One of the things I like most about architecture and project visualization is to imagine that every time we start a new project or model, we can immerse ourselves in a new world.
For me, in this new world, I like to imagine myself as a photographer. A photographer who can modify reality in the 3D world, and take incredible photos.
By thinking like a photographer, I believe that it’s possible to improve the quality of your architectural renderings. In this post, I’ll share tips that you can use to help improve your renders and create realistic, persuasive visualizations every time.
Understand the context of your 3D models
As well as understanding how a photographer thinks, it is necessary to think about how to arrange your 3D models to build better images, just like an artist organizes colors, volumes, and sensations within a painting.
I call this first part, “understanding the world”. It is about understanding the context which comes from a lot of observation and from the desire to decipher what is behind everything we see. Let’s dive deeper into this now.
The first thing I ask myself when I open up Enscape is - where is this project located? A project located in Rio de Janeiro, for example, has different sunlight than a project located in Helsinki. The strength of the sun and the length of the shadows can differ, depending on location and proximity to the equator.
TIP: If you're a SketchUp user, you can easily add a geographic location by going to Window menu > Model Info > Geo-location.
Here you can see the difference in shadows between Rio de Janeiro and Helsinki, at the same time and day.
Another thing you need to be mindful of is which season you want to reproduce in your rendering, since you do not want to feature people wearing coats when your render is pictured in summer. As you can see below, the two gentlemen on the right are more suited to this environment and the season than those on the left.
The characteristics of people, vehicles, and other objects can inform where your project is located. But the mixture of these elements can also confuse or even hinder its understanding.
When using people assets, be aware of which clothing they are wearing. Remind yourself frequently of where your project is based, what kind of project you are creating and which clothing would be appropriate.
For example, if you are making a project in Dubai, take time to study what people should be wearing in your renderings.
Women apparel from Arabic cultures, provided by Enscape asset library.
Using 3D assets correctly
A lack of elements or even an excess can hinder the understanding of your project. It’s easy to get carried away and add a large array of assets to a scene. But this is a classic mistake. After understanding the whole context, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the focus of the image?
- What is the goal?
Adding too many details to humanize a scene can take the architecture out of focus. If you aim to create a scenario for a film or to tell the story of the characters, go ahead. If that is not the case and your goal is to show the architecture, design, or urbanism, do not place too many 3D assets into your scene.
The main reason is that our eyes tend to look for details, and if they are irrelevant, or are in excess, our perception can change completely, thus you will not achieve your goal, which is to show the design.
The main goal of this image is to show the large kitchen counter and the wood table. Some assets were added to humanize the space.
If you utilize lots of elements, then someone’s understanding of a project can be compromised. If you see an image like the one below, your brain will try to ascertain what is happening in the scene, instead of comprehending the architecture. It is therefore important to maintain a balance when it comes to inserting assets into your project.
Be aware of the number of assets in your scene. They might compromise the understanding of your project.
Understanding local features (especially in urban environments)
When I was making images for a project located in central London (by the way, I am Brazilian), I added all of the elements that I already had in mind: streets, pedestrian crossings, sidewalks, signs, and the famous red phone boxes. The entire urban base was set up, but when reviewing the reference images, something was wrong. Looking more closely, I realized a crucial mistake I had made: that particular area of London did not have a crosswalk with large and white stripes, instead, only small dots on the floor to signal the pedestrian path.
Imagine if I presented my design with the “zebra crossing” to a London investor. They may have wondered if I had created the project in the right place. It’s therefore very important to be mindful of the urban details that you are including in your scenes.
Pay attention to the specificities of your urban environments. This image is in London, and this location only has small dots indicating a pedestrian crossing.
Urban characteristics can be explored to make your 3D rendering even more connected with the place where the project will be built. Do you recognize these elements and realize which city it is?
This project is located in London, so I added: 1 – the red telephone box; 2 – the left-hand driving system; 3 – the London Underground logo.
Think like a photographer
Now that we’ve discussed the importance of understanding the geographic, seasonal, and cultural context of your project; looked at the use of 3D assets, and the importance of paying attention to local specificities, it is time to put some photographic techniques into your 3D renderings.
After going through the process of deciphering reality and reorganizing it in the 3D world, it is time to take the “pictures”. I like to imagine myself in the head of a photographer and ask these questions:
- What do I want to show?
- Which angle would be good to enhance the design?
- How can I create a narrative without losing focus on architecture?
To answer these questions, It’s important to understand what a photographer studies in an image in order to achieve good results. Let’s take a look at some of the techniques used by photographers.
Composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.
Henri Cartier-Bresson – Photographer
In the image below, I wanted to show the project, but also appreciate the surroundings and the color of the darker sky, creating a contrast with the lighting coming from inside the house.
The first thing was to align the camera with the main facade and leave exactly the same space on both sides (X). Then, creating a more vertical image, I was able to leave practically the same space of the sky and the house in the composition of the image (Y).
Although the purpose of this topic is to show the composition of this image, it is interesting to comment on the relationship with what I described at the beginning of this post, the importance of the project location.
With this composition, I can not only show the house, but demonstrate that it is inserted in an environment full of nature, that is, the context.
Framing the image with similar spaces.
Rule of thirds
You probably have seen these lines that represent the basic rule of thirds at some point on a digital camera, or even on your smartphone:
These lines help photographers to frame points of interest, which are located at the intersections. One of the objectives of positioning points of interest at these intersections, is to make the image more dynamic, directing the viewer's eyes to a more complete and organized part of the image.
Here is an example applied in rendering: This was my entry for the #enscapeunwrapped holiday competition, showing a person coming home for Christmas. Even if he is in the foreground, I would like that whoever was looking at the image, after seeing it, to have their eyes focused on the image’s theme, Christmas, represented here by the Christmas tree. Thus, I placed the tree right at the meeting point of the lines, the point of interest, attracting the viewer’s eyes there.
TIP: If you have a specific focal point in a render that you'd like to draw attention to, try to use the basic rule of thirds to frame a point of interest
The final result and how I used the rule of thirds to attract the viewer’s eyes to the Christmas tree.
Symmetry and central composition
In some cases, exploring symmetry can be very interesting. In the case of symmetrical compositions, I find it interesting to position an object in the center so that the observer has his vision turned towards it.
In the following example, the intention was to show how the house was isolated in the middle of nature and in front of a lake. Using symmetry, and a little jest with a person taking the photo from the lake, I centralized the house, and the surroundings became symmetrical.
The final result of the composition and how the symmetry was applied.
For me, this is one of the most interesting moments of being a photographer in a 3D world: we can rearrange not only blocks but also colors.
I’ve learned this technique by watching movies. Most of the movies have a color scheme that makes the story even more thoughtful, and these colors match each other in terms of composition and expression.
Some examples of movies and their colors as demonstrated by digitalsynopsis.com:
Image credit: https://digitalsynopsis.com
In terms of color theory, we can understand some principles here:
Cool and warm
Thinking about the temperature that you want to illustrate in your scene, consider which colors would be best to emphasize it.
Can you feel the hot bright sun on “The Martian” or the freezing winter at “The Renevant” in the movie examples above?
Some movies use the combination of colors in a way that makes the composition and balance of it harmonious.
And this harmony can be found on two aspects of the color theory:
Analogous colors: a group of three or more colors that are next to each other that brings harmony, as the name says, by analogy.
Complementary colors: matching an opposite color in the wheel can create a nice balance and contrast.
Complementary colors – choose one then find its opposite at the color wheel.
I understand that making a movie and applying color theory is quite complex, but this is how I apply these two aspects in my own renderings:
For this project, I decided to create renderings with two main colors (blue and orange) and, in order to make a beautiful color scheme, these colors should be complementary. Neutral analog colors could complete the scene.
TIP: You can try out your own color combinations using Canva's color wheel.
The complementary chosen colors: orange and blue.
This is the result. I mainly applied blue for the sky and orange for the trees and some urban details.
The final result with the color palette. The main difference in blue and orange from the chosen colors is the saturation but they are still complementary.
Changing the saturation of the colors does not change the complementary characteristic.
In this image from the same project, there was a variation of the tones, but the color scheme was kept the same.
Small variations to color tones within the same color scheme.
A great tip for choosing which color palette to use in your project is, once again, to think about the season and the location of your project. As we saw earlier in the movies examples, the context of "The Martian" and "The Renevant" produces completely different color palettes.
Returning to my project, the chosen season was autumn, thus the predominance of trees with orange leaves.
To help improve the relevance of your renderings, and to help improve a client’s understanding of a project, it’s important to keep in mind where your project is located and the context – whether that’s cultural or seasonal. It’s also worth exploring the skills used by photographers to help bring a level of realism and comprehension to your architectural renders, as I’ve discussed in this article.
I hope you have enjoyed exploring the journey that I go through as part of my design process and that you are able to take some of my learnings to help improve your own renderings with Enscape. If you have some questions, do not hesitate to send them to me!