Realistic lighting and rendering for space

Hi! I’m trying to render a realistic spacecraft in Earth orbit. To be clear - this is not a sci-fi scene, but a real spacecraft. I want it to look like an Apollo photograph, not Star Trek.

HDRIs for space are rare, and even the ones that do exist generally light the scene too much - it looks like it’s still in an atmosphere. There are two light sources for my scene - the Sun and the Earth.

The Sun is easy enough to create with a lamp. I’d love to know how to make it look like an actual visual sun though with a flare.

The Earth is where it gets tricky. I’d like to use a simple, non-equirectangular image as a background, but how do I get the model to reflect it when raytracing? And how do I accurately simulate the Earthshine from below?


Look at actual NASA photography. Notice that it almost never had “lens flare.”

Do you render with cycles ?
Then to simulate the earth you can use a lamp or an emissive plane with a texture that is invisible to the camera.
Don’t try to light with the background image if it’s not a equirecangular map , it won’t work.

And for the flare you can cheat with some textures like this :