Photo Studio vs Rez-a-Prim

Do you need a photo studio in Second Life? I’ve come across this question many times. Often the answers boil down to a simple no. Hardly surprising given that any resident who’s ever opened the snapshot feature on their client knows you don’t need a photo studio to take a decent  photograph in SL.  And if you want a special background for your photo, just rez a prim and apply the desired texture. Need a light? Rez a sphere, click “light” … et voila!

the rez-a-prim photo backdrop

Do you need a studio? Perhaps not. But is this the right question to ask? You don’t need an AO or a face light either, but few would deny that these items make your SL experience more convenient and enjoyable. After all, you could just open a raft of animations on your screen and click between them to change your stands, walks and sits. Need more illumination for your face? Why not just light up a sphere and attach it to your eyeball? You see my point. It’s not so much an issue of need as it is of usefulness. Surely the more productive question to ask is: in what ways can a photo studio facilitate and enhance photography in SL, and what features does it need to have to achieve this? 

the easy AO and facelight

As the owner of Ananke Media Systems, I’ve spent many hours, together with my partners, Anna Tretiak and Desdemona Enfield, crafting products that we believe help people meet the challenges and opportunities of virtual photography. If all you need to do is rez a prim and slap a texture on it, why go to all the trouble to design, build and script a photo studio in the first place? Well, let me share with you how I got here.

When I started writing about fashion in Second Life, I soon discovered I needed lots of photographs to accompany articles and blog posts. Many of my fashion photos were self-portraits, and I found myself endlessly frustrated by two major limitations.  First, the endless fiddling with the environment editor or with local prim lights trying to get the lighting right. Second, lining up a shot perfectly, only to realize the background wasn’t what I wanted, or the lighting needed to be adjusted. Result: cam out, fix this or that, cam back in, still not right, out again, fix whatever, in again, arggh!, out, fix, in, but now I can’t find that #%*! perfect angle I had before … and I’m not sure I like this hair anymore either … and on and on …

"working it" with the rez-a-prim takes on a whole new meaning

I’ve done professional lighting for theatre, fashion shows, and film in real life, so lighting is a medium I know a little bit about. Ask any good photographer and they will tell you: lighting is key to taking great photographs. The physics of how light functions in a virtual environment may be different than RL, but the aesthetic principles of composing with light remain the same. Look at photos you admire from Second Life and in most cases (if not all), the photographer’s ability to work with light is a key component in what makes the photograph so strong.

When looking for a photo studio, the single most important feature to focus on is not the backdrop, but the lighting system. The use of local lights (illuminated prims) to enhance the tone, shading and highlights of your subject is an invaluable tool for creating a strong, compelling photograph. Too often photographers settle for a flat overall illumination that makes their avatars look like two-dimensional cardboard cutouts. Such a shame, given the 3D graphical environment we inhabit in Second Life.

Well placed local lights are one of the most effective ways to sculpt your model and add more dimension to your images. A good studio will give you the ability to use HUD, menu or chat commands to rez  lights, position them where you need them, and then change their color, intensity and radius remotely. Scripted lights greatly facilitate the process of lighting your scene because you can keep your camera focused on the subject when making adjustments. No more need to cam in and out to reposition lights or change their colors.

prim lights sculpt the model

prim lights sculpt the model

Scripted backdrops provide a way of quickly loading textures and colors for the background of your scene. When looking at backdrops, the important things to consider are: How easily can you cam around through the entire shooting area? How much of the background area does the backdrop cover from a wide range of angles? Can you change the position, rotation or size of the backdrop to meet your shooting requirements? Can you add your own textures? How easily can you select and change the background textures, colors and appearance settings (brightness and glow)? Are the HUD, menu or chat controls clear and easy to use?

the AMS PhotoSpin lets you resize and rotate the backdrop

A good studio will also give you a set of gaze points, or gazers. These simple devices allow you to control the direction your model’s eyes are looking. Once again, a good system lets you reposition the gazers remotely using HUD, menu or chat commands, so you can keep your camera focused on the model.

Particle effects provide a nice addition to any photo studio. Look for a good range of effects, plus the ability to adjust color, density and position remotely. Another invaluabe tool that should be included in a high quality studio package is an easy to use modeling stand, preferably one that allows you to rotate an avatar when posing on it.

