I am having a problem understanding displacement maps. I'm starting to think that I don't understand them at all.
Clarifying My Understanding
My understanding (which might be completely wrong), is that a displacement map is a gray-scale image whereby a value of 0.5 produces no displacement, >0.5 produces displacement in the positive direction, and <0.5 produces displacement in the negative direction. This, however, does not seem to match my actual observations in Blender.
I am using a displacement map within Cycles, plugging it into the
Displacement socket on the
Material Output node (I am also using the new experimental adaptive subdivision and micro-vertex displacement). I note that a value of 0.5 actually produces a displacement in the positive direction, causing the whole mesh to jump up slightly, as well as creating the peaks and valleys that you would expect for >0.5 and <0.5 values respectively.
This affects my entire understanding of displacement maps. Why is this happening? Why is a value of exactly 0.5 creating displacement? Further, how are you supposed to arrange and line up objects in your scene when, in rendered view, the displacement maps will push them out of position, even if those maps are only supposed to create displacement in specific areas.
The Problem in Practice
This is the problem I am having at the moment. I have a plane which is supposed to be a snowy field, and I am using a displacement map to give some depth to the snow. In rendered view, my plane jumps up significantly. This is what lead me to investigate my understanding of displacement maps, and to this question.
Additionally, what is the correct way to increase and decrease the strength of a displacement map? At the moment, I will run them through a Math node set to multiply, however, as you might imagine, this exaggerates the issue that I am complaining about above.
To be clear, however, I am not using a math node when experiencing the "jump up" for 0.5 values. This is not the source of my problem, but another aspect to it.