Breakfast at Tiramisu

I finally had the muse on me to pop into Second Life to take some photos. Whilst I was there I bumped into my friend Abby, who I have known almost as long as I have been in SL. She is the owner of the Heroes club (which has been going for 6 years) and also the designer of Heroes Clobber. She’s sadly closing down Heroes and relocating Heroes Clobber, and has asked me to take some photos of the new place. So stay tuned for those!

Whilst in SL I visited the lovely Cheeky Tiramisu Café & Forest, where I took this photo:

“Breakfast at Tiramisu” on Flickr

Before & After

Before & After (click to enlarge)

The picture needed quite a bit of post-processing. For a start there was some nasty clipping of my arm against the dress. I noticed this when I took the picture, so to make correcting it easier I took two photos – one with the dress and one without, which allowed me to composite them post-production. What was less easy to solve was the clipping on my left shoulder (your right as you look at it) on the sleeve of the dress, so I had to clone another part of it and fill in. Another thing that needed attention was the colour of the right sleeve (your left as you look at it) which needed to be lightened and blended. There was also some clipping on the hair, which I also corrected. Finally, I got the glow settings wrong on the Depth of Field when I took the picture, and rather than going back and re-shooting, I corrected this post-production.

Little pearl

Little pearl (revisited), originally uploaded by Becca Ashbourne.

One of the attributes that defines art is that it is open to different interpretation. Art should elicit an emotional response, should engender debate, perhaps even controversy.

By that criteria, this picture is possibly the closest I have come to creating art.

The picture had its genesis in September 2010 when I found the oyster and pose at a Japanese sim. However, whilst I loved the picture that ensued, I never felt that my skills with GIMP were sufficient to do it justice and I posted it pretty much “as is”. However, things have changed a lot since then. For this revisit, I masked out the blue background so that I could add a new one in, used the distort tool to painstakingly push and pull all those horrid straight edges and angles into beautiful curves, sorted out the terrible clipping issues on the girl, and added a shadow to the shell so that it blended in with the new background more.

You can see the original picture here:
Little pearl (original)

Sharing the photo with my friends has provoked some very interesting responses. Apart from the usual (but ultimately dismissive) “well done” or “cool”, I’ve had people perceive cuteness with an “awwwwwwww”, another friend ask me if I was ok, as they saw the girl curled up in the foetal position and interpreted that as her sobbing and trying to shut the world out. Another saw the girl as being precious because pearls are precious.

For me, the latter is most close to what I see. Although I am by no means religious, I am aware that there is a phrase “a pearl of great price”, which derives from one of Jesus’ parables in the Bible (Matthew 13:45-46 according to Wikipedia) which denotes something of great worth that is to be treasured. For me the picture shows the girl as being a pearl of great price, but also very fragile and vulnerable too. Something to be prized, cherished and adored. I also see elements of birth in it, as a pearl is grown inside an oyster like a baby in a womb, so the girl being in the foetal position is appropriate. Of course, there’s also the practical consideration of fitting the girl in the oyster and the foetal position is the most compact!

But what do you think? What does the picture say to you? Do feel free to add what you see by commenting – I’d be really interested to hear.



Konnichiwa, originally uploaded by Becca Ashbourne.

The creativity and ingenuity of the residents of Second Life never ceases to amaze and delight me, and none more so than sims that have beautiful attention to detail and are a visual treat.

I was exploring, looking for Japanese sims for a photo shoot I wanted to do, and came across the simply wonderful Japan Dream Kenjin. This sim is so worth a visit – it’s a seaside fishing town that is just crammed with visual detail and atmosphere.

Skin: Sophie by DrLife
Hair: Holly by KeeLee Designs
Outfit & shoes: Hentai Hottie 2.0 (Classic Version) by Danika
Backpack: Randoseru Japanese backpack by House of Curios

Mixing it up

I love my digital art, and sometimes I like to mix things up a bit. The foreground is from Second Life, of course, but the background was taken in Crysis: Warhead.

I spent ages on this pic, what with fitting the hair to the beret, finding the pose, doing the snapshots in both SL and Crysis, and then all the post-processing (not least correcting SL’s various clipping issues) . I’m quite pleased with the result.

For reference, the various parts of the outfit are:

  • Skin: Tess by Laqroki
  • Eyes: Laqroki
  • Hair: Hunter by Magika (customised by me)
  • Beret: British Para beret by SA Quartermaster
  • Top: Jungle Camo Tank Top by Reasonable Desires
  • Trousers: Woodland Camo Pants by Breach
  • Boots: 9″ Combat by Adi Cat Designs
  • Hand gun: Heckler & Koch USP by Breach
  • Rifle: part of the background
  • Background: Crysis Warhead

Dog Tags are from the SL Library

Second Life Photography tips

As many of you know, I’m a keen Second Life amateur photographer with almost 700 pics on my Flickr photostream.
Along the way I have picked up a few useful techniques which I will share with you here.

