Updated 26th January 2022
Published: 6th December 2016 | Updated: 20th April 2022
Updated 26th January 2022
HDR Light Studio lighting software is loved by Automotive CGI Artists around the world. It includes a dedicated lighting interface and lighting content that enable artists to light cars easier than ever before. Plus the end results render fast and the image quality is stunning.
Before we learn about HDR Light Studio software - let's understand more about real-world automotive studio light types and techniques, and the 3D software automotive CGI artists are using to create studio renders.
We hear the term 'studio shot' used a lot when talking about car photography. But what is it? Well, it's a photograph taken in a studio. A studio is simply a controlled environment that gives the photographer the space, surroundings and equipment needed to fully shape the lighting of a car. It's no different to a painter's studio, where the artist has their canvas, brushes and paints, and space for a model. The studio photographer's canvas is the camera and his brushes are the lights and surroundings.
The image below shows a modern automotive photography studio. It has to be big to allow plenty of space for the car to be placed at any angle inside the white infinity cove and space to position lighting to point both at the car and at the cove. The cove has large radiused internal corners, ensuring there are only smooth transitions of light and no hard edges seen reflecting in the car's surfaces.
Cars are very shiny, combining a variety of reflective materials - chrome, metallic car paints, shiny plastics, glass etc. In fact, the only non-glossy part of a car is usually the tires. When photographing a car – you're seeing the car's surroundings reflected in its surfaces. This is why it's so important to get the car into a studio if you want to create a nice clean, basic studio lighting image. Basic studio lighting is perfect when you want to clearly show the design of the car without the distraction of unwanted and messy reflections.
Each light is carefully added to showcase both the form and materials of the car. Due to the Fresnel properties of reflective surfaces, panels on the car that are facing away from you are far more reflective than those facing you. This can mean that a light seen at a glancing angle has a more powerful, mirror like reflection. The challenge for the photographer is to balance the brightness of the bounced light seen in reflections.
Computer software can simulate with great accuracy the interactions of lighting with 3D surfaces and materials. The end result of these calculations is an image indistinguishable from a photograph - a computer generated image - called CGI for short. Automotive CGI are virtual photographs of cars.
Let's take a look at some of the basic studio lighting types used to light cars in a real photo studio.
When we talk about direct lighting, we mean light sources that are facing and projecting their illumination towards the car. When the light source is facing the car, it will also be visible in the reflections in the car. A spot light will create a harsh and small highlight (reflection).
Spot lights can be placed close to the car to create focused lighting in one area. This can produce a lovely mysterious image that reveals some key details of the car and hides the rest. By placing a spot light close, it also means less of the car's surfaces can see the reflection of the light source. So you can get more control over where the highlights are seen.
If you move the spot light far away from the car, this produces a very directional light over the whole car with hard shadows - similar to lighting from the sun. This is an excellent way to create a hard floor shadow that will plant the vehicle visually on the ground. Photographers will often take a shot with a light setup like this to obtain a layer to use for the floor shadow when compositing their final shot together.
Because spot lights produce small bright highlights in the car's surfaces, they are an excellent light source to bring alive metallic car paint around those highlights - as the metal flakes pointing in different directions catch and spread the highlight.
It is common to place a huge light over the top of the car for studio shots. There are several approaches to creating this effect, and sometimes this is done with a huge softbox. The softbox will create a very diffused light and the large white surface will produce a lovely overhead reflection. The large softbox is tilted and the position adjusted until it reflects perfectly in the cars styling lines.
Another type of lighting in the arsenal are long fluorescent tube lights, such as those made by Kino Flo. They can produce lovely lighting effects producing a hard reflection line that can also bring metallic paints alive. They produce a softer shadow as a result of their length. This type of lighting car either work very well with the form of your car, or not work great at all. They are worth experimenting with to see if you can find the right position for the light. In the example below, the light is creating an unpleasant reflection in the windows, but works quite well along the body line of the car.
