Monday, May 17, 2010

Walking with Windlight

Damani Art Exposition Center

I was doing some random exploring and looking for interesting backgrounds for future Mariko Magic fashion posts. In my wanderings, I happened upon a hauntingly lovely, but bewildering, landscape at the Damani Art Exposition Center in Elonia.  Bewildering because of contradictions like jungle growth covered in ice and snow and giant zooplankton, diaphanous and obviously carnivorous, out of their element, being terrestrial and not aquatic. This landscape is definitely not the here and now. Perhaps, it's an alien world or a vision of our own planet trapped in an ice age of a distant future.

Click on the pictures to enlarge them for better viewing.

Frozen Jungle

A small collection of dynamic art objects are exhibited in the center. The building is an assembly of clear plastic chambers connected by large plastic tubes which you use to get from chamber to chamber. Somehow, it all seemed vaguely familar. OMG ... its a giant hamster cage, a much larger version of the one I had for my pet hamster when I was in the third grade. I made a hasty exit least I run into an 800 pound rodent.

Experimenting with Windlight Settings

But what I found fascinating were the grounds surrounding the center. And I identified a number of locations that might do for a fashion shoot. I took some trial photos of the locations and experimented with some angles and windlight settings. The above pictures were all captured using windlight (by windlight I'm referring to atmospheric shaders). I usually do not use windlight in my second life photography. Much of my photography is  'photo journalism' rather than art as I capture moments that record my sojourn in Second Life.  And I want to capture Second Life as I experience it - windlight free. 

One More Windlight Sunset Over Water Picture

Windlight is a wonderful tool for Second Life photography. With windlight, one can create sumptuous effects, especially water and atmospheric effects. We've all seen those ubiquitious photos of SL sunsets over water, haven't we?  The primary reason I don't use windlight much in my photography is that its light is very harsh on avatars. A common complaint about windlight is that 'It makes my avatar look crappy'. Yes, it does. Of course, there are masterful SL photographers who create exceptional windlight pictures of avatars with their  skillful use of lighting and windlight settings, along with some photoshopping. But, I am not one of them.

Default Windlight Setting

Windlight is marvelous for photography; but, what I don't understand is why some people walk and interact with others in Second Life with windlight always set. Of course, if your SL graphics is set on High or Very High, windlight is automatically set. To turn it off, you would have to edit your Preferences, go into the Graphics tab, and uncheck Atmospheric Shaders. The above picture demonstrates the default windlight setting that most people walking with windlight use. I look like a plastic mannequin with a flashlight in my face (I'm not wearing a facelight in the picture). Windlight's harsh light can remove up to 50% of the details of a finely crafted skin. That is why many avatars look like cartoons or plastic dolls in windlight. Moreover, setting windlight does not necessarily result in more detained terrains. In fact, the default windlight setting is performing very poorly in Elonia's icy landscape at midday. The glare from windlight's light is effacing much of the detail in the snow covered ground. 

Windlight with Suggested Setting for Avatars

Recently, windlight settings are being circulated that purport to 'Optimize your Windlight' to improve the appearance of our avatars. These are windlight settings that deal with windlight's harsh lighting and its effects on avatar appearance. In other words, they are windlight settings that remove windlight. The advertised benefit of these settings is that you can look beautiful without using a facelight. As all women in Second Life know, a facelight is essential for looking your best. Of course, there are issues with facelights, and it would be great to look fabulous without resorting to a facelight. But the problem with these 'optimized' windlight settings is that windlight is view-side only, which means that only you see the results of your windlight setting. Unless we are totally self-absorbed, we care about how others see us. To those of you who are using these 'optimized' settings and walk with windlight, try turning it off to see yourselves as others see you. Now you know why you haven't been asked out on dates.
In the picture above, I reshot the scene using a popular 'Optimize your Windlight' setting. The plastic-mannequin-flashlight-in-your-face appearance is gone; but, I was shocked at how poorly this setting performed. The performance of windlight settings can be very sensitive to the time-of-day, and some are specific to a particular time-of-day. This 'optimize' setting effaced even more of the detail of Elonia's snowscape at midday then did the default setting.

