Use HDR images to light your scenes

The primary role of 3D graphics is to recreate the appearance of objects as they react to light. In the early days of computer graphics, lights could create shadows using raytracing techniques, but they were limited by the fact that light didn’t bounce off objects and create indirect light to illuminate objects in the shade. While lighting has moved on with the inclusion of global illumination, it’s still predominantly driven by virtual lights in the software, and can be render-heavy. To truly emulate a real environment is a challenge, and relies more on the eye of the lighting artist rather than on scientific data.

In the last 15 years, techniques and tools have been created that allow us to capture real-world light data and integrate it into our 3D environments to light our scenes. This data is a series of photos of a scene, usually from a single point, which have been stitched together to create a panorama of the scene, and merged together to maximise colour depth.

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