From sweeping vistas to atmospheric swamps and industrial cities, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a virtual photographer’s paradise. Since launch, the game has amassed a community of photographers who put in some serious hours to capture amazing shots spanning a wide range of genres and styles. Some of these individuals prefer to take portraits of those they encounter online, while others simply enjoy capturing the beauty of their surroundings.
I spoke to a number of virtual photographers who are documenting their travels across Red Dead Redemption 2 and Red Dead Online to find out how they started sharing their work, what makes the game such fertile ground for virtual photography, and the lengths they go to for the perfect shot.
Perfecting the Art
Emiliano Pardo (JohnM90GTA on Twitter) is a virtual photographer from Italy who enjoys sharing his Red Dead photos online. But his interest in virtual photography actually began with Rockstar’s previous open-world game Grand Theft Auto V.
“With GTA Online,” Pardo says, “I flipped through the photos of the best virtual photographers in the Social Club and was stunned by the creativity and the composition of certain shots. So I tried [my hand at it] too and started to receive good feedback from the community. Which at the time was in its infancy.”
It would be Red Dead Redemption 2 that would really capture his imagination though. As a fan of the Western genre, Pardo threw himself into Rockstar’s cowboy simulator, and has been documenting his adventures ever since with the trusty in-game camera that is always just a few button presses away.
“[It definitely started] with the landscapes,” Pardo tells me. “The work that Rockstar [did] in terms of graphics and the attention to detail is enormous. I try to focus my photography mainly between landscapes and action shots. I also carefully observe the promotional screenshots that Rockstar publishes in their weekly news. I’m trying to bring my in-game photography to that level: clean”
You can see an example of Pardo’s perfectionism and the results it yields in one of his favourite shots: a photograph of a bounty hunter launching his lasso towards the camera. To get the shot, he recruited a friend and had them ride repeatedly in circles tossing the lasso towards the camera until he was happy with the results. This took a significant number of attempts to get exactly right, given the precise choreography involved, but looking at the finished version it was well worth the additional effort.
Taming the Elements
For Zoobz, a UK-based virtual photographer whose sunset shot appears above, there are a number of reasons why photography fans are flocking to Red Dead Redemption 2. Among these are its vast open world and its potential for roleplaying.
Taking incredible photographs isn’t always an easy task however. For example, it often involves a lot of waiting around in order to frame things properly and achieve the desired lighting. Red Dead Redemption‘s online mode doesn’t let players change the in-game clock, and the dynamic weather system can make lighting conditions unpredictable — just like in real life. Because of this, Zoobz is particularly fond of some of his profile shots of his character, where he spent a lot of time experimenting with different lighting effects to produce some stunning results.
Another UK player who goes by Animal_Mother told me about his own struggle with taming the elements. He wanted to capture an image of some lightning, which proved surprisingly difficult given the sporadic nature of thunderstorms in-game — not to mention their potential to injure anyone who strays too near. To add some further complexity to the shot, he was also hoping to have something else in the frame to create more of a contrast between the background and foreground. With great difficulty, he eventually succeeded at getting the shot, photographing a solitary tree set against the dramatic backdrop of a thunderstorm. It’s these types of shots that tend to get a lot of positive feedback from the community, with other players recognizing the amount of effort that goes into their creation.
Thinking Outside the Box
What’s even more remarkable is how many of these photos have been achieved without the use of a dedicated photo mode. Whereas PC players have the advantage of being able to freeze time to carefully frame their shots and add filters, console players must get creative and excel through quick reflexes and perseverance alone.
As a result, different photographers have developed their own methods for capturing photos. Some prefer to use the first-person view or disable the game’s HUD, while others like to take advantage of the cinematic camera or use the camera in their inventory to frame their shots. Perhaps the most ingenious makeshift technique I’ve heard of is opening the main menu to snap a photo before the UI appears in order to achieve a basic black and white filter.
“Since we players on consoles don’t have any kind of photo mode, we find ourselves struggling a lot to get the desired shot,” Pardo notes. “I consider myself a “hardcore” photographer in this case, because without anything I succeed, often trying and trying again, to get what I want and to be happy with both the result and the feedback I get.”
Zoobz agrees that console players have to get a little bit creative to achieve certain shots. However, he’s optimistic that Rockstar will eventually introduce some kind of editor to give console players a helping hand.
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A Whole New World
As for PC players, we can already see the benefits that a dedicated photo mode has brought them. For example, Xenolith3D, a virtual photographer from Sweden, is capturing some remarkable long shots, taking advantage of the photo mode’s ability to create a greater distance between the player and the camera. In a recent series he calls “1899 America,” we can see his character riding along the edge of a farm, cresting a hill to overlook a distant settlement, and gazing pensively over a rain-sodden field. These shots do a terrific job of demonstrating the size and scale of Rockstar’s world in a way that would be challenging to express on consoles.
“At a very early age, I’ve always liked being creative when doing something and I think [that] might be the major reason why I got interested in virtual photography,” Xenolith3D explains. “Red Dead Redemption 2 is actually one of my favorite games of all time, so I thought it would be so awesome to experience the journey of Arthur Morgan again with the PC graphical enhancements and of course, the photo mode that was revealed by Rockstar at a later date.”
Photographers have also used mods in some brilliant ways. The French photographer Shinobi_Space, for instance, recently used a camera enhancement tool by Dutch programmer Frans Bouma to take satellite shots of the game’s world, giving players a totally new perspective on many familiar locations.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has become the perfect playground for many wanting to practice their virtual photography skills. While some players are still without the benefits of an in-depth photo mode, their creativity in the face of this limitation is inspiring. Meanwhile, PC players are expanding the realm of possibilities, taking advantage of mods and other tools. Regardless of how they do it, in-game photography is bringing Red Dead players closer together.
“With Red Dead Online you can essentially make the character you want and explore the world and hang out with friends being cowboys,” Zoobz says. “[And] photography is a way to capture those experiences.”