Words: Rohit Jagadisha

Rohit Jagadisha is a 3D generalist, currently working at Real Image Productions. This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 188.

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