Introducing Blender: Free CGI Software for Photographers

We’ve already introduced you to Ethan Davis, Blender expert and guest instructor for our 3D CGI classes.

Now it’s time to meet Ethan’s CGI software of choice: Blender.

What is Blender?

Blender is a 3D creation suite, licensed as GNU GPL (general public license). As open source software, Blender is ‘owned’ by its contributors and comes with no price tag. In other words, it’s free!

Blender covers all aspects of 3D, from modelling, rendering and compositing to rigging, animation and simulation. People even use it to make and edit videos – including full-length movies – and make video games. The software is also popular among 2D animators, VFX artists and VR content creators.

Built to run equally well on Mac, Windows and Linux computers, Blender is perfectly suited to individuals or small creative collectives.

All of this makes Blender a perfect starting point for anyone looking to make the leap into the world of 3D and CGI.

Blender logo

How do I get Blender?

Good news! It’s easy to download the software from the official Blender website. And did we mention it's free?

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How does Blender work?

Blender is an incredibly powerful and versatile piece of software, with a massive range of features and capabilities.

To create a 3D scene in Blender (or any other 3D CG software for that matter), you need at least three components: models, materials and lights.

For photographers beginning their CGI journey, the three primary processes you’ll be undertaking are modelling, lighting and rendering. But as you’ll see below, you can skip the time-consuming modelling step altogether if you wish!

CG image by Prasad Jadhav
Image courtesy of Prasad Jadhav via Unsplash

3D modelling in Blender

Creating a model is usually the first step in producing a 3D CGI scene. 

According to Blender, “Modelling is simply the art and science of creating a surface that either mimics the shape of a real-world object or expresses your imagination of abstract objects.”

Blender offers a comprehensive array of modelling tools designed to make the process as smooth and intuitive as possible. These include extrude, inset, bevel, loop cut, knife, bridge, booleans and edge slide.

If those terms are confusing, don’t worry! Once you get started in Blender, things will soon begin to make sense.

And if modelling sounds daunting, there's good news: making your own model from scratch is not compulsory.

Instead, you can purchase pre-made 3D models from sites like CGtrader, Blendermarket, Sketchfab, and Turbosquid. There’s also Blenderkit, an add-on that actually comes bundled with Blender.


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CG image by Ayush Bharshankar
CG image © Ethan Davis

Modifiers for modelling

During the modelling process, the primary tools you’ll use will be modifiers. These are automatic operations that affect an object in a non-destructive way. They allow you to perform effects that would be too tedious and tricky to update manually.

There are four categories of modifier, each of which includes various tools:

  • Modify (includes Data Transfer, UV Wrap, Weighted Normal)
  • Generate (includes Array, Bevel, Decimate)
  • Deform (includes Armature, Curve, Hook)
  • Simulate (includes Cloth, Collision, Explode)

At first, modelling can seem daunting. But once you’ve familiarised yourself with these tools and had some fun experimenting, you’ll soon start to get the hang of it.

CG image by Justin Wei
CG image © Ethan Davis

Lighting in Blender

Once you have a 3D model in your scene, it’s time to move on to lighting.

You light your 3D scene in the same way you would light a real-life scene in photography. But instead of setting up physical lights in your studio or on location, you introduce virtual light sources.

Just as you would in real life, you can position, adjust and modify these virtual lights to achieve the effect you want.

This means the lighting knowledge and expertise you have acquired as a photographer will be hugely valuable for your 3D work.

CG image © Ethan Davis

3D rendering in Blender

To turn a 3D scene into a 2D image, you have to render it. To do that, you need a render engine.

Blender offers three different render engines with different strengths: Eevee, Cycles, and Workbench.

In addition to these, you can also download other, extra ones. 

How your render looks will depend on the cameras, lights and materials you choose to use. In other words, it’s at the rendering stage that you’ll put your experience of photography lighting to use.

Renders can be split into layers and passes. These can then be composited together for full creative control, or else to be combined with real footage.

When it’s time to output your render, you’ll do so based on the output settings you selected at the beginning of the rendering process.

Blender supports a range of image formats, including BMP, PNG, JPEG and TIFF, as well as Iris, Targa and more.

You can also render in video formats, as well as EXRs (32-bit colour depth images).

CG image © Ethan Davis

More to explore

As we said before, Blender is a hugely powerful and useful piece of software. Indeed, it has many capabilities we haven’t touched on here. 

But the best thing about Blender is the fact that it comes with no price tag or compulsory subscription, making it extremely accessible. It also means you can give it a try without making any expensive commitments.

The Blender user manual is a great resource and freely available online. Even better, it’s super user-friendly, divided up into bitesized sections that make getting started feel manageable and exciting.

Get started with Blender

With our new series of CGI classes due for release in 2022, now’s a great time to familiarise yourself with the Blender interface.

Though it may seem overwhelming at first, our classes will soon give you the guidance and structure you need to make the most of this exciting software.

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  1. Hi! What a great idea to offer theses classes to photographers!
    Well I’m going to try on a mac. As I am a total 3d beginner, my question would be: what mouse would you recommend to learn blender on a mac?

  2. johnleigh

    Grreat stuff Ive been working in Blender a while on and off and recently was tackling some modelling and always doubting myself and procrastinating on best approach and techniques per design. I already have the updated Blender 3.1 that was recently released and looking forward to the course starting!

      1. johnleigh

        Amazing stuff I cant wait to get started – Hope you dont mind a couple of questions while you are prepping the release, is the course coming in one block of ready to go multiple lessons/tutorials or released singly week by week?
        Also wondered if image/video submissions of work we do are part of the course with useful critique and feedback?

        many thanks!

        1. Hi John, we have a approximately 50 new CGI classes we are releasing and there will be a significant number released in the first batch and then some the following month and then the month after and that will be all of them, although we are likely to have even more advanced ones coming later in the year. Members can submit their CGI images as part of our usual critiques or on the FB group for discussion.

          1. johnleigh

            awesome looking forward will keep eye out for the Blender launch date thanks so much!

  3. I’m very excited about the upcoming Blender courses and that the KTE platform is expanding to offer an array of skill-sets.

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