First things first, if you haven’t read Torley Linden’s guide [link] to high quality photography then you should have a read. Specifically on turning on the High Resolution Snapshots option and also Quiet Snapshots to Disk (which disables that annoying “click-whirr” sound effect that lets everyone know you have taken a pic)

As Torley mentions, whilst you can use the Camera Controls window (View -> Camera Controls) to control the camera, it’s very clumsy and imprecise. It is far better to use the mouse camera controls, as follows:

  • Alt and clicking something focuses it to the centre of the screen.
  • Alt and dragging the mouse zooms the camera.
  • Alt+Ctrl and dragging orbits the camera.
  • Alt+Ctrl+Shift and dragging pans the camera.

That may sound a little complex, but when you get used to it then it is amazingly intuitive and fast. It’s so natural to me now that I don’t even think of it when I use it.

Now, on to my tips.

Shoot from the hip

The first thing I use a lot, and I mean a LOT, is a technique that lets you shoot first and aim afterwards. As a Street Photographer who is always looking to capture that split-second ‘sneak attack’ moment this is really essential.

Take a snapshot using the Snapshot button on the bottom menu bar (on a 1.x Viewer) or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+S (under Windows). This brings up the Snapshot Preview window.
For my technique to work you must have the “Freeze frame (fullscreen preview)” checkbox ticked. And you should NOT have the “Auto-refresh” checkbox ticked.

So, with those checkboxes set up that way, take a snapshot and note that everything seems to be frozen in time. Now, move the camera around using the mouse controls I mentioned earlier… Yay! We have ‘Bullet Time’ from The Matrix!
Use the camera controls to reposition the camera angle so that everything is just how you want it and then click the “Refresh Snapshot” button. You can then save as normal.

Under some circumstances when taking snapshots of people, SL can glitch up and the person can move but all their attachments (including their hair) can stay still and it ruins the snapshot, but it happens rarely enough that this technique is still very useful.

The Dolly Zoom

If you know anything about film, you’ll be wondering what the Dolly Zoom (a.k.a. the “Hitchcock zoom”, “Vertigo effect”, “Jaws shot”, “zoom in / dolly out“, etc.) has to do with stills photography, but bear with me.

If you zoom right in on something in Second Life you’ll notice that everything gets a bit distorted and perspective is altered.
Now, not many people know that there are additional zoom controls accessed with the keyboard shortcuts Ctrl+0 (to zoom in) and Ctrl+8 to zoom out. Ctrl+9 resets it to normal.

One or two presses of Ctrl+0 will correct the distortion.

But there is more! And this is where the Dolly Zoom effect comes in. If you get a bit more extreme and press Ctrl+0 a few more times and then pull back with the Camera Controls (Alt+mouse as previously mentioned) then you get the characteristic foreshortening effect. This can give you some really interesting effects.

Don’t forget that when you are done to use Ctrl-9 to reset to normal.

Profile pics and profile Picks (a tutorial)

A lot of people who have made their own picture for their Profile find that it appears squashed or stretched. There is a very good reason for this and it is fairly straightforward to work around. The aim of this post is to try to explain how.

Before I go any further though, do bear in mind that this whole tutorial is all to do with 1.x Series Viewers (ie. official Viewer up to 1.23.5 and most Third Party Viewers such as Imprudence, Phoenix, Emergence, and the like) since Linden Lab in their infinite (lack of) wisdom changed it for Viewer 2.

The key thing to remember with textures (which is the name Linden Lab uses to refer to anything that looks like a picture, which includes snapshots) is that they are always square or else rectangles made up of squares. And those squares are always powers of 2. So a texture can be 256×256 pixels, 512×512, 1024×1024, 512×1024, 512×256, etc. – you get the idea. The maximum size allowed in any one direction (in Second Life) is 1024.
If a picture does not fit into one of these combinations then it is stretched or squashed accordingly, and this is where the deformation comes from.

