Stan Zaslavsky

5 Rules to Make Your 3D Visuals Stand out From the Crowd

In 1896, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto noted an interesting fact of life – in almost any situation, 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts. This is true for everything from wealth distribution to something as simple as pea pods, where only a few vital pods produce the majority of the peas. The main principle of using this law to your advantage is to highlight your strengths by capitalising on the top 20% and minimise time and effort spent on the rest.

So, how can we apply a similar theory to 3D visualisation and what are the key efforts that, when applied, will have the greatest impact on the quality of the images? In this article, we discern how this “Pareto principle” applies when it comes to exterior 3D visualisations.

The most important elements of 3D exterior renders are the following: camera angle and composition, accuracy in the 3D model and environment, mood lighting, realistic landscaping, and the “X-factor” of the project. Look out for these five rules in your team’s visualisation and your images are bound to impress.

Rule 1 – Photographic Camera Angles: Create the Magazine Shot

The first rule is undoubtedly about how well the viewing camera angle of the project is composed. The ultimate purpose of the 3D image is to evoke emotion in the viewer and enable them to imagine a future reality of when the project has been realised. The viewer has an intrinsic sense of what is attractive and, having been trained for years by architectural magazines on luxury and beauty, they want to have the same experience when looking at the 3D render of the project.

The camera angle needs to take into consideration all possibilities of visualising style, space and the architectural intent of the project. Some projects work best in one-point perspective, whereas others are more exciting from a semi-elevated view like the image below. Therefore, the first step is to figure out what angle is likely to work best for your project.

We often get inspiration for our camera angles by studying world-renowned architectural photographers – how they view projects, create excitement, and just seem to know which direction to take when setting up their shots.

Spend time looking at your favourite projects – ones that mirror what you’re trying to create – and take notes on what angles seem to work best. After a while, you may be able to figure out what kind of projects are best captured by which camera angles, and you’ll be able to make such decisions quickly and accurately.

Specific camera angles are powerful – they can affect the perceived height of a structure, spaciousness (particularly important for interiors), distance from the viewer, and location in relation to other landmarks or objects. Decide what features will be the project’s selling point – see Rule 5 – and use camera angles to highlight these. For example, wide angles can be used to emphasise space and openness.

Rule 2 – Accuracy in 3D Environment: Small Details Add to Realism

Aside from composition and a beautiful camera angle for the 3D render, the details of the environment are crucial to how successfully the image hits the mark. By incorporating neighbouring buildings, people, animals, leaves dropped on the ground, and accurate landscaping, a level of realism is added to the image. With advances in technology and some of the plugins that have been developed, creating a detailed 3D environment is now easier than ever before.

Neighbouring commercial shops help to create a sense of realism in urban environments, while, when it comes to land estates, it’s a matter of creating the entire project in 3D – complete with boutique builder homes and other amenities of the upcoming estate.

When planning your 3D visualisation, consider what extra elements may help sell the overall vision of the development. As an example, images of children playing can help portray a sense of community and belonging – very important if you’re working on 3D architectural visualisation for family homes.

Other lifestyle elements to consider incorporating into your 3D visualisation include – but are definitely not limited to – cars, animals, foliage (see Rule 4), parks, and water features. Keep in mind that anything in motion helps to create a sense of action and realism.

Don’t forget that even the smallest details can have a huge effect on the feeling of the visual. At the same time, less is often more – too many extras can lead to an overwhelming image. Refer again to the Pareto principle, and consider removing 80% of the clutter.

Rule 3 – Lighting Style: Make the Image Pop

Light is a subtle, yet critically important, element of 3D visualisations. The first step here is to choose an exciting and complementary lighting setup for the image. As well as camera angles, you can use light to create a focal point in the shot. This is another area where it may be handy to utilise the Pareto principle. Using carefully selected light and focusing on one area of the picture will be more powerful than an image lit up entirely.

Lighting can also be used to help evoke emotion in a 3D environment – different tones and shadows add depth and contrast to an image. Don’t forget to relate the tone of colours to the style of light: grass should be a brighter green in direct daylight, and it’s a good rule of thumb to use warm interior lighting when the sun has gone down.

Rule 4 – Landscaping: Create Beauty in the 3D Environment

By incorporating realistic landscaping into your 3D renders, the image can really come to life and viewers are more easily able to imagine the finished development. Detailed landscaping and native elements of flora are particularly important in close, eye-level images – the colour and realism can help to sell the visual.

There are a variety of landscaping elements you can consider including in your render – some may be specified in the landscape plans and others can be brought in under “creative license”: colourful trees, shrubs, flowers, and a variety of tropical grasses. Remember to be consistent in the details – leaves on the ground should match up to the trees, and the leaves themselves should align with the current season. Overdoing this can make the image too busy, however, so be sparse.

Incorporate colour into the foliage of the trees and plants for interest, and include a mix of colours and shadows for realism. Certain tones and hues work better together, so consider looking into colour theory. Be careful not to overuse any one colour – utilise the Pareto principle here, too.

Rule 5 – X-Factor: Artistry in Presentation

X-factors are the unique elements of each development that need to be identified and brought out in the 3D render package. These are the points of difference that might be the main reason why someone chooses one development over another, so they are important to highlight.

Overall location and the proximity to the city were the keys to selling the development shown above. With this in mind, we organised a photo shoot to coincide with the sun setting over the bay, and later added the building into the image.

Think about the X-factors of the project you’re working on – consider overall location, project size, style of design, exciting technology and extra facilities – and figure out how to incorporate aspects of these into the image.

You can use camera angles to help emphasise particular features (see Rule 1). Consider using a streetscape image if you want to portray a community-minded lifestyle. Focusing on location? Use an aerial shot, as shown above, to help show the proximity to the bay and the city.

80/20 Rules in 3D Visualisation

As we are always working against the clock, we need to find elements of the architecture that can be highlighted to create an emotional connection for the future buyers, and we need to be able to do it quickly. Whether it be highlighting classic architectural styling with close-up shots, or the sun hitting the façade of the building at a certain time – creating an amazing mood – the art of 3D visualisation is all about finding and capitalising on these aspects.

If we apply Pareto’s principle and focus on these unique moments, we can create 80% of the results that we are looking for, with minimal effort. It’s just a matter of knowing which 20% will make the greatest difference.

To your development success,


Stan Zaslavsky

BEng / BTech (Ind Design), LREA, VPELA


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