Blender Relief Tutorial: Advanced Thoughts

Previous Chapter: Final Adjustments

Now that you’ve done a basic relief, I offer some parting thoughts about where to go from here.

Extra Light

First off, there’s nothing that says you can’t have multiple light sources, just like real photography studios. I often render my relief with two different suns. The first is the sun we created above. The second is a smaller, weaker sun (I set the strength to 1) that shines straight down from high noon. This adds a little extra light into deep canyons.


With its second sun, the one on the right is brighter overall, but I think there’s also proportionally a bit more light in the deep areas. It could be that I’m the only one who thinks that.

You could also probably drop in point lights in specific areas if there are features which you want to bring out by lighting them in certain ways — maybe a mountain range is casting vast shadows, and you want to light those areas a bit to keep things from getting lost. Let your imagination free!

Render Farms

If you don’t want to wait around while your computer renders your relief, you can always pay someone else to do it for you. Various companies offer what are called render farms — you upload your Blender files, and they render the images for you while you use your computer for something else. This can be very handy if you plan to render a very high-resolution relief, and/or one with a very high number of samples: these are long jobs, and you may not want Blender to take up your computer’s processing power for that length of time. A simple query in your preferred search engine will help you find a number of render farm providers. I’ve previously used RenderStreet and found it to be pretty easy.

If you do use a render farm, one thing they might ask is for you to package your Blender file. Right now, your heightmap isn’t actually stored in the Blender file. Blender looks for that file each time it opens up. But you can pack them together into a single file for easy uploading to a render farm by going to the top menu and choosing File → External Data → Automatically Pack into .blend. Now your Blender file is ready for upload.


Adding a Color Layer (Option 1)

Oftentimes relief is just one of a map’s raster layers. You might possibly want to combine this with a hypsometric tint, for example, or maybe a depiction of land cover.


Perhaps you are familiar with the method of just putting one layer on top of the other and making it 50% transparent. But there are nicer looking ways to accomplish this. Fortunately, I have another, much shorter, tutorial with some advice about how to do so in Photoshop.

Adding a Color Layer (Option 2)

Instead of mixing your relief and color in Photoshop, you can also do it directly in Blender. If you remember way back in Part 3, we chose a color for our plane. I made mine grey, and probably you did, too. What if, instead of creating our terrain on a grey plane, we did it on a plane that was already colored with hypsometric tints, land cover, etc.?

We can do this using the Node Editor. Add another image texture (Part 3 talks about how to add these), and load in a color layer of some sort. Then plug it into the Base Color node of your BSDF material.

Screen Shot 2020-02-06 at 11.10.40 AM

Once you’ve got that set up, your render will now deform not an ordinary grey plane, but a colorful image. This may also pair well with the addition of more light sources, if the colors aren’t coming out quite how you like.


A render done on a hypsometrically tinted plane, by Anton van Tetering.

Keep it Generalized

It’s very easy to go overboard with Blender terrain. The shadows and detail are really exciting! Just think carefully about whether or not your reader, and your map, might be better served by making things a little simpler and smoother. I’ve written up a separate, short blog post showing what I mean. Highly recommended if you want your relief to stand out from all the other people using Blender.

Oblique Views

As I mentioned, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what this software is capable of. From a purely cartographic perspective, think about the possibilities that Blender offers for oblique views of terrain.  Here’s one I did a few years ago.


It’s not great, but it gives you an idea of where you can go. By positioning my camera somewhere other than straight-overhead, I can look at terrain as though I’m floating in a helicopter nearby. The various textures were put in via the Nodes Editor, using land cover data to create masks that let Blender switch between different textures at different locations. I’ll leave it to you to explore further, but I just wanted to put that idea in your mind.

Update: I have a tutorial for making oblique views in Blender. The results are much more abstracted and simplified than the example above, but it may still help you get started.

Thanks for following along! I hope that you have found this useful, and that you will continue to use Blender to make great shaded relief, as well as delve deeper into what this great program is capable of.

This tutorial is, and will remain, free, but if you derive some value from it, you are welcome to make a donation to support my continued work.

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