Best Practices for Ambient Lighting and Exposure in Enscape
Whether developing a design in the office or presenting a proposed solution in front of a client, it is essential to have good ambient lighting and exposure to properly convey the design intent.
This post will show how this is achieved in Enscape, usually by default, and then cover some special cases and how to quickly and easily make adjustments to maintain quality interior lighting and exposure. We'll also take a look at the Enscape Visual Settings. These best practices apply to all the Enscape-supported platforms; Archicad, Revit, Rhino, SketchUp, Vectorworks; even though this post focuses on a Revit workflow.
TIP #1: Follow along with this post by downloading the free sample Revit model and textures from the Enscape website or via this link. Alternatively, for non-Revit users, check out the standalone Enscape file (256 MB download) or the web standalone (browser-based experience) to explore the same project in real time.
Ambient lighting and exposure settings in early design
When a Revit model has materials set up correctly and interior lighting fixtures properly placed, it will look great in Enscape without changing any of the default settings. For example, the image below was saved using the default ambient lighting and exposure settings. Simply starting Enscape in Autodesk Revit can produce beautiful graphics like this without any user-required adjustments to Enscape’s lighting or exposure settings.
Autodesk Revit model with default Enscape lighting & exposure settings
The results shown in the image above are very compelling, but what about models in the schematic design phase that do not have materials fully developed yet or lighting fixtures placed? Or what if I want to explore the plenum space, for a project in the construction document phase, to look for structural or MEP issues? You may find that the space is too dark. This post will address these questions.
To better understand the issue, we will look at a space, shown below, with no windows, ceiling, or interior lighting.
Revit view of subject model
There are multiple reasons the following scene looks too dark. The first reason has to do with the fact that a ceiling, or floor/roof above, has not been modeled to fully enclose the room. Thus, a large area of the image is showing a very bright sky, which causes all the elements in the foreground to look much darker; like when we take a photo of someone standing in front of a sunlit window.
Example of dark image
Simply adding a ceiling, or exposed structure, to the space causes Enscape’s auto exposure mechanism to brighten the areas which were previously too dark. Of course, changing the time of day would have added natural light and brightened the scene, since there was no top on our model, but that is not the real-world effect we are aiming for here.
Model adjustment improves exposure
The scene is now much better after adding the ceiling, but the walls still appear rather dark. Let’s explore why this is the case. This example model was created using the default generic wall, found in the templates provided with Revit, around the perimeter of the room. As it turns out, these default walls are indirectly mapped to a material which is defined as this darker color.
TIP: This information will be particularly helpful to students and those just getting started with Revit who will likely be using an out-of-the-box template provided by Autodesk.
Revit material settings
Let’s look at why the walls are so dark. The generic wall’s material is set to By Category, which means it uses the material assigned in the Object Types dialog (if one has been assigned). Notice, in the second image below, that the material Default Wall has indeed been assigned to the Wall category. Thus, any wall without a material explicitly applied uses that darker default material.
TIP: Consider changing this default material in your firm’s template to a nice off-white color to use as a starting point in any design.
Autodesk Revit Default Wall material settings
Autodesk Revit Object Style settings
Just like in the real world, and in lighting analysis applications, lighter colors reflect more light than darker colors. Thus, when Enscape is applying ambient lighting and calculating exposure, the result is still the darker image shown above.
What happens if we delete the material assigned to the wall category in Object Styles? In this case, there would be no material associated with the walls under consideration.
Question: What does Enscape do when no material exists? Does it apply the less-than-awesome grey tone we often see in Revit itself?
Answer: When a surface does not have a material, Enscape applies a white tone as shown in the image below.
Only the wall material was changed in this rendered image
It is not uncommon for a Revit family to not have a material associated with it, as materials can be freely deleted in a Revit project; in fact, it is possible to delete all materials in a Revit project. Enscape deals with Loadable Families the same way, applying an aesthetically pleasing white tone.
Ok, that makes sense. But what if my design or client dictates the walls are a darker color? There are a couple of ways to deal with this. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, proper materials and lights almost always result in a nice image. So, just to make this point again, here is what the space would look like by just adding interior lighting, using a more refined material, and not changing any Enscape settings. If this were a real space, a photo would look very much like this real-time rendered image.
