Image Based Lights in Photoshop CS6

Skill level

One of my favorite revamped features of Photoshop CS6, is 3D. It’s fast, powerful, and full of new features! Let’s take a look at how Image Based Lights can drastically improve your images!

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Looking at the image below, you’ll get an idea as to what an Image Based Light can do for you when designing in 3D.

In short, using an Image Based Light adds a ‘real life’ environment to your scene, which helps add realism to the end result. Let’s take a look at how this works!

Adding an IBL

With your 3D layer selected, select your Environment within the 3D panel.

Once you have the Environment properties visible in your Properties panel, you should notice the IBL option towards the top of the panel. This is where we can add or create an Image Based Light. Clicking on the ‘folder‘ icon to the right will allow us to create a New Texture, or Load [a] Texture. For this example, as we want the pool balls to appear as if they are in a ‘bar/pub’, let’s load in an image of a lounge.

When the image has been loaded, you should very clearly see your selected image fill the entire canvas. It’s essentially wrapping itself around a 360 degree virtual scene. This way, all sides of your 3D object(s) will benefit from the IBL. Don’t worry if you lose the ability to see layers that were behind the 3D object(s). Once you switch away from the Environment properties, you’ll regain visibility.

You may also notice a sphere in the middle of your document, highlighted below. This is the Image Based Light’s handle. Just like you can rotate a standard light, you can also rotate an IBL, just in case you want a certain area of the image to be displayed in the reflections.

The important thing to note, is that your scene looks much more realistic! Rendering the scene will show us the difference so far.

Going Further

Sometimes, assigning an image as an IBL may be enough, but if you fancy stronger reflections, here’s a neat tip you may want to try! Back in the Environment properties, click on the ‘folder’ icon and choose the Edit Texture option. This will allow us to create ‘faux’ lightboxes, which is going to add really nice, strong reflections on your objects.

Once you have the texture opened, place solid white objects to act as your lightboxes. In this case, I chose to use white circles to act as overhead lights.

Once the lightboxes are in place, save the texture (Command/Ctrl + S) to update your 3D document. Rendering the scene will show us the new changes. Much better!


If you want your 3D object to appear as if it’s sitting within a specific environment, use an IBL! It doesn’t have to be the ‘perfect’ image, as it’s won’t be 100% visible, but something close will make your final render that much better!

  • José Alberto Rivera

    Simply awesome.