Last time we set up a reusable studio scene for automating production of user interface icons. This week we'll take a look at the most important part of any photo studio: the lighting.

Step 2: Lighting

Once I had the scene set up with roughly the right proportions, I took a hard look at lighting. For these icons I used a simple portrait-style 2-point lighting setup.

Colored Lighting

One of the big mistakes I see beginners making in blender is to use primarily white lights or all white lights. This is common in studios and for product shots but it's important to know it's a style choice and it's not always the right one.

Here, since we wanted a stylized effect rather than photorealism and our existing user interface was colorful, I slightly tinted the lights blue and yellow. Guns are mostly monochrome so this made the textures look much more vibrant and highlighted the geometric details. On the other hand, if I wanted a more realistic look reminiscent of gun catalogs or magazines I would have gone with wide white lights.

The key thing here is to know what your lights are for. Here, I wanted a yellowish fill light to fill the scene and a colder blue light from the opposite direction to bring out the details in the shadows. This works because we're used to yellow in incandescent lights. The blue is more extreme than you would want for interior lighting, for example, but it works with the stylized look I was going for and the contrast brings out the geometric details in small icons. Another option would be to add a brighter yellow light as a rim light but this took away from the contrast I was going for so I shelved it.


Gun without materials lit by blue light only.
Blue Light

Other Options

I hate tutorials that say "it's a choice" but don't explain any other options or how they came to that choice. So here's an alternative for you. I looked at adding rim lighting to the scene as well. For anyone new to rendering or photography, rim lighting is basically a light put behind the subject to bring out edges. Unfortunately, it didn't work well for two reasons:

  • First, we were going for a bit of a cell-shaded look on the UI. The thick black borders I added around the image made it impossible to see the rim light. At the size they're shown here the difference would be obvious but in game they will only be about 10% of the screen so the highlights from the rim light would be lost.
  • Second, rim lights need to be placed manually and angled so the light rays glance off the edge of an object on the way to the camera. There's not much sense in automating the rest of the process but leaving the lighting decisions to be made one at a time. I was tempted but trying to write a script to automate placement of rim lights would have been overkill so I went with a simpler 2-point set up. Rim lighting would make a lot more sense in something futuristic with a hyperreal feel.

Next time we'll look at materials and scripts that make automation possible.

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