Yay, I’ve returned after a much needed vaca-rest from creating shop stuffs (and, coincidentally, finding my zen in Fallout 4 and Dying Light, both of which I received for Christmas. Ever the gamer girl, I would suggest you try both if you like video games.) I am wrapping up some ads I am making for new cosmetics which will be featured in the February round of We <3 RP, and I was showing Talus something I was doing to the face and it occurred to me that I could do a post about this. If interested in SL portrait processing in Photoshop, read on. If not, keep an eye out for all the new goodies coming in the next month, both soon and later! Warning: new make up previews included in my discussion, click to see. =)
I am not a Photoshop Jedi, not by any stretch of the imagination. A confession here: I only know a small fraction of the program, of which is self taught for the most part. So how I go about things might not be how you could go about things in less steps, and therefore I am not about to vlog tutorials on how to make your SecondLife photos look outstanding post-process. What I CAN do is give ideas and hopefully inspire you if you want to enhance a portrait. Bear with me, because I wrote a lot. x.x
On SL Photos and Lighting Issues
In SL our lighting is really bad. Local lighting makes you look like crap, to have shadows for things you have to lag your system to all hell, and just about every windlight setting makes you look like a bad comic book drawing or a Nosferatu. Skins, themselves, have come a really long way, but they can only offer you so much shading before they look ridiculously overdone – And SL lighting loves to wash detail out. What you come away with is often very basic and flat images when taking pictures. Now, SL does provide some photo tools to tinker with, but unless you know what you are doing, it’s not something the casual interface user might master. Processing photos in Photoshop or an equivalent program is fairly common place these days for these very reasons.
I do not turn on shadows or filtering in SL for photos as it can have an unappealing and uneven effect. Also, I use Nam’s Optimal Skin and Prim setting in windlight, local lighting off, for the truest color and clarity of the avatar when photographing for ads (I actually use those settings all the time in SL, not just for photos). I also take bigger photos (it’s set at 2944×768). Many photographers in SL rely on larger images when taking their photos because once you do all your photo editing and shrink it down, residual blemishes and pixellated edges often soften. It’s a secret trick! Many take them twice the size which I do. However, even at such proportions, I only do a little shrinking because my ads are 1024×512 in base format, and a lot of that space around the av is just empty in the photos. I also do not bump my graphics up to ultra high settings, I just leave them where they are in the middle/higher range for avatars and medium to low for all else – I am not making art pieces so I don’t worry about that stuff when doing ads.
On My Ad Making Process and Considerations
In my cosmetic ads for La Boheme, the portrait is obviously photoshopped, but the ten product example images featured in the circles are not. Those are straight photos of the avatar wearing whatever; lips, eyeshadows. The only thing I might do for eyes is paste a static image of the eyeball itself so that the eye isn’t moving all over the place in all ten product photos (damn youze, you roaming eyeballs!). I also purposefully do not wear my prim eyelashes in those circles for the best representation possible and to not mislead anyone. Sometimes a customer will ask what skin I wore in a specific ad, and I will tell them, but with a warning – the picture was photoshopped. In ads I am prone to a lot of image tweaks on those portraits: reduction or enhancement of pallor/redness/yellowness, change lip tints if the ad is for eyes, change hair colors, draw on the hair, fix pixels, and contour shading.
An example of the ad I am currently working on and what I will reference from here on out:
I am working on the ad for my new Morrigan eyeshadow sets (only face/neck contouring are done in this so far). Left: my work, Right: straight snapshot.
Ok, so my product here is eyeshadow, that means the one thing I will not mess with in the portrait is the eyeshadow. I smooth out the pixellated boundaries where the flesh meets the eyeball using a small, blurred smudge brush, I might add a bit of shading along the bridge of the nose leading to the eyebrows and then out toward the temples, but I don’t mess with the eyeshadow itself. What shading is laid over is purely contouring of the avatar face for enhancement, and to provide a finished image with contouring which SL lighting and skins do not provide.
