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Secrets of Photo-Realistic Rendering

Photo-realism is required in many different areas of computer graphics today, and it’s also one of the most difficult to achieve. However, today’s tools and workflow techniques make photo-realism very achievable. I’ve listed six techniques below to produce more realistic renders.

Add Bevel to Sharp Edges

There are almost no razor-sharp edges in nature and most man-made objects have slight roundness where two surfaces meet. Forgetting to add bevel is the most common mistakes by beginner artists. Beveling helps to bring out detail by allowing the edges catch highlights properly.

Make it Dirty

Unless you are making a product or architectural visualization, don’t be afraid to add some dirt and scratch to your models and textures. Most objects in real life are not clean and pristine. Also don’t forget turn off Symmetry option when adding details to your model. Remember, nothing is perfect in real-life.

Use Depth of Field

Depth of field is one of the easiest way to increase the realism of your renders because it’s what we see in real-life photography.

You can use a shallow depth of field to isolate your subject and improve your composition. Depth of field can be calculated at render time in your 3D application or applied in post-production using a z-depth pass.

Use PBR Workflow

PBR is the current industry standard for making realistic textures and materials. Your models should at least have albedo, roughness, metalness (for metals) and normal texture maps.

Other common PBR maps are emission, wet, specular, and alpha texture maps.

Use HDR Light Maps and IES Light Profiles

Lighting plays a big part in making your scenes more believable and using the default lights provided in 3d applications are not enough. Using HDR images of real lights as a light source will give you better results. We have simplified this process with LeoMoon LightStudio plugin. You can use it freely and speedup your workflow.

For architectural visualization, using IES light profiles are strongly recommended. You can download and use our free IES light pack to illuminate your scene.

Add Chromatic Aberration and Film Grain

Chromatic aberration sounds complicated but it is a common optical problem that occurs when a lens is either unable to bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane, and/or when wavelengths of color are focused at different positions in the focal plane.

It’s pretty simple to simulate this in a digital render. We need to separate the colors very slightly on the edges of the rendered image. This can be done in post-production.

Please note the effects applied to samples images are exaggerated to show the effect clearly.