Download HDRI (2048×1024 - 5.2 MB)
It had been a long time since I’d been to the beach, so I was excited to get down there as early as possible on the first morning. St Lucia is a place with huge empty beaches, just next to an estuary where hippos, crocodiles and sharks roam the river by day and the small town streets by night.
My mom, dad, brother and I woke up and left our small cottage about half an hour before sunrise, almost literally dragging each other out of bed onto the beach that was long and hilly, scattered with grass and driftwood and surrounded by a wall of fluffy grey clouds. The clouds meant the sun would come up a little later than expected, which gave me plenty of time to find a good spot and setup my tripod and camera settings.
Eventually the sun broke through the clouds in an epic display of perfect volumetric reference, and after a little while the cloud movements were consistent enough for me to take an HDR pano.
Thinking about it now, it was the perfect opportunity for a timelapse. But instead I opted for the HDR, expecting some really nice lighting to use in Blender. Which would have been great, had I remembered to double-check the focal length.
For some regrettable reason, I’d bumped the lens from 18mm to 34mm, meaning the images taken for that HDR were completely useless. There was no overlap between any of them, so it would be impossible to stitch. Of course I only realized this hours later, so the epic god-ray sunrise with pure blue sky breaking through golden clouds was all for naught.
But it wasn’t a complete waste of time at all, I learnt some valuable information about taking photos of the sun, and even had some fun splashing around afterwards.
That day I found a local camera shop and bought myself an ND filter, which would let me take darker photos, meaning a higher range of values when combining the images into HDRs, and thus making more accurate lighting.
The following morning I returned to the beach, this time armed with knowledge of exactly how to set the camera up to get the maximum and optimal range of brightness, and this time not making any silly mistakes.
The head model used in the video at the top is from Len Van Der Westhuizen, a coincidentally South African guy who kindly uploaded his 7-year-old project, a self-portrait, to blendswap: http://www.blendswap.com/blends/view/47710
The skin shader I used was based off PyroEvil’s node group he released on BA: http://blenderartists.org/forum/showthread.php?337349-Simple-skin-shader-released