Positioning is key. Staying quiet and discreet is crucial. The closer I get, the better chance I have for the perfect shot.
Much like how Aloy, Guerrilla Games’ protagonist in their latest success, Horizon: Zero Dawn, waits patiently for that critical strike, I would wait patiently in the streets of Toronto for the perfect photo that encapsulates life in a modern city.
In 2014 I had graduated University with an Honours Bachelors of Arts and was about to pursue my education further. For the most part I played video games sparingly, and much of what I wanted to play was only available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or PC (I owned a Playstation 3 and a MacBook). Gaming wasn’t satisfying the itch I had. It was at that time I took an extreme interest in photography. The ability to capture expression and life reminded me not to forget my surroundings and appreciate them during a time of transition.
And so I did, wandering the streets of Toronto and engrossing myself in Street Photography, Urban Photography, Fashion and Portraiture. For the next year, I learned as much as I could by spending hours at a time just wandering the city and reading about photography.
However I also had a social responsibility: See my friends, family, pay bills and student loans I had taken for school. And so, photography had to take a backseat. Work days would get busier, and the time I could spend out walking the urban jungle became fewer and far between. Days off were spent resting or taking care of other errands. Gaming once again came back into my life as a means of entertainment in smaller chunks of time. I still loved Photography, but I had to appreciate it and experience it in a different way than before.
Fast forward to 2017. I had been following Guerrilla Games’ latest title Horizon:Zero Dawn for some time. Astounding visuals and a Science-Fiction premise that tickled the curiosity of fans and industry veterans alike. An open world Action-RPG inhabited by mechanical creations of a bygone age.
When the game officially released on February 28th, 2017 millions fell further in love with the title and I was one of them. Yet, my reason was the tiny option tucked away in the menu: Photo Mode.
Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Photo Mode embraced my oldest, and most beloved past time (video games) with my latest obsession (photography). It created a different type of jungle for me to explore and learn about, with everything Guerilla Games built as my subject. Horizon’s Photo Mode was a boon for the photographer in me who could no longer wake up at 6am and travel across the city to see the atmosphere and photograph life of the early-risers.
Many of the skills and techniques I learned as a(n) (amateur) photographer were transferrable to the world of Horizon. Patience to wait for a subject to shift or move to a preferred location, or in my case, waiting for the Watcher to cross my path while I hid in the tall grass, was familiar to me. I followed techniques I learned through reading and practice, such as the Rule of Thirds for framing, or using open and empty spaces to accentuate the presence of a main subject. Keeping these techniques in mind became the norm every time I accessed Photo Mode. I’ve used lines in Cauldrons over black and white to bring attention to Aloy. I could adjust the Depth of Field to bring particular focus on a wandering Snapmaw in order to disregard the busy surroundings. Or I could adjust it to take in the full majesty of the misty valley below, bathed in the light of the sunset. And like in the post-editing process, I could ever so slightly touch up on the contrast of colours using a combination of brightness, ‘vibrant’ filter and appropriate intensity adjustment afterwards. I only needed to walk any direction in the game and I could find an interesting subject to photograph along the way.
While my own experiences eased me into the routine, features in Horizon also allowed me to frame that ‘perfect shot’ in ways I never could if I were doing Street Photography in the city. The ability to tilt or crane upwards/downwards, left or right, at any varying height allowed a versatility to find the ‘perfect angle’ that I desired. I could bring Aloy prominently on the screen over a tall cliff, where in all likelihood I would have needed a helicopter or expensive machinery to assist me otherwise. And perhaps my favourite setting, and easily the joy of any Street Photographer, is the ability to manipulate the ‘Time of Day’ to experiment how light reflected off surfaces, or bring light into areas that were now dark. Lighting, in all forms of photography, is of utmost importance. And for the Street Photographer, natural lighting could be the difference between a flat and uninteresting photo or something visually striking.
Seeing the photography tools were nostalgic, and combining them with my desire to explore and capture images paved a different way for me to enjoy Horizon: Zero Dawn. A death defying experience with a Thunderjaw in a ruined valley held that much more meaning to me when I look back at the photograph.
Guerrilla had crafted a very unique package here. Between clearing our Bandit Camps and finding the best placement for ‘Trip Mines’ for the Behemoth convoy around the corner, I would also ask myself, ‘What would be a better angle to capture this herd of Lancehorns grazing?’ and ‘Can I scale that mountainside to take a picture of that Glinthawk on its roost?’ These questions raced through my mind at every new area. I was discovering the world as much as I was trying to play through the game’s many main and side quest lines.
Horizon is still the open-world, action title Guerrilla created, but it became a long narrative of show and tell. Each photograph came along with it a story, each new encounter with a foe was logged, sometimes dynamically, and others not so much. Each sunrise and sunset photographed was a reminder that I, as both player and Aloy, made it through another day, with another story to tell.
I am still not finished Horizon Zero Dawn. The game is vast and with still many mysteries for me to explore. Yet, looking back at some of the photos I’ve taken, I can at least say I have a few stories to tell.