It Looks Like I am Veering Off Topic and Rambling, Which I Am, But There Is An Important Point Here
I create cosmetics in SecondLife, but honestly I absolutely love cosmetics offline, too, and have studied a vast array of application techniques and products since I was about twelve (I am 42 now – I KNOW. Holy smokes, Batman, she’s OLD. XD). In fact, at one point, had considered cosmetology as an occupation, but alas had not (see Fallout 4 statement above). So I have a ginormous wealth of images, tutorials, etc. squirreled away for inspiration when creating cosmetics for SL. \o/ My latest fascination is the contouring trend going on (the technique’s not new, but the fad is), and have watched at least 30 different vlog tutorials on it in the last month alone. I suggest you go watch at least one cosmetic contouring video on youtube. Not to learn how to apply makeup, but how to better contour your photos in Photoshop. I am serious! It will really help.
The quick and dirty run down: Cosmetically contouring a face IRL and contouring your photographed av face in Photoshop are very similar!
Contour and Shading
Standard contouring guide in cosmetics: (this is a borrowed photo off the internet)
The purpose of contouring with cosmetics is to enhance and conceal. That’s all there is to it. Light and shadow. Light to draw the eye, shadow to hide perceived imperfections and keep the eye from focusing there, as well as sculpting a preferential structuring to your face shape in the process. Holding this principle in mind, when you have a portrait from SL you want to touch up, even if it is reeeally hard to discern (and I have problems with this even still because SL lighting is fail), attempt to figure out where your light source is coming from. Is it dead on, to the right, above? Those areas hit with light most will be lightest, those angles further from the source will be darkest, and everything in between will be affected. I have seen some phenomenal shading done in SL photography by some very talented hands, and that is so beyond me. For real. I do not go all out drawing every possible shadowy fissure, but I do try to add a little depth to the portrait by considering where the light is and setting shadows down. In the above contour guide image, they are mapping out the generic places you would theoretically want highlighted (T-zone, cheekbones, browbone, chin, upper lip) and where you may want the shadowy depth (cheek hollow, sides of nose, maybe sides of nostrils, temples, face frame). These are the very same areas you need to consider in your portrait if you intend to contour them to make them more 3D-ish and less flat.
If you go back to my ad picture in progress, you can see I actually do not highlight – I am wearing a very pale skin already and adding further lightness would just wash it out. Rather, I shade and let the base skin stand as the highlight I want to feature. This may not work with darker or ethnic skins where less light is apt to be reflected realistically and you may have to create those highlights in that circumstance. However, with my shading, you can see in this side by side image that all my shadows do seem to follow the concept of the contouring suggested by the guide enough to lend some definition to my avatar’s features and pronounce them more so versus the flat blend where it’s not always easy to discern the jaw or nose shape. No, my shading is not perfect, but it does make the portrait snap a bit better with the definition laid over it.
Anyway, that’s what I wanted to share as I work. It’s food for thought, and I hope my wordiness has at least conveyed enough to get you thinking on the topic!
Some Quick Suggestions for Photoshop and SL Avatar Portraits:
- – The pen tool is your friend. There are tutorials on how to use it on youtube. I utilize it for selecting the neck, then the face, then ears then the hair in each ad, working on them section by section. It is easier to work in sections than an entirety. Also, less erasing all the areas bordering your work area that you drew over accidentally, since making a selection area with the assistance of the pen tool’s precision creates a boundary where you won’t color outside the lines. I use a soft smudge brush after and go around the outside border (after deselecting) so no harsh lines and pixels remain from my work section.
- – Build your shadows. Work in several layers and varying their opacity to blend the shadows and gradually make the depth or lightness you desire. Expecting to do it all on one layer is going to make for some harsh extremes (been there). Over shading can be as bad as less shading – something we are all guilty of at one point or another. Try to avoid garish blackness. If you detail out one section of your image, make sure the rest of the image gets the same attention to detail or it looks like they were pieced together.
