Ophelia's Gaze: Iris' Guide to Using WindLight with Style
Exclusive to NWN, Iris Ophelia's ongoing showcase of all things stylish in SL
When the WindLight version of Second Life was released last Summer, I completely converted. WindLight offers much more advanced atmospheric controls than the official viewer, from the clouds to the water, with much more effective and realistic lighting controls. The problem is... there are so many controls, and avatars have so many little flaws. Getting the most out of WindLight’s effects on your avatar, even for basic exploring and snapshots, can be really intimidating.
I want to get you over your fear of WindLight, I want to get you gut-deep into the sliders, and as always, I want to help you look your absolute best. Here's how:
First, I want to assure you that the snapshots below haven’t been Photoshopped, except to overlay screenshots of settings. Also, this guide is by no means the limit of WindLight’s capabilities. If you want milky green rivers, red skies, and wispy purple clouds, you can do it. I’ve just tried to recreate a couple basic settings for fashion photography and exploring.
If you’re shooting against a plain backdrop, I really favor a slightly modified version of the method that Caliah Lyon recently posted on her blog. From the Environment Editor window (which can be found in Environment Settings in the World menu) you can access two very useful panels: Advanced Sky and Advanced Water. I’ll be dealing below with the Sky panel, since the water panel is a bit more intuitive and a bit less useful for what we’re doing.
In the Advanced Sky Editor’s preset menu, select Blizzard. This preset has a lot of haze, which takes the harsh edge off of the lighting. In the Atmosphere tab, keep an eye on Haze Density and Density Multiplier, these are what soften the light, and they will be very handy tools when you start fiddling with lighting on your own.
In the Lighting tab, the Sun Position will be near sunrise. Moving it to sunset can make the scene feel warmer, and can also control the amount of shadow being cast on the face. You can leave it at sunrise if you want, but you want the sun to be as level as possible with your face so that you don’t see all the weird bumps and grooves. This will work perfectly if you’re facing East, but if not, you can use the East Angle slider to move the sun around you horizontally. This is another very helpful slider to remember, as the best shots of an avatar’s face and body usually need to be directly lit. The Blizzard setting also tends to cast a bit of a bluish tinge, so you’ll want to even out the Ambient light sliders. Ambient is another thing to pay attention to, along with Scene Gamma. Both of these control the brightness of the environment, but think of Ambient as the light your monitor casts off, and Gamma as the actual brightness of the objects on the screen. Gamma is significantly harsher, while Ambient is softer and more natural.
Clouds aren’t so important if you’re shooting with a backdrop, but be aware that the Cloud Coverage slider can also have an impact on how much brightness and light you see. Control of lighting, if you haven’t guessed, is the most important tool in controlling WindLight.
The above guide is great if you’re shooting against a backdrop, but if you’re shooting on location or with props, all that haze can spoil the view of the sky, as well as wash out any nearby objects.
Starting from the Default preset, you can add a bit of haze to still soften the light, but leave the clouds clearly visible. Remember again to get the sun level with your face, with the same method as before. With this setting, you’ll need to be more aware of Ambient and Scene Gamma. If they’re too strong, you’ll wash out anything too pale, and if they’re too weak, more of the unappealing avatar flaws with be visible.
On an interesting sidenote, if you bring the Scene Gamma down to zero, you’ll notice all avatars and most objects become silhouettes, with the exception of objects set Full Bright. This is a bit of a random feature, but I’m sure some creative people will put it to great use.
When you’re out of the studio, don’t be afraid to play around with the Cloud sliders. Just remember to uncheck ‘Draw Classic Clouds’ or you’ll miss out on the full effect.
When you first see your avatar in WindLight, it can be a shock. Your old facelight may not work, your skins may suddenly look grotesque, and in can be really tempting to run out and buy new products that are optimized for WindLight. A few lighting attachments and skins have come out promising to fix this, but I strongly discourage anyone from buying them. With a little work, you can make your avatar look even better than before, for free. On top of that, don’t forget that WindLight is still in Beta. Any number of things could change between now and when the final version is released. You don’t want to buy something that could be useless within the next few updates. If you’re really hurting, June Dion created an experimental (and free) facelight for Windlight, which you can find in the freebie section of her store, BareRose.
Finally, if you find a setting you really like, be sure to take some screenshots of the Environment Editor settings, or write down the steps you took to get it. If you simply save it as a new preset, you will lose it the next time you update WindLight, and you'll have to start from scratch again. It may be annoying, but I really feel that the end result is well worth the trouble.