Cat’s Basics of SL Photography

By: Cat Boccaccio

Apr 21 2010

Category: 1

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Welcome to basics of SECOND LIFE photography
as presented by CAT BOCCACCIO in April 2010


-Advanced Menu settings
-Graphics Preferences
-Camera Controls
-Snapshot Preview settings
-Save settings
-Environment/Windlight settings
-Sky presets
-RL and SL differences

My name is Cat Boccaccio and I’ve been taking photographs in SL since 2007. My RL background is in figure drawing so that was what initially attracted me to photographing SL avatars, wanting to make them look natural and even beautiful; and later to try and have the pictures express emotions or tell compelling stories.

I have my own galleries in SL and also participate in exhibits throughout Second Life.

Today I’d like to walk you through some basics and also share a few tips I’ve picked up along the way. I emphasize that these are basics, many that I would have found helpful when I started, instead of learning, trick by trick, day by day.

If you want to make this tutorial interesting, take a quick snapshot in SL now, using a subject you can return to.

I use the Phoenix viewer on MS Windows and recommend Phoenix if your computer is robust enough. Most of my slides are applicable to both Phoenix and the earlier SL viewer (NOT the V2.0 releases, since not only is the V2 viewer unpopular, but for some reason it is currently more difficult to take snapshots with that version). Also, there may be some variations regarding MACs.


To begin, here are some basic settings and functions you need to be familiar with to get the most out of your SL photographs and to give you more control of the process.

Advanced menu settings

First, go to the “Advanced” menu [Ctrl + Alt + D toggle] where there are a couple of basic settings you want to make sure you have checked. Select “Hi-res Snapshot”, and also “Remove Camera Constraints”. The latter will allow you to move your camera freely with few limits.

Graphics Preferences

Edit—Preferences–Graphics tab

These are the choices that could affect your computer’s performance in SL, and even cause you to crash. Fun. How much you can pump up your graphics settings depends of course on the power of your computer (memory, graphics card etc.) and on your own requirements. Learning the limits of your system is mainly a matter of trial and error.

Remember, you can always come back to this tab when you are not in “Photographer” mode, and revert the settings back to a more day-to-day setting, and improve performance as you go about SL getting into trouble.

graphics preferances 1a

You can make it easy on yourself and just select the “Recommended Settings”. If, that is, you trust SL to make the correct settings for you. For my work I find the Recommended Settings are not enough.

1 – It is also very easy to make improvements by using the “Quality and Performance” slider; bump it up a notch and try the higher level presets for your photos.

There are many options listed in the Custom section of the Graphics tab. Here is just a sampling of some of the simpler adjustments you may want to make:

a-”Water Reflections” One of the great features of Windlight and an obvious plus, but only if you are shooting in a water environment, otherwise it simply adds to lag.

b-”Draw Distance” This is the distance that SL renders objects in your viewer, and a high draw distance will also add to lag. There are many ways to adjust this on the fly. If you are looking for a great landscape shot, you will probably want a higher draw distance. For an intimate studio portrait, a short, low-lag setting is fine.

c-”Lighting Detail” is also a strictly personal preference. Sometime SL lights (including face lights) can interfere with the exact effect you are looking for. If this is a concern, leave “Nearby Local Lights” unchecked.

But for basic and even intermediate levels, the preset slider settings are perfectly fine.

2 – “Run Second Life in a window”. This is my preference because I usually have several programs running at once, including an image editor.

Tip: Always run your Second Life window maximized when taking SL snapshots. Your screen shows the exact photo that you will be saving to disk, so of course you want to see the whole picture and not have the edges cut off.

3 – Press “Hardware Options

These settings will also affect your computer’s performance, but can very much improve the quality of your pictures, by diminishing the “jaggies” –those jagged edges around an avatar or object -– and by enhancing detail.

graphics preferences 2a hardware

So, I have thrown caution to the wind and selected “Anistropic Filtering” despite the warning.

I’m still experimenting with the “Antialiasing” settings as I have not yet noticed a major decrease in jaggies with any of these adjustments so far. Sometimes it just takes time to find that magic combination of settings.


OK, on to the Camera controls.

Obviously you’re not limited to the default “over-the-shoulder” view you see in your SL window as your avatar moves around. There are two mains ways to control movement.

One is using the “Camera Control” pop up from the View Menu

02 View Menu camera controls

To try this option, go to Menu – View – select “Camera Controls”

For me, the more intuitive method is the keyboard. Just play with the different combinations to get the hang of it:

Use Alt key + left mouse button to ZOOM
Use Alt + Ctrl key + left mouse button to ZOOM and MOVE

This is the best way of finding the right angle for your shot and is worth the practise!

Tip: The place you touch the screen with your cursor when pressing Alt + left mouse click, or Ctrl – Alt + left mouse click becomes the center point of your screen

Tip: It’s possible to get “lost” when swinging and zooming your camera around. To return your default view, either press your Esc (Escape) key, take a step with your avatar using your arrow key, or go to View menu – Reset View.


Next we’ll go to the Snapshot Preview settings.

03 snapshot preview settings

1Save to your hard drive. The snapshot quality when saved to inventory is poor and still costs L$10, which is the same as the upload cost to your inventory from your hard drive.

