This Daz3d HDRI Tutorial explains everything you need to know about HDRI in Daz Studio. We also cover where to find HDRIs and highlight great daz products.
If you prefer watching a video, see below, otherwise keep reading.
High Dynamic Range Image or an HDRI. It is a type of environmental lighting that is also called Image-based lighting.
So HDRI is a type of image that contains information about the environment depicted on the image and lighting that it provides. And 3D software can read and apply this information to the scenes.
In simpler, more understandable words, if you add Daz Studio HDRI to your scene, DazStudio will simulate as if your scene was indeed at the location depicted on the image. What is also great, that this is really cheap power-wise. Meaning, that it will not extend render times by a lot.
HDR image of the beach – source Spiaggia di Mondello HDRI Haven
So if you find an image of the, lets say, sea beach, and apply it to the scene. It will simulate as if your scene is at that beach. Lighted by the sun directly and reflected light from the sea. Better to understand all this in practice.
Where to Find HDRIs
You would think, that if this technology is so useful, then it probably is rare, expensive to use and so on? Well, no, not at all. You can find HDRIs easily everywhere. And a lot of them are even free.
Usually I find most of my free HDRIs on the HDRI Haven website. It has a big collection of the images of all sorts. At the moment there are almost 400 free images that you can download in up to 20k resolution.
Source HRDI Heaven
Another site that proposes free download of HDR images is the hdrlabs. There are a couple of free collections that you can download.
Alternatively, if you want to buy more exclusive images or can’t find images of your liking on free websites you always can visit something like HDRmaps. Find here the highest quality images for your scene. And it is always available to preview said high dynamic range images in up to 2k resolution for free.
Important to mention that on the Daz3D shop there are a lot of HDRIs too. Advantage of these products over others is that they were made specifically with the Daz Studio in mind. Meaning they can work better and provide more features. Also there are a lot of tools and assets that will improve your experience with the HDRIs, check the “HDRI products” section of this article for information about these tools and products.
Praya Sunrise – source hdrlabs sIBL Archive
Adding a HDRI to the Scene in Daz Studio
Next in the Daz3d HDRI tutorial is about how to add the HDRI to the scene yourself. For the purpose of the tutorial I will use a very simple scene with the DAZ Material Ball, as it allows for the fastest renders and a good example. You, on the other hand, can totally create your own scene. For the beginner it would be a good idea to follow How to Use Daz3d: Daz Beginner Tutorial at least up to the lighting section, then you can return here.
Most of the settings related to the Daz Studio HDRIs are situated under the “Environmental” section of the “Render settings” menu:
To add the lighting-based image to your scene, click the “Environment map” drop-down list. Here you can find the default environmental lighting built-in to the software. It is called “DTHDR-RuinsB-500”. Now if you change to the “Nvidia Iray” view or render the scene, you will see that it was lighted. If you also turn on the “Draw Dome” option, you will see the selected Daz Studio HDRI as a background.
This default image is, frankly, bad. It has a low initial resolution and low quality too. It can be used in some cases, but for the real scenes I will strongly advise to find something better. For this scene I will use the 4k Dresden Square HDRI. Look how much better it looks already:
By the way, .hdri is not the only format that you can use. Other image formats are also allowed, though would not work nearly as good.
Main Daz3d HDRI Settings
Next in our Daz3d HDRI Tutorial is about going through each important Daz Studio HDRI setting from the “Environment” section.
First one – “Environment mode” will let you select what environment you want to use. Meaning, the default “Dome and Scene” will use the scene lighting, such as spotlights and also all the environmental lighting, such as HDRI simultaneously. There are options to use “Dome only” and “Scene only” which will use only the environmental lighting, ignoring scene and vice versa.
Also there is one more option – “Sun-Sky only”. This will use only a part of environmental lighting, that is called sun-sky. This does not utilize HDRI in any way and instead simulates the sky and sun that you can control. More about this – Daz3d Iray Lighting Tutorial.
After that let’s look at the “Environment Intensity” and “Environmental Map” sliders. They are basically the same thing. Control how bright lighting from the image affects everything:
Both need to be higher than 0 for render not to be black. In my case default values of 1 and 2 work good, so I will leave them as is.
“Environmental Lighting Resolution” decides the lighting and thereafter, shadows resolutions. Higher it is – better should your render look. But this does not mean that you just want to skyrocket this setting. I, usually, match this setting with the resolution of my HDR image and consider this the best way:
Next is the “Environmental Lighting Blur” switch. If you turn it on, Daz Studio will blur the HDRI that you use. You will see the change if you use the image as background. Consequently this will soften the shadows. Really useful option when your image has everything in focus, which makes it look unrealistic and shadows are too sharp – have a look at our Daz3d Depth of View article to learn more about this technique.
After that, there are “Dome Orientation” and “Rotation” options. So you can change the position of the HDR image compared to your scene. For example, if in your case some tree or building from the picture covers the object, thus hiding it from the lighting source. So you can change that without any problem. I used this function to place Daz Studio HDRI in the way, so the building is right in the center of a reflective surface:
Last setting that we are going to touch in this section is the “Draw ground”. When it is on, the Daz Studio will create an invisible plane that also catches shadows. So this could simulate like your objects are standing on the ground of the image, instead of appearing like they are floating:
Although there is a better way of simulating this, which we will look into in the next section.
Dome Mode in Daz Studio
I have previously skipped the second option in the “Environment” menu. I did this because it is so extensive that it deserves special attention. The option is “Dome Mode”.
By default it is set to the “Infinite Sphere”, which means that the HDRI sphere is infinitely large in comparison to the scene. So when you zoom out of your objects, the image does not change at all. Which creates an illusion that your objects are getting smaller.
