BootCamp: Photography Preparation

By Luna Jubilee  //  BootCamp  //  6 Comments

Express thought the the bootcamp category needed a little love so he convinced me to work with him on a huge post about taking pictures.

Most of photography is about the preparation and post-processing. This guide will focus on the part of the preparation half that is common to just about all pictures.

Advanced Menu

Ctl-Alt-D (or Cmd-Alt-D for Apple folk).

Torley can explain this better than me, so feel free to watch this video.

If you’re on the older 1.23 viewers, take a look at this video.

This menu gives access to unsupported viewer features. None of these settings are necessary nor do they affect picture quality, but I tend to use them just to make life easier

  • Disable Camera Constraints – check to cam freely. You can perv on your neighbors three sims over now.
  • Quiet Snapshots to Disk – check to turn off the camera’s click-whirr. Makes your perving less noticable.
  • Hi-res Snapshots – check to make your snapshots to disk 4x their regular size. We’ll talk about this more later.

Remember, this menu isn’t supported so be careful.

Basic Graphics Settings

Changing your graphics settings under preferences is generally a no-brainer.

Which of the following four sounds best:

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
  • Ultra

If you didn’t say “Ultra”, try again.

Of the four settings, ultra takes advantage of your graphic card most. For a quick and easy “increase” in quality, just slide the master switch to ultra. The one thing to consider is that better quality means more processing for your computer and graphics card, so better quality settings cause more client-side lag. The amount of lag created, though, depends on your computer.

If you need a bit more fine control about what levels you’re adjusting, you can click the advanced button to reveal a bunch of sliders and dials. The basic rules are:

  • sliders: right is better, left is worse
  • checkboxes: checked is better, unchecked is worse
  • radio buttons: bottom option is better, top option is worse

Unsurprisingly, ultra settings mean just about all of the sliders are pushed right, all the checkboxes are checked, and the lowest radio buttons are selected. You can override some of the ultra settings that you may not need though:

  • Shaders: The more shaders you use, the better Windlight tends to look. Bump mapping and shiny, along with basic shaders, are basically a must for photography. Without them your pictures will look like they’re from SL circa 2005. Atmospheric shaders are necessary to take full advantage of Windlight. Most modern graphics cards should be able to handle them with minimal lag. As for water reflections, are you near water?
  • Reflection Details: Again, are you near water? If you are, choose what you want to appear in the reflection. Keep in mind that every sim has water, even if its covered with land. So turning these off when you don’t need them will help performance.
  • Avatar Rendering: If you’re taking a large group of people, you’ll probably want to have avatar imposters off. It is the setting that turns “faraway” avatars into 2d cutouts. Its great for cutting down lag during day to day use though. Hardware skinning and avatar cloth are both features that take advantage of your graphics cards, so they shouldn’t have an effect on quality (though they might improve performance).
  • Draw Distance: Do you need more than 64m of rendering? Fine tune the slider until you have just as much background as you want. If even 64m is too high, take a look at the “RenderFarClip” debug setting (more about those later).
  • Particles: Again, if you don’t need em, drop em.
  • Post Process Quality: Crank this up as high as you can!
  • Mesh Details: This depends on your subject. Generally speaking, though, you’ll always want objects cranked up all the way. You can crank up avatars, terrain, trees, and sky depending on what is in your shot. I didn’t mention flexiprims because as far as I know, the slider doesn’t do anything.

In summary, ultra is good. If you tweak, start with ultra and fiddle a bit from there. If you need more info, Torley (again) has you covered.

Hardware Graphics Settings

Right next to the advanced button is a hardware button to change hardware settings. There are two key settings there: anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering.


Anti-aliasing makes the jaggies go away. We want that.

For the most part, you want this setting as high as possible. But, it means a lot of extra work for your graphics card. Even modern, high end graphics cards might have trouble at 16x AA. Older or low powered graphics cards (including ones in laptops) will probably slow down considerably. Some might not be able to do 16x AA at all, resulting in SL crashing when you switch to that level. I crank up to 16x AA just for pictures, then turn it down to 2x or 4x AA for general usage.

Here is the same shot taken five times at each of the different AA levels. Notice the jaggies on the smaller prims and even along the top of leg, and how it becomes less noticeable as the level of anti-aliasing increases. Be sure to click through to the full size, size shrinking the image masks many of the issues.

Blog Bootcamp: Photography Prep

Anisotropic Filtering

Anisotropic filtering is more complicated, but it makes textures on angles in the background look better.

What that means for us is that it tends to make your backgrounds look better if you have one. If you’re in a studio, you don’t really need it.

WindLight Settings

Now that your graphics settings are at their best, you can experiment with environmental settings in Windlight. These are accessable through World > Sun > Environment Editor. To deal with sky presets, use Advanced Sky. To deal with water, use Advanced Water.

