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I see there is an emerging field called " Virtual Photography" essentially taking images out of a video game I am an experienced photographer having processed my own film, and now teach photoshop BUT I do not know anything about video games Dont have one and never played one

I would like to shoot apocolypse cityscapes

Questions are

What size images do you get ?

can you print 20 X 30's ?

do you own the image ?

are some games better than other for photography ?

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    I’m voting to close this question because it has nothing to do with recording light using a light sensitive medium. – Michael C May 28 at 7:10
  • This question (and the overall topic of "virtual photography") is being discussed on the meta – Andrew T. Jun 5 at 4:04
  • If anything else, this question is also too broad/unfocused by asking 4 (or 3) distinct questions (size, printed media, ownership, comparison). – Andrew T. Jun 5 at 4:08
  • I'm closing this question as off-topic. In-game "virtual photography" is off-topic at Photography Stack Exchange. – scottbb Jun 10 at 13:04
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Concerning ownership and usage of the image, that's a question that is better asked of a lawyer in your jurisdiction. The IANAL version is a pretty firm "yes" under (most) western copyright law, but with the caveat that under that law, whether you can display, sell, or otherwise distribute the image falls somewhere between "no" and "maybe" depending on many factors including, but not limited to, the specific laws for producing derivative works in your jurisdiction, fair use law, all that EULA text you agree to by playing the game (on a per-game basis), and a few hundred other considerations.

Capture limits

Your resolution limit will be what the graphics card is set to render, so I'll assume 4k rendering: 3840 × 2160 image (8.2mp) at a 16x9 ratio. Of course, if you're dealing with 1920 x 1080, divide all the final numbers by 2 below. Also, this assumes the games allow you to take the images at the full screen resolution.

Texture limits

The biggest limiting factor will actually be the resolution of the art assets in the game.

You might be able to crank the resolution up to 8k on some games, but it's entirely possible the textures used will not hold up at that resolution. You want to essentially shoot landscapes, so a lot will depend on if they are accomplishing the appearance of distance by using ray tracing to render atmospheric effects on a distant object, or if they are simulating it by having a closer object with those effects pre-rendered on the texture.

Basic Print Size Math

Generally speaking, the human eye has an angular resolution of about .0003 radians, so for any distance, the smallest object the eye can perceive as a unit is 0.0003d for any distance d in any unit you care to use.

So we can plug in a viewing distance of 1 meter and get a resulting maximum pixel size of 0.03cm or about ≈33dpcm(≈84dpi). Because our visual acuity won't always line up perfectly with a grid the same size as our eye can see, this will generally look "soft" or "jagged" to us (depending on how clean the pixel edges are printed), so the general rule of thumb is based on rounding up and doubling these numbers, so 70dpcm or 180dpi at 1 meter viewing distance. (This is also why you can "get away" with using a slightly lower resolution if you use a medium that has a softer edge than an inkjet printer might have, like an optical printer on silver halide paper.)

So at a 1m viewing distance, a 4k image can be reasonably be printed on an ink jet printer about 30.8 x 54.9cm or 12 x 21.3in. You might be able to get away with a 20x30 if you use a silver halide process, but it will likely be a bit soft.

All of this scales linearly, so if a print that size is smaller than you'd like at a distance of 1 meter, you may not be entirely happy with the results.

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The image size of a video game depends on 2 things.

  1. The graphics card.
  2. The monitor used to see the image.

The monitor can be irrelevant at some point. You can turn it off and still press the "print screen" key to put the image in the clipboard. But you still need to tell the resolution of the game output and the best way to do it is using a monitor with that native resolution.

As far as I know, on a gaming console, you need to take the output feed on an external device parallel to your TV to capture the footage (probably using a computer again)


Regarding the print size, you can print it any size you want. 20x30 inches? sure... The catch is that you need to define the internal resolution and detail you need, and this is given by the viewing distance.

One way to think about this case will be thinking about your print size the same size as a monitor. 100PPI is a good print resolution.

Let me make you a random table of the resolution of monitors in:

Diagonal inches - resolution - PPI value

Inches resolution px PPI

24 FullHD 1920x1080 92

27 Quad 2560x1440 109

40 4k 3840x2160 110

If you print an image of a 4k monitor on a paper 30inches long, the resolution is simply 3840/30 128PPI.

It is not perfect, but depending on the image, it is good enough as it is, or you can simply resample it, let's say double the resolution to get 256PPI.


Do you own the image?

The screen capture? Yes, you "own" it. You can use it as your computer wallpaper, or print a mug for your kids if you want.

But the content of the image is not yours. It is a screen capture of a video game, this means basically that you can not distribute or make any profit from it.


If what you want is to have apocalyptic cityscapes, the best thing you want to do is learn how to make them, basically learn 3D software.

Your best option is probably Blender and or Unreal Engine, both free and both with very interesting options for what you want.

But it is not a speed race; it is more like a marathon.

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=Blender+apocalyptic+scene

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=Unreal+Engine+apocalyptic+scene


P.S. I am not sure the correct term is "virtual photography" it is more like "virtual image" or the most used term... CGI. Computer generated Image.

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  • "But the content of the image is not yours. It is a screen capture of a video game, this means basically that you can not distribute or make any profit from it." Is that true? For a procedurally-generated game, where everything is algorithmically created at runtime, do the game devs have copyright on every ray-traced scene that could ever conceivably be generated? I'm not confident that's the case. – scottbb May 27 at 21:15
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    Re: the terminology: the people who are posting images on Instagram and other places, using images creating with in-game "camera mode" or "photo mode", are calling it "virtual photography". Digital Camera World has several articles from the last couple years calling it "virtual photography", as a distinct practice from simply screen grabbing. I don't know if that's definitive, but the term certainly has traction. – scottbb May 27 at 21:20

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