Studio Lighting Setup

Showcasing your next best product in a white studio lighting environment seems very simple.  In actuality, doing this correctly or "physically accurate" is really more complex than you'd think.

If you tried to render the above image the way you thought you should do it, you would probably would have set your background environment to white, then place all of your objects on a white plane, then hit render.  But this is what you get:

It's not exactly what you wanted.  So to fix this, the answer lies in a production material called the Matte/Shadow/Reflection shader.  This is a material that does some nice trickery and saves you alot of work to render your scene with a different "environment."  This can be found under the mental ray materials in the Material Map Browser.  Simply apply this material to your ground plane.  Of course you'll have to change the "Camera Mapped Background" color to white if that's what you want.

The scene setup is very simple for this example.  I have 2 photometric area lights, and a plane that my teapots are sitting ontop of.  That's it.  Simply apply the Matte/Shadow/Reflection material to your plane and you're done...you have now created a white studio light setup.  You may also notice that the objects in the studio rendering, are lighter than they are in the regular rendering.  This material renders your objects to bounce light as if the scene were white, so your objects are also reflecting the white scene, hence physically accurate lighting.

The MSR material can also be used to create mattes to render certain objects that need to reflect an environment, and can be composited later in post.

There is one thing to note:  I've found this material to act really weird if Exposure is turned on. So before you start setting your lights, bear in mind you'll want to set up your scene without exposure.

This is what happens if you use the MSR material with mr Photographic Exposure Control...weird!


  1. hi ramy,
    very intresting, thanks! one question, are the area light causing the white reflections in the teapots.
    if yes, how exactly are the adjustments of the ligts?

    greetings joerg

  2. st.germain,
    in your light settings in the modifier tab, there is a field under Shape/Area Shadows rollout called "Light Shape Visible in Rendering". Just check it, and it will make your photometric area light visible in the rendering.

  3. You hit the nail on the head when you state that you cannot achieve the top image with 'physically accurate' lighting. In the days before CGI product shots, even before the Photoshop era, and even now during a traditional photography shoot the photographer will have to set up his/her table-top studio with a white background (a cyclorama rather than a flat card to avoid the 'horizon') and blast the product with strong key lighting. This is to ensure that anything approaching white will wash out, effectively becoming over-exposed and thus a consistent flat white tone. In short, this was traditionally achieved through careful lighting and exposure and was often called a 'high key' setup. The look you've achieved in the second picture is the ideal, but the shadows are probably darker than you would have been able to achieve with a traditional physical photography setup. So, despite being much more pleasing it still isn't in any way accurate. That's not a criticism BTW, I'm just pointing out how much more flexible CGI is over chemical-based film. I've recently done some similar high key style setups and the clients were very particular about how the shadows and reflections should look. Here's a link: http://madewithmice.com/gallery/index.php#!prettyPhoto/0/

  4. Hello,

    I am fairly new to 3D Max animation. I have a question regarding how to animate an direction arrow.

    My intention is to import a google earth image of a route in 3D max. Then I want to show the route by animating a direction arrow which plays in a loop (like the arrow boards we see in the night). I have attached the image for reference.

    Please help. You can contact me on szunaira@gmail.com

  5. Maybe I'm wrong but I think it's not weird how the material acts. I think you did not check 'process background maps' in the exposure control. But if you do your background isn't white anymore of course. Correct me if I'm wrong...

  6. I think it is possible to use mr exposure in the scene you showed in that topic. physical scale must be unitless and tweaked by taste, process environment and background maps should be on, as 3deek mentioned. As Zap Anderson explained production shaders work well with non physical scale lights and by turning physical scale to unitless and enter some values there we tell max at wich physicaly correct numbers, brightness of the light (usually the values of the brightest light) is equal to the brightness of a pixel equal 1 (the pure white color).

    1. Yes that's right. With exposure control on and process background map off mr will leave the background unprocessed and where the background map is seen through the ground plane it applies exposure control (because that's an object)......