Virtual Photography: Personal Considerations
February 27, 2020
Note: numbers continue from the Manifesto, as these Personal Considerations are its natural prosecution.
7.0 – Portraits and landscapes are certainly Virtual Photography (VP) genres of their own, but they can be relevant only under very special conditions, like rare or peculiar clothing, lighting, setting and poses. Otherwise, they are only screenshots of game assets. A virtual shot is really good when credit should clearly go to the photographer, and not to the game artists for the biggest part.
7.1 – I believe the best VP is about relationships, either among characters or among one or more characters and their world. Shooting characters or environments alone can make for very good framings, but can rarely tell something relevant about them. Again, VP is about adding to the game artists’ work, not only showcasing it.
7.2 – Variables in virtual worlds, albeit still infinite, are fewer than in the real world. Lighting conditions may vary, but they always come from a limited range. It’s frequent to relive the same identical situation, whereas in real life, weather conditions, the position of the Sun, vegetation and people’s appearance are never just the same. Therefore, nothing’s lost forever even when you’ve just missed that peculiar moment. On the other hand, when light, colours and creatures’ design are the intended work of somebody else, it becomes harder to do something personal and unique, as required to claim it’s your vision and not just the game artists’. So portrait and landscape VP is first and foremost about originality. If it’s trivial, then it is no virtual photo, only a screenshot. I realized my Portraits and Places collections keeping this in my mind.
8.0 – VP shows videogames as breathing worlds of their own. Good VP does not present them as waiting for the player’s inputs for something to begin or make sense. Something is already happening in the virtual world, and VP gives you a special eye on it.
9.0 – Time stop and ‘what you see is what you get’ capturing may suggest that VP is easier than real life photography. Actually, it’s just different, not easier. Everything that’s hard in real life photography comes easier in VP and everything that’s easy in real life comes harder in VP. Real life always looks true and consistent, whatever the zoom level. Videogames don’t. Each game has its unique visual style the photographer needs to master in order to find out what lighting, gameplay situations, map places and zoom level might produce convincing photo results in the end. In real life, photography always obeys to the same laws of physics, whether it’s fashion or war photography. In VP, every virtual world is peculiar in its components’ behaviour. Thus, shooting a new game is always a bit like re-learning from scratch the whole job. Usually, this process takes me about 50 hours every time.
9.1 – Hard VP shots that are generally easier to get in real life include: camera-look portraits and pose-shooting in general, blurred shots, cloudy sky, night and indoor shots, macros and close-ups, telephotos and far away panoramic shots.
10.0 – Only in a few real life photography genres the photographer is also the subject. In VP, getting the playable character in suitable stances, interactions and situations is a crucial part of the job. VP requires a composite skill. Being a good photographer is not enough, you need to be a good player too.
11.0 – Capturing on the PC with free camera tools offers the best freedom of movement and framing. But creativity often thrives on limitations. Working with unhacked official in-game Photo Modes can make for a more physical photo experience, forcing you to find something to climb on for a higher angle or to stealthily approach a dangerous enemy for a full frame close-up.
12.0 - Depending on the hardware a game is running on, image quality in VP can vary, but not as much as in real life photography due to your photo equipment. Besides, when a game is console-exclusive, the image quality is exactly the same for everybody. Then, the focus shifts towards content: subjects, timing, composition, camera angle and, above all, meaning. Contemporary open world games constantly offer beautiful vistas to capture, but a nice view is not enough to impress in VP. To rise over the game artist’s work, the virtual photographer needs to produce something unique, relatable and hard to reproduce.
13.0 - VP would be a great practice tool for real life photography students and amateurs, because videogames are entertainment, so they constantly need to be exciting and avoid downtime. Then, they offer meaningful moments at a hugely superior rate than ordinary daily life. Practicing angles and composition with action sequences or meaningful story moments in VP builds up an experience the young photographers will capitalize on when something special happens during their real life shootings.