Virtual Photography: Is This A Thing Now?


US graphics company Nvidia announced their new content capture system, ‘Ansel’, at a special event in Austin, Texas last week. The system would allow users to plan and execute image captures from within their favourite videogame worlds with an incredibly high level of control.

The most liberating aspect of this technology is the free camera. Instead of being tethered to the perspective of your in-game character or a designated viewpoint, Ansel users will be able to position the camera however they please and remove elements of the heads up display from view. This untethered freedom will allow near-endless possibilities for unique angles and framing within digital landscapes.

Source: Nvidia Geforce Blog

Another issue that Ansel aims to tackle is picture quality. With basic game screenshots, the resolution is constrained by the settings of the game itself, meaning images could be fuzzy or full of jagged elements. The Ansel system will allow captures to have extremely high-resolution images numbering in the tens and thousands of pixels, regardless of the usual in-game level of quality.

Brendan Ragan, the Technical Lead at gaming company Stirfire Studios lent us his opinion on Ansel.

“From the virtual-photography end – it should make that process dramatically easier – no more relying on tweaking the game to support super-high resolutions, or having a monitor at that resolution – Ansel does that for you. More options for HDR processing to get ‘god rays’/bloom in and of course positioning the camera exactly where you want it. Very cool.”

Source: Nvidia Geforce Blog

There are also other basic editing tools being bundled in with Ansel including brightness settings, colour filters and so on, but many users will likely export to Photoshop for that kind of tweaking.

“I see three main users, depending on exactly how it works.”, Ragan says. “Developers making use of the Super Resolution and EXR features for producing screenshots for press packs, fans who like to take virtual photography, and possibly streamers (see below). I think Nvidia’s focus is on the virtual photography fans though.”

Source: Nvidia Geforce Blog

However the crowning moment of the presentation, prompting a chorus of applause for Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, was the demonstration of a 360-degree capture mode. The ability to view a captured image from any angle was demonstrated for the crowd on both a phone and a VR headset.

There has been ongoing debate in recent years as to whether videogames qualify as art. Users creating their own art within pre-defined worlds is causing no small amount of head scratching for some. Almost certainly, purists will cry foul at the term “photography” being ascribed to this movement.

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There’s also the question of ownership of this material. “That’s going to be up to the game developer and possibly the legal system,” Ragan responded when I put this question to him. “I’m not sure that some camera repositioning, higher resolution rendering and colour filters would count as a “transformative work”. That being said, if people are producing beautiful shots of your game – why would you want them to stop?”

Source: Nvidia Geforce Blog

There are already multiple respected names in the growing field of videogame photography, several of whom – Duncan Harris, Josh Taylor, Leonardo Sang, and James Pollock among them – were cited during Nvidia’s presentation. The system’s name, Ansel, appears to be a nod to legendary nature photographer Ansel Adams. If that’s the case, it’s sure to create a rift between photography purists and those who would argue that Adams was also capturing a pre-created world, albeit a natural one. Whatever your opinion, as we delve deeper into virtual territories and blur the lines between virtual reality and reality, we’re going to need better tools for capturing these worlds, and Ansel looks like it could be the right one for the job.

What say you? Virtual photography, legit or not? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook