The difference between a good snapshot and a great one is lighting. Fortunately in Second Life that’s easy to customise to get the best effects. One of the most important things to get right is the balance between Sun/Moon light and Ambient light. Compare the two images below; both showing the same avatar in High graphics with advanced lighting/shadows off. Note the first one is spoiled by ugly shadows whereas the second makes the avatar crisp and clear.
The reason for this is the balance between directional light from Sun/Moon, and Ambient (diffuse) light. In the first image, the Sun/Moon light is brighter than the Ambient light (by quite a lot – I’m trying to make a point here). In the second image, Ambient light is brighter than Sun/Moon. Note also that if you set your Ambient light high enough, you won’t need a facelight to bleach out those nasty ugly shadows.
Now, if you are running in Ultra graphics or you have turned on Shadows, also called Advanced Lighting, you need a different tactic, because if your Ambient light is too high it will wash out the shadows and you won’t see them. Observe…
As you can see, the shadows are barely visible in the first image and the whole scene looks flat and washed-out. Bring down the ambient light and raise the sunlight, and the shadows become much more pronounced. These are good shadows, not the ugly ones we had before.
If the final image is too dark or too light, you can raise or lower the Gamma without affecting the balance between directional and diffuse light.
So how is it done? Easy.
Go to “World” in the menu, then “Environment Settings” and either “New” or “Edit”. The image below shows the dialog box and the parts that you need to edit.
Clicking on the coloured boxes brings up the usual RGB colour editing window, so not only can you change the brighness of the light, you can change the hue as well. The one on the left is Sun/Moon directional light and the one on the right is ambient diffuse light. (The two similar boxes at the top affect atmospheric light; they will change your sky without affecting the light that is shining in-world). Play around with them to try different effects and if you stumble upon something you like, give it a new name and save it.
Here is an example making the best use of Shadows in-world. Here, I used a strong Sun with a slightly yellow tint, with a grey Ambient light that was still fairly strong; that’s what makes the background look lighter as a contrast against the shadows from the tree on the avatar.