GTX 1080 and the Art of the Screenshot

Consider the lowly screenshot.

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In this current era of live-streamed games, screenshots often get short shrift. You see them frequently in articles about games, but video gets more attention these days. Easy tools for capturing game videos, like Nvidia’s own ShadowPlay, make capturing videos simple.

But screenshots differ substantially from a video of a game, much like a single photograph differs from video or film. A photograph often needs to tell a story in a single image. Screenshots in games often get used simply to demonstrate what in-game graphics might look like, or illustrate a user interface. Screenshots are rarely appreciated as an art unto themselves. That’s changing now, as sites such as Dead End Thrills and Video Game Tourism turn screenshots into an offshoot of artistic photography. Instead of a physical camera, game photographers use the in-game camera.

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Some games lend themselves to virtual landscape photography, as my first two images demonstrate. Gamers often use screenshots to capture the essence of whatever character they’re playing. It’s a tradition as old as sketching out your RPG character on the character sheet in a tabletop roleplaying game.

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Nvidia’s adding a cool new tool to the video game photographer’s arsenal, which they’re somewhat pretentiously calling Ansel after famed landscape photographer Ansel Adams. I mentioned Ansel in my GeForce GTX 1080 review at Tested, but didn’t have time or space to cover it in detail.

Ansel allows gamers to take over the in-game camera and fly it around, positioning it where they want and capture the shot. Ansel includes a host of features enabling complete control over how the screenshot gets snapped. Game photographers are no longer limited by screen resolutions; Ansel can capture shots at extremely high resolutions. The tool also captures full 360-degree surround  images for more immersive experiences.

Ansel allows for all manner of interesting effects, ranging from simplistic, Instagram-style filters to more elaborate blur, HDR, toning, and denoise filters. While you can still take your final product into a photo editor such as GIMP or Photoshop, you’ll often be able to just capture a mood using Ansel’s built-in tools

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Ansel hasn’t been released, yet, and will require game developers to integrate the capability into their titles. Game programmers have full control over how Ansel gets implemented. The last thing any gamer would want, for example, would be for opponents in multiplayer games to be able to grab a free-floating camera to see where enemies might be. While a single-player game such as The Witness may give users full camera control, The Division only allows camera control over the player characters head, giving some control over angle of view — as if the character carried a camera. Ansel behaves much like a plug-in or mod, so requires only a relatively small number of lines of code to integrate.

I’ve never been much for capturing videos of gameplay, but I love the thought of having tools to improve screenshot capture. The photographer in me very much looks forward to generating interesting, artistic game photographs that rival what you can shoot with a real camera in the real world. Game photography, for me, becomes yet another way to enjoy a game.

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