Are We Entering a New Era of Video Game Photography?

Given that a photograph is already virtual, how do we get our minds around a virtual representation of an already virtual world? As this video explores, video games are changing our perception of reality, and photography is becoming more than just a means of creative expression.

This wonderfully insightful video from eurothug4000 (a.k.a. Maria) explores how video game photography is evolving, going beyond bonus challenges and minigames, to artistic creativity, and a means of gaining a better understanding of reality itself.

Maria asks an important question. To some, a photograph within a virtual world is not a photograph, but given that the boundary between reality and photography is already quite blurred, who’s to say that a virtual photograph is any different if it fulfills the same purposes? Just because what you are exploring is what William Gibson would call a “consensual hallucination,” does that make the resulting photography any less valid or valuable?

Something that Maria might want to explore in future videos is Flight Simulator, a piece of software for which the term “video game” falls short. Photographers such as Eric Adams (check out his "FlightSim" highlighted story) are already using Flight Simulator as a means of researching not just locations but how the light will behave at a given time on a given day.

Are we seeing a new era of video game photography? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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29 Comments

Robert K Baggs's picture

It's bound to irk a lot of photographers that this sort of thing is being discussed in the same breath as photography, but sod them. The driving game Forza has a brilliant photo mode which allows control over camera settings (to a degree and not perfectly accurately, mind) and the results in the developer's weekly photo competitions are superb. It may not be photography per se, but it can certainly aid in honing one's creative eye, composition, and well... it's just good fun. I don't doubt that there are gamers out there who took some great in-game shots and thought about trying it in real life, and that can be nothing but good to my eye.

C Fisher's picture

I spent a lot of time in GTA 5 just driving around taking pictures of everything lol. It probably did lead to me loving photography so much, nothing like driving to the top of a mountain just in time for an amazing sunrise.

Chris Rogers's picture

broooooo check out Control. The environments in that game are downright gorgeous and several of the live encounters (not cut scenes, actual gameplay) are gorgeous and very cinematic.

Miha Me's picture

They're called screenshots, and someone else spent years designing the look of the game.
It can be called an image, but it can not be called a photograph as no photons were captured.

Matthew Mastrandrea's picture

That's a poor way to look at it. Photography is a way to visually communicate or tell stories, and you can absolutely do that in the virtual space.

Most modern games have photo modes where you can pause the action, position your virtual camera, and adjust camera settings such as focal length, aperture, and even shutter speed.

I've even used video games with photo modes to teach my students better photography and composition skills, to great effect. The games allow them to experiment in the comfort of their own homes, and they can and do put those refined skills to use when I hand them the school's camera.

Deleted Account's picture

Cool. Guess I'll go pick up some paper and pencils and draw me some photographs...

Berry Jones's picture

Do you make your students use extra gaming services to get a higher level asap? I mean if it makes sense to use, say, https://overgear.com/games/wow/dungeons to get a higher level in the game and thus get more impressive shots? Or do they spend hours on end themselves and upgrade their chars on their own?

Wahon Lof's picture

I really don't think that this is a poor way to look at this... Nice methods to work with students but I would use gaming services https://kingboost.net/ also for teaching them, let's say, for higher understanding. Do they like to play the games you offer to them?

Bokeh Master's picture

not gonna preach on ya but the real world is also years in the making, right?

Ryan Cooper's picture

I'd argue that it is more or less no different than creating 3d rendered scenes using 3d authoring software. Sure the UI is different (you are controlling a game space rather than interacting with a piece of design software). That said, all 3D authoring software functions at its very core by allowing the user to navigate a camera around a 3D space, which really is what you do in-game as well, albeit, often with more restriction.

The big differentiator though, is that you are not creating anything in the game other than framing a composition and thus the activity leans more towards photography which, generally speaking, is creative observation as well.

I think though, that in-game photography will introduce the same legal and ethical arguments that arise when a photographer captures the art or IP of another while claiming it is their own work. This is that, on steroids. In a game, it is impossible to photograph anything that is not the creative production of others. Thus, who owns the results of the in-game photograph? The Photographer or the game maker? I doubt anyone cares to test the legality of this while it is just for fun and being posted on social media, but what happens if this "hobby" matures? What if a "master" in-game photographer wants to sell their work in the form of prints? What if they want to hold exhibitions? What if another corporate entity wants to license the work? Ethically speaking, it is a grey area open for debate but legally I am pretty certain the answer is simple: The publisher of the game owns all residual work created within the engine of their game.

