How to use HDRI in Blender

Adding a basic HDRI setup to a scene in Blender is surprisingly easy and requires only a few steps. First download .hdr panorama, JPG panorama and one of background photos of Old Town Street HDRI.

1) Start by creating a new project and setting the rendering engine to Cycles. For now unclipped HDRI do not work with Eevee.

selecting Cycles Engine

2) Click on the "Shading tab" at the top of the screen and switch to "World" mode.

selecting Cycles Engine

3) Set the nodes as shown in the following screenshot. The "Ray Path" node will force the program to use .hdr file to light the scene while using the color corrected .jpg file for crisp background (if you decide not to use camera background photo).

World shading nodes setup for HDRI in blender

4) Now we need to add the model and shadow catcher. To do this we add a plane and then in the menu "Object properities" -> "Visibility" we check the "Shadow catcher" option and in the "Ray visibility" tab we leave only the camera. This will prevent our shadowcatcher to be visible in reflections. More advanced option is to texture shadowcatcher but it is a little to complicated for this post.

Shadowcatcher setup for HDRI in blender

6) Choose one normal photo from HDRI location (not panorama), add it as a camera background and set opacity to 1. Then switch to the render preview and set the model and camera settings to match the perspective of the photo. In the World settings in the Mapping node, rotate on z-axis so that the position of the sun on HDRI matches the photo.

Camera setup for HDRI in blender Camera backgroung in blender

7) In the "Rendering" -> "Film" tab we check the transparent option, which makes the background (in our case HDRI and camera photo not be visible in the render).

Transparend option in blender

8) Next, go to the Compositing tab and check the "use nodes" option. Set the nodes as shown in the following screenshot and reder the scene. A more advanced process may also consider modeling and texturing the shadow catcher to reflect in the objects, rendering the shadows on a separate render layer or post production and compositing in another program (e.g. Photoshop, Nuke, etc.). You can also use photos only as a horizon - then a jpg photosphere will suffice as a background.

Compositor nodes Final Render

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Frequently Asked Questions

The Royalty-free (RF) license covers all files in HDRI WORKSHOP. This license protects the work so that it allows commercial use without naming the author, but does not allow the resource to be re-sold in the same form.

My name is Paweł Wałasiewicz and I do 3D work as a side job. Over the years I've gathered quite a rich library of HDRI created for my projects and decided to publish them for free on HDRI WORKSHOP and via the Blenderkit plugin. I have all rights to distribute materials on this website.

The HDRIs I made are available to download under Royalty Free license on this site and through the Blenderkit plugin.

The process is quite complicated and requires taking hundreds of photos of the environment at different EVs and several shots of the sun, with an ND4096 (12 stop) filter. The photos are then edited and combined into a panorama. Finally, I add the sun to the file with exposure correction for the ND filter.

Yes, I offer 3d modeling, especially for the real estate market. You can check details on this website.

Creating HDRI is very time-consuming and requires travel to an interesting location. I use all money raised by the donations to maintain the server and create new Royalty-Free HDRI.


Contact me