How to Setup HDRI Environment Background for Realistic Lighting

HDR images are one of the best solutions for lighting up your 3D scene and getting realistic results in Blender. HDRI images obtained with 360-degree panoramic photos and multiple exposures will of course give more natural results for all your 3D work. However, you will need to pay more attention to HDRI images to get realistic results, especially for objects such as glass, gold, silver, metal, cars.

I placed two objects on the scene and let’s assign glass material to these objects. I switch to render mode to see the materials. When I switch to render mode, you will see that the objects are dark.

Displaying default HDRI

Now, I’m temporarily deactivating the Scene World option in Blender and it gives us an environment with an HDR image added temporarily. This is an HDR image that will only appear on the Viewport. When we render this, we won’t be able to see this HDR image. We’ll have to set it up manually. If I lower the Roughness value when I add the glass material, I can see the color of the surrounding environment much more clearly. Of course, it is possible to add other alternative images by clicking on the image here. But as I said, the options are presented to us just to see how it looks on the Viewport.

How to find free and high quality HDR images?

Now I’m ticking the Scene World option here. When we render, we will be able to see how it turns out. There are many resources on the internet for finding HDR images. The most well-known and free of these resources is Polyhaven.com. When you enter this address, you will encounter various HDR images categorized according to the environment. By downloading them to your computer, you will be able to create your own ambient lighting with the method I will show you shortly. For example, you can use the options here for studio lighting. Below each image are examples showing how this environment will give you results. This is a pretty good service. For example, when you want to download it, you click on it and click the Download button to download this image to your computer. You can also apply this method, you can also download HDR images from websites that offer free HDR images. Or you can use a few image examples of Blender that came with its installation.

How to add HDR images

Now, since what we’re going to do is an environmental lighting, I click on the World icon here. When we click on this World icon, you will see an area where we can choose the background. I click on the dot on the right and select the Environment Texture option. Then I click the Open button. By expanding this a little more we can see the text better. When you click the Open button, you can also find the HDR image you downloaded to your computer, or we go to Data Files in the installation folder of Blender, we enter Studio Lights. From here, we can enter the World folder and see the images that come with Blender. This is the image we just saw in Viewport. I choose this. I click on Open Image. This time, we see this image both in the Viewport and when we render, we see it on the render screen. Now we have added the HDR image. When we move the camera like this, we can already see the 360-degree image.

Hiding HDR images when render

However, you may not want to get this background when rendering. To do this, I go to the Render Properties panel and open the Movie option. When we open the movie option, you will see the Transparent option here. If we choose this icon, Environment will still be active. But we will not see this in Viewport and Render View. I’m taking his render and as you can see he rendered the camera. The image in the background is not visible. But it looks like it exists, which it really is, we just don’t see it in the background. We can see that it affects these objects.

Add color to background with Shader Editor

You may also want to give the background another color while this HDR image is active. Again, these objects will be affected by this HDR image, it will have realistic lighting. But in the background we will see another color. In such cases, we will do the same. I am canceling this transparent feature. I’m going back to World Properties. Then we’ll have to come to the Shader Editor and make some adjustments. I choose Shader Editor from above options and change Object to World. This is the status of the background settings on the Shader window that we just adjusted here. We’re going to have to make some adjustments here. I choose the background from here. First I create a copy by pressing Shift + D and select Add and Shader > Mix Shader. Let’s put this together. Our aim here is to both be visually active in the background and assign another color to the background. In other words, the objects on the stage will use the light they receive from the images. But we will also see the color in the background, which we will determine shortly. There are two shaders in our newly created Mix Shader. I take the background and overlay it over the other shader.

We will add a Light Path. I press Shift + A anywhere and type Light Path here. In this way, you can reach nodes. I type Light Path and leave it in an empty space, and then I take the Camera Ray option and drag it over the first option. Now we can switch back to view mode by clicking on the 3D Viewport and the arrow there, we are in the World tab, by the way, we can change the background color by clicking the arrow here, then changing the color here. Now let’s re-render it. And let’s get the render. The background is the color we just set. Objects get their light from the HDR image we added earlier. In this way, we see all the options and we come to the end of the video.

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