Lighting Challenges: “Fruit Bowl”

My never ending quest to master lighting has finally led me to the Lighting Challenges over at CG Talk. Yeah, I know they are already up to challenge 16, but I wasn’t ready to participate when they started. And now I am, so I’m going to start from the beginning and just work my way through them.

Okay, so the first challenge is a bowl of fruit. And since I am not real fond of the whole 3-point lighting theory, I am going to apply the techniques discussed in the Room exercise from BSOD: Introduction to Lighting. I like the way the lighting in that exercise was set up and since I have been wanting to give it a try, now seemed like a perfect time to not only do so, but to see if I can adapt what is covered to a completely different scene.

But first I needed to prepare my scene. There wasn’t a blend file offered for this challenge, so I downloaded the OBJ file and once it was imported into blender, I saw that somehow I had managed to split all the objects into their component parts. I now had 139 different objects, not so overly efficient for the way I work. Second there were no materials at all. So I cleaned up my scene, rejoined the objects into manageable pieces and wandered over to the Blender Open Material Repository to find some appropriate materials for my scene. They had a bunch of very nice materials that will work nice with my fruit bowl image, which of course leaves me free to focus on lighting my bowl of fruit, instead of worrying about fruit materials.

If you would like to follow along with this experiment as we discuss it, you are going to need few files. (Room scenes and Fruit Bowl, if you want to use the same materials I did, scroll down to the bottom of the article for links to each material.) Go ahead and go get them, I’ll wait.

Got your files? Great, so lets talk about how I plan to light this baby up! After giving it some thought, I decided that creating a small mini story around my scene would give me the clues I needed for my lighting setup. So lets discuss the “story” I plan to tell with this image.

A bowl of fruit always makes me think of a studio type setting. (That could be photography, paint, drawing or even an art class room), so my story obviously is going to be located in some sort of studio.

And here we go:

Bob is an amateur photographer. He has all the coolest photo equipment arranged just so in a spare room of his house. He has an old fashioned darkroom, so he can enjoy the “whole experience”. But for all the cool photography stuff he owns and hours of classes he has taken, he will never be Ansel Adams. Poor Bob just always seems to miss the “perfect” shot.

But not one to give up, since he is positive that it just takes patience, this morning he tries once again to capture an amazing photo. He lovingly arranges the fruit in a bowl and adjusts the way the blue velvet drapes and hangs on the table. He closes the window shades and turns off the overhead light. He positions his very expensive lights into the perfect 3 point light arrangement shown in his favorite photography book.

Bob then spends the better part of the day taking shot after shot of his fruit bowl. After several rolls of film, dozens of different angles and lens changes, he finally calls it a day. Late afternoon was starting to slide into evening and he wanted to get started on developing his prize photos. So turning off his fancy lights, he flipped open the shades and turned on the overhead light so he could gather up his film and put away his favorite camera before he wandered off to his darkroom.

Sadly enough, missing seeing by just a matter of minutes the late afternoon sun shining in on the fruit and bathing the blue velvet in a shining shimmer of color.

Which of course would have been an absolutely amazing photo. Poor Bob!

Now lets analyze our story to determine where the light sources are.

1- We have the window for the late afternoon/evening sun

2- We have an overhead ceiling light.

3- Because we know that light bounces, there will of course be light bouncing from the “floor” of the drape and the back “wall” of the drape.

Gee, it matches the room exercise that I am using as a guide. Funny how that worked out. :P

To begin with I am just going follow the instructions in the tutorial and see what I get with the settings used (open your copy of the Room scenes file to see the individual lamp settings). We’ll take a look at what each lamp adds separately then see them all together at the end. Before we get started, let’s take a look at my basic scene with just one hemi for illumination. This is nothing fancy, in fact all it gave me was an idea of how my materials fit the scene.

Base image with materials

So here we go, I’ll be setting up the sun lamp first. You will notice from the Room blend that even though it is being positioned and used as the Sun light source, it is in fact a spot lamp. This was the result of the sun settings.

Sun Lamp

Sun Lamp

To me it looks a little dark, but I’m going to leave it for now. I will keep in mind that it looks dark and re-evaluate the settings once I see the other lamps added in. So now I am going to temporarily move my sun to another layer so I can focus on the next light.

(note to self: Don’t forget you moved lamps to hide them,. :P )

Okay on to the next lamp which is going to be our overhead room lamp (in the Room scenes file it is called “Energy Saving”, but I will be referring to it as the “Room” lamp). One reason I am not overly worried about the dark sun lamp is that I am somewhat expecting the room lamp to add a fair amount of light.

So let ‘s get it set up and see what we get. And just as I expected, now we are lit up pretty good, if possibly just a bit too much. And I still have two more lamps to add.

