SL for Nowt

Living a digital life with empty pockets

Hints & Tips: Taking great photos of your avatar

Thanks to Marnix for sparking the idea for this post. In his post, Smooth Threads, he asked:

… and how do I get rid of those annoying jagged edges to clothing, particular trousers (pants, if you’re North American?)

I replied in a comment, but I thought a more detailed and illustrated version might be in order, hence this post. If your pics of your avatar always look like the one on the left (below) and you want them to look like the one on the right, then hop behind the cut to find out some tips and tricks:

Walk this way!

OK, the first thing you need to do is make, buy, borrow or somehow lay your hands on a well-lit (not over-lit, mind you) photobooth where you can take your pics. For those feeling lazy (*g*) I’ve just put a full skybox with lit photobooth up for 50L$ at my stall in Baileya (and it’ll go on my Xstreet SL page as soon as I can get the page written out, and this blog post is made so I can link to it there) –

– or if you’re feeling industrious you can follow my tutorial for making a private skybox and then repeat it inside the skybox to make a photobooth. Use the ‘cut’ option to cut away one wall and then set the texture to ‘blank’ and check the full bright option. Add some prims with the light feature attached (set the intensity to 0.5 otherwise you’ll overdo it) and move them around your avatar until you’re well-lit (take off your facelights; remember that your SL viewer can only handle 6 local lights at one time!)

This is a good pattern for your light prims. Once you have them in a rough pattern like this, set them all to phantom (or flexible – either will do, just as long as you can walk through them) and then use the Default Transparent Texture in your inventory library folder to make them invisible.

OK, now going back to the photobooth, why did I tell you to check the ‘full bright’ box after you set the texture to white? Because this is what it looks like without full bright:

Perfectly okay if you actually want some shadows, but if you want a nice crisp white (or solid-coloured) background then you need to check the full bright option, which will give you this:

You can play around with other settings, too. Try adding some shininess or bump-mapping, with and without full bright. Try different colours and textures, too! The picture below is just plain white with shiny added:

Now, my secret graphics settings! If you don’t see all of these options, make sure you have that little ‘custom’ box (top-right) checked:

NOTE: I have a pretty powerful computer, therefore I can run in ‘Ultra’ setting without too much problem. Since you’re standing still, you might be able to as well, but please don’t overtax your computer. If your graphics card starts chugging away, pull the settings down a bit.

OK, now since I’m inside, in a skybox, I can pull draw distance as low as it will go. I don’t need particles, trees, terrain or sky, so those are all zero. I’ve unchecked Water Reflections (big performance hit, that, and there’s no water in my skybox) and I’ve also unchecked Avatar Cloth (mainly because it makes pant cuffs move more naturally, which is annoying when you’re trying to take a still photo!)

So we’re all set to take our pic, but where’s the magic trick that will get rid of those jagged edges? Well, it’s very simple, but there’s a trade-off. You get great pics, but they take up a LOT more hard drive space. What we’re going to do is toggle the Advanced Menu on (CTRL & ALT & D) and then check ‘High-res Snapshot’:

NOTE: This will only work when you are saving snapshots to disk. It won’t work for uploading snapshots in-world!

Same image. The first taken at normal resolution, the second taken at high resolution. The difference in file size? About 8MB…

If you have the hard drive space, then you’re good to go. If not, then once you’ve resized a few photos at a time and saved them in JPG or PNG format, then you can delete your older, huge files.

To give you an example of the size difference, here is one shot taken at both resolutions and viewed at 100% size in Paint Shop Pro. The first is at normal resolution:

The second is at high resolution, and again viewed at 100% size:

So when you’ve taken your pics, you need to resize them down in whatever graphics program you prefer. You’ll find that when you’ve done so, those jagged lines that you get at normal resolution are pretty much gone in the resized high resolution shots.

I’ve sized normal resolution and high resolution shots to the same visual size (give or take a few pixels here and there) and you can clearly see the difference. Perhaps the most visible difference is in the full-length shot:

Face close-up. Note how the finer details of hair, the edge of the face, where the lips touch etc, are jagged in the normal res pic on the left, but smoother in the resized high res pic on the right:

You’ll notice it most in the finer details, such as hair:

Now go forth and take fabulous pics!

EDIT: Some extra tips coming in from readers – check the comments section for those!

March 30, 2009 - Posted by | second life, tutorials


  1. Here’s another trick, which I use, to get rid of jaggies. In the snapshot popup, push the width up to at least 2000 pixels, making sure that you have the perspective locked together. (This will keep you from either elongating the avatar’s body or making it balloon width-wise.) I’ve been posting the results in Flickr and Koinup for the past few months, and they’re much improved over my early stuff.

    Comment by Harper | March 30, 2009 | Reply

  2. This is an awesome post, Mar. Thank you. Soooo helpful.

    Oh and following your link, I might even have a go at rezzing a skybox sometime soon. Mebbe.

    Comment by Marnix Malifozik | March 30, 2009 | Reply

  3. Another tip, if you’ve got the graphics power, is to crank up the anti-aliasing in your display settings in Windows. This differs for each card, but usually a setting of 4x or more will go a long way to getting rid of the jaggies.