Change the “Dome mode” to the “Finite sphere”. Now if you try to zoom out, you should notice background changing too. This change can be really minor, to notice it better you can change the size of the Dome, as now it is finite. Options for this are “Dome Scale Multiplier” and “Dome Radius”.
In my case I almost can’t see the difference between Infinite and Finite spheres, so I have lowered both the options quite a bit. You also can change them to such low numbers, that you will see the Dome sphere itself. And if you lost the Dome by moving it or not sure where it is, there is the “Visualise Finite Dome” setting that will make it stand out:
The last variant of the Dome Mode is a “Finite Box”. It is really similar to the “Finite Sphere”, but a box instead of a sphere. You also can change its size, but in this case it is possible to change the Width, Height and Depth. This can be really useful when you are using an indoor HDRI, but for my outside scene the sphere is much better.
You probably noticed that each of the “Dome Mode” options we discussed above also have the “…w/ Ground” variant. And this does basically what it says, simulates ground. It is done in a quite interesting way. So here is the render with just a Finite Sphere:
It looks kinda like this statue is standing on that ground, but it is not too believable. Ground under the objects is even a bit blurred from the “Lighting Blur” setting. While the ball itself is in focus. Overall still looks a bit like a ball is levitating and not on the ground. Now let’s have a look at the same render, but on the “Finite Sphere w/ Ground”:
Right away you can see how much more believable this looks. Ground was shifted a bit and squeezed around the object. Which creates an illusion of perspective, that looks like the object is standing there.
To make this option work you should experiment with the scale of the Dome. In my case both “Scale Multiplier” and “Radius” are set to 25 and it works well.
Daz HDRI Products
As you already know, there are a lot of the most different HDRIs on the internet. So how to find something that you want? The following part of the Daz3d HDRI tutorial will give you some directions and tips and show you good products that might help you with better renders.
As I am writing this in the middle of the summer from home, let’s begin with something summer-themed. Let’s start with the HDRI of the Spanish sunny Marina. The advantage of this product is that it delivers not just an image, but also a bunch of presets, that change brightness, vignette, shadows and even depth of field.
Continuing sunny summer themes, I can recommend using LA Pool and HDRI. The main feature here is that this is not only an HDR image, this is a ready to render scene. It includes image-based lighting and background, a bunch of props that characters can interact with, such as chairs and even 9 camera presets, that is already set for the best renders.
Source LA Pool
And finishing the summer theme is the UltraHD Iray HDRI With DOF – Outdoor Pack 5 – Marinas. This is really similar to the first product from the list. It is also made from the same people and provides the same features as presets of the depth of field available and set around marinas. There are simply more HDRIs here, as it is the set of 6.
Source Outdoor Pack 5 – Marinas
iRadiance – HDRI Variety Pack One is also a set of HDRIs like the previous item. It will provide you with the 8 different HDRIs from different locations of the Earth. And these images contain as much as 13 EVs worth of exposure information for hard shadows and accurate reflections.
Next set of HDRIs is themed around sunsets and sunrises in the middle of the desert. Looks almost outwardly and will be a really good place for some fantasy or futuristic scene. This sunset HDRI also includes dome rotation presets and camera placement presets for the fastest renders.
Now let’s look at the couple of products with similar goals and from the same artist. This is a “Studio Light PRO” line of products. They all aimed to create a studio-like setting for you, so you could make your characters look like models.
First is Iray HDRI – 180 Maps. This is a pack of HDRIs with up to 7 light sources on each of them with studio feeling. Next is the Iray Wow Lights, a pack of 96 professionally designed HDRI Iray maps with 3 backgrounds.The main features here is a movable backlight and a super soft and intense lighting. And the third item from the “Studio Light PRO” is the Iray HDRI – Soft Light. This pack is fully oriented around creating soft lighting scenes without any problems and fiddling with a lot of source lights for yourself.
To further adapt the lighting of HDRI also have a look at Iray HDRI Reshade. It support several HDRI use cases, for example to swap a daytime scene for a night scene. Below you can see how a daytime HDRI was adapted to fit for a night render.
Source Iray HDRI Reshade
I want you now to pay close attention to the next product. Because if you are really interested in HDRIs and working with them, this is probably the best item that you can get out there. We looked into how you can make HDRIs look more real, by adding ground simulation to your scene and shadow catchers. But this still does not provide occlusion or reflections. Meaning your characters can’t fully interact with the scene.
Exactly here comes into play the Iray HDRI Toolkit. It allows users to place Reflectors, Occluders and Shadow Catchers yourself. So you can yourself control how and what interacts with the HDRI, add reflections, shadows and occlusion. This toolkit should be mentioned in any Daz3d HDRI tutorial.
Source Iray HDRI Toolkit in action
And as the last item I will tell you about the way, how you can learn more about Daz Studio HDRIs. As this article is for familiarization with the whole subject. And if you want to go deeper and improve, you can take a look at the Advanced Iray HDRI Tricks – Tutorial.
How to Make Your Own Daz3d HDRI
This Daz3d HDRI Tutorial does not cover yet how to create your own HDRI, but in the meantime you can have a look at the following youtube tutorial:
Conclusion – Daz3d HDRI Tutorial
This Daz3d HDRI Tutorial should have explained to you what is the whole purpose of the HDRIs, how are they so convenient and useful and how to use them properly in the Daz Studio. They provide you with both a realistic, believable lighting and a background. At the same time don’t even extend render times by a lot.
Though it is important to understand that using only HDRIs in your scenes is not a good practice. There are some good images that can provide you with everything you need for the scene. But most of the time it is a good idea to combine the HDRI with the hand-made lighting. Same way as shown in our Daz3d Iray Lighting Tutorial. Also have a look at our other Daz Tutorials and Top 3d Models reviews.