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Photography Tips, Tricks & Tutorials


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   We have a pretty large community of photography enthusiasts here on the forums, and whilst there are plenty of blogs and guides out there, it's not always easy to find what you're looking for, if you're unfamiliar with the terminologies and techniques used. There are a handful of forumite photography groups both in-world and on Flickr, but most of them are for showing off your pictures and the occasional banter, or meeting up to do collaborative shots - I'd like to dedicate this thread to one thing which isn't always addressed head-on, though; how people actually set up and take their shots.

   There are of course various methods, and different people have their own favourite ways of doing things - it's difficult, if not impossible, to say which method is the 'best'. Whichever works and give you the results you want, is a good way!

   This thread may also act as a recepticle for other threads or external sources - feel free to share earlier works, or writing up your tips and tricks, or making your own tutorials.

   To kick this thread off, I'm going to go over my own go-to setup, including: building a prim backdrop (and how to make a green screen), setting up your in-world camera, and lighting your scene.

Building a Prim Backdrop

   To build a backdrop, you need to be in an area where you have rez rights - you'll need a prim allowance of two.

   Press Ctrl + B on your keyboard to open the build menu, select a cube and click anywhere on the ground to rez it. In the edit window, make sure that "Snap" is ticked in and grab the blue arrow; this will move the prim on its Z-axis - but rather than moving the cursor up or down along the arrow's path, drag your cursor sideways until the cube snaps onto the grid ruler. You can put the backdrop at whichever altitude suits you, but for simplicity's sake, make sure that it is snapped to the ruler.


   Once you have snapped the cube into position, let go of the cursor. For the next step, you could change the edit mode to stretch and just drag it - but let's instead change tab on the edit window to 'Object'. In here, find the size parameters. I usually go for a 4 x 4 x 0.5 meter prim, this is generally adequately large to cover the screen whilst shooting - if you need it larger, you can make it as large or small as you require.

   So let's put 4, 4 and .5 into the X, Y and Z parameters to build ourselves a floor prim.


   Now, let's align our prim on the X and Y axis as well. This is done just the same as with the Z axis - grab the red arrow, drag your cursor sideways until you're snapped onto the ruler, and snap it onto nearest full meter mark; then do the same with the green arrow.

   Next, we need a wall. You can either press Ctrl + B again to create a new cube - but let's instead copy our existing prim. To do this, hold down the Shift key and pull the floor sideways - a duplicate of it will be created, pull it whilst snapping it to the grid, until the two prim floors are butted up against one another. Now grab the blue arrow and snap it 0.5 meters up, so that you have a hollow corner - like this:


   Now you just have two floors, though - let's make that second floor a wall instead. Whilst you can go to the edit window and change the size there - or simply rotate the prim 90 degrees - these will both put your prims out of alignment. Instead, select the 'Stretch' option in the edit window and, again using the grid ruler, pull the prim's far edge (the red or green cube, depending which direction of the floor you put the second prim!) towards the floor, until it is .5 meters thick.


   Now, grab the upper blue stretch point and drag it, once again on the grid ruler, until it's 4 meters tall. Once you have done this, you're finished with the structural part of the backdrop - but plywood doesn't make for a very nice backdrop texture, let's have a look at texturing this structure.

   If you de-selected the prims, right-click and Edit either one of them, then hold down shift and mouse-click on the second prim to select both. If you'd like, you can at this point press 'Link' in the edit window, to 'glue' the two parts together (note how the outline of the prim you selected first turns blue!). Next, go to the Texture tab in the edit window, and you'll find a window in which the current plywood texture is displayed; click it to open the texture selector - in the new window, you can browse the textures in your inventory, but what we want to do is make the whole thing blank. For this, there's a button labeled 'blank' - click it good!


   You now have a white backdrop, all ready to use!

   However, if you want a wholly white background to your photo, unaffected by the lighting you're going to use, you'll want to tick the 'Full Bright' button between the texture selector and the colour picker. Actually, if you don't want a plain, white backdrop, go ahead and do that now. If, like me, you like to shoot in a dark scene, a sudden camera control mishap can get you quite lost - having the backdrop full bright will make it easier for you to navigate your camera back to the scene again; however, now we're faced with a potential trouble - if you pop up a full bright backdrop in your garden, the neighbors may be none so pleased. We can remedy this by moving our build to a building platform, out of sight from the otherwise impeccable neighborhood.

