Being kind of a computer geek, I found myself looking for a good way to simulate studio lights. I tried Blender, Cinema 4D, and other 3D programs until I found Set.a.Light 3D. Let me save you the long read. It’s awesome. OK, you can continue now.
I first fell in love with Set.aLight 3D with one of its first versions back in 2015 or so. It was love at first light (sorry! I could not resist the pun). Since those early days, the simulation improved quite a bit, and the latest v2 release officially blew my mind.
Let’s just try to put it in simple words.
What is Set.a.Light 3D?
The simulation is available for both Mac and PC, and it offers a virtual photography studio. You can invite virtual models, place virtual lights and virtual studio tools as well as virtual gadgets.
That sounds pretty easy to implement, but the way Set.aLight 3D renders light is incredibly close to how light “moves” in real life. Frighteningly so. OK, direct lights are easy, but lights and colors and reflections and shadows and bounces are pretty complex and are hard to pre-imagine. This is where Set.a.Light really shines (no pun intended).
Set.a.Light 3D utilizes a gaming engine to calculate the light. If you’ve seen any of the latest computer games, you know what I am talking about. Now get rid of all the violence and blood and you get a very good light rendering engine.
If you want a taste of how good the engine is, let me share an image that was planned with Set.a.Light (left) compared to the real shot (right):
That’s pretty insane, isn’t it? I want to share the setup in Set.a.Light as well:
Yes, you can gel the lights, which is extremely helpful in my opinion. If you ever tried a color-intense shoot you know that colorized light is hard to control and it mixes in an annoying and unpredictable way. This is when the simulation is critical for both me and the model. It means that we don’t need to spend time testing, and have a great setup to start with.
How will your virtual studio look like?
It will look exactly the way you want it to look. The first thing you would like to adjust is obviously the size of your room. Then you can add paper backgrounds (or a cyclorama), set colors for walls, floor, and ceiling and you’re ready to go. There is a bonus in going software, you never need to re-paint your cyclorama. (Set.a.Light render with a gorgeous model on the left. Me re-painting my cyclorama on the right)
Which lights can you use?
I don’t think there is a point in writing down a list. I would just be endless and boring. If you want to get the feel for it, there are 3 categories of lights: monoblocks, hot-shoe strobes, and continuous lights.
You can choose from a wide variety of light modifiers, like strip lights, octagonal and rectangular softboxes, beauty dishes, normal reflectors, umbrellas in all kinds of shapes and forms. I counted a total of 60 lights (which I wish I had along with a big storage room to keep them). Each light has a wide variety of options, like adding grids, diffusers, and gels.
I quickly recreated my softbox paradise here. On the right, you see my brick and mortar studio, along with some random things I’ve put into my studio. On the left, you can see a much cleaner version made with Set.aLight
As you can see, it’s safe to say that Set.a.light 3D has your standard gear covered.
Set.a.Light 3D offers some special lights as well. There are Ring lights and a Ring flashes as well as a gobo projector (A.K.A Light Blaster). God, I love gobos. Let’s have a look. This was the planned shoot in Set.a.Light
And the real shoot with a Light Blaster:
What Models are available?
A studio with no models is not fun. The same rule applies to virtual studios.
So Set.a.Light 3D comes with 6 base models (3 female adults, one child, 2 male adults) which can be dressed or nude, change hairstyle, change clothing, have sunglasses and change pose.
Actually, there is a (ridiculously good) posing module. You can control the model down to the limb and this is where the real fun starts. Here are some examples of the built-in poses (there are about 70 of those):
You may use this as a basis for your “shoot” and start moving body parts around as you wish – it’s nuts and it’s really fun.
The render quality
Ok, now to the serious parts. How is the light, can it be used for real simulation?
I am stunned by the details of lighting: Shadows and Highlights are amazingly close to real life. Even the shadows from the models bone structure are rendered very well. Let me pick on a closeup:
I feel the urgent need to retouch this…
As I am working with Set.a.Light 3D for quite a while now, I discovered a few things:
1. My lighting has improved quite a bit. No more annoying “One second <add model name here>, I am gonna move this light a bit, oh – let’s try another modifier then, nope, might be better to just put everything a bit closer to be background, do you happen to have a yellow shirt?” anymore. It’s very easy to plan a shot at home while your partner is watching Netflix. Plus, it’s fun.
2. I am sending the renders to the model and Makeup artist ahead of time as moods. Since I started doing this, I’ve never heard an “I am not that skinny” or “the model does look great, I love her in that shot”. What I hear is “I’ve got a dress like that, but mine is shoulder free” or “I have to mix a cyan lipgloss then”. Everyone on set has a pretty good idea of what’s happening, and what the final outcome has to be. Everyone knows what the shot is about.
3. My assistant has the set plan a few days before the shoot. Down to the gels I need in the softboxes. This is the kind of preparation that both make customers happy and makes everyone more confident about lighting and equipment. This takes away the trial and error from the live shoot because you made all errors at home. On your couch – with Netflix in the background.
4. I discovered a ton of new ideas just by randomly dragging lights around or editing existing setups. It’s so cool because it’s so easy – there is no need to spend a lot of time building complex setups.
Even for customers, I deliver these renderings as moods and it’s not a big deal if an idea gets thrown away. I just keep it for next time, as a base for something different or for a different client. My library of setups is constantly growing. Whenever I get some spare time with a model, I spend a few minutes in my library to get some crazy ideas executed.
5. Set.a.Light 3D saved me a lot of money because I know what’s possible with the light I already own. Using my lights and modifiers in a different, sometimes slightly unconventional way brings new options to the tools that are already there. Lately, I’m working way more with hard lights and my need for new light modifiers is slightly above zero.
Pricing and availability
Set.a.Light 3D comes in three flavors:
- The Studio Version (
$229– currently $174)
This is the full version, it has all the features I’ve talked about in this article.
- The Basic Version (
$94– currently $74)
This flavor has some limitations. You can’t set your studio size, you are limited in lights and as far as I understand, the rendering resolution is a bit lower as well. Have a look at the store to see all limitations.
- The demo version (well… it’s free)
This is a demo for the studio version, you can use it for two weeks and try everything out.