There are a fair number of photo studios available on the SL market. With some, the designers have put a lot of thought and hard work into making a scripted studio that really does something useful for you as a photographer. Yet it’s also true that other studios are little more that overpriced devices for applying textures or colors to a prim. So if you are considering a photo studio, shop carefully. There are significant differences, and if you choose wisely, you’ll have a powerful photographic instrument that makes the ol’ rez-a-prim method look as quaint as system skirts and watermelon hats.

Albrecht Duerer wishes he'd got that photo studio instead

For more about using prim lights see my posts Photo Lighting in Windlight and On-Location Fashion Photography  as well as Torley Linden’s wiki on SL photography.

For more about using gazers, see my post Making Eyes.

To see the AMS line of photo studio products, please visit the AMS website, or swing by one of our stores: AMS @ Smaug (Smaug 220,232, 33),  AMS @ Lady Vale (Lady Vale 124, 228, 301),  or  AMS @ LeeZu! (To The Nines 149, 48, 35).

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Photo Lighting in Windlight

PHOTO LIGHTING IN WINDLIGHT

In virtual photography as in real life photography, lighting is everything. To create stunning fashion photos in Second Life, you need to work the lighting.

Windlight allows great flexibility for adjusting the environment settings to control the appearance of the world, and the avatars who inhabit it. Caliah Lyon created some great settings which effectively eliminate the annoying shadows that appear in the default Windlight settings (see credits), especially around the nose and cheekbones of avatars. As the photo below shows, the settings produce a beautifully smooth and clean image.  

Image using Caliah Lyon's environment settings with no additional lighting

Image using Caliah Lyon's environment settings with no additional lighting.

While effective, the settings also tend to even out the lighting, generating a relatively flat image. For more visual interest, you need to use local light sources to give the image more dimension and contrast. Working with the AMS PhotoStage lighting system, I adjusted the colour and positioning of three light sources to enhance the image.The first image below uses a cool front light positioned at floor level in combination with two warm side lights.

Settings enhanced with cool front light and warm side lighting.

Settings enhanced with cool front light and warm side lighting.

 

You can see how the additional lighting lifts the model off the backdrop by giving more definition and dimension to her face and clothing. In the next photo, I shifted the colour of the front light to a soft white, while keeping both side lights warm.

Same settings with soft white front light and warm side lighting.

Same settings with soft white front light and warm side lighting.

For the final shot, I used a cool light on the right side, with a warm on the left, and the soft white light in front.

Soft front light with warm and cool side lighting.

Soft front light with warm and cool side lighting.

All these photos are posted directly as taken in Second Life, with no photoshopping (apart from cropping and resizing for posting to the web). The final shot below shows the placement and colours of the light sources on the PhotoStage, together with the yellow/black gaze point (used to control the direction the model’s eyes are looking).

Light set up for photograph 4 above.

Light set up for photograph 4 above.

The AMS PhotoStage provides precision control of the postioning and colours of six independent light sources using your choice of HUD, menu or chat commands. The highly sophisticated and unique lighting system allows you to frame your subject and maintain the camera’s position while adjusting the lights to achieve an optimum lighting. Visit the AMS Demo Site to try out the PhotoStage and, for on-location shooting, PhotoLite.

CREDITS: Continue reading

Making Eyes: controlling where your eyes look when photographing self-portraits

If you’ve ever tried to photograph a self-portrait in Second Life, you’ve probably encountered this problem: your avatar’s eyes just won’t look where you want them to look. You’ve found a killer pose, adjusted the lighting, and lined up your shot so that everything’s perfect – everything except the eyes! They’re either rolling into her skull, or dancing around like drunken party girls every time you move your mouse.

Here's an example: I want to model the new Suzana Pale 36 skin from LionSkins and I love how the Armidi Ginza hair looks with this skin, but how to keep the eyes from disappearing behind the bangs?

Professional SL photographers use a focus or gaze point to overcome this problem: models are asked to alt-click on a specific target, such as a coloured sphere, so that the direction their eyes are looking remains fixed. However, with self-portraits, this technique presents a problem. As soon as you alt-click on a gaze point, the camera instantly shifts to place that point at the centre of your screen. So now you’ve lost the original framing. But if you alt-click on your avie and use the mouse-drag technique to reframe your shot – zap! – there’s those shifty eyes again. A classic SL Catch-22!

