4-point lighting questions

I’ve always struggled with lighting, but I strive to get better. I’m attempting a 4-point lighting rig with my scene here (http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Image:Manual-Lighting-Rigs-4pt.png)… But I have this issue that I always run into, I usually bloat up the rig with some additional lights to fix it, but this time I hope to seek a more practical solution. Here’s a pic of the rendered scene:
http://studentweb.eku.edu/mark_ballenger/lighttest1.jpg

Notice, the underside totally cloaked in darkness. How do most people pull out those values subtly, without making a mess of unneeded lights?

Also, Is the only way to get nice soft shadows with this rig to add a shadow only spot in the same position as the sun? That’s how I’ve seen it done in the past, but I was just wondering.

Perhaps to subtly light the underside of the scene you could add a hemi pointing straight up to fake the rays bouncing off the ground. I know you would be adding another light object but it is a good way to fake ambient light without creating unwanted shadows. You might want to keep the frog and dragonfly on a different layer for the hemi so as to not overlight the floor. Great models by the way!

Also, a method I saw once for getting nice shadows is using an area light instead of a sun. Pump the power up to like 2.5 or so and set the distance to about half way to the scene. Then pump the samples up to like 4 or 5. The render time increases but it’s worth it. Sometimes it is worth it to have a very low level of Ambient Occlusion at very high samples to accent the scene.

Awesome, good advice. And now that I think about it, I remember seeing that done in a video once. It’s these little tricks of the trade that I always forget about.

As for AO, or area lights: I was hoping to animate this, and I’m on somewhat of a strict timeframe. I really wanted to use AO, but it seems that render times would cripple the production far too much :frowning: I was getting up to 800% increases in some situations. Considering I’ll have 2 minutes of footage, I’m still unsure if I want to risk that. I might end up not meeting my deadline.

EDIT: I’m getting good results with your area light suggestion though. Not render times aren’t bad at all.