Any photographer will tell you that what fundamentally defines an image is light, they will wax lyrical about the quality of the light when it ticks all the boxes, and they will rant until the cows come home about the harsness of the midday sun and artificial illumination – and they are, of course, correct.
The same is true of SL: Whilst we may be under the illusion that the quality of a build, the cleverness of unique design and the colours of a versatile palette are what makes a fabulous inworld location, or the perfect screenshot, it reality it is almost always how the creator, or equally as often for the purposes of SL, the beholder, manages to employ the simulation of lighting that really makes the difference between a mediocre setting or a mindblowing image. We’re fortunate too, that we have so many variations to play with: We can adjust the time of day, play around with hundreds of Windlight settings and, adjust shadows, reflections and – coming soon – God rays, and even with some viewers, add artistic photographic effects and alter field of view and focus.
I’ve always felt that there’s an art to making good screen captures from SL – we are, after all, grabbing what is essentially a two-dimensional flat image, to which we usually wish to give the illusion of three-dimensionality, and the most effective way to do that is to employ lighting to good effect. We’ve all seen rubbish SL screen captures; washed out, bland and flat, taken in the full glare of simulated midday sun, and conversely, we’ve all seen photo-realistic and dreamlike images that you’d swear were real, even if some of them have received more than a modicum of post-processing, (but that’s no different to almost every photo you see in RL too).
Light, used well, is wonderful. A carefully moodlit inworld setting that the creator has spent hours lighting and preparing with Windlight, projectors, masks and ambient light can be awesome.
And then we destroy it all with facelights.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a facelight nazi – they have their place and, used judiciously and sensibly, they’re fine. I have several of my own, my favourite being my Avid Light and Breath HUD, which gives me a range of subtle, minimalistic colours that enhance the good bits, and hide the blemishes. I’ve also been known to set up my own handmade ones – usually tightly-controlled projectors – for specific purposes, but you’ll never find me wearing one of those damned 20 billion candle-power arclights that so many people seem to adore.
Picture the scene – you’re admiring an artistically-lit and carefully designed location, when suddenly your pixel retinas are burned out by the arrival of a full beam halogen facelight. Which face is it supposed to be lighting? The whole face of the earth, apparently! As your graphics card screams for mercy, and the image burns out your monitor, the scene around you is bleached into submission – ruined completely.
Then there’s the alternative situation: Everything seems to you to be absolutely fine, if a little washed out, then suddenly you’re plunged into inpetetrable inky darkness, causing you to think that your screen backlight has suddenly and catastrophically retired. Nope, someone with an atomic-powered facelight has just left the room.
For the average joe, it’s pain in the back passage; for the perfectionist builder or landscaper, it’s soul-destroying, and – for everybody – it’s a completely pointless and unnecessary extravagance – something you’d expect a noob from 2009 to be wearing, along with sparkly bling, spray on underwear and a single prim shoe. As far as I’m concerned, any facelight that can put an average lighthouse to shame should be classed as an offensive weapon… It’s certainly offensive to me!
Yes, I know there’s a viewer setting where you can turn off everyone’s facelights, if you wish, but it’s indiscriminate and spoils the party for those who do have consideration for others, and why should I be put to the inconvenience of changing my carefully composed graphics settings, just to compensate for somebody else’s selfishness?
It certainly doesn’t light up my life!
Well she was
Blinded by the light
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night
Bruce Springsteen – Blinded By The Light