Whilst reading around recently I came across a new modification for digital images (well originally for real camera images) called the Orton technique. It's a good way to make softer-looking high-colour saturation images that works well for romantic pictures, and fuzzy memory pictures. The tutorial from Yanik's Photo School, for example, shows a bunch of roses and a father holding his baby as the images on which to use it.

Very briefly, you duplicate the original image layer, apply a moderate radius (10-20px, probably 5-15 for things you'll upload back into SL) Gaussian blur and then a bit of trial and error to set the duplicated layer to overlay or soft-light (this gives you a soft-focus higher contrast and saturation image) and possibly tweak the saturation and lightness too.

Orton romantic SL shotSecond Life snaps (photos in a more controlled environment with light sources might not suffer this so much, but I haven't tried that yet) rarely work well with this technique without quite a lot of playing - setting the background to be darker and lower contrast and the foreground (usually the faces) to be brighter and higher contrast before you whip out your Orton work, but it can give nice pictures. Here's one that took quite a lot of playing to get the contrasts to work nicely, but it does give you a nice romantic look to the image.

original imageHowever, last week I was visiting for the first time in far too long a good friend of mine in Second Life, and took a snap of her latest build - Cthulhu perched on the rocks watching a ship sink. It's an interesting subject for a picture, but the original (to the left here) is a bit flat. It's also not going to respond well to lighting in the SL way - if you squint really hard you might find a couple of pale blobs that are avatars in the picture, can you imagine trying to light that with the tools in Second Life? (For that matter, given the scale, lighting it in real life would be a strain unless you've got a spare film studio lying around!)

Orton to imageThe Orton technique on this picture is actually a pretty poor choice: the sky is the bright bit, and doesn't take soft focus sensibly, whilst the ship is the darkest bit and becomes darker, destroying information that contributes to the sense of the picture, for example you can't pick out the deck planks nor any of the structure of the ship really. Oops. You can perhaps see why there's a lot of playing in Second Life snaps to get this to work: most snaps in Second Life have quite big areas of background and they're often surprisingly bright.

HDR to picMeanwhile faux-HDR (as discussed in an earlier blog entry) doesn't quite work either: it fights, as you might expect, to draw attention to the specifics in a picture that is really a broad canvas. You don't really want to be concentrating on the cracks in the rocks, the stays on the ship, but taking in the overall look more and HDR tends to draw the attention to those details rather too much.

Final imageSomewhat surprisingly, if you combine the techniques - one to make everything sharper and brighter, and one to make everything blurrier, higher contrast and higher saturation you get a nice picture. It's far more vibrant than the original. The extra lightness from the HDR means that there's enough detail left in the ship to give you a clear image of what it is and what is going on there. The blurring from the Orton means that those really attention grabbing lines in the HDR are softened and you can move your eyes easily over the whole image and take it all in. Rather unexpectedly the combination also makes the sea colours look much more interesting: the surf around the rocks stands out much more for example, and the darker blue in the foreground hints at deeper waters even though we know that's not likely in Second Life.

It's not really a combination I'd expect to work well, and I suspect it's not a technique that will work well with all images, but when it does, it's a really nice combination, as they both are separately when applied to the right images.

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