1.Use HDRIs!

HDRIs or Spherical Images how they got called are Images that get wrapped around a 3D scene to light the Scene. The benefit of using HDRI lighting is, that it brings a lot of details with it which is the reason, it makes the render much more realistic and on top, it is pretty easy to set up.

I usually supplement the HDRI with Emissionplanes or normal Lights to shape the lightning the way I want it.

Since HDRI means “High Dynamic Range Image” Images with a higher Range of Dynamic are used for this which is recommended because it makes a huge difference also if you don’t export your images in a High Dynamic Range. You can recognize these images by their format. Formats like Radiance HDR, OpenEXR, TIFF and some other formats can contain HDR Images while Formats like Jpeg or PNG can not.

Probably the best Source, to download free and high-quality HDRIs is HDRIhaven.com

To everyone who wants to create Studio light, I recommend the Blender Studio Light Addon. It is a free Addon that allows you, to create your HDRIs within Blender by using images of real Lamps which like normal HDRIs also give you the advantage of the extra detail to create a more realistic Renderings.

2.Bokeh

little girl on a hourse of a carousel 3d animated
Image made by Nita Ravalji

By using the depth of field feature which you can find in the camera menu you can create Bokeh which not only makes your Image more realistic since it emulates something which is happening in every Camera.

It also gives you the possibility, to hide things you don’t want to show like parts with fewer details or seams in the texture. because let’s face it you cant create everything with high details because it would eat up way to much time in some cases.

Another benefit of using depth of field is that it enables you to guide the viewer’s intentions which is something to make the image more beautiful on a subconscious level.

3.Bevels

Blender 3D Screenshot creating Bevel on a Cylinder

If you look around you, no matter where you are you will see, that there aren’t many objects with sharp edges around you. There are some exceptions like sharp or really thin objects. But these are just exceptions. And making something look realistic means making it look like it would in reality.

Also If you create some more abstract motion graphics this small light Edge can enhance the final result.

Since Blender version 2.8 you can also create a Bevel inside the Shader by using the “Bevel” Node. The Samples equal the resolution and the Radius the since of the Bevel. The benefit of this method is, that it uses less computing resources but when it comes to quality a Bevel made out of Mesh still looks better.

4.Motion-Blur

Motion Blur is something, which is in every Photo or Video sometimes it is so little that it is unvisible or only gets recognized subconscious but technically speaking it is there all the time. Which is the reason I recommend to use it if realism is your goal?

In Blender 2.8 you just have to tick the Box in the Motion Blur Menue which you can find in the Render Settings Tab.

The default options should be right most of the time but I still explain the settings to you.

Shutter

The Motion Blur is a build-up of two Effects the first one is called Shutter. Which in real life happens because the Camera captures the light through a small period of time. usually the half-length of a Frame. This means if you filming with 24 Frames per second the period of time in which the light hits the sensor is 1/48 second. with 25 Frames it is 1/50 second with 30 frames it is 1/60 and so on.

The longer the time is the light can hit the sensor the more Motion Blur you will get and vice versa. You can set the amount of time the light hits the sensor per Frame with the Shutter Option. Which is by default set to .5 which means how I mentioned the half-length of a Frame (24FPS 1/48s, 25FPS 1/50s, 30FPS 1/60s…) Which is the setting most cameras also have by default. You can also change this to 1 for Example which would mean the Light would hit the sensor the complete Length of the Frame which means 24FPS 1/24s, 25FPS 1/25s, 30FPS 1/30s…

You can use this if you want to combine Video and CGI and you had another Setting for the Shutter in your camera but most of the time .5 will give you the most aesthetically pleasing results.

Rolling Shutter

The other Effect is The Rolling Shutter. The reason, that this happens in real life is that the camera captures the Images in Lines from Top to Bottom. This happens quickly but not at the same time which is the reason you can see it when it comes to fast-moving objects like cars or planes. It also happens with fast camera swivels.

In Blender, you can activate it by selecting Top-Bottom for The Rolling Shutter which is currently the only option. You can set the strength with the Rolling Shutter duration but also here the default settings will do their job most of the time.

Also if Rolling Shutter gives you more realism you should ask yourself if you want to use it because it is less aesthetical appealing compared to the normal Shutter Effect.

Important

Don’t forget, that Motion-Blur only exists If Motion is in the Scene. If you want to Shot a still you can also add some simple movements that would make a lot of sense if you want to shot things that are moving like planes, cars or animals. But also in Scenes, you can make the camera shake a bit for example. To add that extra bit of realism.

5. Refference Images

Since we try to remake something whats already existing at least until a certain degree it makes sense to orient somewhere. Also If you know how an Object looks it always makes sense to get reference images because most of the time it is a bit different, then we remember.

Getting close to a real object can make a big difference because to recognize something the basic shape often is enough for our brain to reconstruct the rest.

To organize your reference Images there is a helpful and free Software called PureRef. At this point, it also can be helpful to have a second screen.

6.Imperfections

Bare Metal with Scratches

In reality, nothing is perfect every surface has unevenness scratches dirt and so on. Which is the reason you should use textures all the time? You could also use Reference images for this or just think about, how would something looks if it gets used which surface get dirtier and which gets less dirty. Where will be Scratches and where you can find dust after a while. Important is that it makes sense because then it looks real and doesn’t overdo it that’s a huge mistake beginners tend to make.

7.Remove your Noise

Image with alot of Noise

The type of noise that you can see if you render with a too low sample count doesn’t exist in real life or any camera it is a different Type of Noise. Which is the reason you should delete the Noise completely.

Since Blender Version 2.79 we have a denoiser inside of Blender which works very well but you still have to use a high sample count. otherwise, you would get artifacts. After this, a free Denoise Addon called D-Noise was published which is based on an AI work frame by Nvidia which produced a much better result but it has some bugs and doesn’t support all the features of Blender. Blender Version 2.81 comes which will officially be released in a few weeks comes with a Denoiser based on Intel Open Image Denoise which gives results that seem almost magical. But in a few days, I will write an extra article about this topic which I will Link here.

If you want to have Filmgarin I would recommend adding this in Post because how I already mentioned it is a different kind of Noise a looks different. especially in videos.

8.Enough Lightbounces

Screenshot of Blender 3D Software showing a problem wit Light Bounces

In reality, light bounces around a couple of thousand times. The problem is, that this would eat up too much computing power which is the reason, you can set the number of light bounces in Blender. By default, the Maximum bounces are set to 12 which is enough most of the time. But sometimes it makes a difference if you use a higher value.

In the example picture, you can see it clearly. The light only comes through the first three plates of Glass. The reason is, I limited the Maximum Lightbounces to 4. But also if it is most noticeable with Glass it can make a difference with any other Material especially in more complex Scenes.

You can change the Maximum Amount of Lightbounces in The Lighpaths menu in the render settings.

Screenshot of Blender 3D Software Showing Lightpath Settings

9. Dont use The Pricipled Shaders only!

Also if the Principled Shader can be really usefull and enables beginners to have more realistic materials by default the possibilitys of the Principled Shader are also limited. And I have the feeeling, that since the Principled Shaders got introduced some people are sometimes thinking this is enough.

So I want to encourage you to take the time and create nice and complex Shaders. A Good examples for someon who does this is String Fairy.

10. Do post processing

Post Processing is something which not only can make your rendering look better it can also can make your images more realistic by emulating effects, that the cameras are ding like lens distortion, adding Noise, Vignette and so on.