- – Warm your shadows unless lighting calls for it. This is actually a trick I figured out recently and it has worked really well for me. I do have a tendency to shade a lot (not just ads, but my art), maybe too much at times. With a propensity for wearing lighter skins in SL, this can cause a nasty ‘ash’ feel to the skin because the drawn shadows are just sitting atop the light backdrop without anything binding them. Except in moonlight or other specific lighting, our skin shadows are not black but a deeper hue of our skin tone. So what I do now is I do my shading and compile it to one layer when I am finished in that region, duplicate it, set that layer under the original shading layer and change the layer type from Normal to Soft Light. This soft light layer is now a buffer between the shading and the image beneath and also warms the tone of colors your shading is resting on. I then adjust my original shading layer opacity to a little less intensity than it was as the soft light layer is creating some warm contouring all on its own. Additional blush/warming is really your prerogative.
- – Give yourself a hair line. Can you see in my unfinished ad image how the hair meets the face without any baby wisps or anything to denote that’s not a helmet of hair sitting atop my avatar’s head? Unfortunately with rigged mesh we no longer have the ability to edit our hair around to suit us and sit on our avatar the way we wish. That means hair often conceals a hair base which is supposed to give you the illusion of a hairline. It is what kills the awesomeness of many, many portraits people do, because they will go all out on a photo and then have helmet hair. It will take you five to ten minutes of detailing to remedy that with a smudge brush. Go down to 1pt with maybe 25-35% strength and lightly stroke your hair in the assumed direction of growth towards the face, and the tones of your face right back into the hair. This creates the effect of roots at your hairline. Blur and fix unevenness as needed once done. Remember, hair has shadows and highlights of its own, add levels of depth by shading there, too.
- – Pixels are the enemy. Jagged edges and random oddities occurring on a pixel level are what SL is famous for, and not in a good way. If you are an artist, photographer, or merchant, these jagged pixel edges can become the bane of your existence when taking pictures. I am sure everyone has their own method of combating these when processing a photo, and I would love to know what folks do.. For me, I use patience and an 8pt blurred smudge brush set to around 22 in strength and smooth those buggers out as best I can without taking everything around the jagged pixels along for the ride. When fixing pixels in hair, I use a big brush and smooth, smooth, smooth them out. It’s worth the time and frustration in your end product.
I do get asked about my shape, my skins, hair, etc in ads. I do not make style cards but I will share this much, if I may. My shape is my own, I made it and I do not sell it. Not because it is the best out there, but because it is me. =) My digital representation. There are so many shape makers out there, I am sure you will find something you can be happy with if you lack the ability to make your own! This shape is what I use in all my ads, and the reason I am able to pull so many looks off with it is because, despite whatever skin I wear for the ad, I make heavy use of tattoo eyebrows (self made and bought), hair in all sorts of colors and lots of cosmetics made by myself: Lipsticks, eyeshadows and eyeliners.
The skins I use for eyeshadow ads are almost exclusively Glam Affair (No, I was not paid to say that!). I have used a few others, but for ads I tend to stick to Glam Affair (Katra in Europa is my new fave by them, and what is in all the images here) because I find a few of the more ‘natural’ faces to be really great base foundations if you are into tattoo cosmetic layers as those select skins with less eye cosmetics and smaller mouths merged onto them are easier to conceal with the tattoo layer cosmetic. For the Kissable Lips ads, however, I use League’s Erin which I adore. The prim/mesh eyelashes I wear exclusively are *MC* “Falsies” Eyelash by Freya Olivieri of Mon Cheri – I totally recommend these for their versatility and many options on type, tint and texture. Eyes – I swear by Ikon by Ikon Innovia ever since I discovered them a few years back. Outstanding detail in his various lines, Odyssey is my fave and what you see in my images above. — These are the constants to most of my ad photos. Everything else would be cosmetics you can find in my shop or simply photoshop wizardry.
PS – If you have suggestions for photoshop and SL portraits, feel free to hit me up on SL. I’m always up for learning so long as quantum physics are not involved. Santana Lumiere is my name. =) As if you didn’t already know!