I tried installing PBRT on my home Linux machine and ran into a few difficulties. Most of the problems that I experienced came from the fact that I installed the latest development version of OpenEXR (1.5.0) instead of the latest stable version (1.4.0). Once I switched to the older version, most of my problems went away. I also had the problem that my installed version of libtiff had filenames "libtiff.so.4.0" and the OpenEXR configuration script was looking for "libtiff.so.4". I fixed that problem by creating a soft link in my library directory from libtiff.so.4 to libtiff.so.4.0. I was then able to build PBRT. However, I still wasn't able to run PBRT because the executable had trouble finding some of the libraries related to OpenEXR (even though I had set LD_LIBRARY_PATH to the correct directory). By this point, it was getting kind of late in the week, so I decided to switch to the Myth machines and do the first assignment there. The installation on the Myth machines went much more smoothly. I'd still like to get it set up on my own machine, though. So if anyone has any ideas for things for me to try, please let me know.
Once I had PBRT working, I used various techniques to help craft the scenes. I found it beneficial to use fewer samples and low image sizes to speed up rendering. This was a bit problematic for area lights, since when a low number of samples are used, the image becomes very grainy. I tried to only enable one light at a time, especially when using area lights. It was also useful to vary only one parameter on a light at a time to get an idea of how each one affects the image. For example, only moving the light along one axis at a time.