note: please read this post in my blog, not reader, as the galleries do not show up properly.
Hello, friends! Here is the promised tutorial for how I take my screenshots.
The way this tutorial is set out will sorta be in a ‘bad and good examples’ manner, based on how I used to take pictures compared to now. However, this tutorial is purely my opinion for what makes a nice picture — my ideas will probably change in later generations — and this a creative process, so there is no true right or wrong. The things I say are ‘bad’ only refer to my pictures, not anyone else’s! My intention is not to say my way of taking pictures is right, because it really isn’t, and I hope I don’t sound patronising. This is just a collection of personal tips. Also, since most people don’t use ReShade, I will include pictures without the software in the examples, so you can see my game without ‘makeup’ for the first time in a while 😀 You can click on the galleries to expand if you want to examine the pictures more closely.
I’m an amateur photographer so don’t take my tips too seriously. Here’s a great photography article that covers every composition technique I use, and probably explains them way better. Remember, though, that sometimes purposefully breaking the rules can achieve striking images. Composition is the most crucial element in taking a picture, so here are my key tips:
- Eye Level
I always try to keep the camera at a level that a person could take photos from. That means eye level for portraits, and generally for story pictures as well — I never go above eye level unless I absolutely need to. Aligning the camera to look straight into the characters’ eyes is my top technique to inject humanism into them. Here’s a cinematographic theory I learned in English: high angle (above eye level) makes the character look small/weak and the viewer feel like a ‘god’. That’s basically what Sims is, so I tend to avoid this shot because it makes the pictures look obviously from a game, although there are times that high angle is effective. The low angle shot (below eye level) makes the character look big/powerful, which is great for evil characters.
The way I balance pictures is how ’empty’ and ‘full’ areas are distributed inside the frame, the ‘full’ usually being the people and light sources. I always aspire to achieve a sense of symmetry. If there is only one person, I either put them smack bang in the centre or angle the camera so the person is to one side and a distinct background feature is on the other side. If there are any bright light sources (like lamps) I try to balance them out in the same way. In this example, Lilith is the focal point, with the distinct background features being Raphael and the bright green plant. Currently, both features are to one side of Lilith, with Raphael being mostly cut off. To balance this out, I move the camera so there is one feature on each side and both aren’t cut off (+ down to eye level). Now the ’empty’ and ‘full’ areas are evenly distributed.
- Rule of Thirds
The Rule of Thirds is a fundamental aspect of balance. For me, balancing your pictures is simply a natural instinct you gain with time, but the Rule of Thirds is a good point to start. Essentially, you imagine a 3×3 grid and align focal features to the lines and intersections. With the same example for balance, we can see Lilith’s eyes and Raphael are located on lines (the plant maybe should have been taller).
- Natural + Artificial Lighting
I’m sure all of us know that EA’s outdoor lighting is crap. I almost always avoid taking pictures outdoors in daytime, unless I really have to. Night and indoors is preferable since you can control the lighting. When I’m shooting indoors I often use floor/ceiling lamps to light someone’s face the way I want, but outside at night I don’t, unless it’s in a setting that could logically explain the lighting, such as street lamps (just a personal preference).
- Coloured Lighting
I recently began playing with the game’s coloured lighting system (from Late Night?), and it is super helpful in setting the mood. I have used red + yellow several times in the flashbacks, for the drug running / gang / Ebony scenes — excellent for creating a dangerous atmosphere.
- Back Lighting
I just discovered backlighting (accidentally haha), so I don’t know the full potential of it yet. I moved the lamp around many times before finding a position I liked — Luc and Cherry’s features are picked out and sharpened, without the harshness of frontal lighting, and the whole image has much more contrast.
