Why using Photoshop for Lighting?

Ever felt like this,

Trying to create a studio lighting for a product using the regular V-Ray lights and wondering, what’s next?

What can I do to make it more Artistic? Realistic?

Get Extra control over my lights?

More Fun. Freedom?

Today you’re going to learn how to create a Custom Studio HDRi map using Photoshop, in order to use it in your Studio Rendering projects.

corona studio test hdri

You’re probably going to say,

” We can use the procedural maps that comes with 3ds max Ismail, such as the (Falloff map, Gradient Ramp)”, Or. The v-ray lights,

Why Photoshop?

I get that and your right.

In retrospect, we could use the v-ray lights to create a studio lighting,

But. what we want here with this process is to get more, power and more freedom compared to the lights and maps in 3ds max, and only an application like Photoshop can get as there.

Perhaps the reason why IBLs (HDRI) is a good fit for this situation is that  — The reflections of the Vray lights on the mesh usually looks fake with no falloff and real object reflections etc..Or, Maybe it’s just me.

What can you Achieve with a Custom Studio HDR ?

To put things into perspective for you. here is what we want,

  • A true 32bits studio HDRi map.
  • Painting lights in full 32bits float.
  • Full control over each float light inside 3ds max.
  • HDRI that we can reuse over and over again.
  • Shareable studio lighting setup. You can share it with your team, friends. Or, maybe sell it online.

So you might wonder ..How,

Let’s take a look at the process, in a nutshell,

  1. Painting lights in Photoshop
  2. Studio lighting setup
  3. Customizing the HDRi

I promise. you’re going to have fun!

Now let’s put those three steps into action, along with concrete practical Examples.



Step#1. Painting Lights in Photoshop

1. Working in a full float depth

Open Photoshop, File → New and change the Settings as Following,

Full Float Document

This way we have 32 bits HDR project next is…

2. Adding Lights to The HDR

Before we start delving into adding lights, you should know that everything you’re going to draw on this canvas, is going to be a source of light — and will be projected in your 3d Studio scene.

I want you to fill the canvas with  pure Black for now,

But hey,

You can choose any color your taste appreciates ( many people prefer Gradients),

then choose a Soft Brush > White Color and a New layer  → Rename it White Light → Add a Guideline in the middle of the Canvas — so that we precise the half of our Skydome.

Draw a circle like this ( I clicked once on the Canvas. )

Studio hdri with photoshop

Again Soft Brush → Red Color and add New layer  → Rename it Red Light.


Studio hdri with photoshop

Once Again, but this time you can be creative, use brushes and shapes (Rectangles, Dots, Custom shapes, Ellipse),

also, use the Pen tool to draw the shapes you like, etc…

Make sure you separate those lights so that you can control them later when you need to.

How to add an Intensity Properties to our lights?

Like the Intensity value of the Vray light, you can do the some in Photoshop,

There are plenty of other ways to do this, but I get around it using the Exposure Adjustment and the Clipping mask feature in Photoshop, Add a new Exposure  Adjustment  layer Right Click on it → Create Clipping mask,

Clipping mask

This Adjustment  layer will Control the layer Bellow it only and act as a Multiplier.

That’s it. if you’re done let’s export your HDRI,

3. Exporting The HDRI from Photoshop

Exporting The HDR is a matter of,

File → Save As.. → Pick EXR → Give it a name → Hit save → Pick none from the pop-up window  → Ok.


I spend some time and made this simple HDRi!


4. Previewing Your HDRI in Photoshop

At this point, you exported the HDR ( I assume, it’s on the hard drive ),

Obviously, we are going to use v-ray later, I just want you to know different ways.

A great way to preview Quickly the HDRI created is, the 3d tools that come with Photoshop, you’ll  need the extended Edition.

→ Create a new document with the previous settings above,

→ Go to 3D From the Menu Bar → New 3D Layer from file… 

new 3d layer from file

Pick Your 3D mesh file ” You can import any .obj3, .3ds and .stl files etc…”

The result is something like this,

Photoshop 3d scene


Click on Environment to Load and Replace the HDRi, Choose the HDRi that you previously exported, and then Tick Panorama in background,

load hdri 3d

→ Now go back to the 3D layer and Click on material ” You might have a Different name, it’s usually the layer bellow the mesh layer.”

→ You can Change the Material Settings as you like, I went with these settings,

Material Settings 3d

→ And Hit Render,

Final Photoshop preview

 5. Previewing Your HDRI in alternative software

The famous Keyshot is another good choice.

Alright! To 3D, we go →


Step#2. Studio Lighting Setup

studio setup illustration

1. Linear workflow

Linear workflow is critical in this process, it lets you take advantage of the full float information,

you don’t want to start working inside 3ds max with broken math,

I invite you to check Understanding Linear Workflow – Working In Floating Point.

But still, if you don’t care about details, the why this? why that? etc… I got you covered,

you can go directly to this page to watch a practical video — that explains step by step the Gamma setup in 3ds max and Vray,

I’ll go even further and show you how to set up After effects, Photoshop and finally Nuke.

all explained carefully for you.

dome light

2. Creating a dome light

Now some real action in the 3d galaxy!

Dome light Settings

Let’s start by creating a V-ray light → change the shape type to Dome as we want to use a spherical HDRI.

Then From the intensity options → Change the Multiplier Value to 1, because we want the HDRI to play the lighting role here not the v-ray dome itself, in this case, the Dome is just a Host.

In sampling → 64 for Subdivs is a good start,

In Dome light Options → Tick Spherical (full dome).

Finally, go back to the light In Texture → Tick Use Texture → Click on None → Pick the VrayHDRI from the pop-up list, Drag that map to a material Slot and Choose Instance, then From the map settings → change Mapping type  → to Spherical.


Last but not least, when you finish you rendering tests and you’re ready to hit render for a final image, you might consider changing the Resolution from the Texture Area to a higher number, like double the resolution.

That’s it for the dome light.

 VRay Physical Camera and a Floor

2. Creating the VRay Physical Camera and a Floor

Create a Floor.

Then Go to the Top view  Create a VRay Physical Camera with these setting,

VRay Physical Camera Settings

2. Loading the HDRI that You Created to the scene

 Very simple, just go back to the VrayHDRI that we instanced earlier and Tick → The Button to the right of Bitmap → Pick your HDRI.

Load HDRI to Vray

The HDRi is loaded, all set, press C, and fine tune your camera as you like, Load your 3d model and hit the Render Button “F9”.


Step#3. Customizing the HDRi

This Step is all About going back and forth between, (Photoshop) ↔ (3ds max, V-Ray)

So, you make changes by adding light. Or, The intensity of those lights in Photoshop, you hit save, back to 3ds max and V-Ray and test your Light change by hitting Render.

That’s it!

You’re done.

Now, you can create incredible results with this awesome technique.

Enjoy. Most of all have Fun! I had tons of fun making this Tutorial! : )

Here are some of the Results I got while I was working on this fun tutorial 

Vray Result ↓ With the Some HDRi used for this Tutorial.

Studio comp result


Corona Renderer Result ↓ 

Corona Studio Test Impressive



  • Smart IBL. This site has everything you need to know about HDRI, they have also a Community.
  • Color Mapping.Tone Mapping is very important, make sure to visit this page and learn more about it.
  • Gamma and LUT Preferences. Gamma policy in 3ds max.