Light in Poser - a little overview by SaintFox

Before I started to create in 3D I used other "fast media" to create my art: A camera, watercolors, silk colors...
And regardless of the object of my images - may it be the human form, a vase with flowers or a ladscape - I was always fascinated by the power of light that changes everything. Light is able to change the expression of a face, the appaerence of a landscape or the mood you feel in a room.

When building my first scenes with poser I was amazed by the options you have with light and how a simple scene can be turned into something spectacular with just some changings made to the lights.
With Poser 6 we finally got lights that give us the option to create lighting that is so close to reality that we are able to fool the eyes of the beholder and make him believe that what he sees is real life.

Since I do commercial light-sets I often hear that lighting scenes in Poser is a miracle to many users. And I'm the last one to laugh about it because I have my handicaps, too - my major one is named "Poses"...

With this little tutorial I will try to give an overview about how to set up lights - and I'll try to keep it as non-technical as possible because the right light-setup is something that better can be felt. Every scene is unique and it makes few sense to stuff this feelings into some dial-spins.



Before we begin

All the thoughts and the effort you put into your artwork deserves the best light you are able to create! So my first recommendation is to do test-renders when you set up your light.
Use the best render-settings your computer is able to deal with and render a small version of your image to see if everytghing looks like you want it to.

My second tip: Customize your default lights! The default light-setting you see when you fire up Poser is not that bad for creating your scene with figure, hair, clothes, environment... But the colors are at least questionable because they alter the way the colors appear. So change them all to neutral grey tones:

       As you see I have Miki2 here in the classic outfit for every Poser-woman: Lingerie! I used a set with displacement and added a silky shader system (see all down the page for credits) to show the possibilities of light.
I've altered the light-colors by clicking on the little color-button (arrow) and changed the color to a grey-tone of fairly the same darkness/brightness as the default Poser-browns have.
You may want to decide for a camera setting at this point. I've included a sample camera for this tutorial that gives you a basic setting for standing poses.


       You can save this lightset, so Poser will always start with the three neutral toned lights you've just created!
Just edit your preferences like shown in the screenshot.



Before you start to set up the lights you should decide for some good rendersettings.
This whole tutorial is all about the Firefly renderer. The good old P4 renderer is not able to deal with advanced shader settings or ambient occlusion so I gave up on it as soon as P5 came out.

       Not much to say about this...
These are the auto-settings for Firefly. Just push the slider all to the right and you are ready to render.
If one or more items in your scene use displacement map you have to check "Use displacement maps" to make the effect appear in your image. If you don't have any displacement you can leave this check box empty and save some computer memory.


       The next tab in the settings gives you the manual settings. If your computer refuses to render you scene with the high end auto-settings you can alter them here (click "Acquire from Auto") or use my example as a base.
I've made this sample as an example for some avarage render settings that will give you good results without eating up all the RAM. Alter them as needed (Displacement!) - but if your computer is able to render with the best settings you should use them even if you need patience when waiting for the image to finish.


       I've made a small render with the Auto-settings and Poser's default-lights (altered to grey tones) and this is the result. Not bad - but we can do far better!!
If you look at the render you will see that several things are wrong with it. The whole scene looks flat, Miki seems to be part of the background, her face lacks of contours, missing shadows make her float above the ground.

Some thoughts about the the camera:
Good camera settings are no witchwork! Before pushing your camera around in a more or less helpless way you should alter the value for "Focal" to at least something over 50 to avoid the fisheye-lens effect (big head - small feet...) and nudge the x-axis slightly (slightly!) to give a more natural impression to the whole scene.


The first set: A single Infinite Light

Before you start to set your our first lighting you should get rid of the default lights:

      


...and now let's start the funny part!

       Click on the little "Sun" you find beside your Light Controls, choose the light and open it's properties. You'll find that Poser created a spot light. Change it to "Infinite". After you've done this you can decide for a color - I've used a neutral grey again.
       Now change your camera to the Aux camera (I've used the Main camera for all the renders). You can move the Aux-camera around and explore your scene without changing any settings you've made to the Main-camera.
Move your light by simply grabbing and drawing it in the Light Controls. Watch how the mood and the look of your scene changes when you turn and nudge the light.