So I've alt-clicked on a gaze point, and I think the eyes are good now - but the composition sucks!

Here's what I mean: I've alt-clicked on a gaze point, and I think the eyes are good now - except you can't see them anymore!

AMS PhotoStage and PhotoLite have some useful tools that will help solve this problem, allowing you to use gaze points effectively when doing self-portraits. Here’s how:

  1. Make sure your on-screen camera controls are open (View > Camera Controls)
  2. Rez a gaze point and position it where you want it. With the AMS PhotoStage and PhotoLite, this becomes a very easy process: once the gaze point is rezzed you simply use the Position Editor to place the gaze point precisely where you need it anywhere on the X Y Z axes.
  3. Compose your shot using the alt-click & drag technique to find the desired camera frame. This is just a preliminary framing, so be careful to note the camera position so you can return to it later.
  4. Cam or zoom out, find your gaze point and alt-click on it. You will lose the original camera frame of course – BUT, now your avie’s eyes will be fixed on the gaze point, and not bouncing around like ping pong balls.
  5. Use the on-screen Camera Controls and Keyboard Commands to reposition the camera on the model. I highly recommend using the Keyboard Commands for controlling the camera at this stage rather than relying on the on-screen Camera Controls alone. The Keyboard Commands tend to give you much more precise control over the camera’s pan, tilt, spin and zoom functions. The Zoom In (CTRL + 0) and Zoom Out (CTRL + 8 ) keystrokes are especially useful for framing close shots, since they allow you to move in much closer than the on-screen Camera Controls will permit. The Shift + Ctrl + Alt + arrow keys which pan the camera left, right, up and down are also extremely useful for self-portraiture. (I’ve listed the Keyboard Commands at the end of this post for any who may not be familiar with these highly useful tools.)
  6. If the direction of your avie’s gaze still needs adjusting, cam out again, adjust the position of the gaze point, and then reframe the camera. Once again, the AMS Position Editor greatly simplifies this procedure. You may need to go back and forth a few times to get things exactly the way you want. With practice and experience, you’ll soon learn how to place your gaze points accurately, then manipulate the keyboard and camera controls to get that perfect frame and beautiful eyes!

Voila - mission accomplished!

For more information on AMS products, please visit the AMS website, or stop by the AMS Demo Site or Metro Models store to try out the amazing PhotoStage and PhotoLite!

Camera Tools: Continue reading

On-Location Fashion Photography

Second Life offers an abundance of amazing locations for great fashion shoots. Yet optimizing the lighting for an on-location shoot can be challenging, which is one reason why many SL photographers opt for studio shooting. I recently took Ananke Media SystemsPhotoLite toolkit to the beach to see how this highly versatile system can enhance the look of images you capture inworld.

This first photo shows our lovely model (none other than moi – of course!) posing on the beach with the existing night lighting. Nice location – what you can see of it!

Here’s the same location with lighting and effects added from the PhotoLite toolkit. I’ve used lights to brighten certain elements in the background (the pampas grass and palms) as well as the model (isn’t she gorgeous? — okay, I’ll stop). I’ve also added a very light mist with two effects generators to soften the reflected light from the sand and provide another colour detail.

After hiding all the lights, effect generators and the pose stand with a couple of quick clicks on the  PhotoLite HUD or menus, the scene becomes a vivid yet still natural looking setting perfect for capturing the romance of LeeZu Baxter’s Noir line!

Moving in for a closer view, I made some minor adjustments in the positioning of the lights using the PhotoLite HUD – all without ever changing the camera frame! One of the beauties of AMS products is the ability to stay focussed on the specific camera angle you want while using the HUD, menu or chat controls to adjust lighting, effects and even the direction the model’s eyes are looking.

And as a final reminder, here’s that close shot again… this time without the PhotoLite enhancements. By the way, apart from cropping and resizing for the web, none of these images have been photoshopped in any way.

So there you have it. With PhotoLite, you can take your on-location fashion shoots to a whole new level, anywhere on the grid! Stop by the AMS Demo Site to try it out soon!