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I teach compositing here:
This video demonstrates creating High Dynamic Range Images and using them as lights in Maya. This is the 'budget' HDRI, when you don't have a 5D Mark II and a fisheye lens. This video shows techniques that you can use with a entry level Canon DSLR with a tripod and a chrome sphere. Once the bracketed exposures are taken, we merge them together in Photohop, then take them into Nuke to unwrap them and remove unwanted artifacts. Then we bring it into Maya and set up our renders.
Special care is taken so that we have two different HDRIs, one that is blurred (convolved) for smoother Final Gathering, and a high resolution HDRI for sharp reflections.