Indirect lighting is a key way to light automotive images. Because a major component of the lighting is coming from the reflections, pointing lights at the white wall of the cove or moveable panels, allows the photographer to control and shape the reflections. This indirect lighting has the advantage of the harsh light source not being seen by the cars surfaces.
In the example below - the lighting is coming all from indirect light sources pointing at the cove walls.
Instead of using a huge, and possibly very expensive overhead softbox - a large white panel can be mounted above the car in the same position. However, spot lights can be pointed at this surface to illuminate it, and give the same soft lighting effect and create those lovely reflections. The advantage of this panel is that you can point as many spot lights as you want at its surface, to add multiple hot spots in any position on the panel that will add extra life to the reflections.
That concludes the overview of the range of studio lighting types that can be used to light a car using direct and indirect lighting. There are even more tools of the trade available such as reflectors and black flags to block unwanted reflections. But for this article, you have a good grasp of the lighting methods used by a photographer in the studio. These are all combined in a unique way to bring the car to life for advertising and marketing images.
The lighting types and methods available to the photographer are also available in 3D rendering software to the automotive CGI artist. The gold standard by which the computer generated images will be judged, and compared, are real world photographs - our eyes are so used to looking at them. Inexperienced automotive CGI artists need to study the techniques used on a real studio shoot and aim to faithfully replicate them and recreate realism in their studio renders.
3D rendering software provides much more control over lighting than photography - as there are many cheats available. For example, the light source can be hidden from the reflections in the car whilst maintaining the lighting effect on the rest of the scene. This provides a great way to remove messy reflections whilst creating indirect lighting. Another benefit is that lights can be moved anywhere in the scene without any kind of stand/support to hold them. This allows far more creative freedom in the lighting process. But the 3D artist should be careful not over complicate the lighting and create an unrealistic looking image without some kind of foundation in reality.
Modern 3D rendering software calculates a live interactive image, that responds to the changes in lighting changes quickly. So as light positions and brightness's are adjusted, the effect can be seen virtually in real-time. The live visualization makes it easy to explore the lighting and try out different options.
Popular professional 3D software used for creating studio renders are: 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Maya, VRED, DeltaGen and Patchwork 3D. Popular render engines used for creating studio renders are: V-Ray, Corona, Arnold, Octane and Redshift.
Now we have a good understanding of studio lighting methods for cars - it's a great time to take a look at HDR Light Studio. HDR Light Studio is 3D lighting software that works with your existing 3D software and renderer - and is perfect for the lighting needs of both inexperienced automotive CGI artists and professionals.
HDR Light Studio adds a dedicated lighting interface and HDR lighting content to existing 3D software - enabling an easier, faster, precise and more creative way to build 3D lighting for automotive CGI.
HDR Light Studio lets the artist easily recreate realism by dragging and dropping studio lights onto the interactive render. A wide range of high quality photographic studio light source types are included with the software - allowing the easy creation of lighting environments with both direct and indirect lighting effects. The Preset Library includes a range of soft boxes, spot lights, fluorescent tubes, and highly controllable indirect lighting effects to create soft graduations of light seen in the car. HDR Light Studio provides high levels of creative control over the lights.
Standard lighting tools in 3D software can be slow and take many clicks to build and position lighting with trial and error to get the light in the right place. Why over complicate the lighting process? With HDR Light Studio's patented ‘LightPaint’ feature, each light is positioned by clicking directly on the interactive studio render where it's needed. Automotive CGI artists can instantly place light effects and highlights exactly where needed - with no guess work. It's even easy to use for inexperienced automotive CGI artists, say goodbye to an unrealistic looking image!
HDR Light Studio has established itself as an industry standard approach to lighting cars with the majority of car manufacturers world-wide now adopting HDR Light Studio in their workflow. We have a long list of automotive CGI artists that rely on HDR Light Studio each day to light their virtual studio shots.
HDR Light Studio runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux and is compatible with all leading automotive visualisation software including: 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D, MODO, VRED, DeltaGen and Patchwork 3D to name a few.
You can try HDR Light Studio for free with your 3D software now using our Demo version.