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Blender's Area lamp provides light from a specific region, rather than a point or a source. So let's take a look at how to use this. I'm going to add in an Area lamp and when you bring it in, if we zoom in, you'll notice that it's a square, and this is where the light is originating. So we're actually projecting light from the square. This is really great for something like a soft box or a window that's generating light, because when you combine this with shadows, it actually can create some interesting effects.
But let just look at the basics of how to use this. I'm going to click on the Area Light tab in my Properties panel, and you'll notice that, just like with most lights, we have a color, Energy. We also have Distance and Gamma. Gamma is actually contrast, but Distance is actually very important. Let's go ahead and position this light. I'm going to go ahead and move it up and move it over and I'm going to rotate it into place. So I'm going to go ahead and rotate it just like I did with that spotlight so that is just pointing at the cup. So let's do a quick render, see what this looks like.
Well, this is awfully blown out, and that's because the area light doesn't have any sort of falloff except for this Distance control and if we zoom out, you can see that this light has a dotted line. At the end of that line is where this distance is. So this is typically where that light is evenly illuminating the scene. So we have a choice: we can move the light back or reduce the distance. Probably easier to reduce the distance, so let's go ahead and do that.
I'm going to drag this Distance down and bring it up so that it's just touching the top of the geometry there, so somewhere around there. In this case I have around 7 or so. And now let's go ahead and do a render. So when we do the render, you can see how the exposure of that scene is much better. But we can continue to control how this light works. If you scroll down here, you'll see that we have an Area Shape.
So if I take a look at this area light here, you see right now it's a square. We can change the size of the square or if we want, we can turn it into a rectangle. Now by itself, this shape doesn't have that much of an effect. So if I were to make this, for example, a long rectangle, you'd think that okay this is going to be like a tube light or something like that. But when I actually do the render, you'll see that, well, it looks pretty much the same. But where this really takes effect is when you have shadows.
So let's go ahead and turn this back to a square and bring it back down to the default Size of 1. And let's go ahead and open up Shadows, and you'll see that Area Lights have a Ray Shadow option. And just like with all ray shadows, we can actually give it a color, and then we have a number of different types of samples. Just go ahead and leave this at the default and just do a quick render. Now with the Samples at 1, you'll see that the render has a very hard edge, and this is typical for most ray-trace shadows. That's because we're only casting one ray of light and so we're going to get a sharper shadow. But if we bring the number of Samples up, say to 4, and go ahead and do another render, you'll see that the shadow gets a little bit softer.
So as you can see, with more samples, we're getting a softer shadow. That's because we have an area from which to project those samples, or in other words, rays of light, and this is where the size of your area light comes into play. If we make the Size smaller--let's go ahead and bring it down to say 0.25--and keep everything else the same, when we render, we're going to get a much sharper shadow.
So as you can see, with a smaller light we get sharper shadows. That's because the sample rays are coming from a smaller area. So conversely, if we bring this up to, say, 5 and make it a really big light, you're going to get much softer shadows. So with a bigger light I get much softer shadows, but also notice that the bigger light creates a much grainier shadow, and that's because we don't have enough samples to cover a light of that area.
So if we are going to use bigger lights then we're going to need more samples, so I'm going to bring this up to 16 and then do another render. So as you can see, with more samples, the render becomes all a lot smoother. Now one of things you'll notice with area lights is that they're very render-intensive. It takes a long time to render with area lights. So if you can get soft shadows or the same effects using different types of lighting that are more efficient, please go ahead and use them.
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