Glamorful and shiney and…. post-processed.
There’s a lot to be said about picture treatment in a graphic programm. And there’s many out there, from the well known professional (and rather pricey) ones, down to the free shareware. Whichever one you pick though, basic steps of treatment are always the same, especially when we’re looking at something as plain and rough-edged as a SL screenshot – I’ll try to lead you through some of the essential steps how you can enhance your images, and will try to stay as basic as possible with my explainations so that they apply to more than just one programm. Please take note, you will need some basic knowledge of graphic programs to repeat the steps, the exact ‘how to do’ is something I can’t teach you that quickly. With this post, I’d like to make you aware of the overall concepts, and lead your eye to the areas that need be worked on, and show you steps that help achieve this. (And you can use that as a basis to do more own research)
One of the most important things you need to realize right from the start is not so much that an expensive programm is neccessarily ‘better’ or free is neccessarily ‘crap’ -
Your eye for the overal picture you’re creating is what matters most in the process, not the programm you are using as the tool.
If you want to try with freeware first, I’d highly recommend you the GIMP. It’s shareware, has nearly the same features as photoshop, and you can google a damn lot of information and help in the net if you get stuck somewhere as there is a lot of GIMP community forums.
So that being said, let’s take a look at the processing!
This is the picture I am going to start out with, it’s a screenshot using windlight settings and I like working with two lightsources (which is why you see light both on the left AND right side of the thigh for example. This technique comes from RL photography in a studio, where you usually work with at least two sources with different intensity.
Looking at the picture above you will notice a few things:
The screenshot looks flat. As well, the image is far too yellow, and the overall color balance is not good. When looking close at the avatar, the familiar ‘SL spikes’ of the mesh show where shadows/lights fall on the surface, as for example in the hand/wrist area of the streched arm. And finally, the familiar ‘straight lines’ where you would expect curves in a real human body – you see those best at the left uppper calf in the back.
So here is where the most work part beginns: masking the avatar out of the background.
Unless you are somewhat professional with this process, it can take a very, very long time. Which is why it is in most cases easiest to shoot the image in front of a greenscreen, bluescreen, or whichever other bright color that does not appear in the picture. If you did that, it’s as easy as a click with the magic wand and some (usually minor) adjustments. Use of SL depth mode comes in handy here too, it can shorten the process tremendously! (please see my “DurgaDevi” tutorial where I used depth-mode for masking)
If you didn’t do any of the above, it’s gonna require handwork, and a mix of different tools will likely be the best way to go about this. If you have never worked with masks before, this would be the time to familiarize yourself with them, as they make things ridiculously easier. Either copy the av on it’s new layer, or most definitely SAVE the mask you created (To explain how to do these things would burst the amount of steps I’d like to cover here though, so please google away if you’d like the info!)
And in the following two steps you’ll see clearly why we wanted avatar separated from the background:
Take note how the background is blurred now, the front (flying hearts, avatar and pralines’ box) still stays sharp. This creates a more 3D-feel, imitating the depth of field your eye experiences. The eye can only focus on ONE point, everything else that appears far behind or far upfront of the focal point turns blurry – so that is what we want here too!
As well I adjusted color balance, contrast, brightness and satuation. All these things were done in multiple steps, best you apply each to an individual layer so you can undo things, or lower the opacity if one aspect is too strong. The general order: adjust levels (try auto-adjust, in many cases that’s a first great step), work with color-balance (to get rid of too much yellow, too much magenta, too much green), if required change the contrast, and if required adjust satuation. And if any of these steps leads to unwanted results, like skin turns too bright when you adjust the background, or colors turn over-satuated: Use the mask. That’s why we created it :-D
And we’ll also use this mask to create a shadow – this shadow basically is on a new layer UNDER the cut-out avatar layer. I filled the original mask with black, enlarged it slightly and moved it a bit to the right. Then I moved it underneat the ‘cut out’ avatar layer, set it to only 20% opacity, added blur, and there’s our shadow falling on the ‘wall’ and not onto the avatar :-D.
Looks much better already, doesn’t it.
If you flip back and forth with the picture before, you will as well notice a change in the SHAPE of the avatar. (Click the image and it will open in a larger window – click with your mouse in the upper left/upper right corner of this window for ‘previous’ and ‘next’ image)
Take especially note how the breast are lowered and made wider now – since SL avatar doesn’t follow gravity when lying, this was urgently needed to not make them poke out into high air anymore, but give more of a natural lying feel. As well, the hips are much wider, softer and more curved now. These things were fairly easily done by use of the ‘Liquify’ (Photoshop) or ‘IWarp’ (GIMP) tool.
The avatar turned more ‘curvy’ and most of the ugly spikes are gone. Take a look at Vint Falken’s video tutorial if you’ve never used either of these tools!
One more detail I added: a noticably whiter center of the starburst – and again my before created mask was the main thing that made this super-easy to add (same as the shadow before). With adding the lighter center and the darker corners (the ‘vignette effect’ of a camera), I as well adjusted the brightness/contrast again to create more dynamic in the image and balance it more out.
With that, we’re pretty much done, and the difference to the next image is only subtle. If you flip back/forth again, you will notice that I added heavier blur towards the outer edges of the image (again to create focus on the center), a black frame, and finally some noise which is imitating lens-blur: the background is heavily noisy, the focus in the front is smaller noise. You might know this behavior from RL photography maybe…
And here’s the end-result – YAY :-D
Shown in the image is my own avatar, posed with (*chanimations fruitFetish! #16 set “SweetValentine”, which includes the red ribbon wrapping, the chocolate smeer, a huge praline-box, poses and more stuff that’s not shown here (see linked post for full content listing or xStreet description). Only thing added are the super-gorgeous and matching-for-the-occasion high heels by Stilletto Moody (“Elizabeth”) – and I was readily dressed :-D
I made the picture originally cause I wanted to make a PRETTY valentine’s picture for Lucca – in the end added some more elements, lens flares and text/logo, and ended up with another little storeposter – which is the one including the text that you’ve seen first in this post.
So… hope this gave you some ideas and insight, and have fun applying some of these concepts to your own work! There’s a million different ways how to work on pictures, these are some of the core steps I do with mine. :-)
Also keep in mind, internet search sites are your friend and will bring you TONS of helpful forum posts and other things to help you find solutions to your graphic-problems!
And I’ll go take care of my Valentine now :-) *waves and poofs*