Only lighting fixtures were added to the scene
Enscape visual settings
If you are not ready to place light fixtures, or your MEP consultant has not added them to their model yet, you can still quickly get a great looking image from Enscape. If we open the Enscape Visual Settings dialog from within Revit, we can use the Rendering Quality setting to adjust overall image quality as seen here:
Enscape rendering quality settings used in the image above:
For some, realistic ambient lighting and high-quality graphics are secondary. If you don’t want to spend time on lighting your scene at this point, consider setting the rendering quality to “Draft” mode for an evenly lit display of your project.
TIP: Setting Enscape’s Rendering Quality to Draft will make for a much smoother VR experience. Particularly helpful on very large and complex projects.
The Ambient Brightness slider in the Image tab of the Enscape Visual Settings dialog can be used to brighten a scene. Not only that, but the occluded regions remain darker to emphasize the geometry and depth. This cannot be done in Photoshop! Making changes in the Visual Settings dialog results in an instant update in Enscape. Here is what Ambient Brightness and Auto Contrast look like. The image gets even a little brighter if we check Auto Contrast as seen in the left side of the composite image. Notice how this change affects the look of the flooring as well.
Enscape settings in the image above:
1. Ambient Brightness 100% plus Auto Contrast
2. Ambient Brightness 100%
3. Ambient Brightness 0%
Another option, without changing Ambient Brightness, is to manually adjust the Exposure setting as shown here:
Enscape Auto Exposure result
Here is a video highlighting the steps used to improve ambient lighting of the interior scene:
The next three images show the same space which has been further developed; windows and interior lighting fixtures have been added. The first image explores the appearance of darker walls and the third has a lighter option. The second image applies an adjustment to the visual transmittance (Tvis) of the glazing to reduce solar heat gain, resulting in a slightly darkened fenestration.
Final image with lights, windows, and darker wall finish
Visual transmittance adjusted for glazing
Final image with lights, windows, and white wall finish
TIP: For additional information on lighting in SketchUp, be sure to check out this Enscape blog post: Best Practices for Lights and Materials in SketchUp.
Plenum and shaft spaces
Another lighting scenario that you may encounter is when you’re exploring plenum spaces in Enscape. There are situations, for example, where the linked architectural model may contribute to a scene that can be difficult to view at times. We will look at one such example and introduce a time saving option.
In the following image, with the Enscape settings completely reset to default, this is what we see in a plenum space filled with pipes, ducts and structural elements. In some cases, it is way too dark!
FYI: In this example, we are in a MEP Revit model and the architect has added a self-illuminating effect to their ceilings. Since this is a linked model, the MEP engineers cannot directly change this setting. Thus, like the previous ‘bright sky’ example, this is causing a contrast issue for Auto Exposure.
Initial view of enclosed plenum space
Simply adjusting Auto Exposure makes the image look much better; and a call to the architect is not necessary. In this case we turned off Auto Exposure, manually increased the Exposure slider to make the scene brighter, and set Bloom to 0. This does not look as realistic, but that is likely not a problem in this context; e.g. project coordination and review of concealed MEP elements.
Exposure brightness modified in plenum space
Now, if we go back into the occupiable parts of the building with windows, the image will be way too bright. We would have to turn Auto Exposure back on.
Rendered scene overexposed due to previous plenum space settings
Enscape Visual Settings presets
Consider using Enscape’s saved Preset option (see image below) to streamline switching back and forth when needed. With this feature, the current Visual Settings can be named, e.g. Plenum Space – Manual Exposure, and then reselected when needed later.
Spaces lit with natural light, electric lighting and/or employing lighter color materials will automatically look good in Enscape. When these elements are lacking, Enscape has visual settings we can use to quickly compensate and achieve quality images that will convey our design intent faster than any other product on the market today.
Consider using these techniques to present your design live in front of your client using Enscape. They will be impressed by the quality of the real-time rendering experience, as well as feel empowered to explore portions of the project which are important to them in that moment. If you have not yet given Enscape a try, download the free trial today and bring your Revit, SketchUp, Rhino, Vectorworks or Archicad model to life. Things will never be the same again!