Lighting Challenge #6: Candle Light


Early lighting test.

This has all the “big buttons” checked. Global illumination, area lights, subsurface scattering, anisotropic blurred reflections… Took almost four hours to render on my (ahem) iBook G4.


I am liking all of them. Now if I can only get mine to work haha.

Currently working on 3 different version using 3 different renderers, Maya Internal, Pixie and Iguana. I chose to do the Iguana renderer instead of Mental Ray mostly because it seems that almost everyone is using some sort of commercial renderer here (but that is not a bad thing mind you :D) and I wanted to try my hand at the challenges using less known or less used renderers. My last one in the Underwater Challenge was done with Pixie, and I think the only one done with a Renderman compliant program. I guess my goal here is not just lighting and shading, but also to really test these other softwares in a real challenge (heh).

Anywho, totally off topic.

So far I really like this one, low lighting situations are tricky and this is very tricky. At least I got my fake SSS down, now just have to work on the lighting.


Captain - very pretty lighting. I think you’ve done a really nice job balancing out the background screen so that it’s lit and interesting but not distracting from the front of the scene. Also liking the screen reflection on the side of the vase.

I do wonder, though, whether the shadows are too hard-edged and also too strong. Comparing this with Jeremy’s posted photos, they seem a bit off.

Oh, and the vase is nice, how it’s blue on one side and gently illuminated orange on the other. It might be too nice, as I really want to look at it! And the SSS on the candletops is very convincing, with the excpetion that the grain between the translucent top and more solid bottom seems too strong.

@ Christian - thank you very much for the response. It’s very helpful for me and I appreciate your laying it out so clearly. Be careful or I’m going to start PM’ing you everytime I run into trouble (I joke, I joke).

@ Barber - very nice lights and very cool details - the pattern on the screen and the plate, etc. I look forward to an AA’ed one. One thought, compositionally, is that the heavy reflections on the candleholders draw my eye more than I’d like them to. I feel like they draw my eye more than does the plate, for example, and I’d much rather be looking at the plate. is there any way for you to pull down the reflection on them?

@ Sri - the lighting is nice but I agree that the texture on the screen may be a bit strong.

Cheers all.


Thanks. :slight_smile:

And I agree. I’m going to turn up the radius for the area lights. Unfortunately, that also means I’ll have to turn up the number of samples, and that will increase the render time. Ah well.


Great “film noir” look you have going there!

The smoke is beautiful.

Yes, the wax shouldn’t glow so uniformly, but if you fix that you want to keep the definition that they have now, maybe the wax could be a bit glossier with some highlights on the side, or maybe a bit of rim lighting?

If you want nit-picks the base of the right-most candle doesn’t look as fully in contact with the table as it could, with that blue glow happening right under it, but really I love what you’re doing.



Great, clean, modern take on the scene.

Your materials look really good overall, maybe the black candle-holders could use softer more subtle reflections, right now the reflections look very sharp and contrasty, and that doesn’t fit well with a scene that has shallow DOF.

The candle flames and wick areas don’t 100% work for me yet, the flame of the left seems to have a black outline around it instead of being glowing, and the wicks look much too black as if they were sucking light out of the scene.



Sphere - Thanks for the Max file.

  • Now MAX files (and Lightwave LWO thanks to Captain Obvious) are both available on the downloads page. *

Captain Obvious - Good start, but it clearly needs softer shadows. If render times are too high then try turning off some of those other things like GI.

sri - Nice scene! The colors in the vase and candles work well with the colors in the framed picture. I wish there were less glare (less of a specular highlight) on the framed picture, though. (And I hope you can find a nicer wood texture than that default one.)

BarberofCivil - That’s going to be terrific! The texture maps are really well chosen and work well with all the surfaces, the plate & the screen really look spot-on! I’m a little worried about that bright line showing through the center of the screen, maybe that can be avoided, and the reflection on the left side of the vase is a little distracting and confusing, if it’s supposed to be an off-screen candle then either dim and soften it a lot or get rid of it.



