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Fan Spotlight: Virtual Photography by Hashta, Scionjay96 and Synnfusion

May 24, 2024

We're thrilled to introduce the works of three talented virtual photographers: Hashta, Scionjay96, and Synnfusion. Each of them brings a unique perspective to the table, with their own distinct style, preferred subjects, and techniques. While virtual photography might appear straightforward due to the accessibility of the tools, delving into the world of these virtual photographers reveals a depth beyond the standard usage of in-game photo mode tools. We hope their insights help other fans expand their approach to virtual photography.  


"Eclipse" / "Supernova" 

Hashta - Eclipse / Supernova

For the "Eclipse" shot, I was using external tools to free the camera and give myself more control in places where it normally wouldn't be available. As I was roaming the camera through this moment and skipping frames to get a nice position of Lara, I eventually came across this one segment where you can clearly see the moon. I think that's really cool and on theme with the game's atmosphere because Lara's head in front of the actual moon looks like an eclipse! It's worth mentioning that your eye usually automatically goes to the brighter parts of the picture, so if there is an object like this that is not the key part of the picture, or at least not the only one, it should be less exposed. Here, the composition automatically makes this possible as her face covers part of the bright field. 

"Supernova" is quite a longer story, as it was originally supposed to look entirely different. I just wanted the shot of Lara Croft in front of that moon, and I wanted it really badly. Nothing was clicking for me; the silhouette was too big and looked weird. After making the moon way larger, I also didn't like it, so the idea of editing a shot afterward came to mind. I made the character much smaller to leave space for the skybox, and here it is! I didn't even work on the sky too much, just added a few dots, and overusing the sharpening filter did the rest as it makes details like these way more visible. A small life hack if you want to enhance the night sky in your pictures. ;) I like this shot a lot; it was totally not what I was going for when I opened the photo mode, but now when I look at it, Lara looks like just a small, yet still big part of the infinite universe she is a part of. There is still so much left to discover, and judging by her pose, she's ready for it all. 

"Endure To Discover" 

Hashta - Endure To Discover

Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't include a native photo mode, so I used fan-made camera and shader tools with a few extras that, when combined, helped me create my own virtual photography playground imitation. This picture is probably the most unconventional position I'll talk about today as it basically consists of two pieces mixed together. The first shot is the one you see on the left with the climbing axe, and the second one is on the right with the blurred landscape. Both of those shots were done at the same location and are visible from almost the same spot. The way the game is crafted just makes it impossible to get them in one frame together from all possible angles, so why not mash them up? 

I like to take pictures like these that showcase details you wouldn't normally pay much attention to during gameplay. The paint peeled off the axe, the cracks in the ice that can break any second, the usage of depth of field (DoF), which is one of the most essential features of most photo modes - all of these little things don't make much difference on their own, but combined together, they can make nice compositions and eye-catching visuals. Originally, the background was full of white color as the snow in the extreme wind was blended well by the DoF, and it didn't look bad, but I decided to replace it with the view of Geothermal Valley because it's something that I felt was a bit more storytelling rather than just good looking. After all, doesn't that game like to make the player push Lara through all the suffering, so both of them can raid some tombs and discover hidden civilizations as a reward? 


Hashta - Unfolding

A more traditional shot of a landscape that's simply called "environmental" by the virtual photography community. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of them, and honestly, some of them are probably much better than this one, but I chose it because I really liked the way the colors, DoF, fog, and basically everything else work together, looking almost like a digital drawing. Everyone has their own unique style and individual ways and tricks to get a good photo, so I can't really speak for all or give much exact guidance on what to do, but I can always tell you how I do it! 

The first thing I always do is get the right angle of the main subject, here, a small piece of a temple. The two classic angles that almost always universally work are exactly from the front or a bit from the right/left. Then, I move the camera around - not too much to avoid losing the subject - just to find more interesting elements that can be in the frame. I often try to position foliage close to the camera to give the shot some depth and make it more cinematic by completely blurring it out. 

The important thing for me is also color play. There (almost) always have to be some darker and lighter tones or a contrast element to break a highly monochromatic composition. The only exceptions for me are some visual edits or more artsy, abstract pieces. In this picture, we can see all of what I mentioned: the brighter, more eye-catching part of the picture being the temple, which is also the main subject unfolding from the foliage that's left unfocused and has way darker colors, so it doesn't look too busy or boring as a whole. The trees and bushes are arranged to be on the edges of the screen to make it look like the composition is more closed! 

You can follow Hashta’s work here: 


Scionjay96 1

One thing I love about the Tomb Raider Survivor era games is how reactive Lara is to the conditions of her environment. To capture this image, the first thing I needed was enemies with their flashlights on to use as Lara’s own makeshift ring light while aiming her bow right at them. I was able to gather a few enemies in front of Lara with their lights on and allowed just enough damage to occur to bring out the blood and sweat details. I paused and launched photo mode just before it was too late. From there, I utilized the field of view and camera to get close to the arrow and have Lara in the frame. I brought the depth of field slider to 100% and then used one of the filters at a small percentage. I love this shot because it shows how confident Lara is in the midst of battle. 

