Course Review: Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender

Lighting is an often underestimated part of an appealing 3D rendering. A good lighting setup can make quite a difference in establishing a strong impression, and many 3D artists, particularly beginners, tend to ruin the impression of their sculpture or animation by rushing the lighting phase of the project.

CG Cookie offers a great course to teach you how to effectively boost your Blender lighting skills. CG Boost reviewed the course.

The Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender course is hosted by CG Cookie’s experienced Blender tutor Jonathan Lampel. The first chapter comprises a general introduction to the contents of the course.

The introductory chapter is concluded with a small interactive multiple-choice quiz to get you acquainted with some lighting-related Blender basics. For example, the first question is “Which render engine is slower but simulates light more realistically?” You can choose between Cycles and Eevee.

The Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender course package is divided into clearly categorized video chapters:

  1. Introduction to Digital Lighting
  2. Lighting with Cycles
  3. Lighting with Eevee
  4. The Art of Lighting

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender

Take your Blender lighting skills to the next level

Lighting with Cycles

Chapter 2 of the course contains the first ten course lessons focus on Blender’s realistic path tracing renderer Cycles.

The first lesson starts off with some essential theory about how light size and distance affect the shadows that are cast when light rays encounter an obstacle.

Next, Blender’s different light types and their settings are introduced in a clear manner. The light sources that are discussed include the Point, Sun, Spot and Area light, but also the World environment light and more Blender light sources, including instructions how to establish a sky texture.

In the next video, Jonathan Lampel introduces you to the principles of bounced / indirect light, discussing the visual difference between no light bounces, one light bounce and many light bounces, and which light bounces value range is sensible to stick to.

The lesson that follows explains how realistic light strength values differ from the default Blender light strength values, and how to compensate for that by using Exposure. The video also introduces Jonathan Lampel’s Extra Lights add-on, which can be downloaded from the CG Cookie site. Although the Extra Lights add-on is also available for free, CG Cookie Citizen subscribers have access to an expanded version with much more realistic light presets.

The subsequent video explains the different Color Management settings and their use. For example, did you know that the False Color setting in the Color Management allows you to view an exposure ‘heat map’, so you can check if parts of your scene are overexposed or underexposed?

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 05 - Raw View Transform

Then it’s time to discuss a very important lighting method: HDR Image-Based Lighting. Jonathan Lampel shows how to quickly set up a scene lit by an HDR image, and how to achieve a correct sunlight exposure.

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 06 - HDRI based lighting

The sixth Cycles video from the course explains how to use the Portal option of a Blender light to focus outdoor light through a window to light an indoor scene, and in the subsequent video you learn how to set up a scene for volumetric light effects, like an atmospheric light beam.

Of course, a good lighting course would not be complete without coverage of IES lights, which are very important for architectural visualization because of their convincing light patterns.

The screenshot shows a noisy viewport rendering, but you get the impression of IES lighting

The final course video of the Cycles chapter is a slightly longer video that shows you how to realistically light a bedroom scene in daylight. Lots of interesting knowledge is shared during this small project, and a number of things you’ve learned in the previous videos are put into practice.

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 08 - Bedroom rendered with Cycles

The Cycles chapter is closed with another informative multiple-choice Cycles quiz. This quiz is a little harder to complete than the first one. Although I consider myself a seasoned Blenderhead, I got one question wrong. 🙂

Lighting with Eevee

The third major chapter of the Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender course is dedicated to Blender’s relatively new star of the show: the real-time Eevee renderer, offering more speed at the cost of some realism.

The first Eevee video is a general introduction to the major differences between Cycles and Eevee. The next four videos get you acquainted with the principles and settings of shadows in Eevee. Jonathan Lampel shares a lot of useful knowledge here to improve shadows in your Eevee renderings, including problematic situations and how to solve them, as well as the deviating shadow settings of the Sun light type.

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 09 - Eevee shadow settings

The next video shows how to add an environment for reflections in Eevee, and shows some relevant settings, such as activating Ambient Occlusion to establish a ground shadow.

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 10 - Eevee Ambient Occlusion

Next up, it’s time for indirect lighting with Eevee, also known as irradiance. Jonathan explains in detail how an Irradiance Volume works, what its limitations are, and how to work around those limitations.

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 11 - Eevee Irradiance Volume lighting
Irradiance Volume rendering with Eevee, showing shadow artifacts that can arise

The subsequent four videos give you an in-depth journey into indirect lighting using Eevee Irradiance Volumes. It really teaches you just about everything you need to know about indirect lighting in Eevee, including how to fake bounced light without the use of Irradiance Volumes, as shown in this Eevee rendering:

Why use Irradiance Volumes if you can fake bounced light as well? 🙂

The final video of the Eevee chapter is comparable to the last Cycles chapter video: Jonathan guides you in lighting the same bedroom scene, but this time using Eevee. The result is pretty impressive when compared to the Cycles result, proving that you don’t need an advanced path tracing renderer to get a great looking rendering.

The Art of Lighting

After another fun quiz, the fourth and final chapter of the course arrives, offering a plethora of professional lighting tips and techniques that can be applied to any 3D editor and renderer.

Subjects discussed in the videos include working with shadows and gradients, setting up three-point lighting, making use of high-key and low-key lighting, how to establish portrait lighting and much more. Very informative and useful. And of course every technique is executed in Blender.

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 14 - Three-point lighting
Fundamentals of Digital Lighting - image 16 - Portrait lighting

Final words

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender is a very complete, impressively comprehensive video course that shares a lot of useful knowledge about Blender lighting in Cycles and Eevee, but also about lighting in general.

The course is narrated in a clear and pleasant way, with the advantage of Jonathan Lampel being a native English speaker. The pace is just right: snappy, but not too fast, and Jonathan’s voice is pleasant to listen to. The length of each video is also balanced. You won’t fall asleep. 🙂

I highly recommend this course if you want to know a lot (more) about lighting in 3D and even in the real world.

Happy Blending! 🐵

Metin Seven

Fundamentals of Digital Lighting in Blender

Take your Blender lighting skills to the next level

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, we will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you.


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