You need to do a lot of experiments.
My mind comes first.
Avoid vibrant colors.
Material colors to make it look real.
You do not have to choose the brass material to look like brass. Sometimes different occasions appear more realistic.
The light should not be too bright.
Shadows change the view a lot, you play with shadow locations.
Correct scene selection.
Absolutely try a few scenes
The second version is looking really good! My advice below is all nitpicks
1) The brass reservoir tank is the area that stands out to me the most
I would recommend putting a slight chamber or fillet on the square edges of it.
Also adding a bump map with a slight brushed/turned appearance to it might help. This is very easy to do, just select the appearance, go to the texture tab, and click the + Icon for Bump/Normal map. You can try the built in ones first or download some online.
Even if a part doesn't have chamfers as part of the design intent... it will typically get the "edges broken" / deburred by the machinist or tumbler. I usually represent this as a .005" - .015" chamfer or fillet on the model. The pedestal on the right for instance looks a lot better thanks to the chamfers and extra detail.
Might break these edges too:
2) The base stands out a bit so I would try to find a wood texture that has a bit more variation in the grain. What is the desired finish on the base? It might also look better with a shinier clearcoat look. This would also allow for slight self reflection of the engine onto the base which could look very cool.
3) Only when fullscreening the render I'm able to see a little bit of tesselation especially in this area of the belt and the top of the large crank. You can see they have a slight polygonal shape to them. This could be fixed by increasing the SOLIDWORKS image quality on those parts and re-importing.
As others have mentioned lighting is also a really big part!
It is so easy to get a render looking "good" and even "great".... but you can really drive yourself crazy chasing after the "perfect" render.... good luck!
Don't set polished too much so increase roughness. Also add lots of textures and bumpmaps. Increasing detail by drawing everything as it's supposed to be adds to realism. Remove background and floor reflection.
hi Aaron ,
My first piece of advice is not to use the imported appearance that is applied by default , I always re apply appearances from the visualize set of appearance (there are SOLIDWORKS equivalents in visualize as well).
the next thing that is going to be paramount is your environment , the lighting is huge when it comes to realism.
also are you using Pro? because the post processing options can really make your renders pop as well.