Jeremy, many thanks for the crits, really appreciate it. Yes a picture of Garbo always helps! read my mind re: the candles, still haven’t got the ‘sheen’ and sss quite right but work has intervened for the moment and this is probably the last stab for a while…the glare’s done via Maxwell and the smoke/flames are comped post-render. Still haven’t fixed that candle holder… :-/


Thanks for the critique Jeremy … i will work on it.

@Triker … i am the same meaning as you … i just thought you want some tips for reducing rendertime … it was my fault.

@glebe digital … this is coming out great.

i hope you don’t mind … i did a quick mockup on how the sss effect could be improved.
Also did a little color correction.

love your take on the scene.


Wow, that’s very close to what I wanted Christian! Thanks a bunch, I don’t mind at all. :slight_smile:
I need to ramp up the sss ‘absorbtion’ way beyond what I’ve got it set at, have been too gentle with the controls so far…


Hawk-eyed Jeremy noted that my candles wasn’t receiving reflections properly (yes, the blue thing is a reflection)… and I also noted my SSS wasn’t getting the indirect light.

Plus of course… I loved that incence glow some people have going… so… here’s my (minor) tweaks so far…

I was pondering comping on some smoke (I actually tested it) but for this WIP opted for… nah… no comp fakery today.

Yes… this is all straight from the render, no post, no layers, all GI, all physically accurate lights and shaders. No “bounce lights” or other trickery. Teh real thang, lads and lasses :wink:



MasterZap, are you having any difficulties controlling the sss on the top with the use of physical lights? I did a quick test and no matter what the scale multiplier is set to, I have to trade between heavy sss on top and a good scattering on the rest or subtle enough on the top but the rest almost unnoticeable. Are you doing this with some kind of exposure adjustment (or tonemapper)? Any tips appreciated.

Your candles are looking very natural.


@ glebe digital … yes controlling the sss is hard sometimes … most time trial and error …
… render and try again … render … :wink:

I’ve worked on a lot materials and tweaked the lighting a littlebit.
Rendertime is now about 20 min for 1280 x 800 with best AA.
Blurred reflections and SSS took the most time.

Here is the 1280x800 resolution.


The night version.

need to work on the flame dimensions …
Not that the left candle is supposed to be a flamethrower :wink:


Yes. I am using a tone mapper. Doing this is imperative when you start to do physically correct rendering.

Too many people and too much software just tries to blast physical values scaled * 255 to the frame buffer, in the wrong gamma, with no overbright compression… doing this with true physical values invariable creates useless junk (and is half the reason people say “physical accuracy looks wrong”… it does … when displayed wrong).

It’s top important to have a proper response curve and proper compression of the upper dynamic range…

Look at the candle photos Jeremy posted. Look how the overbright regions are sort of “gently compressed” in to a curve that gently pushes towards white as the exposures go brighter.

Try taking one of his low exposures and use “Brightness/Contrast” in photoshop to try to mimic the high exposure. You won’t be able to, because Phothoshop will be doing this in the wrong gamma, on the straight 8 bit data.

When talking about these issues (and I do this a lot… even internally at mental images, people start throwing things at me when I get passionate and ramble about gamma and compression of overbrights for an hour or two) I tend to point people to this site which introduces the problem nicely. Yes, the site is actually about Bill Spitzaks sRGB conversion code, but no matter, the very introduction about “what is sRGB” (which is what your average computer montior is) and the various “interactive demos” help the understanding a lot.

Even Jeremy himself can attest to how passionate I become when rambling about overbright compression and gamma. Heck, I ruined half his book signing session at SigGRAPH by rambling so much people didn’t dare to come up to him for a signed copy of “Digital Lighting and Rendering”. (I tried to redeem this later by forcing people to buy his book :wink: )

Your candles are looking very natural.

Thank you.

A VERY IMPORTANT tip when using a tone mapper is you MUST turn off the “screen_composit” option in misss_fast_* shader… you can sort of think of that option as a “poor mans tonemapper”, which does simple overbright compression by “soft-adding” the various layers.

