Rendering an exterior at night in 5 simple steps, using vray

In this tutorial I will go through all the steps that we usually do when I’m asked to do an “exterior night-rendering”.
In order to follow it you need to know the basics of 3ds max and vray.

1) Natural light
The first step is to choose a background image of a sky.
For this tutorial I have used the image bellow:


Now put the desired image into the environment slot (3d max’s environment slot, not in vray’s).
In the vray settings, check global illumination, select lightcache for secondary bounces, irradiance map for primary (you could also use brute force, but it will take longer to render).
In the global switches tab, make sure that “default lights” is unchecked.

Last but not least go to the vray environment slot and check “GI environment (skylight) override. In the slot right beside put a gradient (dark blue in the upper slot, a lighter blue in the middle and a pale orange or purple in the lower position)

Exterior Rendering Settings

If you hit render, you will end up with something like this:

Exterior Rendering Phase1

2) Adding artificial lights inside
As you notice, it is starting too look like a night rendering, but at the moment it lacks artificial lighting so the spaces look deserted.

We will begin by adding vray lights inside the house, to simulate artificial lighting.
The important thing to keep in mind at this point is that artificial light can look different from one case to another depending on many factors (intensity, color temperature, size of the space that is actually lit, etc.) so you shouldn’t put a light source and instance it all over the place. Be creative and play with parameters like intensity multipliers, filter colors, etc.
For this scene I have used spherical vray lights with intensity multipliers varying from 1 to 2, filter colors with orange, yellow and blue tints and different a radius for each one.
vray interior lights

If you hit another render you will end up with something very similar to the following.
Exterior Rendering Phase 2

3) Simulating artificial light “spreading” from inside
Now we have light inside the house, but the light doesn’t seem to “come out” enough. Therefore we will place vray planar lights just in front of the windows, pointing towards the exterior, like in the following image.

vray window lights

Hit another test rendering and you should have something similar to the render bellow:

Exterior Rendering Phase 3

4) Adding artificial lights in the courtyard
We are getting closer. What doesn’t look right at the moment is the fact that the courtyard is too dark. Depending on your scene, you may have exterior lighting fixtures (like the lighting posts that I have in this scene), or even exterior spotlights that illuminate the building.  If you don’t have specific instructions for these, you could place lights somewhere behind the camera, so that you give the impression that the space is receiving illumination from neighboring sources (street lights, car lights, or even other buildings).

In this particular scene, adding lights to the lighting small garden lighting posts should be enough.
First I have assigned them a vraylight material with a gradient map; than I have placed vray spherical lights over each one. For each vray light in the courtyard I have excluded the lighting post bellow it. This is kind of a fake, but in the end it looks right, and that’s all that matters. (If you want to do it more “accurate” check out the lampshade tutorial as well).

vray courtyard lights

Hitting a test render at this stage you should obtain something like this:

Exterior Rendering Phase 4

5) Photoshop touches
a) Add a subtle glow effect to the visible artificial light sources (in this case, the small lighting posts). You can do this using the diffuse glow filter.
b) In a new layer, add a linear gradient from bottom to somewhere at the middle from orange to transparent. Put the layer on “color” and play with the transparency until you like the result. If you are feeling creative, you can also try some subtle brush strokes, with different tints of red, yellow or orange to create diversity.
After having done all of the above, here is the final image.


Exterior Rendering Phase 5

Rendering an exterior at night can be very tricky. The best approach in my opinion is to take it systematically by starting with natural light, and adding artificial lights one by one during the process. Otherwise, you may find yourself lost not knowing where you did something wrong.
I can not stress enough how important is to have a few examples of professional architectural photography at hand and look at them at every stage of the process.
Here are some general guidelines that I always keep in mind when I’m doing a night rendering:

1) Even at night time the skylight still casts a subtle shadow.
2) Never make the sky 100% black; it should have either a blue or a purple tint.
3) If there are no artificial lights on the ground, the sky will always be brighter and the ground would “borrow” a bluish or purple tint from the sky
4) The lighting is a mixture of dark purple/bluish tints at the upper part and orange/yellow on the ground and on the building(s). That is because the natural light blends with artificial light sources placed on the ground.
5) The colors are more saturated in a night rendering that in a daytime one.
6) Artificial light sources have a subtle glow around them.
7) If you have “moving objects” in your scene, don’t be afraid to use motion blur. If you know a bit about photography, you are aware that at night time photographers use high exposure times when they target architectural subjects; this causes all moving things around (cars, people, etc) to appear with motion blur.

If you think that I have missed something, feel free to post a comment and let me know.

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  1. melisa says:

    hi, 1st of all i would like to thank you for posting this wonderful tutorial. i’ve tried to follow the instructions that u have taught but im stuck half way. what do u mean by

    “Now put the desired image into the environment slot (3d max’s environment slot, not in vray’s)?

    and then yeh i understand the next one check the GI and stuff… but then i m lost again over here

    ” In the slot right beside put a gradient (dark blue in the upper slot, a lighter blue in the middle and a pale orange or purple in the lower position)”

    in the material editor tab i cant see “gradient” in the “standard” tab … pls help…thanks alot.. :)

  2. Hello melisa,

    ““Now put the desired image into the environment slot (3d max’s environment slot, not in vray’s)?”

    Click “rendering” in the upper menu, than click “environment”. In the environment map slot place the desired photo.

