Tutorial: Lights and effects basics

28 January 2008 at 6:02 pm Leave a comment

In this second tutorials post I explain the basics of lights and effects. This is valid for PhotoStage and PhotoLite as well.

First, some definitions. A light is just an object that emits light. You can have up to six of them with either PhotoStage or PhotoLite. Lights allow you to illuminate your subject using what SL calls “local lighting”, i.e. light cast by prims with the light flag active, as opposed to “environment light” which comes from the sun and moon. As you surely know, light is the essence of a photograph, so a fine control of lights is crucial to achieve great results.

Lights look like this:

AMS Light

By the way, make sure that you have your SL graphics preferences set to use local lighting; if you don’t, you won’t be able to observe the effect of any local lights. In your SL viewer, go to the Edit menu, select Preferences down the bottom, switch to the Graphics Detail tab, and verify that the “Nearby local lights” option is selected under “Lighting Detail”.

Effects, on the other hand, are visual candy that you can produce to add dramatism to your photos. They are often based on what SL calls particles, and they are created by effects generators. An effects generator is a specialised object that can produce different kinds of effects, such as snow, fog or smoke. As with lights, you can have up to six effects generators with either PhotoStage or PhotoLite. Effects generators look like dark red cylinders with a row of black arrows pointing in the direction of the “nozzle”. Effects generators look like this:

AMS Effects Generator

Lights and effects generators are collectively referred to as “controlled elements”, since they are independent elements under the control of your PhotoStage or PhotoLite. The following sections use this phrase, controlled elements, because everything they describe applies equally to lights and effects generators.

Creating and deleting controlled elements

The first thing you need to do in order to use a controlled element is to create it. From the main menu, click Lights or Effects and you will see a menu with buttons numbered from 1 to 6, such as Light 1, Light 2, etc. or Gen 1, Gen 2, etc. (“Gen” meaning “Generator”). Choose one controlled element by clicking the appropriate button and you will see a new menu, which acts specifically on that particular element. For example, if you click Light 1, you will see the menu for Light 1. Whatever you do in this menu will affect only light 1.

Click Create to create the controlled element. You will see a white sphere or a dark red cylinder appear floating over the backdrop (if using PhotoStage) or the control box (if using PhotoLite), conveniently labelled as “Light 1”, “Generator 5” or whatever is the case.

Once the element has been created, you can delete it. Notice that the Create button in the menu has now changed into Delete; you can click this button to delete the controlled element.

Showing and hiding controlled elements

Seeing lights as spheres and effects generators as cylinders is good to set them up and move them to the right spots, but once you are ready to shoot, you probably don’t want them in the picture. This is why you can hide or show controlled elements as necessary.

In the Lights or Effects menus you can see buttons labelled Show All and Hide All. Clicking these buttons makes all the lights or effects generators (depending on which menu we’re in) to turn visible or invisible, respectively. If you want to hide or show just one particular element, select it by clicking on the appropriate button (such as Light 1 or Gen 4) and use the button labelled Show or Hide. Please notice that this button changes its label depending on the visibility of the controlled element: if the element is visible, the button will read “Hide”; if the element is hidden, it will read “Show”.

Bear in mind that hiding a controlled element does not switch it off. This means that a hidden light still casts light, and a hidden effects generator still produces snow or fog or whatever thing it is producing. Hiding a controlled element only makes it invisible for the shot.

Switching controlled elements on and off

When you create a light, it is on by default. This means that it emits light. Effects generators, on the other hand, are switched off when you create them, i.e. they do not produce any visual effects until you switch them on. Of course, you can switch any element on or off at any time.

In the Lights or Effects menus you can see buttons labelled On All and Off All. Clicking these buttons switches all the lights or effects generators (depending on which menu we’re in) on or off, respectively. If you want to switch on or off just one particular element, select it by clicking on the appropriate button (such as Light 1 or Gen 4) and use the button labelled On or Off. Please notice that this button changes its label depending on the state of the controlled element: if the element is on, the button will read “Off”; if the element is already off, it will read “On”.

This post has described the basic operations that you can perform on lights or effects generators. There are many other things you can do, such as moving them around and changing their colours and other parameters. I will deal with these topics in future turials. As usual, your feedback is most welcome.

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Entry filed under: PhotoLite, PhotoStage, Tutorials. Tags: , , .

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