One of the biggest downfalls for sketch-up is the inability to produce presentable work because of its extremely cartoon-like graphics. About two years ago I was introduced to Podium, a rendering engine plug-in for sketch up that is extremely easy to use while also allowing for a great deal of customization.
Podium originally focused on interior renderings, creating extremely realistic images for interior architecture scenes. The rendering engine now handles outdoor scenes very well and allows for presentable images.
There is a very short learning curve when it comes to playing with shadows and light. The key features that come in to play in creating your own style come with the ability to create your own textures and properly applying reflections, transparencies, and exposure. Like any digital scene, applying some Photoshop skills to post-rendered images makes a world of a difference. While Podium allows you to use and render vegetation, after doing that for some of my renderings I would highly recommend that you add your trees and people in photoshop.
While there is a free download for this, it does not allow you to export high resolution images. Unfortunately, the cost for the application is around $100 for the student version. I recommend you check out their website at www.suplugins.com to see some of their examples and tutorials to see if this is for you. I highly recommend it as all of my base images are rendered through Podium first.
For those not interested in spending money while still producing high resolution renderings. There is a rendering plug-in called Kerkythea that is free to use. However, this rendering engine is a lot more technical with a much higher learning curve. It is extremely open to customization and if you learn how to use it correctly, it will produce great renderings.
Below are examples of Podium renderings I have done in the past. These are a combination of sketchup/podium with photoshop. If you have any questions about the application feel free to post them on this article or send us an e-mail through the Contact link on the top Menu.