Uh-oh, It’s Firestorm Phototools Time…

So a couple of people have asked me to do something about how they’re not sure what to do with phototools and I seem pretty confident playing with them.
I’m going to walk you through the VERY basics in this blog post, and I would love love LOVE hearing from you about what you’d like me to delve deeper on.

This is a photo I took a while ago- back in February, the upload date tells me.
It bears note that I did not touch it with Photoshop: I’m including it as an example of the sorts of effects you can pull off with phototools if you take the time. Now that I’m getting a bit of a handle on using Photoshop, I feel like I could have done SO MUCH more with this, but imagine having this as your starting point in editing with Photoshop. It’d be handy to let the viewer do a lot of the work for you, right?

Let’s look at some of the Phototools settings available using Firestorm or Singularity viewers. I’m going to be working on a PC with Firestorm here: Singularity uses most of the same shortcuts, and has most of the same functionality. On a Mac you’ll wanna use the Apple key (if memory serves) instead of the Control key.
So here’s where we’re starting out: mid-range graphics settings, no bells and whistles. This is just me, sitting in a chair, hum de hum…

phototools 0_001

Nothing bad, but nothing very exciting, right? Let’s go deeper… Typically, when I’m taking a photo, I generally first find where I want my camera’s point of view- then I work on other aspects. OK, I’ve framed the photo, I’ve got the subject where I want it (or him or her), now what? The first thing I do is hit Alt-P to pull up the Firestorm Phototools window:

phototools - windlight menu
This is what that menu looks like. the WL at the top left stands for Windlight. Windlight is a means of setting up various color values for the lighting supplied by sun and moon, as well as changing the ambient light in a scene. You can pull off all kinds of stuff with these settings! Up above, then, there’s the ‘WL Sky’ dropdown menu. I’m going to show you the same scene using a few different Windlight settings.

phototools absinthe light_002

The above photo is the same scene with the ‘Phototools Fashion Path’ setting. And here it is with ‘Phototools Moon Light 3’:

phototools moon light 03_001

All I did to these two pictures was A: choose a windlight and B: catch my avatar at a different point in the chair’s animation. Otherwise? Same scene, but just altering windlights creates a totally different feel.
Here’s another, named ‘[TOR] DUSK – Melon Chapterhouse’:

melon chapterhouse_001

Still the same room! Still the same pose!

I think some of you are probably already thinking ‘but Nath… most of these are no good for taking photos of an avatar, everything’s so dim!’ And you are right, really. Some of the dimness of these images is that I’m still at mid-range on the graphics settings- some of that is that I’m using settings I would never use for a portrait I wasn’t going to Photoshop to bring things into sharper contrast.  There are things you can do with a Windlight to change that- we’ll get to that topic in a bit.

Here’s a Windlight I’m far more likely to use in a portrait: it’s ‘Annan Adored Light Explosion 2’. You get a lot more light on your subject to work with, and therefore you can actually, you know… see who you’re looking at.

annan adored light explosion_001

So yeah, you can achieve a lot of different effects with just that one phototool. But there’s more!

Once I’ve chosen my windlight, I then start to think about other effects. OK, this is the color value I want… what else do I want to do?
I have a thing for the shadows that are available in SL, myself. I feel like they really add a note of realism to a picture, so often, I’ll go there next.

phototools - light menu

As you can see, the ‘Light’ tab in Phototools is where you find shadows. After all, you can’t have shadows without light…

There’s all those sliders there- they each do different things with your shadows. I’m just going to leave them where they are and show you what that does when we get to shadows. You should also flip on ‘Ambient Occlusion’- that’s basically a setting that relates to Depth of Field.
Wait, Depth of Field. Another setting I really love- it enables you to give the feel of things that are closer to the camera or further away a bit of a blur. I know someone who doesn’t use phototools and who looked at one of my old DoF-rich photos and wanted to know how I’d Photoshopped it…

bathtime for kerfluffle

Nope. That’s the shadows tool mentioned above, a windlight I chose for the ‘feel’ the light had, and Depth of Field. No Photoshop At All.

