Virtual photography: guide to landscapes

Who I am
Aina Prat Blasi
Author and references

In recent years, the world has been hybridizing more and more. There is a mixture between arts, between media, between cultures. Cinema and video games are an example of this, as you can very well see from the recent Death Stranding, where the influence of cinematography is palpable. But even the seventh art has shown that it is interested in the world of video games and its dynamics. This can be seen in films such as Lola Runs di Tom tykwer or the best known Source Code di Duncan Jones, where the basics of videogame gameplay enter directly into the narrative structure of the film: a time limit, a goal to be completed, the same events that are repeated until you are able to "complete the level", a learning curve that leads to know more and more the situation that one finds oneself living continuously. If it reminds you of something, it is because you know these dynamics very well.
Today we want to talk about another type of hybridization, that between photography and video game: the so-called virtual photography (o virtual photography). In this first guide we will illustrate its characteristics and points of contact with traditional photography. Not only that: we will also focus on landscape photography and the best games to exploit this photographic genre.

What is virtual photography?

Virtual photography is exactly what you are thinking about, which is the application of the rules behind traditional photography through i photo mode of video games (but not only), with the aim of capturing particularly significant gaming moments. Obviously, the two techniques are extremely different in some respects, but they harmonize perfectly in others. The presence of one must not make one think of the predominance over the other. There virtual photography it is not in charge of replacing traditional photography, but of provide him with new possibilities, in a collaborative process that sees neither winners nor losers. A bit like what happened with the advent of visual effects in cinema. Of course, in that case the latter seem to have got the better of the special effects. However, the director and the producer always have the choice of using one or the other (or both), depending on the needs of the film they are making. The same can be said for the relationship between virtual and traditional photography: it is up to the author to choose when it is necessary to go down the street and photograph the world or when there is a need for a different point of view from the conventional one, hidden in fictitious but extremely significant worlds.

A particularly interesting aspect of virtual photography is the freedom of movement. Of course, you must always adapt to the maximum distance allowed by the various photographic modes, but the freedom you have in moving the virtual camera around the game avatar is something that traditional photography still cannot guarantee without cumbersome or extremely expensive means. A minimum movement of the stick or mouse is enough to have a bird's eye view of what we want to photograph, which in the real world can only be achieved through scaffolding, overhead points (which are not always available) or, only recently, through drones. Obviously, pressing a button on a pad is not as satisfying as taking a photo with a real camera, but it is not so much the satisfaction of the photographer you are looking for in photography, but rather the message you want to convey through the photographic image. And, in this case, the virtual photography finally manages to keep up with tradition, above all thanks to the important leaps forward made on a graphic level. The faces are finally able to perceive the emotions felt by the characters created specifically for video games, thanks also to motion capture and investments in the sector. The road is still very long, but the animations already manage to convey something to the viewer. Over the years, the situation will only improve, but for the moment we have to work with what we have in our hands (which, however, is of the highest level).

Traditional landscape photography

Landscapes have always been an integral part of the photographic world. The first documented photograph, taken in 1926 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, portrays the landscape that could be seen from the window of his house-laboratory. Now as then, the landscape photography it is vital for photography. Not only because it is one of the few genres that still resists and persists commercially, but also because everyone uses it. If you open a family vacation album, you will always find photos of landscapes, whether natural or urban. This is because the panoramas are extremely easy to capture, as most of the work does the visual impact of the depicted view. Of course, "easy" doesn't mean anyone can take artistic "meaningful" photos by simply pointing and snapping. There are, as in any discipline, rules to follow. There composition it is certainly the key to landscape photography (as well as photography in its entirety). Without it, the structure and effectiveness of the shot can collapse in an instant.
One of the greatest national exponents of landscape photography is certainly Franco Fontana which, with his project skyline, has shown (and still proves) that landscapes are much more than just aesthetic views. Even an internationally renowned photographer like Sebastião Salgado immortalized the importance of the natural landscape with one of his latest works, Genesis. Ultimately, all photographers, who before and after, have come to terms with landscape photography.

Virtual landscape photography

In contemporary video games, the graphic quality has undoubtedly improved compared to even just five years ago. The environmental details have increased dramatically, even if there are still several smudges due to hardware that is not performing enough. Consequently, we must adapt from game to game to what we want to capture. Surely, i environmental landmarks they must represent the main subjects of our landscape photos, due to greater graphic accuracy due to the importance given to the structure or natural conformation. It is good too "play" with the settings provided from the various photo modes present in the games (or, from PC, with that turning point that is Nvidia ansel). Another element not to be underestimated is the post production (through Photoshop and the like), essential to smooth out all those graphic imperfections that you will inevitably find in virtual landscape photography. With a good balance of lights and shadows, as well as colors, you will be able to transform an initially not very performing photo into a shot to be framed.