If you use a backdrop tool like I've done it for my samples you should check that the light does not disappear under the floor - otherwise you may end up with a dark scene or ugly shadows. I've used the backdrop from the "Fiat Lux" set here. You can see that the shape makes setting up lights that come from below abit easier. If you are satisfied you can go back to the Main camera.



Now it is time to set the properties for your light. As you can see I decreased the shadow below the default value of 1.0. In real life you will hardly find a shadow that is as stark and dark as a value of 1.0 will create it. To find the correct value for YOUR scene you should use your imagination. Is it a studio scene? Or outdoors? Moonlit? Romantic or more a kind of fashion-catalogue set up?
I decided for 0.6 and hoped that I will end up with some soft light like you find it when standing near a window in the late afternoon. Alter the default (Shadow-) Map Size from 256 to 1000 or 1024 (this is the Maximum). This will give you well defined and "clean" shadows.
If you are done with this change from the parameters- to the properties-tab and alter the Value of Min Bias to 0.6. We will have a closer look on Shadow Min Bias later.
Render a test and...

       ...explore the result.
On the left side you see the render with the default settings, on the right side you see the same scene rendered with the new single infinite light.
Miki has far more contour now, she even seems to look into a different direction. I also swear that I have not changed her pose - but it looks more dynamic with the new light. All the ugly flat shadows (on upper thighs and under the sandal strap) are gone while parts of the body melt with the darkness behind her.
The most remarkable thing to me is that her head is now attached to the neck while it looks like "pasted on" on the right side.
      
Default lights set to grey tones Single Infinite light


Shadow Min Bias
I already gave the hint to alter the default settings forShadow Min Bias. What the heck is this Bias-thing you ask. Well, let's see...
You can think about the Shadow Min Bias as a quality-setting for shadows. Altering the value has few (if any) effect if your use depth mapped shadows but makes a big difference when using raytraced shadows. regardless if you decide for depth mapped or raytraced shadows I always recommend to alter the setting below the default 0.8 - and I do so with all my commercial sets.

The reason: You can change from one shadow to the other with a single click of your mouse. Sometimes you will render a complete figure and when you are finished you may find that a part of your scene is so appealing that you want to render a close up. And suddenly your good old depth mapped shadows are not enough to create the fine darker areas that appear under the seams and straps of a shirt or where a hand touches the body. This is the time when you will click on raytraced shadows. Off of this the pointlights that we will use in the next example use just raytraced shadows.

Some sample images will show you what Shadow Min Bias-settings are able to create (Shadow is 0.8, Mapsize 1024, Intensity 100, light color is a very light grey). I used the Li-Lian texture that contains Ambient Occlusion in the shader settings. Ambient Occlusion will cause the fine shadows where parts of the geometrie are very close or touch each other or: lips or tight clothes or, like in my example, a hand that touches the body:

             
Because exaggaration is so demonstrative I've rendered the first example with a single spot-light, Shadow Min Bias set to 1.0.
See how hard and bristled the shadow looks?
This is the default setting, Shadow Min Bias set to 0.8.
The shadow looks still ugly and unnatural, but the little shadow between thumb and index is a bit softer.
This is what you get with Shadow Min Bias set to 0.6.
The edges of the shadow get finer - but still not good enough for a close up. This setting will do with many full-figure renders and does not increase the render-time too much.
Shadow Min Bias set to 0.4.
We are getting closer!
Min Bias set to 0.2 - This is my personal favorite. The shadow is very soft and natural while it's still not too blurred. This is fine, too. But the part where skin meets skin is not as dark as we achieved it with Min Bias set to 0.2.
Maybe you already recognized the very small artefacts on the hip. With Min Bias set to 0.05 they are more obvious. In other words: This setting is too low! Again some exaggaration. I've decreased the settings to 0.001 - and now the polygons are causing shadows. Although the part where the hand touches the body still looks good we can say that this value is senseless.