    ” In the slot right beside put a gradient (dark blue in the upper slot, a lighter blue in the middle and a pale orange or purple in the lower position)”

    As I said, click the map slot, (where it says “None”) and you will be able to find the gradient in the list that pops up.

    I hope it was clear enough now :)

  3. melisa says:

    hey thanks! :) ur great…

    ” In the slot right beside put a gradient (dark blue in the upper slot, a lighter blue in the middle and a pale orange or purple in the lower position)”

    im still confuse bout this… so sorry… the Material Editor box beside the Render Setup box above. when i click on mine.. it din turn out like urs… my sample balls in Material Editor box is in Vray..

    and i cant get the Gradient thingy in the Material Editor box like urs…Should i change the Standard tab into which one? Architectural? or Advance Lighting override? :( urrrghhh…sorry i m kinda slow…

  4. As I said in the previous reply, if you click directly on the map slot you will be able to find the “gradient” in the list. Than simply drag and drop the gradient map on a free slot in the material editor.
    I really don’t know how to be more clear than this :)

  5. abhinav says:

    hi dude i m going to use ur tutorial.. nice tutorial thanks……………

  6. thanks… nice explaination…. :D

  7. RPRA2 says:

    nice explaination…hope this will help me

  8. harris says:

    thanks a lot alex. ive been doing lots of day view and few night scene. your explanation is simple and it helps agian!

  9. ahmad sarg says:

    thnx alot Alex.,,, u r great..
    but 1 question …!!
    is this scene from prespective view? or vray cam?
    & if it’s vraycam.. it’ll be nice to publish its configuration..
    thnx again

  10. mustafa mamdouh says:

    thnx nice tutorial and great explaination

  11. arnel says:

    nice tutorial did not know that vray gave you this good results i uslay just get vray problem

  12. Thanx sir for this knolage work..
    i realy like making games interior and exterior..
    i see ur work first time.
    so plz sir more information for this line.
    m doing multimeda Animation course from Arena delhi,
    and i hav complete 3ds max now..
    pls some help

  13. Hüseyin says:

    Nice tutorial thanks lot.

  14. jignesh says:

    very nice tutorial thanks a lot…

  15. ram says:

    is nice tot it use for all studnets and 3d designer

  16. gappy says:

    thank you.. this tutorial is very useful.. love this :)

  17. Kamol says:

    Thank you so much, I have learned your tutorial. You r a good teacher. thank you.

  18. erwin says:

    can u help me, using with vray… because i just learn about it. i need you’r help… i want study it. please help me,…. thanx so much… God Bless U…

  19. prince says:

    thanx sir for ur this tutriol by ur this tutriol and i am student of architect and working on my showreal thesedays in 3ds max v-ray so just tell me about some more exterior night light setting in v-ray.any links or sight if u hv in ur knowledge.

  20. bhawna says:

    its good……

  21. djvin09 says:

    very good night rendering

  22. mahendra says:

    Hi Nice tutorial.. and I have few questions

    1. How to reduce the rendering time if am using more number of lights in the scene. ( am using exact photometric ies files of the lights)
    2.i am using omini light in interior in the scene but my render images not clear i use white material in my ceiling but after rendering my ceiling color is change pls solve my problem.


  23. Ayoob says:

    Thanks a lot man,very usefull for me, thanks again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. tam says:

    wow..what a great tutorial, love you the way, can i have the house model that you used for this tut. so i can practice this “tut.” on it. thanks!!

  25. N.Hussain says:

    Hi very nice tutorials but i have some problem
    1) how can i reduce the image time
    2) can i get a complete interior & exterior tutorial from beginning to detail sharp image

  26. N.Hussain says:

    how can i reduce image rendering time

  27. Anthony says:

    how ’bout rendering an exterior at daytime??

  28. Yayo says:

    Can you share the scene in any format? (max, 3ds, obj, fbx….)
    I will apreciate that

  29. ianet_1984 says:

    very nice indeed! and helpful for those who are new to night rendering!

  30. Pratik Mehta says:

    Gr8 job.
    it will hepl us for urgent renders…..
    amazing…Keep it up……

  31. peter says:

    nice , excellent tut., pls how did u manage to get those trees behind the building?

  32. avi says:

    Hi very nice tutorials but i have some problem
    1) how can i change day scene in to night scene in walkthroughs with vray lighting

  33. sangram says:

    very very thank u for give 5 simple steeps

  34. Rajesh TR says:

    Thaanks for your very clear tutorial. I have one doubt when i am rendering in day shot all white meterial come little bit grey orlight brownish. I am using expotional in color mapping. exact white color come if i use linear multiply. but it look like burn. over lighting. Please explain what which settings i want to change.
    Rajesh TR

  35. Hello Rajesh,

    Without seeing the rendering I am not sure if your problem is caused by low exposure or color bleeding.
    Either way the following tutorials might help:

    Best regards,

  36. panoram says:

    very nice tutorial

  37. Krishnamurthy says:

    Thaanks for your very clear tutorial.

  38. sumeet says:

    hey Alex Mincinopschi….thank u so much to explain this steps for night rendering i go through this method as u define here & i have done same step as u mentioned & i got it 95% smiler output which i wants….this is very useful tutorial. i learn here how to do night scene render…thank u once again dude.

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