Shadows & Windlight Settings & a Trick in Second Life

Kronbelt (moderate)

So…..I was asked to do a post about using shadows in photos. I’m not an expert, and it feels pretty arrogant to be doing any of these posts about settings, but I’ll tell you what little I know.

First you need to understand that (as my friend Ahuva↑ will tell you) I tend to provide advice that can best be summarized as “Here are the buttons, go play with them”.

In my mind the most important thing to remember is that shadows aren’t about dark spots – they’re about manipulating light. Having them in your image certainly assists with achieving a semblance of reality, but you play with the light to get the results you want. Most of what follows talks about Windlight settings and using them to create and alter shadow-scapes.

Kronbelt (moderate)

This image above is one with shadows turned on (I also recommend you enable Ambient Occlusion – this just doesn’t rez objects that are hidden behind others, that saves you a little bit of lag if shadows are a real strain on your computer). In this photo the local environment settings are at noon – so little or no shadows are apparent.

I’ll explain at the end of this post how to manipulate default region Windlight in the main Viewer even if you don’t know what that default is.

Right now, this is the same landscape but with a Windlight turned on (World/Environment Editor/Sky Presets/Edit Preset). I think I used Greed or Greed2 on this one.

Kronbelt (moderate)

Now there’s some definition but I really don’t like the result very much. :) There are two sliders on the Lighting tab that I play with all the time. Sun Moon Position (which is time of day) and East Angle (which changes the direction of the light).

Changing the time of day is very useful if you have a shadow from a building, for example, that is messing with your image. Sometimes just moving the sun higher or lower in the sky will change that. It will also change the strength of the light you’re getting – you might think the whole thing is too dark and making it earlier in the afternoon or morning will help. As a last resort you can play with the Scene Gamma, but in most cases I change the hour.

East Angle is, to me at least, one of the most valuable tools you have. This is the same image again, but with the direction of the sun altered.

Kronbelt (moderate)

The other thing to pay attention to, when you’re playing with shadows, is colour. Shadows are rarely black and, even when they are, there are many shades of black. The next photo is the starting point – I have a Windlight setting selected and an angle of the sun I’m happy with.

The two succeeding images are subtly different because I first changed the ambient and then the sun/moon colour. I didn’t do anything drastic, but I think you should see the changes. Your choices will depend on what you want and what you like.

All of these tweaks are important to me whether I’m doing big landscapes or portraits of small objects. Experimentation (which in my images often goes horribly wrong) is the only way you’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t.

Kronbelt (moderate)

The Lab made changes to the Environment Settings window last year to allow estate owners to define default windlight settings for their land. On the positive side that means we know what creators want their land and builds to look like – heavy fog or red dusk etc.

The bad news is that it means sometimes you land and it’s dark or the sun’s angle isn’t right for taking photos. The changes mean that if (in the main Viewer) you don’t know what the default setting is you can’t manipulate it. The Edit Sky Preset tabs aren’t enabled unless you choose a Windlight Setting.

If you want to use the creator’s default settings, but still make some changes to them, you have a few choices. You can guess and try and come close; if they provide that information you can select their setting (if you have it); or you can take advantage of a bug in the Viewer (just don’t tell a Linden about this, I’ll be really pissed off if they fix it).

Kronbelt (moderate)

Standing on a region where you want to manipulate the region default Windlight, but don’t know what it is:

  • Open the Edit Sky Preset window and select a Windlight setting. It doesn’t matter which one, but you want to enable those tabs that you need.
  • Open the Edit a Water Preset window (World/Environment Editor/Water Presets/Edit). Select a preset. It doesn’t matter which you choose or even if you can see any water around you.
  • Use the little X in the corner to close the Edit a Water Preset window. You’ll see your environment switch back to the region default, however the tabs in the Edit Sky Preset window will remain enabled. You can now manipulate the region default Windlight without knowing what it is.

Have some fun with these settings. Spend some time playing with the buttons and sliders, you’ll feel very powerful. :)

Kronbelt (moderate)
Leave a comment


  1. Crazy about the telephone pole shot…………..the shadows~ the gentle tones~ the angle~
    All these add up to one fine photo.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Inara Pey

     /  March 5, 2013

    Will be adding this and yesterday’s post to my Tutorials index, under a group heading with the tips from the day-before-yesterday (and yes, I’m trying to get your head to spin :)).

    One point I would add is that Ambient can cut both ways. Yes it tells the GPU not to render objects “hidden” by others, but it can add to the load on the GPU while it calculates what can and cannot be “seen” in order to determine what to render.

    In my own case (and it’s worth pointing out, as you and I have the same GPU – or at least we did, unless you’ve ungraded – a Ge9800 series), I find that enabling Ambient actually further decreases my system’s visible performance by up to 3 or 4 FPS compared to just having deferred enabled & Sun/Moon / Sun/Moon + Projectors active.

    Would that LL develop a floater in the same vein as Will Weaver’s fabulous Phototools for Firestorm. All the options and debugs you could ever want in one floater …

    • Good point about Ambient Occlusion – I guess it’s another one of those “play with it and see what happens”. :) And as for the floaters – you dreamer you!

      • Inara Pey

         /  March 5, 2013

        Hey, someone has to dream the impossible dream…

        Oh snots, now I have yet another SL song parody buzzing in the back of my head. Several in fact. Damn you, Cervantes, Wasserman, Leigh and Darion!

      • you’re too funny! :)

  3. This is fantastic. I was always terrified to touch those little buttons. Now I am only mildly nervous. I am putting these posts on google plus and everyone is loving it!!! Thanks again! Shazaam! is like eureka! by the way. Perfectly normal expression in my neck of the woods.

  4. Inara Pey

     /  March 5, 2013

    Hey, laugh away. I’ve already pencilled you in to sing the part of Dulcinea del Linden. :)

  5. ahuva18

     /  March 5, 2013

    The telephone shot is superb. To be fair, not ALL of your advice is of the “go play with the buttons variety”. As I told you earlier in a different venue today – your explicit template directions ROCK!!!! :)

  1. Shadows & Windlight Settings & a Trick in Second Life | Second Life - Photography |

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