How to Render a Background Image in Blender Using the Document World Settings

January 10, 2020

How to Render a Background Image in Blender 2.8 using the World settings

You’re probably here because you have added a background image in Blender and found that it does not render by default. This is because background images are commonly used as references only for modelling 3D objects.

A while ago I published a tutorial on Youtube demonstrating how to render a background image in Blender 2.8 using a camera background image and how to align your 3D space onto the background image using a shadow catcher object (Cycles only). I also included included a step by step tutorial for this on my website.

Example of a 3D object mapped onto a background image – using a shadow catcher ground plane object.

This Youtube demo received a lot of positive comments, however I had some feedback from a few users that felt that this method seemed too complicated and that they were hoping for a simpler method that did not involve using the nodes. I understand that working with nodes can be a bit intimidating especially if you are relatively new to Blender.

So I did figure out another method to achieve the same result which is a lot simpler and does not involve using the node editor at all. I also uncovered a few small settings which improve the result. Here is a link to the background image that I am using in this tutorial.

It is also worth noting that this technique is more suitable than the other technique if you want your object to reflect the background image. If by chance you want your background image to function more like a layer of film, like in video compositing the other technique using the camera settings may be more suitable.

How to Use a Plane Object as a Background Image

So firstly you can also simply use a plane object for your background image in Blender by first going to preferences and enabling Images and Planes. Then you can simply import your background image applied to a plane object. This method is quite good if you have something like a 3D scene where you want to show a background image through a window or similar.

Here are the steps to import an image as a plane object:

  1. Go to preferences and under Add-ons enable ‘Import Images as Planes’.
  2. Now you can go to Import – Images and Planes and that part is all fairly straightforward.
  3. Set the Viewport Shading to Render Preview and you will see the image on the plane.

However this method does not work well if you want to superimpose your 3D objects over the background image using a shadow catcher object. This is because in most cases your 3D objects will end up intersecting the background image rather than being superimposed over the top of it. Also if you use this method your background image plane object is affected by things like lights and shadows in the 3D scene and this can be a bit of a pain.

How to Use the World Settings for the Background Image in Blender

This method applies the background image to the World settings and aligns it to the camera window. The only real catch here is that it will stretch the background image if it is not in the same proportions as the window. To get around this I simply cropped and sized my image beforehand to match my Blender window settings, in this case I cropped and sized the image to 1920 x 1080 pixels and made it greyscale only. Here’s a link to my adjusted image.

  1. Starting with a new Blender document…
  2. In the World Properties click on the small circle icon next to Color.
  3. Select Image Texture and then click the icon to Open and locate your background image.
  4. In the viewport click on the Render Preview shading option
  5. In the viewport click on the camera icon to view through the camera.
  6. Now in the world settings where it says Repeat, change it to Clip, and where it says Vector – Default click on the small circle and change it to Window.
  7. Now if you do a test render you will see that the background image renders (happy face).
  8. However, if you look really, really closely you may notice that the highlights in the image are every so slightly dimmer than in the original image. To get around this go to the camera properties under Color Management and under View Transform set it to Standard rather than Filmic.
  9. Notice the difference (if any).
  10. Now in the viewport press ‘n’ on the keyboard to open the object viewport properties.
  11. Click on the View tab and tick the checkbox to Lock Camera to View.
  12. Now try scrolling the angle of the view and the background image should be locked in. Next try and scroll the view to align the 3D scene to your background image.
  13. Got to Add – Mesh – Plane, and then press ‘s’ on the keyboard and drag to scale up the plane object.
  14. Then move it downwards on the z axis to align it to the ground or floor of the background image.
  15. Switch to Cycles Rendering (so we can use a shadow catcher object).
  16. With the plane object selected, click on the object transform properties and under Visibility tick the checkbox for Shadow Catcher.
  17. Click on the cube object to select it and then press x on the keyboard and delete it.
  18. Add – Mesh – Monkey, and position it in the scene (scale, location and rotation).
  19. With the monkey objected selected go to Object – Shade Smooth.
  20. Next go to modifiers and add Subdivision Surface.
  21. Under Materials, click New and add a Principled BSDF surface and set the Metallic to around 0.600.
  22. You may want to soften the shadow a bit. If so select the Light object in the outliner and then in the properties for the light set the size to something around 1.82m.
  23. Now go to Render – Image and you’re done.

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