Where’s Depth of Field then? Right over here:

phototools - depth of field

So far I have one (count them one) floating menu open on my Firestorm viewer window. All the things I’ve played with are on different tabs there. And here’s how the photo we’ve been toying with looks with Depth of Field checked on the menu photographed above!

depth of field enabled_003

Things look a little softer behind me now, don’t they? the doorframe’s not quite so sharp, the desk on the right-hand side of the picture as well. I like depth of field- there’s a LOT you can do playing with the sliders on this menu! I’m not pausing to do that here- just showing you what the defaults I had set do to a picture. You should play with these yourself!

OK, so once I’ve gotten photo composition all set up (here’s my windlight, here’s my depth of field settings, here’s my ambient occlusion running), I then move on to the part that is hard on the computer. You’ll likely want to shut off everything you possibly can shut off on your computer for this: I usually do and it keeps me from screaming a lot. 😉

We pull up the preferences for Firestorm (that’s by typing Control-P), and get this menu.

ctrl-P plus land&sky buttons

I deleted the SLURL of the skybox I’m working in, since you don’t need to know that- but you DO need to know something else. See the ‘Land’ and ‘Sky’ buttons up there next to it? We’re going to go into the ‘Sky’ functions in a bit.
So here we are on the Preferences menu, the second menu I have open now. A few things to do here. First: crank the graphics up to Ultra on the ‘Quality’ slider near the top. This does some very pretty things to your picture! You also want to click the ‘Hardware Settings’ tab here, and fix your anti-aliasing. Crank that sucker up.

ctrl p hardware settings

If your graphics card supports it (mine does not), leave the ‘OpenGL Vertex Buffer Objects’ box checked. same for the ‘Enable Streamed VBOs’ box. I tend to use Lossy Texture Compression as I have literally never seen any difference in graphic quality with or without it, and I’ve gone over my pictures all the way down to the-pixels-are-as-big-as-my-thumb resolution on them… but I definitely see a difference in processor demands with it enabled.

Once you have set Antialiasing and graphics Quality (back there on the general tab), click ‘OK’ to apply the settings. NOW that we’re up at ultra graphics quality, I was talking about there being something else to come back to- now is when I come back to it, usually. So as we noticed earlier, the colors of Windlights. I pointed out that some of them just ARE too dark for proper photography. There are ways around this!

Remember the ‘Sky’ button, two pictures back? Let’s click there. That brings up this menu:

analutetia - outdoor ctrl panel defaults

There are a few things I’m going to play with in here. The first is the ‘Name’ up at the top; next comes ‘Sun and Moon Settings’; the third is the time of day, the last is the ‘Est Ang’.

Here’s what our picture in progress looks like with settings as the above photo records, shadows enabled, and everything else running:

analutetia - outdoor default est angle & time_001

Now, I COULD just drag this out of SL and into photoshop, play around with brightness and contrast, and come up with something presentable. But there are solutions in Firestorm! Up in the Edit Sky Preset menu, it’s telling me that our Windlight’s ‘Name’ is ‘Analutetia – Outdoor’. Look at the Sun and Moon settings. The S/M Color (Sun/moon color) is a sort of hay-brown; the Ambient light (which is the light that falls in shadows), however, is practically black.

You can reset that! Click on the color you want to edit and you’ll get a pop-up right alongside where you can choose a different color value.

phototools light volor editorAll you need to do is brighten up your ambient color and you’ll see a big difference.

windlight tweaks

And here’s where those settings take us:

analutetia - outdoor with tweaked settings_001

Awfully stark, but we’re ALMOST there, boys and girls!!

Now I flip on the shadows- and I go in to play with the ‘Est Ang’ and the time of day sliders. I usually keep my time of day fairly early in the day or late: either 8-10 AM or 3-5 PM. That keeps the light source in your photographs more on eye level with your avatar, which prevents a lot of the more absurd shadows your face can cast on itself.

Here’s how I set those sliders:

analutetia - outdoor ctrl panel tweaked

ALL these two sliders do is set two things. 1: how far above the horizon your sun/moon is, and 2: what axis your light source is treating as east/west. Adjusting ‘Est Ang’ basically rotates where the sun rises and sets around the compass, so you can get the lighting you want out of it.

