Camera Settings for Renderings and Photography

We may be based in Houston, but we create renderings of amazing buildings all over the world, and one of the questions I’m asked often is “How do we make them look so real?” I will say 3ds Max as well as V-ray and other rendering engines have come a long way and make our job a lot easier, but at the end of the day we still have to think like an architectural photographer, and ask ourselves questions like “What is the best composition for this space?”, “Where should the lighting come from?”, and “How best can we stage this view?”. It’s just as important for us to know how cameras work in the virtual world as they do in the real world.

Lighting from a camera’s perspective comes down to 3 basic settings: •Shutter Speed •Aperture (F-stop) •ISO Value (film type)


Shutter Speed Shutter speed is also known as exposure, and is the part of a camera that exposes light on to film or in the case of digital cameras the sensor. shutter

The values for exposure are measured in fractions of a second. So a setting of 1/500 means the shutter is open for 0.002 seconds, while a setting of 1/40 means the shutter is open for 0.025 seconds. The longer the shutter is open the more light is exposed to the sensor or film.

Special Behaviors: The longer the exposure, the more motion blur is captured onto the image.


Aperture (f-stop) Aperture is the size of the hole between the lens and the sensor.


Aperture is measured with an f-stop. The larger the number the smaller the hole. The smaller the hole the less light is allowed onto the sensor / film.

Special Behaviors: The smaller the f-stop the shallower the depth of field, or greater the out of focus effect. Also, wider angle lenses such as 18mm allow for lower f-stop values.


ISO ISO is also known as film speed. Historically, it refers to the type of film used.


ISO is measured in numerical values, typically from 100-800. Historically the lower the ISO, the less sensitive to light the film was. On a DSLR, the ISO values are somewhat arbitrary, but function similar to film.

Special Behaviors: On digital cameras, the higher the ISO values the more noise there will be on the digital image. Best methods are to try to keep ISO values low.

These are the basics.  Once you learn how to control these settings and how they also affect each other, this really is the key to understanding how to light your shots correctly.

Happy rendering…or photographing!