EarthlyFaune – Through The Virtual Lens, A Discussion On Virtual Photography

In this edition of Through The Virtual Lens, I managed to talk with EarthlyFaune about their experiences in the world of Virtual Photography. Virtual Photography is a growing discipline that utilizes the ever-popular “Photo Mode” settings in Video Games to capture beauty and art from virtual worlds.

The term “Virtual Photography” may not be one you hear often, but it is simple-enough to understand. Where “Traditional Photography” deals with precisely composed images captured and developed onto film, “Virtual Photography” deals with precisely composed images captured within video games. It is, by all accounts, a natural evolution of the discipline in the modern age. Thankfully, Game Developers are helping to foster the growth of this field. They are undoubtedly helping to foster the growth of a new kind of artistic expression. It makes sense, though, given the ever-improving virtual worlds the industry is presenting us with. 

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Through this series of articles, I want to talk about Virtual Photography with Virtual Photographers. I will be asking about their reasons for becoming a Virtual Photographer, their opinions on the current state of in-game Photo Modes, the Virtual Photography community as a whole, and anything else they have to say! 

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In this installment of Through The Virtual Lens, I got a chance to talk with EarthlyFaune, also known as Lara! Lara creates a variety of work with her Virtual Photography, including portrait and environmental studies, often with stunning use of lighting and in-game filters.

You can check out her Twitter Account here: @EarthlyFaune

To Start It All Off…
I Asked EarthlyFaune About Where It All Began…

Lara’s Virtual Photography work began with two ever-popular PlayStation 4 Exclusives: Uncharted 4 and Horizon: Zero Dawn.

‘Both games master their lighting and environmental design.’

Again, lighting is brought to the forefront of any discussion on Virtual Photography. Lara explains that lighting physics and detailed world design are the two primary factors that drew her to start Virtual Photography. She explains that she just ‘had this instinct’ to capture the beauty of these games. In this respect, it’s similar to Traditional Photography… The desire to capture an image that appeals to the photographer. I decided to ask further about the cross-over between Virtual Photography and Traditional Photography.

Lara Believes That There Are A Lot Of Transferable Skills Within These Disciplines

With some experience working within Traditional Photography, Lara’s insight was an interesting comment on the benefits of Virtual Photography.

Virtual Photography offers more control over the image you’d like to capture, whereas with Traditional Photography you need more skill to move around physically to find the right angle…’

With an angle having the power to completely change the tone of an image, it’s an important part of any image-capturing art form. EarthlyFaune continues on by highlighting both angles and shadow play as two techniques in particular which she’s found have had the most impact on her Virtual Photography work.

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Shadow play is, as you’d expect, a technique that highlights the creative use of shadows. Lara has stated that this is most helpful when working on portrait work with her Virtual Photography. But, how easy is this to do? How does Lara feel about the current state of Photo Modes…

What Features Make A Good Photo Mode?

Photo Modes with features that allow your character to take various poses and expressions… changing the Time Of Day to get the specific light…’

Again, Time of Day controls are coming up as a feature that makes a title desirable. In the absence of being able to directly manipulate a light source, Time of Day controls are undoubtedly the most beneficial way to alter the lighting throughout a scene you’re trying to capture. Lara highlights Horizon: Zero Dawn and Ghost of Tsushima as examples of games where this works well.

When asked further about her favourite Photo Modes, both these titles came up again in discussion. The Last of Us Part 2 also got a mention!

Horizon: Zero Dawn, in my opinion, has one of the best Photo Modes out there… With a variety of ways to edit and aadjust the way you want your image to look.’

She went on to say that the breathtaking level of detail in The Last of Us Part 2 offers near-lifelike photographic results. On top of this, Ghost of Tsushima‘s beautifully colorful environments makes it a ‘Virtual Photographer’s dream world to capture.’