Scionjay96 2

A lot of times before I get my shot, I think of a concept in my head that drives me to find a way to achieve it in-game later. For this shot, I knew I wanted to use the Tomb Raider (2013) survivor skin in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and find a spot reminiscent of the game itself. There’s a shipwreck in the challenge tomb, The Sixth Seal, that I remembered seeing in the vista, and I knew if I played with the camera, I could get it just right in the background. I waited around for Lara to cycle through her idle animations (she has such a great variety of idle animations, which makes getting shots so easy) and waited for this specific one in her arsenal. Once I got the shot, it was about matching the tone to the key art from Tomb Raider (2013). I went with a muted palette by decreasing vibrancy and added a bit of grain to give it a more cinematic feel. 

Scionjay96 3

One thing that got me into virtual photography was the fun (self-made) mini-game I would play, trying to find new light sources to use in my photos. There’s standard outdoor lighting, campfires, explosions, flashlights, lamps, and for this shot, I actually used the bright green light coming off a Trinity soldier's laptop. The lighting itself lit her up perfectly, but I didn’t want her to be green and look like an alien, so I had to color correct in post. I used a photo editing app with a tint slider to remove the green color. There was a hint of green left over, which I was able to remove by turning the vibrancy down. I was left with Lara really popping out against the muted background. The fun of photo creation for me is trying new ways to achieve a shot that I have faith in and using all the tools I have to execute it. 

You can follow Scionjay96’s work here: 


These photos were all taken in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider I-III Remastered as part of a song title inspired series I did over the past year at a time when I was first branching out from simple portraits. The goal was to not necessarily represent the lyrics or true meaning of the songs as written, but rather how they make me feel. 

"Free Bird"

Synnfusion - Free Bird

This one was taken on the PS5 in Shadow of the Tomb Raider near the plane wreckage, using only a default photo mode filter and depth of field with no post-editing and none of the external tools I use now. It's inspired by the work of a Flickr virtual photographer named TK and is the first photo I took in my song title-inspired series. I knew I needed that perfect shot that I could look at and simply think, "That's it. That's Free Bird. This gets the point across." 

It was also the first case where I truly needed to plan for a photo whose concept I had in mind beforehand. The obvious outfit choice being Eveningstar's cape, I needed to experiment to figure out under what conditions and during what animations Lara will spread the wings in a photogenic way. 

This area of the jungle provides a beautiful backdrop that I really wanted to capture, and I took advantage of her hair adjustment animations while emerging from the pool near the plane wreckage. The light source being behind her posed the most significant challenge, as it was very easy for Lara to end up entirely dark in the foreground. After many attempts reentering the pool, exiting, and pressing pause, I finally captured the moment when the stars aligned - her wings spread, eyes closed, expression carefree and elegant, and the singular ray of light perfectly illuminating her face. Then it was just a matter of snapping dozens of photos and selecting the one whose composition I felt was perfect. 

"Losing My Religion" 

Synnfusion - Losing My Religion

This pair of photos, again inspired by the Flickr virtual photographer TK, began as only the first photo of the pair. Since it's admittedly very similar to one of TK's photos, I chose to expand on the concept after noticing the T/cross-shaped similarities between Lara's backflip landing animation in Tomb Raider I-III Remastered and her upwards swimming animation in Shadow. 

This photo pair encapsulates my vision for Lara's growth throughout her life, represented by the different eras. The first photo from Shadow of the Tomb Raider is taken underwater with Lara's pose suggesting a desperate longing for the surface, while the Tomb Raider Remastered photo shows Lara similarly posed but in a much deeper state of peace and mental control (despite the famous Lost Valley T-rex being offscreen in front of her). More personally, this photo pair with its common motif became a symbol of my personal expansion from the Survivor era of Tomb Raider to the rest of the franchise, with me indeed "losing my religion. 

"The first photo is taken entirely using the in-game photo mode and its sepia filter with no post-editing and no aid from external tools, but the second is post-edited with light color editing and a background blur since depth of field is not available natively in Tomb Raider I-III Remastered

"Hello Darkness..."

Synnfusion - Hello Darkness...

This photo is taken in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and is inspired by Simon and Garfunkel's iconic "The Sound of Silence." Entirely unplanned, it's the only accident of the three. She looks out a window of the ruins near the Mission of San Juan as the sunlight from outside illuminates only her eyes, giving a feeling of pain and despair. Though indeed shrouded in darkness, her eyes express a longing for the world outside whose light she can still see. In reality, of course, it's only a well-timed pause during her idle animations and a fortunately directed lone ray of light. 

This photo, like "Free Bird", has no post-editing and is taken on the PS5 entirely using the in-game photo mode with only an in-game filter and depth of field applied to emphasize the intended mood. 

You can follow Synnfusion’s work here: 

Do you have a series of art or project you’re particularly proud of? Share it with us on social for a chance to be featured in our next spotlight! 

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