Six things I learned about photography from playing games

When I was younger I used to be a ‘gamer’. My favourite game genre was, and still is, First Person Shooters (FPS), think Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem etc… My favourite game was Half Life 2 Deathmatch (HL2DM), and I was pretty good at it too. Quite regularly I would finish a round ranked third or better, if I was having a bad day I’d finish fifth or worse depending how bad my day was. I was so good that I got invited to be in a clan. Then I got a job and work killed my fun. Work 1 me 0.

My time wasn’t wasted playing games. Many of the skills and lessons I learned from playing HL2DM are transferable and applicable to photography. I still use those skills and lessons. Here are six lessons that I learned from FPS gaming that have helped my photography.

Anticipation – In HL2DM your enemies are human. Humans can be unpredictable. Being unpredictable in HL2DM will afford you a better chance of survival by making it more difficult for your enemy to kill you. The unpredictability of your enemy makes it harder for you to kill them and means you need to anticipate your enemies movements and actions in order to have a better chance of taking them down. Shoot where they are going to be not where they are.

Life on the street is fast, unpredictable, and things happen quickly. You never know what will happen, you have to anticipate what might happen. Sometimes things that you anticipate happening come to pass, or not. If what you anticipate comes to pass you have to be ready to capture it and you might just get a great photo.

Speed – You can’t be slow in HL2DM, you have to think and act as fast as possible to have any chance of surviving. You want to be able to kill your enemy as fast as possible with as few shots as possible. Being slow and running out of ammunition is a death sentence in HL2DM.

In street photography speed is one way of being invisible. Once you see a photo you have to be able to shoot quickly to minimise the risk of being noticed. Not only do you have to be fast ideally I like to try and nail a shot with a single frame because the more frames you shoot the greater the risk is of being noticed and loosing the moment or situation that makes for a good photo. If you are shooting digital and have a large memory card then you may be able to afford many more frames and it might not matter as much. But if you are shooting film you only have a limited number of frames, usually 36, to get a photo. If you are shooting film you don’t want to spray and pray because each frame is costing you money and the moment/situation that you want to photograph may disappear while you are changing rolls. Being able to get a shot quickly and in as few frames as possible is a handy skill to have, it doesn’t make you not invisible but it does make you a little bit less visible and more likely to go unnoticed.

Know the map – Knowing your favourite maps, knowing where your favourite weapons are, where ammunition for them is located, and the quickest way to get there will help you survive. As will learning where the best hiding spots are, where the health packs are located, and knowing where the best spot(s) to ambush someone is. If you know the map and your opponent doesn’t and you see them going one way there might be another route you can take to cut them off and kill them before they get that weapon or power up that will make it harder for you to kill them.

Knowing your own town or city and learning when there are events on that might yield some interesting photos. Get to know certain areas, know where the light is good and when. Learn where it’s safe and the areas to stay away from. Learn where all the cool spots are where people hang out. Get to know where the galleries and art spaces are. Find a favourite book shop. Find a favourite cafe, pub, bar, or eatery and frequent it, become friendly with the people that work there you may be able to get them to show some of your photos and maybe even sell some.

There is always someone better than you – If you don’t play someone better than yourself you will never improve. Watch and study players that are better than you to pickup their tricks. Always try to play people better than yourself.

Study master photographers and photography critics. It doesn’t matter whether they are your favourite photographer/critic or not, read and watch everything you can about them, and anything by them, learn as much as you can from them. Don’t dismiss people that are better than you because they have something they can teach you. Even if you only learn one thing from a number of people, all the things you learn will soon add up and make you a better photographer.

Pick a weapon, and master it – It’s better to be a master of a few weapons than it is to be mediocre with every weapon at your disposal. When I played HL2DM my favourite weapon was the cross bow because it’s a one hit kill kind of weapon. You have to be accurate with it and there is little that can save you from a well aimed cross bow bolt to the head. Unlike the orbs from an orb gun which can be caught with the gravity gun and fired back at you potentially turning you into orb dust.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that another camera or more gear will make you more creative or will make your photos better. Try and avoid the gear acquisition trap. Find a favourite camera and a favourite lens/focal length, learn how to use it until it becomes second nature, until it becomes an extension of yourself. You want to be able to concentrate on looking for and capturing awesome photos not missing photos because you are too preoccupied trying to get your camera settings right.

Timing and patients – In HL2DM timing and patience is everything, a split second can mean the difference between life and death. If you pull the trigger too soon you miss, if you pull the trigger too late you miss. You have to time your shot perfectly to get the kill. But timing also involves patience. You have to be patient and wait for the right time to take a shot.

Patience and timing is also everything in photography. Henri Cartier Bresson calls it the decisive moment. Timing is the difference between capturing a great image and capturing nothing. However you need to be patient, you have to wait for the right moment and release the shutter just when everything comes together and everything is perfect for a great photo.

These are all the things I learned about photography from playing a lot of HL2DM.


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