Thursday, November 01, 2012

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The Anatomy of a Second Life Fashion Photo

Medusa Before After 1 

Iris Ophelia's ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Sometimes it's easy for a long-time virtual fashion blogger to forget that a lot of what we do as a matter of routine now actually took a lot of work to get the hang of. Few things in SL come to anyone like second nature, so there are a lot of hidden steps behind every creation, no matter how straightforward it seems, that you might not realize are there.

I may not be a terribly talented creator, or a maker of anything as complex as the items I like to model, but today I thought I would walk you through the process I use to take my pictures for last week's post-- because there's far more too it than a couple snapshots. Whether you're a blogger yourself or just curious about the work that goes on behind the scenes of a fashion blog post, keep reading for the details!

1. The Outfit

If everything falls into place easily this step might take 10 minutes, but if nothing's working out it could take up to an hour. Last week the outfit wasn't the focus of the post, so some bits pulled from a BareRose outfit were all it took. I didn't want anything too distracting, since the hair was the starring element, but I wanted to establish a consistent tone for my images. I just wanted something simple, straight forward, organic, and demonic. Whatever you wear, make sure you identify what pieces you want to showcase the most and dress to suit them specifically.

2. The Pose

In the shot of my outfit shown above, you can see the effect (or lack of effect) of a plain pose, a plain camera angle, and plain lighting. Nothing about that picture is terribly interesting (beyond the near nip-slip, that is). Much like an outfit, picking a pose can also be easy if you know exactly what you want, and tedious if you don't. Pick something that looks natural for that outfit and has the right "attitude", and make sure that it doesn't case any unflattering stretching/clipping issues with you and your outfit that would reflect poorly on the quality of its components.

3. The Lighting

Light appropriately! I like to use soft, bright Windlight settings with the sun immediately in front of my avatar most of the time, but sometimes you need to spice things up. Fiddling with Windlight can be time-consuming, but it's a skill worth mastering. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I almost always prefer the effects of well-tuned windlight to prim lights in-world.

4. The Angle

The angle of your shots can lend drama to them... or suck it out entirely. It can make the avatar body look unnatural and bizarre, too, so before you settle on a camera angle, make sure every piece of your outfit and your avatar are being well-represented. This is also a good time to plan the position of your eyes. Looking at the camera, or looking away coquettishly? Now's the time to figure it out, and be mindful of the lazy-eye look that certain camera angles can cause. You should also be aware of the lines that SL may put on your screenshots if you're going to be shooting at a higher resolution. Take a test snapshot to see if you have this problem at all, and if you do try to frame your shot so that most of the lines won't be over the avatar. It'll save you a lot of work and heartache later.

5. The Quality

Double-check your preferences and make sure that all your settings are where they should be, then check your Snapshot settings as well so you won't have to fiddle with scale and reloading once you've taken your perfect picture. Don't forget to rebake, too!

6. The Timing

If you have animated attachments like those glowing eyes, or you're trying to capture an animation, or the flow of a flexi-prim, or even using SL's lip-sync to get a pouty open-mouthed expression, timing can be everything. Don't be afraid to take a bunch of pictures, so you can pick the best on out of the bunch.

Medusa Before After 2

 7. The Brightness

For these pictures, I wanted it to look like Medusa was peering out of her dark cave into a bright streak of Mediterranean sunlight. A bit dramatic, a bit ridiculous, but if gave me an effect and atmosphere to aim for. I deliberately shot these pictures a bit dark in Windlight to avoid washing out too much detail (which bright light in SL often does). I fine-tuned it with some trial and error using Photoshop's Curves feature to get the right balance of light and dark.

8. The Colors

After the lighting fixes, I found Medusa's skin looked a bit too sallow, and her hair a bit too green, so I used Selective Colors to balance these out and make the color palette of these pictures a little more consistent. I also used this to really fine tune the darkness by brightening the 'neutral' areas of each image just a touch more. You can use Auto Tone or Auto Color if you're in a rush, but these features are designed with run-of-the-mill daylight-lit people and scenes in mind. The more dramatic or unusual your picture, the more bizarre the results may be. Then again, you may stumble upon something brilliant that way.

9. The Seams

I don't mean the seams of the clothing, here. Unless you're doing a mega-photoshopped art shot, a blogger shouldn't hide the seams. When it comes to the seams on my wrists from my own lazy prim hand skin-matching, however, I'm a bit more lenient. A little gentle Cloning goes a long way, for things like that. There's also the issue of those lines that SL likes to put in some shadow snapshots taken above the window resolution. Once again a little Cloning or Healing brush use will clear these up, but depending on where they are in the shot it could take a little while (and a lot of patience).

10. The Rough Edges

Bumpy shoulders, sharp elbows, maybe a pixellated chunk of hair, or a shadow that should be smooth but that looks like a hacksaw blade. The cloning tool can still be a big help here, but don't forget about Liquify. I used Liquify on my lips, nose, chin, elbows and shoulders as usual (check out part one and part two of my Liquify tutorial here).

11. The Polish

This is usually where it ends for me. I finished up with a few touches of the sharpen tool to make the eyes and lips pop, as well as some plain cropping and resizing. From start to finish, these two pictures took me about an hour and a half total, which is fairly average for me (though I'm not the most skilled or the fastest hand when it comes to post-processing for my SL pics, either.) Even so, I'm pretty lighthanded with my Photoshopping compared to many other fashion bloggers, but your personal tastes might extend further. Add effects, layers, text, borders, blurs... Maybe you would have taken these pictures in an entirely different direction. Every blogger's process is unique, and as usual experimentation is the key to success.

Mixed_reality_iris2010 Iris Ophelia (Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.


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Deoridhe Quandry

It's interesting to see all of the post processing. Now and then I consider doing some myself with select pictures, but I like the challenge of trying to achieve stuff in-world, too. Ironically, my brother who does offline photography as a hobby does more post processing than I do!

Val Kendal

"Fiddling with Windlight can be time-consuming, but it's a skill worth mastering."

I agree - but William Weaver's Phototools forSecond Life make it SO much faster!

Whiskey Monday

WOW! An hour and a half??!

Incredible work, going from the before to that after shot. The color difference and light is impressive. I'd love to see more before and afters of folks who work with a lot of photoshop.

I don't use photoshop much at all, but spend about the same amount of time, or more, getting a shot. I just spend that time inworld. Maybe I need to learn about Photoshop Curves.

Faye Feldragonne

It's a great deal of work for the designers after time making the designs. Thanks for putting this into perspective.

Marly Peapod

Thanks for this article, I learned a few tricks from it and it was very interesting to read. About the lines tho, I found a faster way to get rid of them from a tutorial (I don't remember who it was from), but it was very simple. You use the single row or column selection tool (under the rectangular marquee) and then go to edit -> fill, then choose "content aware" in the "Use" drop down menu. Works like a charm.

Iris Ophelia

Good point, Marly. I like that technique-- but I often have mixed results with it. The plainer the area the better it will work, because the more detail there is that harder it is for Photoshop to read and predict accurately. It's great if you have a line across a backdrop, but if it's across your face or a printed dress or something you'll still probably need to use clone stamping.

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