I have had several requests for an up to date guide on how I edit my in-game images (An earlier guide with a different workflow can also be found here). This guide assumes you are using Adobe Photoshop. I use CC 2014, but this should be compatible with earlier versions also.
Part one, Generating an image.
The first step in creating a great final screenshot is to actually generate an image to work with. To do this you will need to use a program that allows you to generate a screenshot, or use in game tools to achieve the same effect.
Once you have selected the tools you will use to generate an image, you should ensure that your in game graphics settings and resolution are as high as they can go. Framerate is not an issue here and any quality lost here will be difficult or impossible to create in post processing.
Tips to get the best image.
1. removing screen clutter
Ctrl+f10 will remove the games UI which gives you a much cleaner image. (pressing this again will bring it back). This will also remove all menus, so you will need to re-enable it to use the map / redeploy / respawn etc.
Ctrl+f11 will remove the weapon model. This also prevents you from firing a weapon, and entering vehicles.
2. control of field of view
There are two options to allow to change the field of view of the resulting image.
The first is to use the field of view tool within the graphics settings, changing this will give the impression of a more “zoomed in” (or out) image, but is slow to change, and will limit your observational field of view.
The second is to equip a scope to a weapon then ADS when you want to zoom in. This is convenient as it allows you freedom to capture at 2 different angles and allows more situational awareness, but has the downside of generating an artificial blur on the bottom of the image (to simulate depth of field when using a scope in-game). This blur can be viewed at the bottom of the image below.
I could write for days about composition, there are many techniques, rules and guidelines that you can get bogged down in, but I have always subscribed to the “if it looks good, then it is good” rule. I learnt compositional rules after I started photographing, then discovered that my images tended to follow them anyway, so have never worried about strict adherence.
The above image is one shot on a 70-200mm f2.8 lens and is similar in style to many of my in game images. I will try to use a narrow field of view to simulate a long lens and fill the frame with my subject, whilst keeping the background free of distractions. Planetside 2 also has a steep loss of detail as distance increases, and keeping the subject close can help preserve as much quality as possible.
Part two, Editing your image.
The above image is as it was taken in-game, of VS player RD77. Once you have an image, you can then start the process of enhancing and editing it.
1. cropping and levels
First use the crop tool to remove any distractions, or areas of the image you do not wish to use. In the above, I have removed a dark area on the far right which added nothing to the image.
Next we need to set a white and black point, open the levels tool Ctrl+L and move the black and white arrows under the graph in to meet the edges of the graph to set the image’s black and white points. Holding Alt when you do this will show any clipped colours, so you can be more accurate with this process.
A quick note on layers:
I use layers (and layer masks) quite a lot during this guide, so it is useful to have some understanding of how they work.
- Any layers you create can be found in the layers tab (see above image)
- The top layer on the layers tab will also be on top of the image hiding content from other layers directly below, in simple terms, “the layers on top impact the layers below”
- layers have opacity which allows control over how much of the layer below they obscure.
- A mask can be applied to a layer, this allows you to nullify an area of that particular layer and any effect it is having.
Images from Planetside 2 are generally quite soft, and can be improved with a small amount of sharpening. There are several methods available, but the one I use is High Pass sharpening which is outlined below.
- Create a duplicate layer (Ctrl+J)
- Navigate to Filter – Other – High Pass
- set the radius to a low amount where you can just see the edge detail coming through this value may vary depending on the image, and controls the strength of the sharpening.
- Set the High Pass layer (layer 1) blend mode (found in the layers tab) to overlay
- If you are happy with the effect merge the layer down (Ctrl+E) this should provide a result similar to the one below.
3. Adding depth of field – 1
Adding depth of field to the image is simply blurring the areas you want blurred, and keeping sharp those areas you want sharp. In this image the player will be the only totally sharp area, so we need to select him. To do this accurately I zoom in to a very high degree and use the polygonal lasso to draw around the edge of the player. Once I have done this I create a new layer from the selection (Ctrl+J).
If I am editing a photograph rather than a screenshot, I will make much more use of the Quick Select Tool, as this allows me to be faster and retain accuracy, using the polygonal lasso only when needed. However the quick select tool does not work too well with in-game screenshots so I am forced to use the lasso.
4. Adding Depth of field 2
Once you have created a new layer for the areas you want to remain sharp you can then blur the rest of the image. I create a copy of the background layer (leaving the actual background layer as a backup) and add a Gaussian blur to the “Background copy” layer (filters – blur – Gaussian blur). The stronger the effect of this, the more noticeable the blur becomes. The player in this image is unaffected by the blur as his layer (layer 1) is above the blurred (Background copy) layer.
In the above image I have also created a layer from the railing in front of the player (layer 2) and added a very small blur to this to draw attention to the player.
This image was quite easy to add depth of field to as it has a wall behind which creates a solid blur point. If the image has more distance behind the subject it may become necessary to vary the strength of the blur across the image. I do this by creating a layer mask to the blur layer and adding a black to white gradient from foreground to background (see below for more on layer masks). An example of this sort of image can be seen below.
5. Shading 1
The image is now at a point where it can be shaded to define the shadows and highlights, and make it look more real. I use a series of curves adjustment layers to accomplish this (Layer – New adjustment layer – curves). As these are layers like any other, they should remain above any layer you want to be impacted by the curves adjustment.
The image highlights (and all brightened areas) will be generated from the first curves adjustment layer (light). When creating this adjustment, pull the curve up strongly, but make sure that the curve (seen in the image above) remains a curve and does not lose data by hitting a true white point early.
We then mask this result by selecting the layer mask of the adjustment layer (see above), and filling it black using the paint bucket tool. This will hide the adjustment until we use it at a later time.
Perform exactly the same process on a new curves adjustment layer (dark) to create your shadows.
Once you have created (and masked) both adjustment layers, you can start adding the shading. Start on either adjustment layer, and use the paintbrush tool to paint in the shadows and highlights in white to selectively remove the mask on the adjustment layer. The brush for this should be a soft one with a low opacity (10% – 20%). On the above image I have painted in the highlights, you can see the area that is effected in white on the “light” layer mask.
Once you have painted in your highlights, select the dark layer and repeat the process for the shadows. Again you should paint the adjustment layer’s mask white with a low opacity brush to darken the areas you want darkening.
If you want to reverse a change during this shading process, simply change the colour of the brush to black. Painting using this will re-mask the area.
6. Adding glow
Many characters models in Planetside 2 have glowing lights on the model, but these do not emit any light or colour.
The lack of light can be addressed in the previous step by editing the “light” layer’s mask, but to add colour we need to perform another edit. I have used another curves adjustment layer to create a Vanu friendly blue glow by manipulating the RGB channels in the curves tool, this adjustment is then masked as before, and any areas that need a blue glow are painted back using the same method as was used to shade the image. The addition of glow gives the effect seen below.
7. HDR tone filter.
The final touches are added with HDR toning, to do this you first need to duplicate the document in another tab (see above image) then in the new document use image – adjustments – HDR toning to generate a HDR image.
The saturation slider should be pulled to -100 to remove all colour, then the detail pushed up (I go for just over 200%). Gamma should also be increased to avoid clipping the white tones. This image should then be moved back to the original document using the move tool, and layered on top.
The HDR layer should be set to Soft light blend mode from the drop-down box, and given an opacity to suit the strength of effect you desire (30% is about right for me)
At this point the image is pretty much complete, and can be flattened and saved. I have also added a vignette to the final image which is shown below.