The Art of Video Game Photography

Video Game Tourism has an interesting article about the growing art of video game photography, or artistic snapshots captured in the virtual worlds of games:

Games are spaces of experience as much as entertainment. It shouldn’t surprise us that the photographic gaze, that eye for composition and purely visual aesthetic, finds ample opportunity for snapshots in these virtual spaces. In fact, it’s surprising that in-game-photography – for purely aesthetical reasons as opposed to documenting victories or snapping a pic of an impressive vista for use as a desktop wallpaper – is still as unexplored a country as it still seems to be.

[…] The art of in-game-photography is still in its infancy, but it seems obvious that, with constantly increasing photorealism and the popularity of open-world-games, more and more photographers will also look for inspiration and picture opportunities in virtual worlds. Games are places as well as entertainment; and after all, as Elliott Erwitt’s quote at the beginning reminded us: Photography has little to do with the things we see -, and everything to do with the way we see them.

The piece features five leading video game photographers: Duncan Harris, Iain Andrews, James Pollock, Josh Taylor, and Leo Sang. Some of their work is so eye-catching that game companies have asked to use the photos in their promotions.

The Art of in-game Photography [Video Game Tourism]

Image credits: Photographs by James Pollock and Iain Andrews

  • harumph

    The concept of “in-game-photography” reminds of a friend of mine who used to snag screenshots from movies and print them out to frame and hang. He used to call them “his shots,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that someone else had actually done the photography for him.

    Isn’t this basically the same thing? A team of game designers have already created these images; the “in-game photographers” just hit the pause button.

  • mandaya

    no. most of the games used are ‘open world’ games, fully explorable 3d worlds where the player has the opportunity to choose angle and composition pretty much like in the real world. in that regard, it’s actually more like virtual architecture photography.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    To add to mandaya’s point, a lot of have in-game cameras as well. So you can move around in a “photo mode” and in some games even change exposure, contrast, focal length etc.

  • Henning Nilsen

    Top 3 are from Mirror’s Edge.
    Middle one is from Metro 2033.
    Bottom 3 I can’t say for certain.

  • 9inchnail

    Ok… name of of those games, please. There are a couple of photography-themed games but I haven’t seen any “regular” games featuring an in-game camera like the one you describe.

  • e40200287

    In fact, the middle one is from Red Orchestra, and the bottom one is from Jet Set Radio Future. It’s written in the original article.

  • Jord

    Forza Motorsport 4 for one – this allows you to change pretty much every variable imaginable in Photo Mode.

  • freeboprich

    I’m with 9inchnail, besides “Beyond Good And Evil” and perhaps a couple of others that use a camera as part of the gameplay, I’ve never seen a system like you describe – care to enlighten us?

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    I was indeed thinking mainly of the Forza series when mentioning the changing of exposure etc. But then there are a lot of games with ability to roam free within a space, like Minecraft. And speaking of, Minecraft has a mod that allows you to do custom camera movements for timelapses and such.

  • rtfe

    so this is likened to going into a museum with a cellphone and snapping photos(different angles and you can change lighting on the phone). ok. or going through google earth/directions and snapping screenshots. got it.

  • freeboprich

    Oh right, I assumed you meant the character taking images and being able to adjust settings within the context of the game. Oh well, maybe it’s something Ubisoft will incorporate into “Beyond Good and Evil 2″ ;)

  • 9inchnail

    Too bad, I’m not into racing games, the idea sounds fun. They should include a camera mode in GTA5. You will propably be able to snap photos with your phone but I’d just love to have a “real camera” in a game like that.

  • 9inchnail

    Good point here because you actually could not use Google street view because Google holds all the rights to those photos. Makes you wonder if a game company could sue you for selling artworks created with screenshots. I mean, it’s their graphics engine that “created” the world you captured. I guess, you could get into trouble.

  • harumph

    Fair enough. I do find it interesting though that the content of the images, if not the composition of these specific frame-grabs, has first been created by other artists and designers. So essentially, apart from composition, everything (lighting, atmosphere, color, exposure, focus, etc.) has already been designed and rendered for the “photographer.”

  • harumph

    Well, and a graphics engine doesn’t just create things out of whole cloth. An actual artist/designer or a team of designers create these images.

    And “photographers” have used Google street view to varying degrees of success in much the same way that these folks are using video games.

  • mandaya

    that depends on the game as well. in many open-world- or sandbox-games like GTA Or Skyrim there is a day/night cycle and changing weather patterns, so ‘lighting’ is far from static. and then there are also procedurally generated worlds like in Minecraft, where no actual designer is involved in worldbuilding at all and it’s all done by algorithms. as I said: it’s (for now) a slightly limited, but in many respects valid form of (virtual) architecture photography and completely different from taking movie screenshots.

  • mandaya

    see my reply above. procedural generation does away with a human graphic /level designer in a certain respect.

  • Leonardo Sang

    Leo Sang here to defend us! hahaha (:
    I understand it is quite difficult to fully understand this. For my method, the pictures taken are not from cinematic scenes, since these situations were directed by a photographer. On the other hand, I see the “world” as it was freely designed by 3D, texture and lighting artists, right? Sure those “elements” were placed with thought and so on, lighting surely is important, but the final result isn’t 100% planned, most places or subjects simply “exist” and end up being interesting somehow.
    The thing is, there are plenty of interesting stuff around the streets that were planned alone, but in a group, in the composition, they turn into something interesting, I guess that’s the concept around the “in-game photography”. Even though those 3D objects were made by someone else, who’s going to correctly frame that scene? Find the better lines? That would be the “player”.
    I am a graphic designer and photographer, so I also find a few controversies in this, but it is a fun hobby. A curious new concept, I think.

  • Sebastian Soiden

    I feel a similar situation would be that an arquitect sues you because you take a photo of a building he/she designed… It’s the same with in-game worlds.

  • McGraffix

    * I do not mean the below to be derogatory*
    How is that different from the real world? Every car, building or other unnatural structure you take a picture of has been designed by someone else? Only natural things could be said not to have been designed (and that only if you believe in Darwinism of course ;) ).
    Taking the argument further: you can only take a photograph because someone else has designed the apparatus for you. You are free to go and choose to photograph from in the real world, as in the virtual world.
    And yes, I do see the obvious difference between the two :).

  • harumph

    Well, those natural things that aren’t designed include light, which is arguably the most important component of any photograph. The designed environment of a video game offers perfect lighting in every shot, digitally illustrated by a team of artists. Composition is the only thing left for the virtual photographer to control.

  • guest

    Some games the player spends a lot of time arranging the items and when it looks interesting wants to keep the image.

  • guest

    would like to know if there are more games with beautiful items to arrange?