One more thing… I go into the Phototools tab labelled ‘Gen’ (for ‘general’) and I alter settings there.

phototools - aids menu

Am I in a skybox? Then I don’t need to render linden trees, they’re not there TO render. I don’t need the sky to render gorgeously, as I don’t even have the sky in my shot… objects need to look good, though, so let’s crank those up. And let’s crank up Avatar Rendering, but we don’t need Avatar physics as I’m sitting still… and we only need to render one avatar, so we can crank that down. Why waste your processing power on stuff you aren’t even rendering?

You may find that Anti-aliasing is shut down (‘Disabled’), as above: just change that to the 16x setting that’s the highest possible.

And if you followed everything above, you’ll have a photo that looks much like this:


analutetia - outdoor final tweaks photo_001

No photoshop was used, at all, to accomplish anything you see here. Now there is still plenty to do in Photoshop here! Offhand, I would be fixing the polygon intersections to give the outside of the neck a more curved line, for instance, or tweaking around with sharpness and gaussian blur.
But I wasn’t setting out to teach you about photoshop- I was teaching you some very basics about how Phototools work in Firestorm.

A few final words. First off: DO NOT FEAR EXPLORING. If you screw up a setting on a windlight and wind up with ridiculous color values, you can cancel out.  If you screw up with depth of field and are looking at something absurd, you can cancel out of it.

Second off: If you screw up on playing with a slider? the box to the right of the slider, which says ‘D’ on it?

phototools - depth of field

That resets the slider to its ‘Default’ value. See? you can’t really screw it up. Go ahead and play, and see what you can do!

I really hope that folks find this a helpful little run-through. If you have questions about settings that I brushed over, Let me know what you’re wondering about: I’d be more than happy to focus in on one or more of the settings we played with here. I’ve done a Depth of Field overview a few months ago; I also found a setting on shadows that gets rid of the jagged edges a while back.


I hope this helps you know what power’s just sitting there waiting to be used!


14 thoughts on “Uh-oh, It’s Firestorm Phototools Time…

  1. YAAAAAAY, thank you for this! Questions time!

    1) I noticed that you did not enable Advanced Lighting and Ambient Occlusion. I vaguely remember you (or someone else?) explaining why. Something to do with Exposure and gamma…if I remember correctly (Well, pardon me, I’m a senile old lady!). But anyway, why do you choose not to enable it?

    2) Draw distance 32? Enlighten this noob, por favor!

    • It wasn’t me: I usually do enable Ambient Occlusion and frankly just overlooked it this time. *sheepish grin* I DID enable Advanced Lighting, though. Shadows won’t work without it!

      On the low draw distance; I’m in a skybox, 1500ish meters up. There’s nothing for 5000 meters in any direction other than my skybox… which isn’t even 60m wide. Why would I need to have more than 32m draw distance? It’s just loading my computer down with requests to render stuff that isn’t even there!

  2. Ok am curious about looking at your graphics are just above the mid and your were able to get shadows like that? I have to one push my graphics up to ultra and that enables shadowing ~

    • While I didn’t snapshot the Firestorm Preferences menu after changing it, I did mention that I took the Graphics settings up to Ultra. I’m not running a COMPLETELY insane graphics system, where that kind of resolution is just the mid-range. 😉
      BTW: you CAN turn shadows on without going up to Ultra, using the Phototools: hit the ‘Light’ tab and you can check ‘shadows’ there. You’ll notice some bits looking odd about them, but they are there.

  3. Ok me being blonde I had to go back and reread it but yes I do see where you put that comment in ~ thanks again for correcting me ~ and yes I follow your blog so am always interested in improving my pics ~ hugzz

    • I hope I had something new for you here. I only figured out the phototools about a year back- I used to just use the Preferences settings to do my pics. Oh what a world of goodness they turned loose for me!
      And if there’s nothing new please feel free to let me know what you ARE curious about: i’m happy to go further into one phototool or another.

      • just nice to know more about the photo tools which I also started using I do a lot more editing with PS which am being mentored by someone so that is just another help knowing those ….. thank you again

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