Full HDR lighting in Cycles

I know how to enable basic HDR lighting, by setting an environment image as the world background. But I’m still unclear on how to get realistic HDR brightness, with proper bloom and color correction. You know… when a strong orange sun enters your window in a dark room, or the evening sun shines over tall glass buildings in the city.

I assume there are mainly 3 effects involved: Bloom, coronas, and color correction. Bloom should be easy, since IIRC the Glare compositing node exists precisely to soften and spill bright areas… not sure if that’s what I’m looking for though. Coronas (lens flares) are possible in Cycles since I seen examples, but never understood how they’re done more so for a sun. Color correction can be done in many ways via compositing nodes, but I’d like to know what the best one is… especially since I heard a new feature for tone mapping was recently added.

Some random image examples of what I’m hoping to achieve:

http://render.otoy.com/newsblog/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Bloom2.jpg

http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/814/814872/gc-2007-half-life-episode-2-screens-20070822043809229.jpg

Maybe this helps.

Kind regards
Alain

That seems to be about getting harder / softer shadows with HDRI. Don’t think that’s a problem for me (at least yet). I’m curious how, after setting up a HDR image as background, you correct the final result with bloom, lens flares (if the light source is seen directly) and tone mapping if color correction is necessary.

Pretty much everything in those images can be done with the glare node, assuming your render had a bright enough background to begin with. Use the “fog glow” mode for bloom. Lens artifacts can be trickier. You can do some with the “ghosts” mode on the glare node, but some others might require you to render some sprites and such to composite over the shot. Search BA for “lens flare rig” you should find some good examples to use/study.

The glare node can be a bit more flexible if you set the “mix amount” all the way to 1.0 (so the output is the flare on a black background) then add this result back to the original image. This gives you a lot more control over the output brightness, and allows you to add blurs and color tweaks to the flare before adding it in.