how to lighten shadows when rendering with HRDI's


I have been getting complaints from clients that my shadows are to dark. I was never getting this comments when rendering with Maxwell render. I have made the jump to Cycles. Can someone please tell me how to control the shadow brightness/ contrast? I am using Blender Guru’s Pro lighting skies. Here is an image showing the shadows.


The thing is the shadows on the buildings look fine. But the shadows on the ground from the trees and buildings are too dark.

I am going to try rendering a diffuse color pass. Turn off IBL lighting. Try to match a sun lamp to the IBL lighting direction to match shadows. Then render a shadow pass and combine that with the diffuse pass.

Ok. Did not really work. Going to render the ground layers on separate render layer then try and tweak that way.

Hi asmithey,
I’m not expert of cycles and I won’t be able to help you sadly, but I think the issue is due to materials, since as you pointed out the shadows looks too dark only over some of them.
If it’s true then you should try to solve the issue outside of compositing, by finding what is wrong on these materials: it could be perhaps a too strong bump.

The concrete on the ground, like the buildings, doesn’t seem to suffer of this problem.


Hey, I am no cycles expert either :). Wish we had an updated Maxwell Render add-on. I noticed that too. I was just thinking that because the material was darker, it made the shadows darker. Because I have the same issue with the grass. It is very dark there too. I will look into it. I am having no luck with post processing. It is messy.

EDIT: So I just used the texture map and the asphalt shader, no bump, still dark.

I am going to try a different HDRI. I am thinking it could be the problem.

I the problem was the HDR then the materials which look to receive correct shadows should be wrong in the opposite way, that is less probable imo.
For the grass you should add some SSS, for the asphalt and ground I don’t know, really, maybe the material nodes have something wrong.

Good luck,

Did you try a clay rendering to see the effect?

for such a bright day, this looks about right. the moment you look at a shady spot, your eyes will boost your exposure in line with what your looking at, giving the illusion shadows are lighter then they really are. since we dont have hdr monitors, you have to mess with color management.

cloudy skies give much more environment light due to the sun being scattered across the sky, much like turning up the roughness on glossy.

turning up diffuse and glossy bounces will brighten up shadows. enabling “reflective caustics” can have a major boost as well. make sure you are not clipping direct or indirect.

Give the scene some ambient occlusion in the World tab, and reduce your HDRI brightness; it’ll even out the lighting somewhat

No. I did not try the clay render option.

I thought it looked fine as well. This the third or fourth time different clients have commented on the shadows being to dark. I really like the HDRI I am using and it is a bright sunny day HDRI.

I am now using a partly cloudy HDRI it has softened the shadows some. I am clamping indirect caustics at a factor of ten to reduce some fire flies. Reflective caustics are enabled. I am using full global illumination setting so bounces are set to 128.

I have not messed with the ambient occlusion settings.

Here is an update just by using a different HDRI.

Thanks for the input.