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If you’ve been keeping up with this series, you’ll know that time and time again Ghost of Tsushima is name-dropped as a game with one of the best Photo Modes out there. But, you have to wonder whether this is completely due to the actual Photo Mode or whether the subject matter is as important in this discussion. As previously mentioned, Days Gone‘s Photo Mode contains alarmingly-detailed color controls. Also, a title like Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t get mentioned as much despite it’s the incredible degree of detail. With Ghost of Tsushima being a fairly recent release, perhaps it is just the one which sticks in recent memory more? Either way, the argument Lara makes for Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best is solid. However, they still pip Horizon: Zero Dawn as the better Photo Mode.

Discussion Then Turned Onto The Virtual Photography Community And The Growing EarthlyFaune Community

When I asked Lara about the growth of her own community, her answer suggested that she didn’t really think about it when working with Virtual Photography.

‘ Using Photo Mode is a way I can show my passion for the games I love. I assume this is true for most Virtual Photographers as well… If you’re passionate about bettering the images you take, the more people will notice your content and want to support you.’

A passion for games is at the heart of Virtual Photography for Lara, and I feel like she isn’t alone in this. What was interesting though is that she made note that her work would not be noticed without the existing Virtual Photography Community.

Credit: EarthlyFaune

So, I asked her about this online community as a whole…

‘The Virtual Photography Community are so supportive of each other’

This seems to be a common sentiment amongst those within the community. Lara highlighted the fact that there are accounts in the community that directly facilitate growth by retweeting other’s work, acting as a hub for Virtual Photography fans, of sorts. She also mentioned the several Virtual Photography competitions that are set up which helps Virtual Photographers ‘improve upon the way [they] capture an image.’

Although I am barely involved with the community, my only real connection being this series of discussions, I have still found there is a ridiculous amount of support generally within these groups. It is beyond refreshing in a time where negativity is so rife. It still may be a niche within the larger gaming community online, but shared love of artistic expression shown throughout makes it a fantastic niche to be apart of.

As Someone With A Growing Community…
I Asked About Career Prospects

This question is where I have found an interesting array of answers… Some Virtual Photographers offer a throwaway ‘that’s the dream’ line, while others seem more certain that they can continue to develop a career in this field and have the drive to match that. Lara, though, simply started off by saying no.

‘Virtual Photography is just a hobby for me. It’s something I love to do, especially when I see something that captures my eye in a game. It’s a way I can support games I love and show the studio who created said game how much I enjoy their design of the world.’

What makes Virtual Photography such a special place within the gaming community is perfectly encapsulated by Lara here. It, like playing games is for most, is a hobby. But, it’s also so much more.

Virtual Photography is a way to pay homage to the work of game developers, offering an odd, wordless form of communication between the two groups. It often highlights the minute details of a world that you might not notice on a standard play-through. It’s showing a deeper level of appreciation to parts of a game which often go missed.

Finally, I Asked For Lara’s Thoughts On Those Who Question The Field’s Legitimacy

When I asked Lara if she had anything to say to people who would question the legitimacy of Virtual Photography against Traditional Photography, she gave a nuanced, balanced response.

‘ Traditional photography definitely requires a lot more skill… not to mention the cost of equipment to get the best quality image… So, I respect it… However, we do use the same technics the difference is one form has more control over the other.

She also highlighted the fact that Virtual Photographers often have a much higher degree of control over their subject matter and the environment, thanks to the developments in Photo Mode options. This, undoubtedly, makes it much easier to translate the desired mood and tone into an image. Alongside this, with the detail in games now, there are even fewer limitations faced by Virtual Photographers when compared to Traditional Photography.

Credit: EarthlyFaune

Again, though, I think it’s important to consider the similarity in the skill sets and the fact that both are legitimate forms of artistic expression. I believe the difficulty is solely dependant on the individual. If you look at traditional art, pencil sketches might seem easy to some where watercolour painting is easier to another. It’s difficult to compare the two when both utilise a similar skill set.

This idea of acceptance without considering the ability of another is exactly what makes the Virtual Photography Community so special. Everyone, Lara included, is there to create and everyone else knows that. Lara’s work is incredible and deserving of every praise it gets, but Lara also RT’s and shares a lot of other people’s artwork through her Twitter Account. She’s the perfect example of how supporting the community is.