“The urge to capture meaningful moments for posterity is elemental...”
May 7, 2018 8:08 PM   Subscribe

The art and joy of video game photography [Eurogamer] “The capacity for taking handsome screenshots in games has expanded significantly in the past decade. When I first began reviewing games, I would have to drive for more than two hours to the magazine's offices in order to use the expensive kit (a PC with a fussy, arcane trails of cable that, with a tap of the space bar, could freeze-frame whatever was showing on the PlayStation 2 screen) needed to take console game screenshots. (In the truly olden days of video game magazines, an actual SLR camera was used, often attached to a black out cone, that stretched between its lens and the television's bezel). No more. Today the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch both come with dedicated screen-capture buttons that allow anyone to capture a digital sunset, cloud formation, or explosive special move and, if they so desire, print it out and hang it on the wall.”

• The Art of in-game Photography [Video Game Tourism]
“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. A few game-photographers, however, have started to travel these gaming spaces to hunt for pictures. The best-known and most widely publicized of these pioneers is Duncan Harris of deadendthrills. The English games journalist compares his ultra-stylish, high-gloss pictures of games tweaked to look their very best to still photography in movie production, and like movie stills, his work is increasingly professionally used by game companies to promote their products.”
• Dead End Thrills talks screenshots and art [Kill Screen]
“Like I said earlier, I’m no photographer—at least not yet. I have to learn to, y’know, use a camera first. My history of image creation was pretty much sabotaged from the outset by the fact I’m disastrously colour-blind and was encouraged at school, when I tried to do everything in black and white, to just stop doing art. Great, huh. I did spend a short while during my magazine years doing UX work, which I’m almost tempted to revisit. I did a few UIs for the media centre XBMC that proved quite popular and got me a lot of job offers from companies that almost instantly went bust. I guess that helped more with building the website than anything. As far as art or photography goes—and this goes back to what I was saying about screenshotters versus photographers—the difference is really that you’re working in a controlled, artificial and technological universe with screenshots. That makes it more akin to fashion photography, I suppose, but that still doesn’t cover the understanding you need of the way games behave, the code that drives them, and what you can and can’t control.”
• How An Official Video Game Screenshot Is Made [Kotaku]
“Petri Levälahti, aka Berduu, is a screenshot artist whose images we’ve featured a bunch of times here. For the past year, though, his hobby has also been his profession. Berduu has been screenshotting [Flickr]—using tools to capture beautiful in-game screenshots of video games—since 2014, having been inspired by the work of Duncan Harris’ Dead End Thrills. The photo modes that we take for granted in many of today’s biggest games didn’t exist then, so folks like Harris and Berduu used everything from camera tweaks to cheat engine hacks to hijack a game’s visuals and create stunning images. At the time, Berduu was living in Finland and working as a freelancer outside the games business, doing everything from newspaper writing to graphic design. “It really opened my eyes”, he told me of Harris’ screenshots in an interview. “I never knew this subculture existed, and I was hooked immediately.””
• The Art of Video Game Photography [Motherboard]
“Screenshotters explore and engage with video game worlds much like how artists of the past viewed the real world. Janet Murray, in her book Hamlet On The Holodeck, explains that "the experience of being transported to an elaborately simulated place is pleasurable in itself, regardless of the fantasy content. We refer to this experience as immersion… the sensation of being surrounded by a completely other reality." In moments of total immersion, some of us really do think Skyrim's brutal peaks are beautiful. We really do bond with non-player characters (NPCs) and quest companions. Should you be able to resist attacking the defenseless NPC, it is possible to feel a strange empathy for a virtual bum having a quiet drink under a bridge in Grand Theft Auto. Then there's the adrenaline junky war correspondents for the GTAMedia documenting carjackings, shoot outs and all kinds of wicked criminality. "Rather than winning or losing, finding your way or being lost, these acts of meta-exploration are liberating and enrich our experience with both the systems and reality," screenshotter Eron Rauch wrote in a recent essay on the subject.”
• The unexpected trouble of revisiting old video game screenshots [The Verge]
“Some of these images were taken for stories about video game violence, and some captured the absurdities of video game worlds — like the bodies piling in the doorway of Hitman. But for most images, I can’t remember why I took them. Those are excuses, anyway. To a stranger looking through my gallery, free of all this context, my video game life looks largely like a bloodbath, punctuated by the occasional colorful vista of an indie game. I’m not sure what this means — if it means anything. Does it speak to my habits as someone playing games? Or simply the options made available to me by what’s big and popular? My guess: a bit of both. So, I am left curious if this is common. What are the themes of your screenshot libraries? Do you have bodies in your screencap closet?”
• Back When Screenshots Really Were Screen Shots [US|Gamer]
“Just boot up your machine, play a game, and press the share button when you want to take a pretty picture. Sure, it can sometimes be challenging capturing an action shot – the console can lag when you're trying to shoot something that's particularly demanding of the CPU, resulting in the actual picture being taken a second or so after pressing the share button – but for the most part, snapping screenshots is a breeze. Indeed, that's what struck me later on that night after I'd finished my work. As I unplugged my USB from my Mac, I started thinking back to my early days working on games magazines in the 80s and 90s, and what an utter palaver taking screenshots used to be. There was no easy solution back then. Games systems were primitive beasts that didn't have share buttons, or indeed any means at all to snag an image of the screen. Capture boards that you could plug into a PC and make screen dumps while you played the game hadn't yet been invented. These were analogue times, and when it came to taking pictures of video games, you had to use an old-fashioned film camera. Yep. Those screenshots you used to look at in old games magazines were indeed shots taken of the screen itself. ”
• Screenshot Photography: Where Does it Fit in the Art World? [Geek Mom]
“This sort of debate is commonly brought up in all forms of art. When does something become art? Who decides what is art? When someone takes a photograph of a screen does it become art? Couldn’t this be considered plagiarism, since the photographer is not the creator of what is in front of the lens or computer? It is a question of authenticity, the ownership, and the technical skill that goes into creating that work. The artist screen-captures a scene in a game using an artistic eye. However, the subject matter they captured is not their original work. How then can they call it a work of art or even their own artwork, when they are not the content creator? Art is sometimes interpreted as creating something from nothing. If this is the definition we accept, then the art of screenshot photography is a rampant case of plagiarism. The capturing device is simply a tool to document something only possible in a digital world. This tool is a machine able to capture the virtual world it works within. It inhibits an artist’s ability to create. Screen captures are just that, there is no thought process or artistic skill in pushing a button.”
posted by Fizz (14 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
As far as the artistic value or originality of "screenshot art", I'm surprised there's no comparison with machinima. After all, the only technical difference is whether you incorporate time (and perhaps audio), right?
posted by inconstant at 8:14 PM on May 7, 2018