If you do tonemapping at the output stage you must turn OFF that feature, or misss_fast_* will clamp it’s output to 0-1 range and not look good when properly tonemapped!

Alas, look at what you made me do… I rambled! :wink:



ChrRambow: looks pretty good. Good focal depth. Nice incense ash. I think the smoke needs to be a little more swirly. Candle flames less pointy.

MasterZap: Great as usual. For some reason, the textures on the rose make it look kind of flat and fake compared to the rest of the image.

glebe: nice flames in particular, could use a little turbulence.

One thing I notice from most of the images is flame shape and colour. If you look at the photos from Jeremy, the flames are kind of skinny ~5:1 but the tip is still somewhat rounded, not pointed. Also note the colour progression: very bright in the centre with a glow, progressingto yellow/orange towards the fringes. At the bottom around the wick,the colours also progress to purple, cyan and blue.

Jeremy, thanks for the comments. The bright line in the screen and also the reflection on the vase come from a surrounding environment map, basically a darkened room with bright windows. I may end up removing it altogether or find a different one to use, but I do like the effect of the translucent glow through the screen.

A new render without jaggies:(note, the environment map is still on here and I forgot to turn my candle wax texture back on, so they are basically flat white,not waxy. I’m also looking at toning down the reflectivity of the brass candleholders, maybe tarnish em a bit)


I’m getting a:

Not Found

The requested URL http:// was not found on this server.

For the max version from the main page Jeremy, the fbx and obj are fine though :wink:

Great thread guys. A tremendous amount of useful info already here, even for someone who’s just been observing.


Oh, sorry, use the one Sphere linked to until I can check on that problem.



Great entries so far people, I’ve been looking forward to another one. Going for both non hdr and hdr based render this time again. Looking forward.


Okay, I’ve been playing around with this for a few days now and can’t really think of any where else to go with it. This would be a pure Blender render, but I needed to crop it in Photoshop because I’m too lazy to move my camera. It’s also almost entirely procedural materials/textures, the only exceptions being the pattern I made for the screen and the stuff in the BR corner. It was fairly challenging trying to fake the SSS on the candles, the results aren’t great either:shrug:


It looks kinda rough next to some of the renders in here, but I’m still fairly happy with it. The only things still bugging me are the stoneware material and the mirror. The smoke is also kind of lame, but it’s the best I could do with Blender’s halo system. If you look you can see that the smoke doesn’t even reflect in the mirror… Oh, one last thing - to head of any comments on the sharp shadows: The last time my power went out and I used a candle in a dark room I noticed that all the shadows were unnaturally sharp and crisp. You can even see it in the great reference images posted earlier in the thread. Soft shadows are great for larger light sources that produce light from a surface, but a candle flame is about as close as you can get to a point light in the real world.

BTW, I'm releasing the image and my [blend file]( under the terms of the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license so someone else might be able to improve it, or at least learn something from it. I assumed that Jeremy created the models, and so credited him in the Blend file? Let me know if there is anything specific you want me to do:)

BarberofCivil: I like everything in the scene so far, but it seems a little contrasty and jarring. Also there seems to be a lot of mystery light in the scene, for instance the bright white specular on the left side of the vase or the bright back-light on the screen. That plate is pretty great though, man I’m glad mine is so far from the camera :wink:

ChrRambow: Great work on the night version, especially on the incense! Only a couple of things are bugging me:
The floating marble things on the table - no shadows, no caustics, nothing anchoring them in the scene.
And the material on the frame - the white highlight on its upper-left is the brightest thing in your scene, brighter even than the candles.

MasterZap: Really nice, but a few things don’t fit well with the quality of the rest of the scene:
The pattern on the frame - the surface looks like wood, but the pattern like plastic?
The pattern on the screen in the back ground - looks really cg…
The candle holders look odd too, but mostly like plastic made to look like metal, so that could be intentional.