Raising the bar on Second Life Photography

Second Life offer’s great opportunities to take really great pictures. One can take as much advantage of SL as we can in real life, all technical considerations aside. Yes, the 3D environment has it’s limitations, as does real life.  It also offers opportunities that real life doesn’t offer–when’s the last time you’ve taken a self-portrait on the fly from 15 feet up in the air?

There are technical hurdles. Our AVs break and bend and distort with poses. Sometimes there are anti-aliasing problems. The world acts unnaturally (I hate it when skirts flow though our AVs and furniture, same with hair!), but this can be as much a challenge as a limitation, and often, the easy way out (photoshop) does not have to be our first response to such things.

There are basically three types of images we can take in SL:

  1. Fun friendly snapshots. We don’t expect much of these, they’re meant to capture a fun moment.
  2. Commercial photography. OK, so, for a poster, I can understand why you would want a static pose. Cleaning up some joint cracks or anti-aliasing? Makes perfect sense.
  3. “Photography” photography. That’s where we try to emulate as much as is reasonably possible, what we would do in RL if we were all perfect, beautiful model-gorgeous creatures.

My peevs start as follows:

Most shots don’t take full advantage of the potential that’s available, and rarely because the photographer lacks imagination, but rather because they try to make the picture seem “real” by not introducing visual “errors”. Technically, they can be lovely, but too often in our search for a pretty picture we lose the emotion or the story. Yes. Our AVs are beautiful… and what’s next? How about some story? Some background? Luis Royo a Spanish oil painter has the remarkable ability to juxtapose ugliness and beauty in one single image that instantly evokes an entire world.  With a little effort, we can too.

Most shots use the same poses, over and over. Luth’s stuff (Reel Expressions) is, IMO, the most beautiful fashion poses we can find in SL. But why use them only for glamour? What if we tried to use them for another purpose? Why is Luth’s stuff so beautiful? Because it’s natural. Just because our AVs are stiff, hollow and don’t obey the laws of physics doesn’t mean that we have to make them look that way!

For me, Second Life is about people. Not enough effort is made to create photos that evoke emotion. I’d like to see more of that.

We’ll spend tonnes of L$ on simulated studios*, yet we don’t take full advantage of all the cheap and useful little huds and AOs that are made by various members. Start sneaking around the smaller businesses, and ask yourself how something could be re-purposed. Not only that, but the small vendors, the new scripters who come out wiht the one trick poney that does the job perfectly often need the L$ more than the big vendors. If SL is about people, let’s support ALL the good artists, not just those who can fork out the price of a sim.

*PS: Personal opinion: the well marketed and known studio does NOT make you a photographer. You do. Your creativity, your eye, your imagination. Your quirky sense of humour. Personally, I think that the  popularly marketed “studio” is a crutch or at best a prop itself and that it becomes a chain very, very quickly if it’s not abandoned just as quickly. You can easily replace it with an insta-prim and drop a texture on it, and you can make light balls on the fly. Then save them and whip’em out when you need them.

Why use backdrops when SL is so rich?  Sure. Some sims are designed for something other than visual beauty, but there are some *spectactular* works of art out there (See anything created by AM Radio, Arcadia Asylum or . Capture them while they live! And while you are at it, thank, praise, promote and/or support the sim owner. Without them, we photographers are lost.

Finally, a last soapbox rant: Cutting out the snapshot of an AV, and airbrushing it and superimposing it on an RL background is not SL photography. It’s digital art with SL as base material. This is a valid art form, I admire people who do it well, and there are masters of it around. So let us credit them properly and let us name the rose: They are Digital Artists.

We need to raise the Bar on SL photography, not only technically, but in terms of what we bring to it. The way to do it is not to stock up on poses, animations, purchases, clothing and so on, but to free our imagination and create stories that move, inspire, repel, anger, sadden, make us laugh. We need to swing that camera around like a pinata on drugs, across, though, over, under, away, close, and look for that first hint of a story.

My new mission: to create one photo on a regular schedule (based on my RL schedule), to raise my own technical and artistic competance and share what I’ve learned. I hope that readers will share their own tricks with me as well.


  1. Milana Henley said,

    November 24, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    This is something that I’ve decided to strive for, as well. I am working on learning to tell a story with my photos. It’s not the easiest thing to do given the restraints of SL, but I think that’s what makes it fun. Thanks for the reminders.

  2. Kee Llewellyn said,

    January 30, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I agree with your last comment about pasting SL pix into RL backgrounds. I wonder how you feel about what I see as the over use of Photoshop? Basically, when someone has the PS skills to completely all but replace the SL photo with layers and layers of retouched skin, eyes, shadows, highlights, etc., at what point does it stop being SL “photography” and simply become an illustration? I struggle with this all the time. How far should I take the retouching? Recently I did a show in which I did virtually no retouching at all and things worked pretty well. This is going to be my goal from now on. Just wondering what you think.

    • Quite Oh said,

      March 3, 2009 at 11:41 am

      I’m against it! I take the serious stand that the moment that you retouch your image beyond simple cropping, that it is no longer SL photography, but instead becomes “Digital Art”. Two different animals. There is, to me a difference between a real world photograph that you retouch for sharpness or camera lens or lighting, but SL is already a “perfect” environment, if you get my meaning. Try to take an unfocussed picture in SL, I dare you! :) Since what we’re dealing with is already computer generated, and that we have complete control over our angles, lines of sights and the world itself, plus all the additional features under the Advanced menu that are incomparable in the real world (sure: see if you can make REAL people invisible!), that any editing takes it out of the realm of “Second Life Photography”. Having said that, I will make one allowance: product images to promote items for sale. Just as real world models are photoshopped up into unreal levels of beauty, and shiney eyed youth, I can understand why one would promote their product to their best ability. But that is product sales, not “Second Life Photography” as such. My L$2

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