Usually I don't bridge business projects with tutorials, but it just so happens to be the perfect time to take this into production. The other day I briefly talked about meshing with respect to producing renderings. Class seems to be lagging a bit, however some people are itching to get into photoshop with their projects. Naturally, we're here to learn how to pump out renderings in Max that require as little post-production editing as possible. I'll work on this today with respect to my current office project. (Surely the clients would approve since they're in the business of helping people.)
I confirmed recently that sometimes you have to place lights outside of their fixtures in order to get them to show up the way you want. All the artificial light in this model is therefore placed strategically above or below the fixtures. If your test renderings are not showing your lights properly, try adjusting their locations, angles and targets.
Now, about radiosity. Remember that in order to get to advanced lighting, you have to change the renderer to scanline. This is under Render Setup > Common > Assign Renderer. Changing back and forth between renderers might do unexpected things, but I find it to usually turn out for the better. What looks black and dead in mental ray can look much livlier in radiosity, and vice a versa.
Also, sometimes I change to radiosity and it looks horrible so I change it back, only to discover that now my mental ray looks better than before I tried radiosity. If I were a scientist I'd have a reason to offer for why this happens, but all I have at this point is a guess that the radiosity mesh has lingering effects.
Clearly the mesh is still there when I switch back.
very slight changes
Now I have a new mental ray rendering. It still looks somewhat dead, but it's better than before. It certainly is better than my radiosity rendering was for some reason. I'm going to spend some time adjusting lights and stuff, return to radiosity and tighten up my mesh, and then see how it looks again. Welcome to the second most time-consuming part of modeling. (Or it could be the most time-consuming if you have become pretty good at making stuff.)
I'm also going to turn different things on and off like a volume light, exposure control, shadow types and a soft filter on the renderer. After I collect several different kinds of renderings from the same camera, I can layer them in photoshop which is easier than coming up with stuff out of the blue sometimes. This can end up as one of my smaller renderings. When I get a good feel for how the renderings are coming out, I will increase settings such as quality and output size for my showstopper rendering(s) eventually.
To address the question of, "how do I make my rendering look like a photo," the answer is to add more detail. This room looks dead because I have no papers lying about like a real office. I don't have any paintings on the walls or family photos on the receptionist's desk. I don't have a wall hanging for brochures or anything. I can't add these things now, but at some point I know that I will have to if I want this to be realistic.
Right now try to get Max to provide you the most believable renderings you can. You will need to move on quickly now if you plan to make things realistic with details and other things, whether they be in model form or in photoshop. Hopefully you have camera angles you are happy with so you can come back to the same views later if you have time. Enjoy!