"However, the subject matter they captured is not their original work. How then can they call it a work of art or even their own artwork, when they are not the content creator?"

And when you walk through an entryway in a city and there is some stunning architecture in front of you, that view was carefully designed and planned (presumably, hopefully), and what you are seeing is not an act of your own creativity, but of others before you. Temples, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, these are all planned experiences where the viewer is seeing what the content creator (the architects) had designed. Photographs of those places tend to be quite unremarkable, alike. They may show off the building (as the architect intended), but you are showing the architects art, not the photographers (often).

But then there are photographers that take those same 'planned experiences' and give them a different twist, a different angle, a different perspective than what was intended, or what you see in a ton of other photographs... Those are obviously more 'original' (rather than being better technical executions - the thing that makes the difference between your snapshot and the postcard of the monument you see).

With this in mind, I imagine that there are a ton of screenshots that you can take in-world that aren't notable or terribly creative, or interesting... But there are others that can hit these points, and do qualify for artistic merit.

So yes, it's certainly art, the quality of which can vary greatly, although calling it 'photography' is something I wince at (as a student of photography), and don't think is the correct way to think of this.

Also, even if you create something that has artistic merit, you still created it within their world; as long as you acknowledge the game you captured (or game engine and the creator of the world, if it's not precisely a game), the audience will know that the creation is a co-creation with assistance from the world creator.

I thought "Is it art" was sort of a dead conversation at this point, and the conversation had moved onto "Is it worthwhile art." Not just in regards to video game captures, but to anything anyone wants to call art, including the pair of socks that's on the floor in the gallery.
posted by el io at 8:30 PM on May 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

Assassins Creed Origins is great for this.
posted by Damienmce at 8:40 PM on May 7, 2018

Ctrl-F: "bullshots", finds nothing. Tsks mournfully.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:57 PM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I thought "Is it art" was sort of a dead conversation at this point, and the conversation had moved onto "Is it worthwhile art."