So here is the overhead room lamp.

Energy Saving (overhead room lamp)

Energy Saving (overhead room lamp)

And for a quick check on how we are doing. Here is the sun and the room lamp.

Sun and Energy Saving lamp

Sun and Room lamp

Boy howdy, that sure brightened it up, now didn’t it? I might want to tone that down a little later on.

On wards we go. Next up we are going to set the bounce light for the “floor” or in our case the drape. The tutorial used a sightly greenish blue color. I’m going to set mine to more of blue to go with the drape. LOL, the floor bounce lamp doesn’t look like much by itself, now does it?

Floor bounce lamp

Floor bounce lamp

Take a look at image 4 (sun and room lights) compared to this one (combined result of all three lamps). It would appear that we are getting even brighter. That is definitely going to be a problem later.

Sun, room and floor bounce

Sun, room and floor bounce

Last lamp I’m going to add is the wall bounce. I’m going to discard the 5th lamp (extra punch) lamp used in the tutorial because we are already getting way too bright and I think I can safely do away with this lamp.

Would you look at that! The wall bounce lamp made our grapes glow. Bob must have bought some of those new high priced radioactive grapes. :P

Wall bounce lamp

Wall bounce lamp

Okay time to see it all together and judge what we ended up with.

1st test render with all lamps visible

1st test render with all lamps visible

Now this is one of the drawbacks to just following a tutorial. By following the instructions exactly, we ended up with an overly bright image. We do have some nice shadows, but not quite what I was going for. I was imagining it to be a little darker and warmer looking, it is supposed to be late afternoon after all. But because I set it up in stages and looked at each lamp individually as I set them up, I have a good idea where I would like to start adjusting. Which is the whole point of starting by following the tutorial. You can see from where the shadows fall that the lamps are correctly placed for my scene, they just need to be adjusted to fit my vision (story).

My first adjustment is going to be to the room lamp (the overhead light). That lamp seemed way too bright to me when we set it up. So I am going to move it farther away and turn the energy down some. That looks better already.

Room lamp (Energy Saving)

Room lamp (Energy Saving)

So now lets check it with our sun lamp. There we go, now it doesn’t look so “washed” with light. Our shadows are deeper and our grapes aren’t glowing quite so much. Hmmm, but they are still glowing. Dang radioactive grapes. :P

Sun and room lamp after adjustments

Sun and room lamp after adjustments

Since the bounce lights didn’t need to be adjusted, I went on to further adjust both the room and the sun lamps. (Which translates as, I spent the better part of an afternoon playing with settings and could have spent days if not weeks adjusting and rendering out test images), let’s take a look at what changes I settled on for my final render.

1 – The first thing you will notice is that the sun is casting a far more orange color than the test renders. I like the color wash it paints on the fruit as well as the minor glints of orange on the velvet. I also turned up the energy of the sun lamp and changed the lamp textures from the “Wood” type to “clouds”.

2 – The energy lamps were turned down and moved up and further away.

3 – You might notice that the grapes material has changed. At the end, I decided that I didn’t like the original materials I had chosen. Even though this was a lighting experiment, grapes shouldn’t GLOW! While I am still not happy with the grape material (compared to the rest of my materials), it will do for now. After all, this exercise was about lighting, not materials.

Final render of "Fruit Bowl"

Final render of "Fruit Bowl"

So, just what did we learn?

1- Planning out your lights is crucial to successful lighting (remember my silly little story?) It might have been silly, but it let me imagine where the light sources should be coming from and even gave me clues as to color and intensity.

2 – Set up each planned light source separately and test render just that light. It makes it much easier to spot problems.

3 – Even when following tutorials, don’t be afraid to experiment and change settings. The tutorial gave us a good starting point to experiment from, but the whole point of tutorials is to learn concepts and techniques that can be adjusted and expanded upon in your own projects. They should never be a “one size fits all” solution for your projects.

4 – While not overly relevant to this exercise, I learned grapes are very hard to make look convincing. (note to self: no more grapes in projects, they are just impossible to make look right.)

Now granted, this is still not the most amazing lighting job ever done, but I learned a lot and ended up with an image that I am actually happy with. Which for me is a success in and of itself. I hope you learned a thing or two from this little exercise and that you will wander back to follow along when I tackle the Second Lighting Challenge, where I will take direction/clues from four different scripts to light a kitchen scene.

Materials from the Blender Open Material Repository that I used in this scene.

Blue Velvet by mookie

Apple by postolka

Banana by argento

Copper Voronoi by SoylentGreen

Grapes by G_Taurus

Grapes Green by organic

Orange by meschoyez

Peach by McPanic

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