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2D games: Shoot photos to make better & cheaper art (Part 1)

This article is a guide of how to shoot pictures to use them in 2D game art production. It includes shooting object photos for props, hidden objects; And shooting architectures/interior for making background art.

   Today, in making art work for adventure/HOPA games, we use a lot of photo graphs, in two ways: For background making, we pie up photographs of architectures, furniture, then overpaint them;  And virtually all hidden object games use photos to make hidden objects, props.

Image from Relic Quest, a facebook game by iWin Inc.

   I believe any studio gets more than 90% of the photos from Google, and stock photo sites such as iStock, Dreamstime. And many people may freak out at the idea of shooting photos by themselves. I know what they have in mind:

  1. Why go out to shoot, wasting time and gasoline while we can find pictures on the web?
  2. Hiring pro level photographer is not cheap;
  3. I’m no pro, and don’t have good shooting gears.

   Well, if you look around you attentively, you may find lots of things can be shot and use in game with much less efforts than having to find/create those graphics. (We should be aware of the fact that the net makes people weird creatures, they would message people in the same office within earshot , and likely wise Google for pictures which they can shoot right on their table)

   I would like to invite you go with me on a short shooting trip, that you could see how in many occasions shooting pictures can save money and improve art work quality.

   Don’t worry about your photography skill. We are not about shooting pictures of aesthetic value; We only need to shoot clear objects, up to the use in games. After the trip, I’m sure you will know how to shoot for games, even you’re a beginner of photography. Regarding equipment, lower end DSLR would be enough, for example Nikon D90, D5200, Canon EOS 600D.

 On this trip, we would shoot photos of these types:

  1. Generic objects for hidden objects, props;

  2. Antique objects for hidden objects, props;

  3. Architectures for making background;

  4. Interior scene/furniture for making background;

  5. Etc.


Trip 1: Shooting generic objects:

The most intensively used hidden objects are those types: office items, kitchen utensils, every day life items, antiques (lots of HOPA games today are Indiana Jones type story)

If you’ve played or made lots of hidden objects games, you will see lots of repetitive items. It seems developer around the world get object graphics from a small pool of royalty free photos.

In fact shooting generic objects, which could be found in your home/office, super market, can give you these benefits:

  1. Make your objects unique, not like the ones from the small pool;
  2. Can get lots of object graphics real quick, and multiple angles of the objects. Which is good for the object placement in the scenes.
  3. Can get HD pictures, which is hard to find on the web, or you should pay for the use of them.
  4. You own the IP of the pictures, can use them for free.

Let us start with shooting a coffee pot. The setting is simple, put the coffee pot on a big sheet of white paper(could be sketch paper or any paper this big). While it’s daytime and you shoot in the office, let the windows lit one side of the object, and place a desklamp as a fill light on the other side. See this picture, this is my setup in the office. I don’t use any professional lighting gears, but this is enough for games.

Set up a tripod and connect cable release. Because you’re about to shoot lots of object/pictures by this setting, a tripod & cable release would save you lots of ache on your back and hands. And a tripod would enable you to shoot objects at small aperture (f16) and low ISO.

For object photos for games, we would need those properties:

  1. The whole of the object are in focus, no blurry;
  2. High resolution, having good details;
  3. Evenly lit;
  4. No very strong light & dark contrast;
  5. No strong highlights, no strong rim lights;
  6. No strong inclination of light color.

In one word, we need focused and “plain” objects, that in 2D overpainting process, we have all the flexibility to give the objects these wanted properties.

So, make sure to shoot in the largest picture size your camera allows, for you can always scale pictures down later; Use long focal length, something like 50~100mm,  according to the size of your object, to make the object occupies a good portion of the frame; Don’t use wide lens, like 24~35mm,that would make the object deformed. Use f-stop from f16 up to get the whole object in focus; And check the white balance, so that the object has no overall strong color inclination; Or you can shoot in raw format to edit WB later; About exposure/shutter speed, you don’t need to produce those artistically creative exposure, just get good and neutrally exposed pictures. Suggest you to shoot in M or A mode; While you shoot on a tripod, use ISO=100 to reduce grain.

Once you set the tripod and shooting parameters(while you use tripod, remember to turn off VR on your lens), your job is reduced to rotate the object (not the camera), and press release button each time to shoot multiple angles; After you’re done with one object, take it away and put in another objects. In this fashion you can see how fast the object graphics are churned out! It’s sheer magic!

If you want to shoot lots of objects after setup the gears, I have two tips for you:

  1. Please don’t shoot all objects with the same shutter speed, in an industrial production fashion. Adjust shutter speed according to the brightness of each object, that would give you better exposure/looking.
  2. You can draw a small mark like this on the paper, where the objects sit. That would help you to orientate objects for multiple shoot in a speedy fashion.



Here are a few object samples shoot by me, and we actually use them in games:

Make sure the image size is large enough, to make the pictures usable for future devices:

Next time, I will take you to our national museum in Beijing, which is our equivalent of Louvre,  there we would shoot lots of cool stuffs for our treasure hunting games.

Other parts of this series:

Part 2: Shooting in a Museum

Part 3: Shooting scene elements for background art


More of my articles about games & art production:

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