Overall I'm pretty positive about this in general and don't feel this is a threat. It lets creative individuals who have disabilities visit and experience photography in a way that would otherwise be impossible. It lets creatives explore compositions and scenes without incurring an insane cost or putting themselves in danger.

I don't feel it is photography, but I do think it can easily be defined as an art form in itself. I also think that it even can be the entrance track towards a career for those who start photographing digital scenes in games and then evolve to creating digital scenes themselves and eventually pursuing a career in environmental scenics at game companies or for film/tv.

Christoph .'s picture

Regardless of how you want to categorise it, it's absolutely a valid artform that will only grow bigger and bigger. Taking artistic and cinematic creations in video games in one of the only reasons I still play any games.

When you consider The Mandolorian was filmed using basically a custom created videogame playing behind the actors taking the camera movements into account, you'd be a little myopic to ignore the potential of 3D in the future of visual arts - particularly as tech advances.

I would definitely say it's different than photography but certainly as valid and possibly even more difficult.

Cool Cat's picture

What people forget is that "words have meaning" and not meant to fit someone else narrative. I said this a hundred times but unfortunately to deaf ears. So let's try once again. The true meaning from an encyclopedia for "Photography" is the art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film. Not once did it mention a screen capture. Anything else is simply digital art and NOT a photograph.

Alex Reiff's picture

FYI, the first sentence of the Wikipedia article about a word isn't really considered to be an infallible definition of that word. Just doing a search for "definition of photography" I found a number of dictionaries with different definitions, which conflict with the one you've provided in 3 different ways.

Cool Cat's picture

There is nothing I can do if you don't understand the consequences of using the english language incorrectly.

James Dayvis's picture

Words may have have meaning but that meaning is unstable and can change over time. Semantic shift is why the words "furniture" and "girl" are completely different to what they meant in the past. As technology evolves, it stands to reason that the words used to describe also evolve.

Language is fluid and shifts to fit trends and needs. Look at what happened to "red" and "yellow" when suddenly oranges appeared.

Derrida would have a field day with this. 😊

Cool Cat's picture

What is acceptable isn't necessarily correct. I'm going to get a lot of criticism for this example but here we go. The meaning of marriage is: "the union between a man and a woman". It doesn't state between two man or two woman. You can change it to fit whatever narrative you like but it doesn't change the true meaning.

James Dayvis's picture

That's a great example. Any "true meaning" is only true to you: social change means that words evolve. Given current trends, in a decade or two the idea of "marriage" only being between a man and woman will be regarded as archaic. While traditionalists will cling to an outdated definition, the socially accepted understanding of the word will have moved on, just like orange, furniture, egregious, girl, meat, naughty, nice, etc.

Of course, Derrida will argue that meaning is is constantly deferred through an endless chain of signifiers. But that's a slightly different topic. 😁

Scott Haddow's picture

Can you point out your source for this "true meaning" of marriage? Is it Wikipedia, Oxford English dictionary, the bible? And would you say that this definition is universal and immutable?

Cool Cat's picture

If you have to ask that question you already fell to the wast-side and it too late for you.

Scott Haddow's picture

What's a "wast-side"?

Stuart Carver's picture

You love waffling on, that’s about all I’m unravelling from this.

Dave McDermott's picture

What about a photo of a screen shot of a photo of a screen shot?

giorgos karampotakis's picture

Practice on an new whole new level

Stuart Carver's picture

As a gamer it’s not lost on me how stunning some of the lighting and scenery is in these games, Assassins Creed, Forza, Red Dead Redemption etc all stunning environments. You can even photograph some famous British landmarks/photography spots on Forza Horizon 4.

Cinnamon Green's picture

It's not really photography though it's more like digital art

Rhonald Rose's picture

It's not photography, but definitely a valid form of art, something like digital art.

Tristan Somers's picture

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