You would think that you should be able to just take a snapshot in-world and use it, however this is not the case because the Profile picture, and the picture used in the Picks section of your profile, have specific aspect ratios which are clearly defined by Linden Lab [link]. For your Profile pic this aspect is 4:3, and for a Profile Pick this is 16:9 (for 1.x Viewers. For 2.x Viewers LL changed it to 1:1 and 8:5/5:3 respectively. Don’t even get me started on why the Picks have two aspect ratios in the 2.x Viewer).
If you’re unsure what I mean by “aspect ratio” then please refer to [this link].
Unless you can somehow capture your in-world snapshot at something close to the correct ratio, then it’s not going to look right.
(I should note at this point that the RL pic in your profile has a 1:1 ratio, which since it is square is so trivially easy to do that I won’t mention it further)

So, how do you get it right? Well, provided you are happy to do a little bit of simple post-production then it is quite easy.
In order to do it you’ll need a photo editing application such as Photoshop, GIMP, or even an online service like Picnik. All except Photoshop are free so don’t be worried if you don’t have one of them. I’ll leave it to you to choose what to use. I use GIMP myself, because it is almost as powerful as Photoshop but is free and Photoshop is very expensive. However, if you are a beginner then is a lot easier and more intuitive.

First you’ll need to take your snapshot in Second Life. Take a snapshot, but instead of saving it in-world, save it to your hard drive.
In v1.x viewers then this can easily be done with the Snapshot dialog, assessed with the “snapshot” button on the bottom toolbar (or the Ctrl-Alt-S keyboard shortcut if you’re using Windows). There is a radio button under ‘Snapshot destination’ at the top of the dialog, one option of which is “Save to your hard drive”.
You can also use “Snapshot to Disk” from the File menu.
Save the snapshot to somewhere that you can find it again shortly.

If you already have a snapshot in-world which you want to use then it is possible to save it locally and use it. Provided it has full permissions, you can open it and then choose “File -> Save Texture As” from the top menu (which is slightly counter-intuitive as you might reasonably expect it to be a menu on the window of the snapshot itself)

Now fire up your photo editing software and open the picture you just saved (regardless of which of the above two methods you used to create it).
Select the crop tool and fix the aspect ratio. In GIMP this is a checkbox on the crop tool and an edit box to specify the ratio. Your mileage my vary.
For a Profile pic you’ll want 4:3 and for a Pick you’ll want 16:9.
Don’t worry at this point what the final image size is because we will be resizing it.

Crop the picture to the correct ratio. It’s up to you how you want this to look, and it depends on your picture, but do remember that when someone looks at your profile the picture can look quite small. So, for your main profile pic at least, I find it is best to close crop and get your face quite dominant in the picture since your Profile picture is meant to be about you. However it’s entirely your call, of course.

Now, this is the important bit; the trick that this whole entry is about is coming up. You want to resize the picture so that it looks squashed, so that when SL uses it and stretches it, it regains its correct Aspect Ratio. Sneaky, huh?
You can do this in one step, but I like to do it in two steps as it makes more sense to me.
Resize your picture, preserving the aspect ratio. You’ll want to set the height of the picture to be either 512 or 1024 and let your software work out the width.
You’ll notice that the picture still looks right. Which is what we want.
Now the sneaky part – size the picture again but this time turn off keeping the correct aspect ratio. In GIMP this is a little icon of a chain between the height and width. Now set the width to be the same as the height. Do not change the height.
Your picture will now look squashed. Don’t worry, this is fine!
Save your picture – I’d recommend to a different filename.

Now, we need to get the picture back into SL as a texture.

Fire up your SL Viewer and, when ready, upload your edited picture (it’s under the File menu). It will cost you L$10 to do this. It’ll probably end up in the Textures folder of your Inventory.

Finally, edit your profile and drag the texture (ie. your uploaded picture) onto the appropriate picture box of the profile. Or, alternatively, double-click on the picture box and browse for it.

Hopefully your picture will look correct again – it will have been stretched out to the correct aspect ratio again. If it has not you’ve probably used the wrong ratio for the wrong box. Remember, for your main picture it should be 4:3 and for a Pick it should be 16:9
Also, bear in mind that it will only look right on 1.x Viewers since Viewer 2 uses different ratios.

That’s it! I hope that this was useful to you.

Second Life Photography

[Originally posted 19-Mar-2010 here]

Photography is one of the many things I enjoy in SL. At the time of writing I have over 660 pictures on my Flickr account

Torley Linden has a great wiki page on various tips and tricks here:

One trick I use a lot is to take a snapshot using the dialog and then use the mouse-based camera controls to get the angle just right and then refresh it again. There’s a simple tutorial on it here. If you’re into SL photography then it’s a great technique to master.

Something that has annoyed me for ages is the foot shadow. I’m forever trying to correct it in post-production because the invisiprims on a lot of my boots cause the shadow to come out wrong. This problem will start to go away with the new alpha masking for feet in Viewer 2.0 but it will still be around for a while. So imagine my delight (and annoyance that I only just found this out) when I discovered you can turn off the foot shadow!
It’s Advanced menu > Rendering > Features > Foot Shadows

For my next set of photos I’m planning on making use of the depth and object matte capture modes and introducing depth of field in post production. Should be a new challenge for me and I’m really looking forward to it. Watch this space!

Continue reading