Marco De Mutiis – Photo Modes as a Post-photographic Apparatus

De Mutiis, Marco. 2017. “Photo Modes as a Post-photographic Apparatus” In Augmented Photography, edited by Milo Keller, Joël Vacheron, Maxime Guyon. Lausanne: Editions ECAL. ISBN: 978-2-9701157-4-8


[in] Photo Modes, players by default cannot not share their in-game photos when they take the picture on a PS4. Indeed, PS4 controllers have a dedicated button for taking the picture, labelled the ‘share button’. On the official Playstation YouTube channel, the Photo Mode tutorial for the Last of Us Remastered game – perhaps the first game to popularize Photo Modes – reminds us: ‘Once you have framed up your shot, just press the share button.’ And ‘this new mode allows you to freeze action in the game, adjust the camera, and add custom effects and frame before sharing them with the share button […].’ Photo Modes entirely transform the shutter button of traditional cameras by merging its function with the compulsory sharing of the image on the internet. In this sense, the role of the player-photographer within Photo Modes aligns with that of the Flusser’s clueless functionary, operating at the service of the black box. Even with a lesser degree of freedom, as the player-photographer is only left with two operations:

1. Aesthetic configuration

2. Sharing

With the material world gone and the physical apparatus disappeared, we are left with the momentary pleasure of tweaking parameters and adjusting colours on screen until we can finally execute our job, the creation of what Beller calls ‘computational capital’.


While Photo Modes may appear, at first glance, to be merely a nostalgic simulation of a simple photographic past made of shallow depth of field and poetic colour filters, its inner mechanics reveal that they are in fact part of contemporary post-photographic apparatus and integrally connected with the distribution and circulation of images online within the attention economy. Following this line of ideas, I would like to suggest that Photo Modes can be understood as a specific kind of Seeing Machine, one that requires functionaries to generate value through the acts of taking and sharing a picture. Photo Modes are inscribed within a larger ecology that includes fan trailer videos, ‘Let’s play’ videos, in-game screenshots etc. and, at the same time, offers a unique construction provided by the game developers that showcases a specific economic and political model of the photographic medium.

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The in-game camera in Far Cry 3: it’s like a vacation gone wrong

Far Cry® in-game photo mode

Far Cry 3 in-game camera mode

The game Far Cry 3 (2012) features an in-game camera mode by pressing “Z” the protagonist, Jason, from whose first person perspective one plays the game, draws a camera and we see the game world through a viewfinder view similar to the one of modern DSLR cameras, featuring something like focus points in the center of a framing rectangle. We can zoom in and out with the camera using the mouse wheel and take a picture by clicking the left mouse-button. So I went on a little photo safari in Far Cry 3 trying out my gear and taking a couple of shots in this beautiful wilderness. At some point I landed in a small cemetery where two men of the same faction as the game’s protagonist were kneeling in front of a tombstone mourning the death of another faction member. I was somehow touched by this encounter and wanted to capture the situation in a photo. So I went around the two, not too close, keeping some distance in respect of their loss. I decided to take some pictures from behind with the tombstone in the center, the two men facing the tombstone, kneeling left and right from it. It took me a while to find the right composition for the situation. Some time later I wanted to take a look at the pictures I had taken. They had to be somewhere, right? In the inventory? No. I ended the game and looked into my Steam account. I remembered from earlier sessions with Far Cry 3 that the photos I took were saved in Steam. I could not find any photos but some quick web search provided the solution:

Far Cry® 3 photo-mode marking a villain and an ostrich

Far Cry 3 photo-mode marking a villain and an ostrich

It turned out that the camera mode in Far Cry 3 is different from the in-game camera mode in Euro Truck Simulator 2. The modus is not meant to take photos. In the game the camera is used to mark villains, predatory animals and herbivores in order to track them even if they get out of direct sight and hide behind bushes or even small hills. Above the framing rectangle in the camera view we see a little row with symbols which show up in the camera image if we point the camera at villains or animals (see the second picture of this article) where we see the respective symbols above the heads of the villain and the ostrich. In some missions the camera mode is uses if the protagonist has to take photos of target persons. When I understood what had happened to my photos I felt a bit like the user Fun With Your Cat in a forum on Steam who experienced the same problem and said

it’s like a vacation gone wrong.

Nevertheless, one can take screenshots in the game using the F12. This is how I took the pictures in this article.

It is interesting that ranging the woods, beaches, hills, ruins and pathways of Far Cry 3 while looking for potential photographs one feels indeed somehow “embedded.” While the player searches for interesting motifs the game world keeps behaving as it was programmed to, in other words it keeps living on which allows to experience all kinds of strange situations: After I had taken the imaginary photos of the mourning soldiers I was getting close to a river where I saw a civilian standing on the river bank. I took some “photos” of him when out of nowhere (in fact out of the water) an alligator jumped at the guy and killed him in front of my eyes and my simulated lens. The beast bit him and submerged into the river. The man’s body kept floating inanimately on the water surface. I was so astonished that I kept pressing the left mouse button (i.e. the shutter-button) in order to have proof for my encounter still hoping to show the pictures later on. While I moved closer to the river and took pictures of the man’s body, the alligator emerged again out of the river facing my camera with its huge jaw and killed the protagonist whom I was controlling.

The second photo in this article is taken right before another strange and unexpected event which I did not photograph because I did not expect such a thing to happen: In the picture we can see that the villain and the ostrich who face each other are marked with symbols indicating their dangerousness. Only shortly after I had taken this picture the ostrich attacks the villain and strikes him down while he unsuccessfully tries to defend himself with his machine gun.

In-game photo mode in Euro Truck Simulator 2

The truck simulation game Euro Truck Simulator 2 (ETS2, SCS Software 2012) is interesting with regard to in-game photography because it does not force the user to push the screenshot button on the keyboard in order to take a picture instead it features an in-game photo mode. This feature was introduced in update 1.12 and works like a photo studio to go so that users can take crisp snapshots of their trucks wherever they are in the game world. In the best tradition of car photography they take location, lighting, setting, interior or exterior details, etc. into account for the right composition. Users can upload and share their photos on the game’s World of Trucks which partly functions like a flickr for ETS2 players.

The photo mode interface in ETS2.

The in-game photo mode interface in ETS2.

To get the right look the interface of the in-game photo mode allows to tilt, pan, and roll the camera. The player can move the point of view to get the right composition. Particularly interesting is that one can change the field of view (FOV), the depth of field (DOP), as well as the focus which adds essential photographic features to the screenshot.

Changing the FOV corresponds to changing the focal length with a zoom lens or to changing prime lenses of different focal lengths. Changing the DOP corresponds to changing the aperture of a camera which allows for a blurry background effect in case the the DOP is chosen to be rather narrow around the focus area. Eventually, users can use where to place their focus.

Apart from this the mode also allows for some configurations which are normally part of the photographic post-processing. As such the user can choose to change the color balance of their image as well as the saturation.

And, yes, that’s my truck in the second photo!