   Go back to the Object tab, find the 'Position' parameters, and in the Z parameter insert an altitude (always check your land's covenant for rules regarding skybox and platform altitudes first!) - I'm going to pop mine at, say, 800 meters. Press Enter, and-- Poof. It's gone! You could do what I did for years, and simply press down and hold the jump button until you've flown up to the altitude of your backdrop, but that may take a while - instead, press the 'Home' button on your keyboard to toggle flying on (same button to turn it off), and press Ctrl + M to open your map. Insert the same altitude into the location's Z parameter (far right of the three coordinate selectors) and press Enter - you'll now have a waypoint way up in the sky; simply press Teleport to go to it!


   There she is! Which reminds me - for the sake of not making your inventory quite so messy, you can name your backdrop by going to the 'General' tab in the Edit window and simply change the name from 'Object' to... Hm. I shall call mine-- Drahoslava von Backdroppen.

   Okay, so let's talk about texturing options. If you want to make a chromakey shot, you can simply edit the backdrop, click 'select face' in the Edit window, mark the inner wall and floor faces and turn them whichever colour you wish to use for your chromakey (usually green, for 'green screen' - but that may not always be the case; perhaps someone will come along with a chromakey tutorial down the line?!).

   Personally, I tend to go with a dark gray, so I select the same two faces, turn off the full bright on those, and in the colour picker I pick a gray.


   Of course, you can use other textures, too, rather than using a blank backdrop. I'm going to show you two variants of this; a local texture from my disk, and a texture plus its materials that I have in my inventory.

   First, from inventory:

   Select the two faces, go to the Texture tab in the Edit window, click the blank texture to open the texture selector, and browse your inventory to find your texture in your inventory. Also, if you tinted the face earlier, turn the colour back to white first!


   I can then add my normal and specular maps to the same faces, by changing which layer of the face to put my textures on.


   Well. I'm out of space for attachment uploads for this post, so I'll post the other guides following this one instead. Hmpf!

   But first, let's talk about using Local textures - if you don't want to upload a texture to SL permanently (costs L$10!), you can temporarily upload a local texture. You do this by selecting the Local option in the texture selector, and uploading your file from your computer:


   Okay, so, this turned out more of a building tutorial than a photography one - but I'll start typing away on the camera setup and lighting setup right away - watch this space!

Edited by Orwar
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Setting up your Second Life Camera

   All right then, now that we have a backdrop to shoot against, let's talk about camera setup. First things first though, to frame our shot-- Well, we need a subject, don't we? This can be a still life subject or a portrait, or anything you like. I'm going to simply nab Neph and pop her on a poseball!

   <Intermission for getting Neph dressed and dolled up>

   There - now I'll just have to get her to stop blinking, and we should be ready to begin.


   What we'll want to do now, is turn our attention to the Cameratools. Since I'll be doing a portrait, the first thing I'll have to decide on is my zoom, or 'View Angle'. You can tug the slider, some people will SWEAR by using the button shortcuts, but personally I like to have the Cameratools open whilst shooting anyway, for reasons that'll be made obvious soon. For a portrait, as I'll demonstrate here, I'll want to go with 0.350 rads - so I just pop that into the view angle.

   Here's how it looks with the default (1.048 rads) view:


   And this is with 0.350 rads:


   And yes, that's only by changing the camera zoom - both shots are taken with the same camera position!

   Now, let's frame our shot. I almost always use an aspect ratio of either 3:4 (portrait) or 4:3 (landscape), always dividable by 256 pixels (i.e. 768 x 1024 for a 3:4 shot in low resolution, or a 4608 x 6144 pixels for a full resolution shot). For this scene, I'll use a 3:4 format. So I open my camera, and put 768 x 1024 pixels into its size - make sure to unecheck 'Constrain proportions' first!

   ... I then change my mind about the rads and decide to just go for a -really- close close-up, and zoom to 0.200 rads. Why? Because I felt like it.


   Whenever I move the camera, I hit the Refresh button in my camera, and check the display to see how the framing looks. Looks good? Good. Looks meh? Try altering your angle. Can't get the angle to work? Try another angle!