    Comment by DonnieMac | March 30, 2009 | Reply

  4. @Harper: I’ll have to give that a go next time I’m in-world (I don’t usually use the Snapshot button; I’m a menu-snapper *g*) – thanks for the tip!

    @Marnix: You’re welcome! I look forward to seeing the results of your pic-taking (and your building; you know you wanna try it *g*)

    @DonnieMac: Something else for me to look into next time I’m in-world. Thanks for the tip :)

    Comment by Mar | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  5. A very good tip I got from the experts on Flickr is to take my pictures at 3x my screen resolution. In my case this is 1920×1200 so I take them at 5760×3600.

    The file sizes are big but it means no jaggy edges and I can crop the picture down to “zoom in” and still have a nice sharp and smooth picture. When I have finished in Photoshop I resize them down again. You can always make a picture smaller but you can’t make it bigger without ruining it.

    Comment by Faerie Hax | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  6. Speaking of tacking great pics, what is the best size for a profile pic (512×512 maybe)? Mine always end up looking squashed.

    Comment by Duncan Abbot | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  7. @Faerie: Great tip, thank you! I know that using the high-resolution snapshot example I gave in this post results in 3000 pixel-width snapshots, but 5000 would be even better!

    @Duncan: Your profile pic should be in 3:2 format to avoid distortion. Thus, taking 256px as your base measurement, the pic could be 768 wide by 512 high (3 x 256 wide by 2 x 256 high).

    Comment by Mar | March 31, 2009 | Reply

  8. Once again Mar….thank you for the great post. I have learned so much from you! I have to get in-world right away and purchase your photo booth! :) Then I’ll come back and read how to make my own skybox. Thankies!!!

    Comment by trishagelber | April 1, 2009 | Reply

  9. You’re very welcome, Trisha! I look forward to seeing the pictures you take with it :) Don’t forget to play around with the colour, shiny and other settings, too (the photobooth is separate from the skybox in the package, so you can change its settings with one click and not change anything else). I’ve been using my version of it for ages to take all the pics for the blog.

    Comment by Mar | April 2, 2009 | Reply

  10. I wondered about that…if I could change the color. So it’s okay to alternate between white and other colors then?

    Comment by trishagelber | April 2, 2009 | Reply

  11. Sure! You should be able to.

    Oh hell. Tell me I made it modifiable. Now I’ve got a horrible feeling I didn’t…

    Comment by Mar | April 2, 2009 | Reply

  12. The next important thing to cover/learn when taking good pictures is never ever use the default preset. I did a quick blog about viewer presets a while ago with links to quite a few other tutorials.

    Comment by Faerie Hax | April 3, 2009 | Reply

  13. I absolutely agree, Faerie. Even if you just open the Environment Editor and play with the direction of the sun and other things in there, you can get better effects than the straightforward Sunrise, Midday, Sunset and Midnight settings. For instance, just after the moon has come up, there are a few minutes when there is an ethereal white light that is fabulous for nighttime photography.

    Thank you for the link to your post. I’ll have to pencil in a further blog post about Windlight presets, because I love them and don’t really use them often enough (I have to show the items in standard lighting, no matter how much I adore Torley’s gorgeous work).

    Comment by Mar | April 4, 2009 | Reply

  14. These are some useful aspect ratio sizes to think about when creating pictures for specific advertising purposes in sl.

    • Aspect ratios of profile, place, etc. pictures — all of these were measured at UI size = 1.000:
    • Search > All for “Classifieds”, “People”, and “Places” – 4:3 (256×192 pixels)
    • Search > Places and Classified tabs – ~7:5 (398×282 pixels)
    • Search > Land tab – ~7:5 (358×252 pixels)
    • Profile > 2nd Life tab – ~4:3 (178×133 pixels)
    • Profile > Picks tab – ~16:9 (288×162 pixels)
    • Profile > 1st Life tab – 1:1 (133×133 pixels)
    • Profile > Classifieds tab – ~3:2 (206×137 pixels)
    • About Land > Options tab – ~3:2 (178×117 pixels)
    • Group Information > General tab’s “Group Insignia” – 1:1 (126×126 pixels)

    If you use the aspect ratios when creating your crops you won’t get such stretched or distorted images in your profile picks or classifieds. Although they will look distorted on upload (due to the nature of uploading textures for sl) if they are the right aspect ration before uploading, they will fit perfectly into the boxes. :-)

    Comment by Orinoco Beresford | April 6, 2009 | Reply

  15. Thanks so much for that, Orinoco. Awesome list! :)

    Comment by Mar | April 6, 2009 | Reply

  16. […] also: Marketing 101, Linden Lifestyles. Marketing 102, by Nicola Escher. Taking Great Photos of Your Avatar, over at SL for Nowt. Can also apply to product shots. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

    Pingback by The Content Creator’s Supplementary Guide to Business in SL « Mistletoe Ethaniel’s Blog | July 1, 2009 | Reply

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