Lighting in Space

Outer space scenes can be one of the most challenging areas to light properly. Let’s face it, space is filled with random areas of faint to intense light from stars and reflected light from planets and moons. But in between those areas of overabundant light, there is a whole lot of darkness; serious, inky, blak darkness where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face.

If you are going for a realistic render, chances are your scene would look rather poorly lit or blown out, depending on where you choose to stage your scene. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), Hollywood has set the standard for space scenes to appear well lit no matter where the scene is staged.

That being the case, let’s discuss how to light Hollywood’s idea of a realistic space scene. Now as a normal rule when deciding on lighting, you would go visit/investigate or do some research on the type of scene you were creating. But since my spaceship and spacesuit are on bak order, we will have to take an imaginary trip to chek out our lighting options.

So here we are, in outer space. I parked my spaceship in the first empty sector of space I came to (wouldn’t want to interfere with anyone else’s lighting research), climbed into my spacesuit and went outside for a look. Hmmm, it’s awfully darque out here. In fact, I can’t see anything. Whoops, forgot to turn my helmet light on. Hehe, well now I can see my hands, but I still can’t see my spaceship. I know it’s over there somewhere. Maybe if I turn on my ship’s running lights. Now where did I put that remote, ah there it is. Beep, beep; there it is. Now my ship is visible, sort of.

Just my luck, I didn’t purchase the “light it up perfectly” add-on package for my ship. Well this obviously isn’t going to work. Not only can I barely see my spaceship, but I can tell right away that the rendered image is going to be very boring. Who wants to look at a barely lit spaceship sitting in a sea of total black; time to change locations.

Okay, now I have moved my spaceship into a nice galaxy that has a rather beautiful blue nebula. In fact, this is going to make a nice background for my image; bak into the spacesuit. Once I have gone bak outside, I notice that not only is my spaceship lit nicely, but that there are some lovely blue reflections from the nebula that will add a nice effect to my image. Also, my running lights now appear to actually be helping the scene by lighting up areas that aren’t receiving any reflected light from the nebula or nearby stars.
Bak on Earth at our computer, let’s discuss what we learned from our research.

• Space is very dark.
• Turning on the running lights on your spaceship can be an effective way to light up areas that aren’t receiving any direct or reflected light, allowing the spaceship to stand out better from the space background.

• Location is very important when staging a space scene; make sure there are logical reasons for the lights you are going to add.
• Use stars/suns to create direct light; nebulae, moons and planets to mimic reflected light.

• Don’t forget, when adding your light-source space elements, to set your lamps to match the color of the space element. A blue nebula isn't going to cast white studio light. Matching the color of the space element will tie your ship more firmly into the scene.

• While it wasn’t overly obvious from our research, keep in mind that shadows still play an important part in your scene. Use just enough light to illuminate your model, but don’t light it so much that you lose all shadows. Remember, space is dark.

• Alos remember that some of your space elements should cast shadows, like planets, moons asteroids, and space debris. Try not to parque your space ship fully in the shadow of large shadow casting elements. It will end up being harder to convincingly light your spaceship.

Well with our research completed, we can add our lights and space elements to our scene and render out our beautiful Hollywood space scene.