One of the best sky presets for every day use is from Caliah Lyon, available at her blog here.

I’m sure there are plenty of collections of presets out there, but these are two I use most often if I don’t just whip up the settings on the spot:

  • Torley Linden – For a while, Torley was the windlight Linden. Not because he made Windlight, but because he kept using it and showing everyone how nice it looked. His collection has a lot of dramatic presets.
  • Ana Lutetia – Ana has created a really nice selection of windlight settings that are useful for every day use and studio shots.

Debug Settings

Remember the advanced menu from above? At the bottom of the menu is an option to see debug settings. These can screw up SL a lot, so be careful when you edit them.

Here are some that I use often:

  • RenderFarClip – Basically the draw distance slider from preferences. I’ve gone as low as 1m and as high as 2048m (that’s 8 sim lengths). Cranking it up can cause extreme client-side lag though.
  • RenderUseFarClip – Tells the viewer to actually respect the draw distance. When true, your viewer will only attempt to draw things within draw distance. When false, your viewer will attempt to draw everything. If you set this false and crank up RenderFarClip you can see for miles and miles.
  • RenderVolumeLODFactor – Along with other RenderSomethingLODFactor settings, corresponds to the various mesh detail sliders. If you notice your sculpted shoes looking funny when you zoom out, crank this up to 4 or even 8.

The ones that correspond to sliders get changed back every time you adjust graphical preferences (even from Mid to High, not just changing the siders themselves) so make sure you set them again when you need them.


The first thing to realize is that high resolution images are not a panacea to make pictures better. In fact, they don’t make your pictures better at all. What they do is make your pictures more flexible, which may compensate for other issues that would make your pictures worse.

Simply put, the point of taking pictures as big as possible is to have more source material to work with. The same logic applies to RL photography as well, where (generally speaking) larger film has long been preferrable.

Removing information is generally easy, while adding information is hard. So if you have more original source to work with, you have more room to cover up other issues, particularly that of taking snapshots with low anti-aliasing settings.

This is because of how AA works (from wikipedia):

In general, supersampling is a technique of collecting data points at a greater resolution (usually by a power of two) than the final data resolution. These data points are then combined (down-sampled) to the desired resolution, often just by a simple average. The combined data points have less visible aliasing artifacts (or moiré patterns).

Full-scene anti-aliasing by supersampling usually means that each full frame is rendered at double (2x) or quadruple (4x) the display resolution, and then down-sampled to match the display resolution. So a 4x FSAA would render 16 supersampled pixels for each single pixel of each frame.

That’s why 16x AA is such a hit on your machine — you’re rendering everything at 16x the size you see and then averaging it down!

Either way, lets say your videocard only supports 2x AA (this was the case with an old laptop when I first started SL). What if you took your image at twice the height and twice the width (done easily via the High-res snapshot mentioned above) and resized it yourself in Photoshop? That’s basically doing a second pass of anti-aliasing to remove even more jaggies, for something similar to 4x AA.

You might be wondering, though, that if you take a bigger picture won’t the jaggies be bigger as well? I’m not sure why (there’s probably some math involved) but the jaggies in my larger pictures are basically the same size as the ones in my smaller pictures. So taking a huge shot with minimal jaggies can be resized to a normal size with next to no jaggies.

Blog Bootcamp: Photography Prep

Now, having said all that, how do you take bigger shots?

High-res Snapshots

As mentioned above, there’s an option in the advanced menu to take high resolution snapshots. It, however, only affects pictures taken using “Snapshot to Disk” shortcut, Ctl-`. It always churns out images that are 4x your regular screen size (twice the height and twice the width).

Snapshot Window

The regular snapshot window lets you take even larger pictures. If you choose “save to my computer” and click “More”, you’ll see a bunch of options including image dimensions. Make sure to check constrain proportions before you fill in a width or you’ll need to manually figure out the right height. Once you’ve chosen a size, though, uncheck that setting because it causes pictures to screw up in Viewer 2.0.


Hopefully this guide helps you figure out how to set up SL for great photographs. If you have any questions or can suggest any improvements, feel free to leave any comments.

And of course, I didn’t figure out all of this myself in one fell swoop. I’ve collected bits and pieces over the years, but here are a few guides that helped along the way:

6 Comments to “BootCamp: Photography Preparation”

  • Thank you!

  • you are wonderful. Thank you so much :-)

  • Thanks for taking the time to do this, it’s always very helpful!

  • […] then also tell you to choose a custom snapshot size via the snapshot dialog? If you’ve read our last boot camp tutorial, you’d know that the “high resolution snapshot” setting applies only when using […]

  • […] to your computer, check out Torley’s tutorial.For other photography related questions like how to take high-resolution photos or depth of field, check out my Blog Boot Camp. Its full of different tutorials for bloggers and […]

  • […] Photography Preparation […]

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