Virtual Photography: a Manifesto
v1.0 - Milan, Italy - December 25, 2019
1.0 – Virtual Photography (VP) is photography of and within the virtual worlds of videogames.
2.0 – VP is made using a virtual camera software. The most common tools are official ingame-built Photo Modes, independent camera hacks and NVIDIA® Ansel™. Gameplay cameras are also viable, albeit limited, framing tools.
2.1 – Most virtual camera tools allow to stop time before composing the frame. This takes to all VP genres the absolute control of still life and pose shooting. Therefore, when it comes to action, VP benefits of the same angle freedom traditionally allowed only to illustrators and movie directors. VP is image composition at its finest; when you can stop time, you have no excuses.
2.2 – Screenshots from in-game cinematics (cut-scenes) are no VP. To shoot a virtual photo, you must compose the framing.
3.0 – Technically, traditional photography can be just a click on a photocamera. But that could hardly produce either good or relevant photos. The same goes with VP. Technically, any screenshot button click during gameplay or inside a Photo Mode produces a virtual photo. But it takes knowledge, skill and time to produce relevant results.
3.1 – VP is not about adjusting the frame and applying an Instagram-like filter. It takes multiple skills in both gaming and photography. VP is hard.
3.2 - VP's aim is not necessarily photorealism and a virtual shot is not necessarily better if it looks like a real-life photo. VP is not about imitation. Absolute photorealism is a plus only when either the game graphics or the photographer (or both!) intend to achieve it for creative purpose. Photorealistic VP is getting easier and easier to achieve as technology advances and soon it’ll be given for granted. But photorealism is no standalone goal, only added value.
4.0 – VP owes everything to the beauty of games. But games need VP to fully show their beauty. Furthermore, VP is a full-fledged language of its own, so it’s not only about showing games in all their glory, but even criticising them, using them to tell something about the real world and the photographer himself.
4.1 – Virtual Photography acknowledges Duncan Harris as its father and pioneer, as over a decade ago he was the first to develop ways and aesthetics for professional videogame screen capturing, elevating it from promotional-purpose screenshotting into a new form of photography.
4.2 – VP is something new in the history of photography. Not only because it uses virtual cameras to produce images from virtual environments, but because it allows to shoot the original characters and places of a fictional story from inside their worlds. Only videogames allow this. Literature, theatre and cinema did not. You either could not or could only shoot actors. You could not photograph the very original Achilles, Frodo, Hamlet or Indiana Jones in action. VP allows you to do it with Kratos, Nathan Drake, Joel and Ellie , Super Mario, Bayek of Siwa and Lara Croft.
5.0 – VP lives on the magic of looking at a beautiful image knowing it comes from a videogame. Then, an excess of post-production would take away this magic and turn VP into just the first step of a different image production method. Think of painting on photography. The image creation starts with a shot, but the final result is no photograph.
6.0 – A photograph quality is usually evaluated taking into account the uniqueness of the moment and the degree of control the photographer had on both the scene and the subjects. Everybody knows that cutting a subject's feet is normally a mistake, but nobody has ever blamed Robert Capa for cutting the feet of his famous Falling Soldier in the very moment he falls on the battlefield. Virtual Photography gives the photographer a huge amount of control on situations that are not impossible to reproduce, so you really need to do something special to impress. A decent landscape or a well framed resting character fail to do that. Virtual Photography allows and demands more. Decent virtual captures may come easier than traditional photographs, at least on a technical level, but they have to try a lot harder to impress. Virtual Photography is not about pleasant pictures, VP is about incredible shots.