Developing an Image

A discussion on how to decide upon the order of Terragen image composition

From time to time people seek advice from experienced Terrageneers about how they should proceed when developing an image.

Now let me make this point very clear right from the start: there's not THE way. Anyway, it's good to understand the impact that each component - terrain, water, atmosphere, surface and lighting has on the each of the other parts.

We had this discussion in the german forum recently (and more than once) and I decided to write up a summary, especially for people that are new to Terragen.

The logical way

From my point of view, there's a logical way one can follow when developing an image in Terragen. It is this one:

1. Get or design your terrain of choice. Once you have it, make sure you're satisfied with the extend and height of the terrain features. The extend is controlled by the terrain size and the meters point spacing (mps). When you increase the mps, your terrain is enlarged virtually in meters. The TG Units stay the same. It is important to decide upon the final metrics of the image at this early stage, since changes to the size of the image later on will result in a totally different effect of the atmosphere, for the relative sizes and distances might dramatically change - but the settings in the atmosphere dialog do not. All other parameters do adjust according to your changes in the mps. Here are two images, only with different mps:

Image one, 2 mps: Image two, 200 mps:

2. Find your final camera postion. This might turn out helpful for the further development of the image components. Besides from that, it is the most important step in image composition overall (IMHO).

3. Develop the final atmosphere. This means, when you're done with this step, you're not going to make any major changes to the clouds, the sun dialog and the atmosphere dialog. Of course, this step depends on the type of image you are creating. When you use heavy decay, or sunrays and a low shadow lighness, it would be a pain if you had the surface ready at this stage, and find yourself looking for a good cloud formation, which allows for the illumination of the nice looking areas of the image. A heavy decay impacts the appearance of the surface very much, too.

4. Now you're up for the surface map. Make it the way you want it to look like and refrain from using only two layers or so. That would be a waste of opportunities. Spend time on this feature.

5. Go for the water. You might adjust the water settings at any stage, I think. I just put it at the end for no specific reason

The intuitive way

It is quite common to first fix the terrain, camera and water, then the surface map, then the atmosphere and clouds. Somehow, this seems to be a more intuitive way to proceed in image composition. But be aware that you might spend much more time with this approach. In fact, many people do a bit terrain modification, then a rough surface map, than some clouds and rays, then go back to the surface map, then redo some terrain features, then the water, and after all a final surface map..... or other variations.

The bottom line is: there is no rule, since it is the fun of creation and the final result that counts. You can do it any way you like. But from now on, don't complain when a modification in one parameter changes your image - you have been warned ;-)

Frank Basinski