I think all of you know what ReShade is by now. The software is, in my opinion, just so versatile and simple to use. I found it super easy to set up, it just took a while to select and fine-tune effects to my liking. There are tons of options — I haven’t even tried half of them — so you can really do anything with it. I have two presets: one for modern day, which is warmer, and one for flashbacks, which is colder and sharper. These are my favourite effects right now:
- Depth of Field
The main reason why I love this effect is because of the resulting light bokeh. It means taking pictures at night, especially in the city, is super pretty. And in any case, DOF removes the flatness of the game and adds realistic depth. There are some issues concerning weird blurriness around the sims, but I think that only happens to a noticeable degree if there is glass in the background.
Firstly, I need to note that my Sims graphics options are set to maximum, and I also have an HQ mod. HDR further ‘sharpens’ the images.
I don’t know all the exact options, but you can fiddle with saturation and colours! I use Sepia on my modern day chapters to give them a similar warm hue to my early non-ReShade pictures.
In general, I usually keep the camera very close to the sim, unless there is something else interesting in the setting/background or I want to show their outfit; or else the picture might look empty, particularly if it’s indoors with plain walls. Of course, if you want to create a sense of emptiness or void, then stepping backwards often results in far more impactful pictures. In this example, a close up of the diner looks okay (save for the townies, yuck) but the diner is located by itself at the end of a wharf. I wanted to take advantage of that isolation and also the leading lines of the wharf.
I tilted my camera during the first part of Generation Three (after discovering it halfway through Gen 2), but I switched back to level. Whether tilting is a good technique or not really depends on what effect you are trying for. My intention right now is realism, and once I began working harder on the details of the setting, I didn’t want to distract from it with a theatrical camera tilt. In technical terms this is called a Dutch Angle, which is often used to create a sense of disorientation / uneasiness, so I think it’s great if you are going for a more dramatic look rather than realistic. In this example, Caden appears slightly more dangerous with the tilt, but I will stick with level so the focus is directed more to his face.
I don’t tend to zoom out the camera much since it can warp the image. Sometimes, I slightly zoom out to include more things inside the frame, or for dramatic effect. For ReShade users, I have found that zooming out increases the DOF strength.
This is not explicitly related to picture taking, but the quality of cc (mainly decor) plays an important part in how good a shot looks. I do recommend searching for excellent quality cc — high polygon meshes and well decorated settings — especially if you don’t want to use ReShade.
To finish off, I will show my thought process for one of my fave pictures, which was of Ebony. The mood I wanted for the picture was dark and ominous, since it was the serial killing scene. The first obvious choice was to shoot it at night. Here’s a picture without lighting, ReShade, or a composition that I like:
First, I turned all the lights on the lot red. This was to set the mood for, you know, a bloody murder 😛 Also, it somewhat covered the ugly mismatched wallpaper that I forgot to change. Now that I think of it, I should have changed it to brick for a more urban, even, and textured background. I made the choice to not artificially light her face because 1. there are no viable sources nearby (location for a murder) and 2. I wanted her to look more scary.
Then, I improved the composition. The camera was not directly focused on Ebony and was high angle, which meant she just looked like a sim casually walking along the street. It was also quite impersonal and Ebony didn’t seem that important, if that makes sense. To fix this, I brought the camera right in close, and down to just below eye level. There are two areas emitting or reflecting red light in the background, so I aligned the camera so one was either side of Ebony.
Finally, I switched on ReShade. My preset for the modern day chapters has HDR, DOF, Sepia, Tonemap, and Lumasharpen checked.
Before and after!
Alright, that’s the end of my tutorial! I hope you enjoyed it and that it was helpful! As a final note, I want to clarify that I don’t literally think of all these techniques + theories while taking a picture. I simply move the camera around and change the setting until I feel the shot looks good — so do what you feel looks good! Again, none of what I said is guidelines for right or wrong, it’s just my preference. I hope that I didn’t make anyone feel like their pictures are bad, because that’s not true. For me, so many different, unique styles of pictures is a big reason for what makes Simlit fun to read.
Thank you for reading, I wish everyone a lovely day/night ❤
PS: The super talented Louise has also created a picture tutorial. Her one is more focused on colours and mood, and she has covered several aspects of lighting that I didn’t talk about, so I suggest you check out her awesome tutorial (+ stories)!