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Light Up Your 3D Scenes

Blender: Lighting – Simply Explained

Picture of Jaime Rios Velasco
by Jaime Rios Velasco
Mar 13, 2019

Whether you're new to Blender or a seasoned pro, it can be difficult to figure just exactly what it is you need. Here we will show you how to use Blender lighting in your scenes, the different options available and when what works best.

Blender Lighting Lighting in Blender

Picture of a cube and monkey object being illuminated in Blender.
Picture of a cube and monkey object being illuminated in Blender. Source: BlenderNation

Depending on what you are working on in Blender, lighting might be a necessary thing to have.

If you are creating a 3D model, painting some textures, or making a 2D animations, it’s quite unlikely that you will need lighting at all. However, when designed a render of 3D scenes, like an object with a background, the lighting can change everything.

Blender offers a variety of “lamp” types that will emit light into your scene in order to make it more visible. These different lights can be added manually through the “Create” tab. While this may sound simple, there are many small ‘tricks’ you can take advantage of in order to create awesome pieces of work. That’s what this article is all about.

Blender Lighting Why Is Lighting Necessary?

A picture with many bulbs, one of which emitting light.
A picture with many bulbs, one of which emitting light. Source: Blender Guru

Blender is a program in which you can work in a 3D environment. However, when you’re finished with a design, you may want to use it outside of a 3D viewing environment. This is where Blender lighting comes in handy.

After setting up a scene with all the objects, particles, backgrounds, and cameras, it is time to render. This is the process where Blender analyzes the 3D environment and gives you a 2D image. You can think of it as the digital version of using a camera to take a picture of a real-life 3D scene.

A key factor to get quality visible renders is to have good lighting in your scene. If there’s too little lighting, it is quite likely that the final render will appear dark and barely visible, as well as lose details and textures.

Therefore, Blender lighting can be quite important in making posters or 3D animations.

Blender Lighting How to Add Lighting in Blender

A scene with a corridor and light cones in Blender.
A scene with a corridor and light cones in Blender. Source: Jaime Rios

There are several ways you can illuminate a scene in Blender in order to get more light. The most common one is to add a “Lamp” from the “Create” tab, from which you can choose between 5 types: 

  • Sun 
  • Point 
  • Area 
  • Hemi 
  • Spot 

Once your desired Blender lighting type is chosen and inserted, you can place the light source anywhere in your design space. To do this, right click on the lamp and place them somewhere in your scene to illuminate the desired area. 

You can also tweak several settings in the lamp options in order to get a better and more accurate result on what you are looking for. The most common ones to tweak are strength and color. 

Blender Lighting More Ways of Adding Lights in Blender

Screenshot of some planes lighting a cube in Blender.
Screenshot of some planes lighting a cube in Blender. Source: Jaime Rios

There are 2 more common ways of adding light to your scenes in Blender. 

1. Changing the “world” texture.

This will make the entire world be of the light you desire. It can help with the overall lighting of your scene, but we don’t recommend messing with it too much as it is not the best option to get good quality lighting on its own.

To add this lighting, click the small world icon on the top left of the Blender interface. Under the “Surface” section, click “Use Nodes” and apply a color of your taste.

2. Adding objects which emit light. 

Instead of adding light as a third source, like a lamp, you can have light emit from an object already in your scene. Any object which can have a texture can emit light. For example, a light bulb. 

To add this lighting, select the object, go to the “Textures” tab. Where it says “Surface,” you will see a dark grey box with the default texture the object has. Click the box and select “Emission.” Then add a color from the RGB spectrum or from any other source and that object will emit light into your scene. 

Blender Lighting When to Use Each Type of Blender Lighting

Blender scene showing some light emitting planes in Blender.
Blender scene showing some light emitting planes in Blender. Source: Thilakanathan Studios

The most commonly used Blender lighting types are “Point” “Sun” and “Spot”. 

Point lamp

Point lamps emit light in all directions just like the sun (although not as powerful). It can be useful to use in scenes where there is a small source of light (like a lamp) or to illuminate one side of the scene with light and the other with a different type of light, trying different settings and combinations. 

Sun

The sun lamp, as the name says, acts like a sun in the 3D space. It’s quite powerful and can illuminate the entire scene with just one of them. 

We recommend using one sun lamp as the base lighting with a white-ish light, and then adding secondary lights to each part of the scene if needed for a better effect. 

Spot lamp

Lastly the spot lamp emits light through a cone in the specified direction. The cone can be between 0 and 180 degrees of amplitude. 

Now that the spotlight will only emit light in the direction you specify, use it on parts of the scene where you want to illuminate a small area or object without affecting the objects nearby. 

The spot lamp also has a very nice effect with the volumetric lighting, which we will talk about on the next section.

As mentioned before, objects can also act as lamps if their textures are set up to emit light. Therefore, you can choose between adding a lamp or an object to illuminate another object or a part of your scene. Both ways will give a good result, so it’s up to you to play with them until you find the best combination for your scene. 

Blender Lighting Volumetric Lighting

A render with volumetric lighting shining on a floating object.
A render with volumetric lighting shining on a floating object. Source: Reddit

Have you ever looked at the sky on a cloudy day and seen some rays of light streaming through? This is the best way to describe the next lighting type, Volumetric Lighting.

Adding this lighting to a normal scene in Blender might appear in the 3D space, but you will never be able to see the light ray in Blender, unless it is hitting an object, no matter how intense your light is.

However, there is a way to enable this, and it’s fairly simple.

In the “world” settings, go to the node editor and add 3 new modifiers, “Volume Scatter”, “Volume Absorption” and “Mixed Shader”. Join both the Volume Scatter and Volume Absorption nodes to the Mixed Shader by dragging the point from one box to the other. Then join that Mixed Shader unto the “Volume” in the World Render box.

Ultimately, what this process does is cause the 3D space in your scene to be noisy and have tiny particles everywhere. These particles will catch the rays of light and cause them to bounce throughout the scene. By illuminating these particles, the process will create light rays to be seen through the entire design space, enabling us to see them in the final render.

Volumetric lighting can give some beautiful images. However, the noise it adds to the entire scene can be difficult to deal with and can change your final render in unintended ways. Therefore it’s mainly recommended for advanced users or in simple scenes where only these light rays will be seen.

Note: Adding this modifier into your scene will make it significantly slower to render, so having a powerful PC is recommended to do this.

Feature image source: Blendergrid

License: The text of "Blender: Lighting – Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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