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There seems to be an "environment lighting" setting when in Blender render, but there does not seem to be anything equivalent in Cycles.

Currently, the rendering of my scene just looks grey, even though some objects I have coloured white, and I am hoping adding ambient light will fix that.

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    $\begingroup$ In cycles the world/environment emits light by default, so just making the world background color white will illuminate things more. Note that this will likely result in a very uniform, washed-out sort of look, since everything is illuminated the same amount from every direction. $\endgroup$ – gandalf3 Feb 20 '16 at 12:49
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In a typical photographic situation, you would add fill light from a soft / broad source. This could be above your object in question, or a fill light lower down and in front. Using an area light allows you to get the softer breadth required to avoid hard shadows.

Light ratios also tend to be completely whacked unless you are using a viewing transform that emulates a more photographic range of light as well, typically over-crunching the shadow data, and horrifically crimping the highlight data that is in an image. If you are interested, have a look at this question.

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I believe HDR lighting is what you're looking for. Using HDR lighting will simulate light coming from all directions, similar to how things are lit when sitting outside under the sun (or on a cloudy day, depending on the HDR image you use). Here are some free HDR images you can use. I would recommend starting with one that has the sky visible in the image.

Another great resource is Andrew Price's Pro-Lighting: Skies add-on. The free demo is here, and his tutorial for how to use HDR lighting (with or without his add-on) is here.

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  • $\begingroup$ free demo is a broken link $\endgroup$ – bubakazouba Nov 5 '18 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ Google is your friend. There’s plenty of info given in the post to find it. Edit the answer and update the link if you’d like. $\endgroup$ – Jacob Jones Nov 5 '18 at 5:06
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Properties panel -> World -> Surface panel -> select Surface Background and you can set the color there.

In Blender 2.80 it looks like this:

enter image description here

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