Type ‘virtual photography’ into any search box and you’ll be inundated with beautifully detailed images so realistic you’ll think they’re actual places. But before you start packing your speedos for your spa break in Night City, the majority of the places you are seeing aren’t based on reality.
These ethereal images are captured from environments found predominantly in video games, so even if there were a way to actually go there, you’d probably be sniped by an entitled 12-year-old before you have a chance to open Google maps.
As a Scottish person who lives on a beige rock in the Mediterranean, I follow a lot of virtual photography accounts on Instagram. If my people don’t have rugged hills in front of our eyes at regular intervals, we implode you see. It’s a thing. But despite my enthusiasm, when it comes to the inner workings of VP as an identifiable pursuit, I don’t know much about it.
Photos by @lesmondesvirtuels.vp
With new virtual photography accounts popping up all over social media, it’s clear that this movement is on the rise, so I spoke with Matthew Goring (@bearlythough) who leads the Society of Virtual Photographers to find out more about it, and to solicit some awesome VP accounts to follow.
What is virtual photography?
Virtual Photography uses in-game cameras, photo modes and video editors to capture stills from virtual worlds. This can be in the form of video games, which is the most popular, but can also come from animators and virtual environments.
Virtual Photography allows users to capture images with unprecedented control of the worlds they are shooting in, allowing for some incredible images caught in the middle of battles or mid-flight across a virtual earth, to name but a few.
How did you first get into it?
I began my virtual photography journey as a way to share some stills of my favourite games. This evolved into incorporating VP into my degree, focusing on capturing shots and scripting narratives around them in order to create a sense of place and believability to the worlds shown through my camera.
After I had finished my degree, I joined and now lead, The Society of Virtual Photographers as a way to continue pursuing the art, but also to help support those who were also beginning to share virtual photography with the world.
What are some of the best games for virtual photography?
There are a range of games that have photo mode included and as time progresses more games are beginning to incorporate the feature. As of right now, my favourite photo modes are:
No Man’s Sky (PlayStation, Xbox & PC)
The conceivable creative freedom that No Man’s Sky offers is boundless. A procedurally generated universe allows you as the photographer to endlessly explore and innovate with your shots. The Photo Mode allows for a large amount of creative freedom, with a large radius the camera can be moved within, simple camera controls as well full-time control with the ability to move the sun in the sky to wherever you please within your composition.
Cyberpunk 2077 (PlayStation, Xbox & PC)
A large sci-fi inspired world with brutalist future architecture and neon lights visible on every surface. The Photo Mode within Cyberpunk takes a lot more time to master as the control is limited, which makes it challenging but rewarding when you pull it all together.
Dirt 5 (PlayStation, Xbox & PC)
Great lighting, landscapes and camera controls allow for you to really perfect each screenshot you take. I personally really like the ability to control exposure and motion blur in the photos, to both light up the focal point cleverly and to depict the motion and speed of what’s being captured. The added ability to place a custom spotlight within the world is of great advantage, allowing greater control of shadows and the illumination of important details within the camera.
Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation & PC)
It has gorgeous landscapes, a vast and diverse world with great potential to capture vibrant images. The Photo Mode is simple but detailed, and allows the photographer a great deal of control over the world, lighting and the player.
Death Stranding (PlayStation and PC)
Beautiful abstract landscapes and fantastic detail allow you to capture some striking images that bring you to another world. The Photo Mode is simple and well laid out with great options to control the player and the camera.
What is the future of virtual photography?
I believe the adoption rate for virtual photography will grow, since it’s a platform incorporated within one of the largest and most lucrative entertainment industries on the planet. The complexity and quality of what is able to be captured will continue to defy expectations. This will allow artists to capture and create photographs in a way that wouldn’t have been thought possible a decade earlier. I also believe it will bridge the gap for artists trying to experiment within the scene, allowing them to conceptualise and evolve their work behind the camera.
What are your favourite virtual photography Instagram accounts?
I have included a range of brilliant virtual photographers below, who each present their work in different styles:
…and finally, what’s your favourite relaxing video game?
For me it has to be No Man’s Sky.
If I can set the scene a bit first: New Game, Creative Mode, No HUD.
These settings place you in an unknown section of the game’s near never ending space. You get to explore in a peaceful and vibrant universe, with a strong musical score to empower you while you do it. There isn’t much quite like it and the procedural generation leads to some beautiful areas that you may be the only person ever to see.
No Man’s Sky
Well, that was awesome. To see more from Matthew, the society of VP, and the best virtual photography accounts on the internet, give them all a follow!