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The Photo Delima

Luna Jubilee wrote a short post today about the recent preponderance of low quality photos on the shopaholic feed. I have to say that I agree -- at least with the number of less than great pictures. They are appearing on many feeds, not just shopaholic :D.

She linked to a very nice tutorial, one of several I have seen on the subject over the years. The theme has always been the same -- "giant, high rez files are the way to go when taking photos for your blog". I have read many of these tutorials in the past and while I understand the idea behind them, I have a very difficult time seeing the difference in the end result. I look at the "good" and the "bad" photos side by side. On my monitor and with my system they look very similar -- certainly not worth that 10.8 MB cost of time and space.

A tiny bit of background: I was a fairly high profile multi-media web designer for over a decade. I gave that up simply because I couldn't face another day of the same grind. But -- in that decade I learned a lot. [Boring biographical stuff deleted on rereading :D]

I am writing this because I am worried about the new bloggers that might not be able to follow that "high rez - humongous file size" advice. They might not have computers that can handle the large files. They might just say, "hey, I can't do what they say I should be doing, so I'll quit."  My hunch, before doing the test below, was that quality had less to do with the high rez aspect and more to do with viewer quality settings and Windlight.

I did a systematic test. I am putting the best (high rez - Ultra) version first, followed by the lowest quality screenshot. The ones spanning the difference will go in between. I normally DO take high-rez snapshots about this size. The only time I have taken huge, larger than my monitor, photos was for a SL print ad in a magazine. Hence this is a fair example of what I would usually do to make the photos you see on this blog daily. I used my personal default Windlight setting -- the one I use on a daily basis for working.  All photos are saved as 90% jpgs and all have been uploaded into blogger the same way.

Here we go. Click on each photo to see a full sized version. Feel free to download and compare them side by side if that works better for you.

This is a high resolution snapshot (Advanced tab - High Rez Snapshot with an X) with the quality set on ULTRA (Edit > Preferences>Graphics>Ultra).

I am using Emerald, so these may be in different places if you are using Viewer 2.

This is a screenshot (Alt + Print Screen on the keyboard) at the lowest Quality viewer setting (Low) . You can't get much more basic than that. Honestly, I don't think it is all that bad. Certainly not as good as the top photo, but with good lighting it is acceptable -- to me anyway.

High Resolution snapshot with the lowest quality setting (LOW). This basically is a pre Windlight look with no shaders or shine.

This is a screenshot with ULTRA quality setting.

This is a high resolution snapshot with MID quality settings in the viewer.

So -- 

For me, the viewer settings used make much more difference in the overall look and feel of the photo than the high resolution aspect. I have compared much larger resolution photos too, and by the time they become jpgs for the web, the difference is nominal -- at least on my monitor which I gauge as being in the mid range of those used in SL.

From my point of view -- if you are new and wondering how to improve your photos -- crank up that quality setting as far as your computer will let you and work on your Windlight skills. I can run tons of programs including SL  along with  high resource games and graphics programs and still use the ULTRA setting. The viewer defaults to HIGH if I don't change it, so it isn't all that smart *wink*.

This post is not to say high resolution photos are bad. If you want to go that way and can, great. I take them every day. But if your machine isn't up to the effort, you can still blog and you can still do a good job. Skills take time to master. Practice does help.

So go forth, do your thing and try to make improvements where you can.


Hi Chic, I just want to thank you for your encouraging words on this topic regarding quality pics--I think yours is by far the kindest and most reasonable view:-))It's heartening to know that there are still people out there who understand the problems we plebeians face, and it's not for lack of trying either, but everytime I try to take high rez pics, my laptop crashes, so I turned to windlight (like you said) and hopefully that will more than compensate:-))May your tribe increase:-)))
I'd love to say I can use a high quality setting on my Mac, but anything past medium crashes SL, no matter how few other programs I have running. However, I can save really high rez photos, so at least that option is open to Mac users.
Marti Nelson said…
How are you getting shadows at mid level quality on Emerald? My Emerald requires ultra, and even then doesn't nearly as pronounced as yours, no matter what windlight setting I seem to use.
Gogo said…
I completely agee with you Chic. I don't take snapshots bigger than 1280x1024 for my blog. Once in awhile, I will indulge in this so called "high-res" huge image and it crashes my (old) pc. My new one is suppose to handle it just fine but I haven't tried it yet! :P

Bigger isn't always better, it is not the size that counts.. it is the QUALITY :P
Chic Aeon said…
Thanks for the comments guys. I am so glad Blogger didn't lose them. That's been happening a lot lately. I click to "moderate" them and cross my fingers *wink*.

Marti - I haven't done anything unusual in my Mid settings. I actually never use that setting in day to day life. I just looked and for me MID quality has "bump mapping and shiny" as well as "basic shadows" checked.

I don't actually understand how the viewer determines what to check and uncheck for the settings, but it MIGHT have something to do with the graphics card used. Mine was new three years ago -- not so new now. It is a Nvidia 7600. I can't actually get cast shadows that some folks can get.

You can turn different attributes on and off in the graphics settings by checking the CUSTOM box. Hope that helped. Someone on the Emerald forums may have more info on this. Luckily I can crank everything up and still do fine. That may be the 512 dedicated memory on the graphics card. I bought a separate one and replaced the basic one when I purchased my machine. Feel like a new one would be a good thing, but so far this is doing fine and I hate that switching over process :D.

Good luck!
Jordan Whitt said…
Yay mine got eaten!

I do high res, ultra graphic setting, zoom in, windlight, lighting, but I do 1024x720 and I like to think my pics come out ok.

I also think a lot has to be said about poses, lighting and post processing.

You need to use poses that show off the items and don't have bits sticking in or out where they're not sposed to - hair in boobage, leg through skirts etc. I think I spend more time trying to do that than anything! It totally drives me nuts when I see blog pics where hair is in the chest or things are where they shouldn't be. How hard is it to take a few more mins to find a hair that works with the pose and outfit?

Lighting is very important. So many pics on blogs lately are so dark you can hardly see anything. Sometimes its as easy as changing a windlight setting.

And you don't have to be a PS whiz to post process. I can only do basics such as cloning to fill in blanks, smoothing to unroughen edges and thats about it! It does make a huge difference. Experimenting and tinkering is fun and a good way to learn new things.
Chic Aeon said…
Agreed Jordan - I've made a few comments about the hands into skirt thing (sigh).

The primary reason that I take my photos large (by some standards anyway) is so that I can upload them into Blogger where they are resized down automatically leaving the BIG photo for the folks that want to click and see the details. Some of my collages are even 1800 pixel squares.

The folks that just want a quick look can scroll through easily and the people that REALLY want to see those details can click for a big version. Best of both worlds. It isn't a 'bigger is better' thing except in the sense that the full sized version is big enough to fill most screens and still clear. Just my choice and one reason why I like blogger -- even it is does eat comments some times. Yours never even go to moderation part it seems. Oh well!
Jordan Whitt said…
Yay it ate my comment AGAIN!!! At least I remembered to copy it first this time lol.

Oh good point about the resizing. I guess I'm way too impatient waiting for them to load to keep mine big, plus a lot of the feeds ask for pics to be no bigger than 600 wide, so I follow that direction when I resize to blog.

*bounces back to blog pic editing*
Loquacia Loon said…
Very useful advice - thanks for sharing so much with us, Chic. I'm not a blogger but am taking my SL photography seriously. Posts like this are how we learn.

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