Videogames are art like telephones are conversations.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:04 PM on May 7, 2018

It’s off and I don’t feel like turning it back on to check right now but I think most of the screenshots on my PS4 are from No Man’s Sky, back when it was still a beautiful, lonely Totla Perspective Vortex without a room ful of English-speaking aliens desperate to join your base’s crew in every damn space station across the entire galaxy.
posted by egypturnash at 10:36 PM on May 7, 2018

I used to have a blog just of my skyrim enb "photography". It was a wonderful escape when I was in the worst years of my chronic illness. It was nice to create something beautiful and to have a sense of exploration when you couldn't get outside into nature a whole lot. It's a kind of mini-artform where the only requirement was a mid range computer and an eye for beautiful composition.

Also, the game photography community on tumblr is legitimately delightful.
posted by InkDrinker at 11:11 PM on May 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

A few years ago, I was helping up the decoration of a gaming-theme cafe, and since it was on a former travel agency, I had the idea of taking screenshots of gorgeous videogame locales and put them under a heavy 70s photographic filter, like the old Pan-Am's World posters. I was too good for that place.

Coming to think of it, I think the idea came from a tumblr that used the free camera mode in a emulator (Dolphin, I think) to get incredible screenshots from games.
posted by lmfsilva at 3:02 AM on May 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Assassins Creed Origins is great for this.

Yeah, I gotta say I was never interested in video game photography until I started playing AC:O, and my first shot was by complete accident. I was fighting a giant croc boss and inadvertently pressed L3 & R3 simultaneously in my panic. The resulting photo was incredible. Since then I've been snapping regularly, taking time to compose perfect shots. And I'm getting lots of likes, so that's cool.
posted by zakur at 7:07 AM on May 8, 2018

PUBG’s replay system on PC allows you to freely reposition the camera, allowing for some fantastic screenshots. Also, it captures the data, not the video, so that some effects like the rag doll physics are recalculated each time.
posted by Robin Kestrel at 7:38 AM on May 8, 2018

Shout out to the camera mode in Horizon Zero Dawn, which removes the HUD and allows you to change the angle (move any direction, including up/down), time of day, aperture, Aloy's pose and expression, zoom in/out, add filters, frames, and/or logo - you can even remove Aloy from the picture if you want - and then take a screenshot. Definitely the most extensive camera mode I've used.
posted by skycrashesdown at 7:54 AM on May 8, 2018

“In the truly olden days of video game magazines, an actual SLR camera was used, …”
Ah, my era, then. I remember when one of the magazine team developed a hardware screenshotter for the Amstrad CPC6128 that stuck the raw CRT data safe in a memory bank, reset the machine, then trickled the results out as a crude TIFF for the production Macs. It garnered immediate cries of “fake!”, because of course you couldn't see the scanlines.
posted by scruss at 8:07 AM on May 8, 2018

I love console games that have good screenshot tools. Horizon Zero Dawn does, as does Assassin's Creed Origins and No Mans Sky. Combined with easily uploading to Twitter and I have a nice little collection of images now. Not greatly artistic but because so many games are designed for intense visual moments it's not hard to get something beautiful.

I wish Ansel was more of a thing. It's an NVidia tool that gives you a fancy screenshot composer by using the data in the game's scene graph. In theory it'd give any PC game a fancy screenshot tool. Unfortunately it requires explicit support from a game to work, although that list of games is longer than it used to be.
posted by Nelson at 9:51 AM on May 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild with my daughter, and I'm pretty sure one of her favorite features -- in a gigantic, open ended game where you fight amazing creatures -- is the ability to take a selfie with the in-game camera and pose in ways that look like you are pointing at something off in the distance or holding the moon in the palm of your hand. It is a pretty cool game feature, I have to admit. It has some utility in terms of gameplay (it identifies items you can find in the world with a sensor). It also ads a lot of personality and charm in a way that is immediately relatable to the current generation. Link basically has a really awesome smart phone, but it doesn't feel anachronistic at all.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:46 PM on May 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

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