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Photo Academy: Lights!


I think we don’t need to discuss how important lights are for any photography activities, no matter if we consider SL or real life. Light is the brush that paints the image and it’s essential to use it consciously. Second Life(r) offers us tools to use lighting in various ways and – as I promised in my previous article – we are going to make an overview of techniques and details about using lights. We will discuss types of light in SL, how to create and use them. I will try to show you how to use lights and not spend thousands of L$ for it.

Types of light.

If we want to classify lights in SL we can consider source of light first, saying these we’ve got such types:

  • natural (windlights)
  • artificial (objects as source of light)
    • point lights
    • projectors

As you see I made my categories similar to real life (I know, saying something is ‘natural’ in SL sounds weird) to extinguish them and point out how important it is. Let’s get over all light types.


What is windlight?… It’s a set of values that defines how the enviroment looks like in terms of lighting, atmosphere and weather, including settings for water as well. Yes, in most cases what we change is mainly the Sky Preset as it’s enough for most situations. I used myself Water Preset maybe for only one movie and few pictures I’ve made, so this is way less important part of setting up windlight.

Why do I consider windlight settings as source of light? Well, obvious: it has source of light, there’s sun or moon rendered! Or, both are hidden or cloud covered – lack of natural light gives different opportunities, depends what we need. It is one of most basic source of light, allows casting shadows in most trivial way. The main limitation of it is the fact it’s global setting for the whole sim – global for you of course, others got their own windlight settings applied.

Sadly, we’re not going to get deep into details about setting up windlights in this article, but I can promise you another one about it, the same deal as before – if I get any feedback, I will do it with pleasure.

Objects as sources of light.

Now, this is the part we’re interested really in this article – artificial sources of light in SL. Let’s simply rez an object and open edit mode for it. Make sure in edit window you have ‘Features’ tab selected, at the bottom of it you’ll see a checkbox called ‘Light’ (1). Click it.


Tadam! Your object is source of light! It’s the most basic source of light in SL. It casts rays in all directions with the same intensity and colour and it’s good for ambient lighting. Very important remark: point lights do NOT cast shadows.

Options you got enabled for your lamp are:

  • colour (3) – it opens colour picker that lets you select what colour your light has
  • intensity (2) – how powerful the light is
  • radius (2) – how far from the source the light reaches
  • falloff (2) – how much decreased the light is (you may want to have light that reaches quite far away from the source, but not too intensive, this option helps)

But there are more options, you’d say. Yes. Next to colour box you see another one, grayed and crossed out. It’s texture picker (4). If you select texture there and click ‘OK’, you will create another type of light source available in SL: projector. Projector casts directional, textured light in similar way as real life projectors do. Let’s see how it works. First, we’ll use very simple texture like this:


Surprise! It casts… Circle!


Hmm, now you know one thing: you can use any texture there. It brings me idea of playing with light&shadow using projector only, let’s try this texture:


And let’s cast it on another object and avatar…


Not so bad as for only few simple clicks and really basic texture anyone could create even in Paint… Finally, let’s put there some photo made before in SL:


(Oh my! Did I show some tits here?) Now you know what? We could add simple LSL script that keeps rotating this cube all the time and we’d have cool effect for your party for as much as 10L$ you spent for uploading the texture of your choice. Oh well, it’s photography course, I am sorry!

Let’s get back to last three options (5) we have available when light source is a projector:

  • FOV – field of view, how wide is the area the projector displays image (texture) at
  • focus – it’s just focus and it works exactly the same way like in real life, you can make the casted texture sharp or blur using this option
  • ambiance – adds a blurred version of the projected image to all faces within the cone of influence.

Use your knowledge.

As usual, something that at the beginning seemed complicated isn’t any sort of dark magic. In few moments we explained how lights work in SL, so this is the best moment for me to say: dare to experiment! Find a place where you can rez prims and simply make few lights for own enjoynment, you will see how easy it is and how it expands your photography possibilities.

You could ask me anyway: what to do when you photograph at places you can not rez items… Oh, if I was mean, I’d say: go and buy thousands L$ tool that allows you control lights attached to the model you’re shooting. But you all know I am not mean, so here’s my little trick: in free time prepare yourself a bit and create two sources of light, one point light and one projector. To make things easier we can simply assume ambient source light will be a sphere, projector will be any other shape (cone is pretty tempting, isn’t it?). Grab both into your inventory and whenever you need to cast light in the area you can’t rez object – attach them to yourself. Just make sure you also have static pose you can play while using your attached lights (having lights attached to yourself with an AO on can be somehow impractical in my opinion). Keep also in mind you’re limited a bit as you can’t move attachment too far away from you, but for most cases I am sure it will be enough for what you need. In case you need to be close to your model or the angle and lights combination cause your avatar intrudes in the photo… Take off your attachments and make sure you wear your mesh body transparent layer – it will make you insivible. You can also make the light source invisible by putting transparent texture on it – it will still work exactly the same way as before.

Final Words.

Alright, as my final thought I want to say one thing: it’s not my intention to criticize tools created by talented people, used by many others, making their lifes easier by letting them play with lights, no. These tools usually got more options additionally (well, not related to lights, as you’ve seen lights are easy topic and there’s not so much to deal about them), like posing tools etc. If such tool is exactly what you need, if it makes things way easier to you – that’s totally okay and I am far from saying bad words about it. But on the other hand you have just seen you can live without spending thousands and getting the same effects only by using what your SL viewer offers as a standard. But remember one thing, no matter what you use, I tend to think this motto is kinda true:


Enjoy whatever you do!


One thought on “Photo Academy: Lights!

  1. What a great article Marika. Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together and sharing it. Cheers, Frederic

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