Monday, June 23, 2008

My, You look Sharp Today!

I have been asked quite a few times how do I get my pictures to look so sharp and people have speculated that it's either from having a very good video card or from a PhotoShop trick.

Yes, I do have a pretty good video card and I have all the Windlight settings set to the maximum. It's a luxury that not everyone has and I sympathize as I have had this card only for a very few months. But as long as you can use those maximum settings I don't think that the quality of the images differs from a card to another anymore, you will only get a higher FPS rate. And, BTW, I was using the same settings with my previous video card that was at the lower end of the requirements (of course, the lag was horrible). I agree in any case that if you can't use the maximum Windlight settings you are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to taking pictures in SL.

And no, I don't even have Photoshop, I use a much simpler photo editing tool that is part of the ACDSee Photo Manager.

So let me explain how I get the "sharpness" in my pictures and I will use this blog entry whenever I am asked that question again. :-) I will use one picture as an example with 3 major steps (I will spare you the details).

The first image is the raw picture as I took it in the SL viewer. It has involved all kinds of Windlight tweaks, but it is kind of flat. It is actually possible to get much better contrast with Windlight alone, but sometimes I intentionally take a low contrast picture like that and enhance the contrast only in post-editing. [Shadows get more detail that way.]

The second image is after applying an auto contrast adjustment within the ACDSee editor. I believe that most photo editing tools have a similar feature, which adjusts the minimum and the maximum ends of the luminance range and narrows that range.

The third image is after adjusting the middle of the contrast range to strengthen the shadows. It increases the contrast and it saturates the colors even more.

And that's the gist of it. That's where the "sharpness" mostly comes from. But getting the right lighting in-world probably makes the biggest difference in the quality of a picture and it is where I spend more than half of my time in taking pictures. It is sometimes a back-and-forth process of taking a picture, editing it in ACDSee, making new adjustments in lighting, taking another picture, and so on. As a side note, ACDSee has a useful feature when it comes to adjustments like these: histograms. Histograms are a feature also in Photoshop CS, but not in the cheaper Photoshop Elements (and I believe it is not in many other cheaper editors). Of course, some day I will probably have to take the plunge to Photoshop, but, for now, there are still only very few features that I would use from it.

End Note: My first exhibition opened today as part of the Orange Island Photo Week. One of the events is a Show and Tell with tips on SL photography. I cannot make it to the event but it inspired me to write this entry.