   Now, a very important pair of buttons in the Cameratools, are these here little fellows:


   Those are for SAVING and LOADING your camera position. Once you've framed your shot, SAVE your camera position, so that you can re-load it later on. Down-eye = save, up-eye = load. Note that you can only save one position at a time, and if you hit the save button again, you immediately overwrite your previously saved position.

   Once you've framed your shot, there's just one more thing before taking the shot - let's light this pitch up!

Lighting your Scene (using prims!)

   First things first, let's click the D (default) button on the View Angle in the Cameratools - navigating your scene and setting up your lights with that zoom can be outright obnoxious!

   Now, just as when we made the backdrop, we're going to need us some cubes. Press Ctrl + B to create yourself a cube - we're going to use 3 cubes for now, and do a 3-point lighting setup with these. Here's a sketch I nabbed off zhe Internets, displaying how a 3-point lighting is set up:

Credits: www.reelmarketer.com

   The idea is to make sure that your subject is well lit, but that there are gradients of intensity from different directions. For this shoot, we're going to work with one spotlight/projector (the key light) and two point lights (back and fill). Let's start with the key light; rez a prim cube, and move it so that it is a short bit away from your subject (or rather, the part of the subject you intend to shoot!). I generally turn my cubes into white, blank, full bright cubes so that I can easily spot them when working in a dark scene!

   Now, in the Edit window, go to the Features tab of the prim. Here you'll find the tick box for turning the prim into a light source, as well as the texture selector in which you turn your light (point light by default) into a spotlight (you can use any texture - or even 'blank', but I have made a texture with a circle with a gradiant edge for this purpose, to get a soft, round spotlight).


   At this point you may notice that the light, well, there isn't any? At least if you rezzed this box on the floor. That's because the projector light projects its lighting on the Z axis of the prim - we'll have to rotate it, as well as position it. Also - you must have Advanced Lighting Model activated in your preferences' graphic settings for this to work (or even the option to make a projector to appear, I believe).


   Once we have flipped the prim on its side so that it projects its light horizontally, we change the reference of movement to 'Local', and drag it so that the blue arrow points away from the subject's face, and that the blue trace line is lined up with it.

   Now, we create two more prims for the back and fill lights - you can use projector lights, but be wary of how your shadows end up looking. For now, I'm going to use to simple point lights.


   From above, here's how it looks on my end at this point. Now we can shot, right? Well, not quite. We need to adjust our lights, and also decide what to do about the Windlight! I'm sure someone else will be happy to make a WL tutorial down the line - me, I don't use them much; instead, I'm going to go into my menu and find the Windlight called "Phototools- No Light"


   Much as the name suggests, this Windlight contains no light. It'll be pitch black. Good thing we put those lights up, huh?

   So, the scene is set, the picture is framed, now we get to the part where we tinker with our light's options to make the lighting look good. We'll want to reduce the intensity of our back and fill lights to begin with. Usually, the ratios are 100% for front light, 50% for fill light, and 20% for the back light. So let's begin by changing the intensities of the point lights to .5 and .2 respectively.

   As to not make the thread too heavy - again - I'm not going to show a before and after picture here; test it out for yourselves and trust me, it makes a big difference! Poor Neph with her pale skin looked positively ghostly with all that light flooding her from every direction!

   Now we can go back to our camera, load our camera position and set the zoom back to whatever we wanted to go with, and see how it looks in the camera preview. In my case, it feels as if the lighting is too 'sharp' - we haven't changed the falloff at all. As far as I've heard, 2.0 in falloff is how 'natural' light behaves, but I find it often makes the scene look, well, dull. I'll check my boxes and see what I end up with.

   Personally, I also like to add a slight tint of blue to my key light, usually a very, very light blue. If you want to replicate daylight, you can also use orange or yellow tones - or, you can make a light effect by using a sharp, saturated colour.

   At this state we just mull back and forth between the camera and the lights, adjusting back and forth until we're happy with how it looks - you can also save a lower resolution shot to your computer and open it in full-screen to have a closer look. When you're all happy with it, bump the size up as far as you can or want to go - and snap away!

   Here's a 1024 x 768 sample of what I took (yes, I changed my mind about the aspect ratio, and angle, once I had the scene lit up!):


   And here it is after trimming, re-touching, focus blurring and all that.

Photo Tutorial

   Well, there it is. Enjoy!

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