Days Gone

The latest work of Bend Studio presents a graphic quality of the game environment that is enviable for many video games released this year. If the road, at first glance, seems to be the privileged protagonist of your shots, looking up from the magnificent terrain will make you notice how the surrounding world is also full of surprises, certainly more alive than the undead that inhabit it. The landscape is certainly not the best element of the game to be immortalized, but we will be able to return to the subject in future guides.

Forza Horizon 4

It goes without saying that the graphic quality of Forza Horzion 4 manages to leave you speechless, especially with regard to the vehicle models. In this case, you can indulge yourself by implementing the cars that populate the game world in the landscape you want to immortalize. Thanks to the latter, your shots will be much more interesting and, why not, they will also be able to tell a story or, at least, to intrigue the observer. We recommend that you use the speed parameter a lot, which will make your photos much more dynamic. Another tip is to add an aperture tip and to position the focus on the vehicle, so as to "lighten" the panorama a bit from the sharpness, which otherwise would reveal obvious graphic shortcomings on the distance.

Red Dead Redemption 2

There's no need to praise Red Dead Redemption 2's graphic qualities again, so let's get straight to the point. Only in the last few months has the photographic mode been definitively added (which will allow you to create even more impactful shots), but before, when it was not available, you were provided with a camera very similar to the first ones Kodak of the late nineteenth century, with which you could take pictures without too much freedom of movement (obviously this element was not eliminated with the arrival of the photo mode, so it's up to you to decide which method to use). The latter makes the photographic experience a little more "role-playing". In fact, the writer has completely identified himself with the profession of the photographer of the late nineteenth century and has explored the game map documenting the America of the Old West as if he were doing a report on frontier life. The experience is extremely stimulating and, if you are a photography lover, it is something you should definitely try. Holster the gun and start firing other types of bullets.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey

The last chapter of the successful saga Ubisoft she has just turned one year old, but still manages to give some good photographic pearls on a landscape level. The Ancient Greece of Assassin's Creed Odyssey is undoubtedly the best element of the game. Rich in biomes and unique environments, it will not be difficult to find inspiration for your shots. Whether you wander by sea or by land, your adventures will always take you to places worthy of being immortalized. Furthermore, the vast freedom of movement will allow you to juggle the room in the best possible way, in such a way as to considerably reduce the visual impact of some graphic elements that are not exactly exciting.

Assassin's Creed Origins

Even in Assassin's Creed Origins the game world is always one step ahead of the other elements. The photographic mode is in all respects identical to the one already analyzed in Odyssey. Consequently, it will be enough for you to approach the game with the same method you used with its sequel (or vice versa).

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn offers sublime panoramas, also thanks to the lighting of the highest level. The protagonist of the photographic mode is undoubtedly Aloy, thanks to its extremely expressive model, but also in terms of landscape you can really achieve a lot. Wherever you turn in this future invaded by nature, you will always find something to immortalize, whether it is a building engulfed by plants or the last rays of the sun peeping out behind the steep walls of a canyon.

Marvel's Spider-Man

Although the map is not too varied in terms of landscape, the New York Marvel's Spider-Man is great to photograph, especially during sunset. Thanks to the fact that there is no day-night cycle, you have the possibility to choose the time of day that suits you best and to experiment with the lighting expertly positioned upstream from Insomniac Games who, by doing so, had full artistic control of the game environments. We advise you to use Spider-Man in the images, so as to give that extra touch of uniqueness and recognition to the shots.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

The last chapter of the adventure of Nathan Drake provides a very interesting photo mode. Despite the years, the game still holds its own graphically speaking, and thanks to the layered structure, the game environments are very detailed, allowing you to take truly amazing photographs.

These are the video games where landscape photography seemed to us to be truly of a high level. Obviously, these are just a selection of the hundreds of titles that allow you to take great photos of landscapes, among which we would just like to mention No Man's Sky, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, The shadow of war e Batman Arkham Knight. Let us know in the comments if you have found other titles where virtual landscape photography can find great vent, so that you can also share your photographic discoveries with other readers. And, why not, show us your shots! We are curious to see your photographic works.

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