For the past six months, I’ve been walking around Saint-Denis taking photos. Soaking up the New Orleans style atmosphere and walking the back streets, often at night, to capture the horse-drawn carriages, steam trains and the people in 19th-century dress. I’ve been using a box camera much like the Kodak No.1, but my version shoots colour, has a zoom and a shutter speed that rivals any Nikon or Canon. I’ve been out there in the rain and thunderstorms, dodging the bar brawls and getting trampled by cowboys on horseback.
But this isn’t Saint-Denis the suburb of Paris and I haven’t travelled back in time but I’ve been shooting in Red Dead Redemption 2, a PS4 game set in 1899. Rockstar, who make the game, have recreated a period city within the game and your character Arthur has a camera much like the cameras of the time (even if it’s supercharged way beyond what could be achieved in 1899). I’ve been experimenting with In-Game Photography.
A lot of photographers wouldn’t even consider this photography but if you define the art form as composing a scene and waiting for the decisive moment then this is absolutely how I would see it. In-Game Photography has been around for quite a while now, starting way back when games first were born it didn’t really come into its own until the nineties with games like The Sims and Second Life. Players would put hours in to create or develop a character and wanted to save their work for prosperity. Now there are countless In-Game Photographers out there and most big game companies hire photography minded creatives to develop screenshots to promote games. Most people just want to show off moments in games which they think are beautiful or catalogue their achievements.
Increasingly on sites like Reddit gamers are creating shots which are masterful in their composition, beautifully lit and expertly processed and these are people who’ve never touched Lightroom or taken a course in photography. SubReddit’s like In Game Photography have many examples of work that prove that photography has many facets, and you can explore and master some of those facets, like composition, while the other facets are taken care of by the device.
Red Dead Redemption is the first game that I’ve played where I really felt like I could apply my style of street photography to this medium and I’ve had so much fun taking shots around Saint-Denis of the interaction of the people, the architecture and the light. Everything you see in the pictures is ‘candid’ as in I couldn’t stop time or move elements around to create a scene. All of these pictures were captured in exactly the same way I shoot real street, by hanging around, waiting for the right subjects and revisiting areas I liked over and over again.
I shot the pictures in the game, uploaded them to the Rockstar website, downloaded them and processed them in Lightroom, playing with the colour balance, adding depth and making the images pop a little more. But essentially this is like a window into the past, I can’t go back in time and take these shots and even though this is an artistic interpretation I’ve really enjoyed my time in Saint-Denis.
As games get even more realistic, offer even more photography options (many games now allow you to freeze the frame, spin around the scene and add depth of field, change the time of day and lots of other options) In-Game Photography will be recognised outside of the niche online forums it currently occupies.