Photography in LRP (and social responsibility)

My second season of LRP photography is almost upon us. In two months it’s Empire and it’s almost time to look forward to four days of (quite literally) blood, sweat and tears.

I’d like to talk about what makes a good LRP picture. I think I’m quite privileged here in that I spend a reasonable amount of time hashing out ideas, wants and needs with Matt. I have insight into the needs of a LRP event organiser that I can combine with my own experience in commercial photography and hopefully that means I’ve got some interesting thoughts.

I appreciate that the vast majority of players consider a good LRP picture to be ‘one that has me or my friends in it’. And why not? After all that time spent working on costume, make up, camp, of course everyone wants pictures of themselves. It’s a very visceral response to like an image in that way and certainly not one that should be ignored. As a photographer I’d add that shots should be in focus, exposed well and have reasonably good composition too, but I fear my standards are higher than the average players in that respect.

Looking at the next level of ‘good’ is perhaps to consider what a photographer might put in their portfolio. For me personally, there’s no room for a margin of error here. It’s got to be a shot that smacks you round the face and makes you look. That means the technical aspects like exposure, composition and focus have to be appropriate to the shot, but there has to be some kind of moment captured, or emotion felt. A story to the image if you like. Some of the shots that I have selected for my portfolio have left players scratching their heads, but I’m trying to create images that are cinematic and ethereal in nature.

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So if players are looking for pictures of themselves and I’m looking for something cinematic, where does that leave the boss?

Well, Matt’s most common whinge to me is ‘you don’t leave me any copy space’. He’s right, I want all my pictures to be awesome and epic and full of detail that grabs you and make’s you look twice. I also most enjoy shooting portraits so lots of my images reflect that. But of course when he comes to put his advertising together, that’s not really good enough.

What’s copy space you might ask? Well, it’s the bit in a design where you put the text. So if you have a photograph of a fight going on, you might place the fight off to one side and have some lovely out of focus background as a place to put your text. This means that they can be made up into mail shots for example without the pictures competing for attention with the text. Think of a magazine front cover too, the photographer always leaves some header space at the top for the title and gaps of plain areas around the edges of the subject for the words that advertise what’s inside.

But this all leaves us in a bit of a quandary. You see, trying to shoot perfect images with great composition, emotion and copy space while in an environment where you can’t press the rewind button and stage things again is something approaching impossible. Or at least, it’s very, very hard. It certainly means that a good deal of my brainpower is being used thinking of composition from a designers point of view rather than a photographers point of view.

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There’s something else that ties into what makes a shot good for a LRP organiser though too and this one is more tricky.

At somewhere around the nineteen minute mark of this video Matt talks about how as a LRP organiser you have to communicate with players to tell them what you want from them in regards to kit and costume. After all, if your players do not know what you want from them then you’ll never get a game what looks how you wanted it to. I’d go one step further than that and suggest that if you show players the immersive environment that you’re trying to create then people coming to your game will begin to take steps to make themselves part of that aspirational environment. If you show participants how cool it can be, everyone will try that little bit harder to make it cool for themselves and everyone around them. Showing players what you want it to look like it so much easier than telling them or writing about it. A photograph can tell a thousand stories and say a thousand words.

Photography, no matter how we look at it, is really rather important to the promotion of standards in LRP games. If images are full of modern tents, plastic bottles and kit that just doesn’t quite work then people will consider that to be the aspirational standard and will dress themselves and their camp accordingly. Now I’m not saying that snaps you take around the campfire should be masterpieces, of course I’m not. I’m also not talking about behind the scenes documentary photographs. However I think those who identify as ‘photographers’ have some social responsibility towards the game and it’s environment.

No matter which way you look at it, all those who publish collections of images from LRP are promoting the game in some way. Through our pictures we’re promoting the standards of the game and how it feels to be a part of that world. So what does it say when we include coke cans and black bin bags in our images? It says that we don’t care about the game environment and the way people see it. There’s always another photograph to be taken. There’s 1500 people out there at an Empire game, there’s always another photograph. A better photograph.

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‘But Charlotte!’ you cry; ‘you just posted a picture of a non-immersive environment!’

Yes I did. But it’s not a coke can or a modern tent. The thing is, the vast majority of this shot is pretty much perfect. Just look at all the glorious kit. Even the monster is in lovely kit, the only bit that stands out is the balaclava back to his mask. But at the end of the day, the boss was never going to commission 400 full head orc masks for the monsters. When I make decisions on putting shots like this up I ask myself two questions. The first is, is the non-immersive item still of a higher standard than average in the game. In this case, yes it is. This is a pretty high quality orc mask at the end of the day and you can see the detailing on the front of it. The second thing I ask myself is, does the emption and story of the shot make up for the non-immersive item? In this shot, yes. I hope so anyway.

Subjective decisions have to be made when you’re a photographer. But I guess what I’m saying is that rather than put up every image that we shoot at a LRP event, it is mindful to consider the game and it’s environment when posting sets of pictures on the internet. Some of the setting does look a little crappy at times – especially when it’s been snowed on, flooded and then beaten with gale force winds – but by striving to produce better photographs we can work around those things and instead just show the great environments and make really special images.

By showing the really special images instead of all the images we do our subjects a favour. We help them, the players, create a better environment by raising the standards of imagery from that event. And that to me is really what it’s all about. The more we help to raise the standards, the better the environment we have to photograph in.

So I guess there’s more to photography in LRP than just pointing your camera and lens at cool stuff. There’s also social obligations to players and the helping of upward mobility in immersion. The fact is that it’s not all on the players to make the event look cool, it’s up to us to help them too.