Why screenshotting games can be more rewarding than playing them

Years before PS4 enabled players to snap and share high-quality screenshots with a few button presses, I was balancing my two megapixel Casio camera on a stack of Harry Potters and pointing it towards my finger-smudged telly. Why? Because taking pictures of games is the best.

Firstly, it gives you something to look back on, like an old photo album. Except that all of the pictures of your ice cream-eating nan are swapped for your initial steps into Fallout 4’s Diamond City, or your introduction to Solid Snake’s D-Dog. The memory-jogging stimulus provided by pictures prevents any sensation that the hours you’ve invested have been wasted.

Secondly, they can become testaments to your gaming skill – they’re visual records of incredible achievements. Capture the moment you vanquish Bloodborne’s Father Gascoigne into the ether or finally gain that hard-fought FIFA 16 league promotion and you can relive the glory, handing those PNG files down to offspring if so inclined.

And let’s not forget the best reason of all to take screenshots. The art reason. I’ve a habit of ignoring puzzles in The Witness to wander around wide-eyed on the hunt for decent frames and angles, reluctantly turning to maze-solving when I need to unlock new areas. Scouting scenes, then lining up elements into well-balanced compositions is a gratifying puzzle in itself – it’s virtual tourism in the purest sense, as I demonstrated using Uncharted 4's awesome Photo Mode.

But how to take a picture worthy of wallpaper when most games slap a view-stealing gun in your hand or smother you in a HUD? Improvise. There’s no conventional way to lower Bioshock Infinite’s weapons – unless, that is, you switch out your firearm and take a picture in the millisecond before your next one pops up. And pausing and unpausing to briefly banish interfaces works a charm in games such as Battlefield 4 (there’s also a small window of ‘selective focus’ here that applies pretty background blur).

Character blocking the way? In Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Life Is Strange, I get around this by moving my avatar up against the wall and rotating the camera until they disappear. Taking pictures in games teaches the art of problem-solving.

It boosts a game’s lifespan, too. Batman: Arkham Knight’s running time doubled as I snapped landscapes of Gotham’s moody architecture from all angles before delving into fight challenges to get more lively portrait shots of heroes in full flow. I still return to Journey occasionally to cast an eagle eye over its pristine environment, and this is an experience four hours long at most. Multiplayer games prove toughest. Taking stunning sweeps of Destiny’s planets while hostiles attack feels a little like being a space-based war journalist, but when you finally get that winning snap, it somehow looks even sweeter.

Best about all this, though, is learning a transferable skill. Core rules of game photography translate into the real world. You’ll want a central subject, and this could be an environmental structure, character or, if you like, explosion. Without a subject, your eye doesn’t know where to look, so the result is often vague and ill-defined. You’ll want foreground and background features to add depth. If shooting a distant mountain, for instance, get a tree in front of it. And it sounds obvious, but you’ll want everything to be level, balanced and in focus. More important than these general guidelines is a question only you can answer: does the screenshot look good? If so, nothing else matters.

Ben Griffin photographs games and real life alike, and one time a screenshot gallery of his reached number FOUR on Reddit’s front page. He was very excited. Confirm he’s not lying by viewing his collection of game and real life shots here: photosofphotos.imgur.com.

This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here.

Ben Griffin
In 2012 Ben began his perilous journey in the games industry as a mostly competent writer, later backflipping into the hallowed halls of GamesRadar+ where his purple prose and beige prose combine to form a new type of prose he likes to call ‘brown prose’.