I hope that I was able to give you a little overview about the mystic Shadow Min Bias - it is a powerfull option that is able to lift your render from average to outstanding!


Second light-set: Spot and Point
Before you begin you have to keep in mind that point lights are available in Poser version 6 and above.
Poser 5 does not know pointlights. If you want to do this tutorial with poser 5 you have to stay with spots...

Set up two lights. Alter one of both from "Spot" to "Point". Uncheck "On" fot the Pointlights in the Properties tab so that you just see the light caused by the spot at the moment.
Change to the Aux-camera, choose the spot and and move the camera until you see the spot in the scene.
Move the spot with your mouse and refine the settings with the dials in the properties tab until you see something you like - but leave an important part of your figure in the dark - for instance the face.
Don't be afraid to pull and move your light - it's not fragile! Maybe you get an idea now why I use 100 undo levels...
       Now check "On" for your pointlight. Drag and push it until it lights the part of your figure that hides in the dark. Spin and nudge your camera to check if the pointlight's position is correct - the point is very small and it is easy to push it behind the figure or the backdrop where it doesn't have the desired effect.


I tried several postions for the lights...


...and decided for the third set.




       The spotlight settings - nothing special as you see. The Transform and Rotate-values are not important for what you create as you should just care about YOUR taste and of course YOUR kind of scene!


       Here are the pointlight-settings I've used. The Min Bias is just set to 0.6 as I do not plan a large render or close-up. Otherwise I would try something around 0.3-0.2. The shadow intensity is set to 0.3 because the main shadow is caused by the spotlight.
It is very important that you set the value for shadow-blur to something higher then the default 0.0 - otherwise you may get very hard edges around the shadow. The intensity of the blur is depending on your Shadow Min Bias settings. The lower the Min Bias the less Blur you'll need.
Please note that these settings are far from being "high end" - they are a compromise between perfect light/shadow settings and average render-time.
              
This is the result of the first setting with the single infinite light in comparsion.        This is the resulting render of my actual light-set. If you compare this result and the render we got with the single infinite light you can easily see the differences. The "older" render is more balanced and show more of the figure.
The setting with two lights hides parts of the figure in the shadows while others are highlighted. The vibrant contrasts add dynamic to the image and Miki seems more lifelike. As the background is visible and the ground catches Miki's shadow we see a clear 3D-effect.





Creating studio light sets for (almost) all occasions

I'm sure that you already recognized that I built my lights very intuitive. Sometimes I use my memory, a photo or the sight behind my window as a reference but I always start with a single light and oush, nudge and alter it until I have a rough base for what I have in mind.
When I came up with something cool and unique when setting up a scene I save it to my personal light-folder for further use. Many of these personal sets are contained in my commercial products. Throughout the years I found that there are some sets that I use more often and in the following I will try to explain what is so special and more than this useful about them.

Let's start with a set I call "Very 3D"!

       To give you an idea of what we will do I deleted all lights from the scene and made a screenshot of Miki in front of a white background-color. The red circle marks the spotlight that shines on our figure from the front. The blue triangle is a second spotlight that is positioned over the figure. If you set up the lights the right way you will have a classic studio-light situation with crisp shadows and a threedimensional look.



       This is what you will go to create. As you see it's a rather simplistic lightsetup but nevertheless effective - and (important!) it's easy to alter!







       This is the setup for the first light.
Create a light and alter it to "Spotlight". Choose a very light grey for the color (try 247-247-247).
Alter the Angle End to something between 100 and 120. Now move, nudge and rotate the spot until the brightest part of the light captures your figure from head to knee. For the Z-transition you may use the image above as a guide.
Now choose Object-->Point at from the menue and make the spot point to your figures chest. Beause you altered the Angle End your light will fit most adult figures available at the moment.
Set the Properties of the light as shown above. You see that I used 0.2 for Shadow Min Bias. This will give you fine and realistic shadows when you decide to switch from depth mapped to Raytraced shadows - and this is something you should do when you use Ambient Occlusion and use this light set for a close-up or large render.
              Now create a second spotlight and color it with a not too fancy light blue. As this light will create highlights and shimmer you should decide for a greyish blue tone. I decided for 153-171-160 here. Move the spot above the head of your figure, then nudge it slightly to the front. For the transition settings you can take the values shown above as a guide. Alter the Angle end to 100.

