Thanks to Travis for the link. This is an HDR photo by dacoach89_89 which I find pretty cool. I like the entropy that wrestles everything to dust again!
So, if I wanted to insert a 3D object or character into this background I could use the picture itself as an illuminating source, so that the 3d character would perfectly fit in that environment as if it had been actually there.
I quote from the Maya documentation: With image-based lighting, you use an environment texture (an image file) to illuminate the scene. Typically, the image is a photograph of a real environment, either a panoramic image or a photograph produced by taking pictures of a chrome ball (to capture the surrounding environment).
This is a technology developed by Paul Devebec, a USC researcher who is best known for his work in high dynamic range imaging and image-based modelling and rendering. He was awarded (along with Tim Hawkins, John Monos and Mark Sagar) a 2009 Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the design and engineering of the Light Stage capture device .
You have seen or can see his work in some of these films: The Matrix (1999), Spider-Man 2 (2004), King Kong (2005), Superman Returns (2006), Spider-Man 3 (2007), and Avatar (2009).
Image from HDR Shop, an HDR image processing and manipulation tool that you can download HERE , unfortunately Windows only:-(