No Windlight

Lastly, I reshot the scene without windlight and wearing a soft facelight. It may surprise many people, especially those who walk with windlight, to see that the scene that is visually richer is the one without windlight, at least in this case. One detail in my appearance that comes out in the absence of windlight is my light Hawaiian tan. This detail, which is a statement about my origins and personality, never comes through in windlight. And there are many other delicate and subtle details in a finely crafted skin that can be short shrifted by windlight. While windlight is a creative boon for artists, walking with windlight is not necessarily a positive addition to one's inworld experience. And there are social consequences, two of which are:
Point of Reference: Most of us are very selective and creative with our avatars. We craft our appearances by our choice of shapes and skins, of hair styles and clothing, and of accessories. Our choices are reflections of ourselves that will be projected to others. And our crafted appearance provide visual cues in Second Life social interactions.  My problem with walking with windlight is that it robs us of a common reference point.  If we are walking with windlight, as windlight is view-side only and given our individualized settings, my view of you may be significantly different from the view of yourself that you intended, and the same for your view of me.

Facelight Gestopo: The introduction of windlight gave rise to a phenomena called Facelight Derangement Syndrome also called FDS. Suffers of FDS go ballistic whenever a person wearing a facelight enters the area. They believe that facelights and their wearers are an evil that must be snuffed out. When a group of FDS suffers gather, they become a Facelight Gestopo. Admittedly, windlight can intensify the brightness of a facelight and light up the wearer so that, to the windlight walker, she looks like the second coming of the Sun Goddess. Of course, facelights must be worn responsibly. A soft facelight with a narrow range should not be much of an issue. And, as they dramatically improve appearance, facelights are social assets. So if you are a  windlight walker who is sensitive to facelights, in a social gathering don't go ballistic, just turn off your atmospheric shaders. 

By all means, express your artistry and creativity with windlight. Enhance your enjoyment of an amazing Second Life view by experiencing it under different windlight settings. But, given the current state of windlight development, little is gained when you walk with windlight and somethings may be lost. So windlight walkers, see your Second Life friends in a whole new light by unchecking your atmospheric shaders.  Well enough of my windlight diatribe. Let me close this post with some pictures that show how I'm experiencing this virtual world being windlight free. 

Damani Art Exposition Center in Elonia

Related Posts:

For a more extensive examination of windlight and avatar appearance, see my post Walking with Windlight Again - Windlight is Not Avatar Friendly

Fashion Blog Pics, A Diatribe Against Windlight, and This Week's Photo Mariko (October 3, 2009)


  1. Most of us just turn off local lights or in viewer 2 uncheck "render attached lights" so that we don't have to see you with your floodlights on.
    For the record, facelights make you look terrible.
    If you are concerned about the way your av looks in pictures, use Caliah Lyon windlight, turn on anti aliasing, and take really high res pictures.
    You will definitely see an improvement from the way your pictures are now.

  2. Most residents in SL have their graphics set on Mid and do not have atmospheric shaders on. Have you seen how you look without a facelight and without atmospheric shaders on. Horribly old with your skin ill fitting to your face. This is the problem that I pointed out in that, being view side only, windlight robs us of a common point of reference. Well, I'm also glad that turning off local lights while walking with windlight will reduce the ranks of the FaceLight Gestopo. And thanks for your recommended settings for picture taking. Please see my latest post on achieving avatar realism in SL photography.

  3. You do realize that SL only renders 8 lights at a time - 2 reserved for sun & moon - so if you're in an area where the builder has created lights for effect, your facelights are causing things to blink and/or be washed out for others? Our windlight settings do not cause issues for you. Why should your 2007 era facelights cause issues for the rest of us?

  4. Most residents have their setting at mid? Where did you get this info?

    I have never used a facelight for any of my images. I don't care if others don't but if you use windlight correctly you avatar looks amazing

  5. To Anonymous: Thank you for your comment. Yes, I am aware. But, I’m sure that you know that lighting is a very complex subject. It doesn’t mean that you can only see 6 illuminated objects at once. I have a party area in my sim where I have an array of 131 illuminated objects (Japanese lanterns). All are visible and illuminated and all are unaffected by avatars wearing facelights. I have never seen them dim or blink. But I trust you when you say that you have seen such problems.

    I do know that when two lighted objects of different intensity overlap, the lower intensity object will turn off. I can see a situation in which a walking avatar, wearing a high intensity facelight, can enter the radius of some other lighted object and that object will turn off as long as the facelight is in its radius. Perhaps that is the blinking that you have experienced in your viewer. But, I did say that facelights should be worn responsibly. A low intensity soft facelight with a small radius should not present problem. Such facelights are less likely to overlap other lighted objects, and, if they do, it would be the facelight that turns off in your viewer.

    My question for you is, if it is shown that walking with windlight is inferior to walking without, why would you walk with windlight? If you are not convinced by the empirical evidence in this post, I have another post planned that will clearly show this.