If you turn your Light 1 out you may find that the second spot has very few effect and even if you turn the firs t spot on the background is dark! But here's the trick! Turn off the shadow for Light 2! And do a test render...



      
The preview The final render






The last lesson:
Natural lights for enhanced skin


Are you still with me? Then let's combine the things you learned so far and create a lightset that brings out the most of skin that uses shader-nodes like blinn and ambient occlusion!

       This illustration will give you a rough idea of what you will create.
As you can see there is a spot that captures the whole figure, an infinite light that enlightens the complete scene and an extra point light for the face.
This combination makes this set a standard solution for portraits AND totals.

First thing to set up is the spot.
This is easy: Use the spotlight you created for the previous set!
Don't forget to set "Point to" to your figures chest!
Next to come is the infinite.
       These are the settings for the light.
The trick here is to set the intensity over 100% what will give you an overexposed effect - what means:
Highlights!!
      

Here is the position of the infinite light when you look at the light-controls.
What does this mean for you?
As the infinite light has no transition settings it is up to you to nudge and rotate it until it lits the scene from behind and slightly above.






       And now:
The point light.
.
These are the settings I used for the point light. You can use them to have a base for your own settings but you should make your own experiments to see if the effect it causes fit your needs.

This point light is not parented to any part of Miki's body. But you can make the light move with the pose when setting a parent to a desired bodypart like you do it with any prop.
The properties tab of the light contains a handy "Set parent" button to make the process nice and easy!
Here are the renders made with this lightset. Pretty realistic, aren't they?


By the way:I've included these three camera-presets with this tutorial



Some final thoughts

A good render stands and falls with light and camera. But beside this you should keep some things in mind when setting up your render:

1. Decide for the focus of your image!

Don't try to show all your favorite things you have collected in ONE image. Keep your scene clean and simple and decide what plays the leading role and what is your supporting actor. When you browse the galleries you will often find, that those image that are able to touch you and that are food for your fantasy contain only few things and persons.
The good side effect is that fewer items give you the option to use better rendersettings.

2. No postwork!

Did I scare you?! Good! What I mean is: if you want to do postwork or use the render untouched - you should long for a render that is as flawless as possible. You will have far more fun with the result regardless if you want to do some painting or not.

3. Be patient!

The set up of scenes and most of all lights may take a while. And it may take you some more test-renders to get the desired result. After a while you will be used to this and take the time you need to come up with something special. And this special scene is worth waiting for the final render to be finished. Some of my images took 12 or more hours to render because I used finest light settings and sophisticated material-settings.
My tip: Prepare the whole scene until you get a satisfying test-render - and let your computer render the final version while you sleep or go shopping!

4. Don't be afraid to hide something!

If you do an artistic render you will sometimes run into a situation where a precious lighting hides the cool naillaquer or parts of the expensive clothing you've just bought. Render it anyway! Beside images that have to showcase a product you want to do art, don't you? So who cares for the naillaquer, it's the whole scene that attracts the eye (and you can always do another close-up showing just face and hands - with fingernails!!).

5. Save your work!

If you end up with something cool you should save it. If there is few time be sure to save at least your scene as a pz3. But when you have some spare time you should wade through your images, open the matching scenes and save out the lights you like best to your personal light folder. As time goes by you will create a very personal and precious collection of ready made lightsets.

Credits:

The figure used in the images is Miki 2 with the Li-Lian texture and headmorph by Digital-Lion and me.
Lingerie and bodymorph are made by roogna
The clothshaders are available in tabala's store.
The hair is the Kiri-Te hair by FK-Design
The shoes are made by _Al3d