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2D games: Shoot photos to make better & cheaper art (Part 2)

by Junxue Li on 09/12/14 02:31:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This series of posts are about shooting good pictures for 2D game art production. This post is Part 2. If you see this series for the first time, I suggest you to read Part 1 first.


Trip 2: Shooting antique objects:

If you’re living in a big city, Beijing, Paris, Prague, you will not be short of museums. These are good places to hunt good antique pictures.

If you have made lots of this type of game, while in a museum, you would know which items are valuable to game making: sarcophagus, pots, weapons, treasures.

And you would know which angles of the graphics are most often used.

 Pictures are shot in National Museum of China.

Before go to a museum, learning its photography policy is very important: Is tripod allowed? And is shooting allowed at all? You can find on their website or make them a call.

Shooting in a museum is very tricky, for the lighting inside most museums is dim, and tripods are generally not allowed.

We would want to shoot pictures of the same properties, as described in Part 1. 

Basically we want to get well focused objects, and well exposed pictures. That requires to shoot in relatively fast shutter speed, yet the camera should produce good quality pictures.


Get good exposure:

The bellow points could help get better exposure while the light is dim, and I include the downside in the bracket:

1.Use a camera of FX format sensor, which could produce good picture even with high ISO (this type of cameras are all quite expensive, like Nikon D800, Canon EOS 5D);

2.Raise ISO (would produce grainy pictures);

3. Use large aperture lens. You can buy a cheap 50mm fixed lens, which can go down to f1.8.  This aperture would allow you to shoot at as low as ISO400, producing less grainy pictures. (In close shoot, with big aperture, part of large objects would go out of focus)

If you don’t have a FX camera, and you don’t want to buy an extra 50 mm lens, you can try to shoot at high ISO value, don't mind the grains, as long as they're in acceptable range. For example the below picture, is shot with a lens of general quality, when you zoom in to 100% size, you can see it’s very grainy. But it’s ok for using as hidden object. If you scale the picture to game size, the grains will not be visible.

In conclusion, before shooting in a museum, work out that for all the equipment you have, the safe shutter speed shoot handheld, the safe ISO value, and the biggest aperture you can use. And have these values in mind all the time to shoot safe.


Get focused objects:

Basically we want the whole of the object in focus. It’s about two points:

  1. Shoot in high shutter speed while handheld, or stabilize the camera while taking long time exposure (tripod or place the camera on a solid platform); Because shake would produce blur.
  2. Understand depth of field, to position your focal point in the right place to keep the whole object in focus.


About Point 1, for safe shutter speed while shoot handheld, please see this chart:

(most middle&low end DSLR have DX format sensor, and FX cameras are generally very large and expensive)

And I would like to talk a bit more about point 2. In close shoot with large aperture(bellow f5), you would get very shallow depth of field. While you shoot something flat, say, a mirror or a dish, that wouldn’t be a problem. But if you shot something long or bulky, while the front of the object is in focus, the back of it may be blur.

Typically the depth range of in-focus would be 1/3 in front of the focal point and 2/3 behind it. For example, if you close shoot a big vase, you would place the focal point at the “F” point, then the front half of the vase(the part visible to you) would be all in focus.


You can apply this to objects of all shapes, judging where is the 1/3 point and place the focal point there. In this case always use auto focus feature, manual focus would be inaccurate.


No polarizer land?

While museums keep most of the items in glass cases, you would want to use a polarizer filter to remove the lousy reflections. But the problem is that the polarizer would reduce lights by 2 stops.

I shoot the blow pictures without a polarizer, to get this exposure, I have all my budget of maximum ISO, shutter speed, aperture spent.

To add a polarizer, I need to press harder on either of the three parameters. That means I would get more grainy, or blur pictures.

So, if you can use a tripod, adding a polarizer won’t be a problem, for you’re free to set whatever slow shutter speed; While shoot handheld, you’d better find alternative solutions, for example, shot close to the glass, shoot perpendicular to the glass, or find an angle that the background behind you is not very bright.


Other tips:

If possible, shoot an object in these angles, imagine you would place this object in a game scene:  on the floor, on the table, on top of a bookshelf.

Many items are top lit, which makes the bottom very dark. Don’t shoot objects of this type, the dark parts has no details in them, and the picture is totally unusable in 2D art production.


Take with you a small piece of soft cloth, the type you use to wipe your glasses. In case the glass before the object has some dirt or finger print on it, you can wipe it clean before shooting.


Next time we would shoot some pictures for background making: furniture, interior and architectures.

Other parts of this series:

Part 1:  Shooting everyday life items

Part 3: Shooting scene elements for background art


More of my articles about games & art production:

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