Tip: There is now a ”temporary upload” option, which is free and allows you to rez your snapshot texture on a prim and see if you like it before spending the $L10 to upload. You cannot transfer this texture and the texture disappears when you log off. Saving $L10 may not seem much to you, but I upload hundreds of textures and I love this new feature.

2 – is your “Preview pane” and not much use, since your computer screen is a more accurate view.

3Size and format: You can use the preset sizes listed in the drop down menu, or set a custom size. The larger the size the better the quality, the slower the snapshot is saved, and the more you are inviting a crash. But you can live dangerously and play around with these settings.

The .PNG format is the most flexible for me. YMMV.

And to avoid unwanted distortions in the picture, make sure the “Constrain Proportions” box is checked.

4 – Do not check “Show interface…” or “Show hud objects…” unless you want your photo cluttered with controls and AO huds and radar screens, chat boxes and maps.

The other boxes indicate my own preferences; again, you may want to experiment.

Tip: When Freeze Frame is selected, and while you have the preview frozen on your screen, you can still use your keyboard camera controls to move and zoom and get exactly the shot you want.

5 – We’re ready! Press Save.

In the Save Window, browse to your folder of choice, and enter a file name and file type. The file name will remain the same for the duration of your session (the period you are logged on), but will be numbered sequentially, eg. snapshot 001, snapshot 002. Unfortunately, you can’t give each snapshot of a session a unique, descriptive name.

With our settings taken care of, at least for now, it’s time for some creativity. Naturally, most of the artistic principles of RL photography, such as composition, apply in SL, but some possibilities and adjustments are unique to SL and the viewer.

Let’s take a stroll through the Environment/Windlight Settings. These allow you to control time of day, lighting, atmosphere, mood, color, brightness and other settings often attempted post-production in PhotoShop (or Gimp, or similar) but available to us inworld.

05 environment settings menu

From the top menu, go to World – Environment Settings. Most of us are familiar with the basic preset time of day settings: Sunrise, Midday, Sunset and Midnight.

My gallery faces south but I can sit on the lawn and watch the sun rise, or set, or watch the moon reflected on the water. Whatever and whenever I want. I can adjust the settings so that I’m gazing at a horizon red with pollution or white with fog.

Subtleties in the background of your picture can bring amazing depth and interest to it.

From Environment Settings, select Environment Editor and press the Advanced Sky button (in Phoenix you save a stroke by just selecting Sky settings); then the Lighting tab.

06 environment editor advanced sky 2 sliders example

There are many options and slider bars to play with in this editor but for now we’ll just sample the East Angle and the Sun/Moon Position. It’s best just to experiment with these yourself, but you can capture a sunset with the sun in precisely the spot you want, for example. As god or goddess of SL you control the position of both the sun and moon in your sky, and at any time of the day or night.

Some of the other options control scene gamma, cloud and star coverage, haze and brightness of the sun.

Only you will see these brilliant custom changes you have exacted on the landscape; they are not visible to anyone else. That’s why you want to take a beautiful photograph and share it with friends.

Sky Presets

07 environment advanced sky 3 presets drop down menu

The Sky Presets are a wonderful way to have fun with different sky effects. The drop down menu has many to try (in Phoenix, hundreds of such presets, with almost every imaginable configuration). Sky Presets can also be quickly accessed from the bottom right corner of your Phoenix viewer.

08 sl environment editor advanced sky 4 presets lower right

Try the preset “Sheer Surreality” and take a peak at the sky outside to get an idea. Most of the presets are best appreciated “outside” in SL, with a view of the sky, but Phoenix also has several Avatar Optimizer settings, which can make the often rubbery, orange avatar appear softer and more natural.

To return to the default SL environment setting, just re-select “default” from the drop down preset menu, or to go the top menu: World – Environment Settings – Return to Region Default.

Tip: These sky presets can all be tweaked using your Advanced Sky settings. Also, the tweaked settings and any original new settings you dream up can all be saved under new names and used later.


It’s important to remember that you need many of the same skills as in RL to take successful and satisfying SL photographs. Almost any general, RL photography guide or tutorial can help you improve your technique in SL.

But there are some major and interesting differences.

In RL, you can’t use camera controls to the same extent you can in SL… virtually any angle, any zoom, is possible here.

In RL, you can’t control the environment, the sun and moon, change the time of day, create a setting that is anything from soft utopia to a post apocalyptic nightmare.

In RL, equipment and tools can be expensive and difficult. In SL we are all on a level playing field and the only limits are your own imagination.


SO… I hope you all took a quick picture the beginning.

Now I would like you to take another one of the same subject, using first, the settings I described at the beginning of the class.

Use Camera Controls to get zoom, move around and find an interesting angle.

Use Environment adjustments or presets to create a unique backdrop and mood, or one of the Avatar optimizing settings to make the avatar skin look more natural. Keep basic composition principles in mind.

I would love if you would drop both textures in a notecard (don’t forget to include your full name) and send to me.

Thank you all for coming today! And remember, take LOTS of pictures, and experiment! That is really the best way to learn.



Torley Linden SL photography tutorials
Sample RL photography tutorials
Cat’s Beach Gallery
Cat @ Avalon (portrait gallery upstairs)


Updated May, 2011



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