Why do we photograph LRP?

Despite me wanting to believe that everything was put on this earth for me to photograph it, it’s simply not true when it comes to lrp. Apparently. (I mean, no matter how much I argue the point with Simon, he insists that the main point of LRP is roleplaying or something.)

Initially when I shot my first Empire I didn’t really think about the reasons for me shooting LRP. I didn’t consider it beyond the fact that it might produce some shots that would be a nice addition to my portfolio. At the time I was just kicking off my freelance business and taking opportunities was what I did.

But that state couldn’t last because I love to think about things. Over the past 18 months I’ve devoured anything I can find on the subject of LRP photography. I have solicited opinions endlessly from just about everyone I know who does LRP and many I don’t know on Facebook and forums.

My journey shooting LRP hasn’t always been smooth. Overall I’ve been warmly welcomed into the community but there has been the odd incident that hasn’t quite been so warm. But these incidents only made me want to understand the reasons behind peoples behaviour, and the key to understanding those reasons is understanding why people like photographs of LRP.

In no particular order and in my usual rambling style:

_MG_9535webFacebook (Other social networks are available)

People love pictures of themselves. People love pictures of themselves with their friends. We live in a world that now in part validates you based upon your social media presence. Collecting pictures and check-ins of the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met allows us to say very publicly ‘this is me, look at all the fun things that I fill my life with’.

Tagging yourself in pictures has now become part of the post-LRP ritual that participants go through. Waiting with anticipation for the images to be put online so that you can relive the memories over and over again.

One of the reasons I started getting into LRP photography in a big way is that I believe that everyone should be able to have great photographs of themselves. I hate this notion that only the privileged elite with loadsamoulah can afford to have pictures of themselves that they’re proud of. That’s one of the reasons I worked so hard on shooting Character Portraits at Empire – but alas we eventually knocked that idea on the head, at least in part due to lack of enthusiasm from the players.



This shot above ^^, kinda awesome I reckon. This is the kind of image that will make many people want to play the game and so it’s invaluable to event organisers. It looks fucking cool. Rather too often LRP does not look cool in photographs. In fact, there’s a reason that LRP was pretty much at the bottom of the geek pile for so long, languishing just above the furries (I jest… I jest…).

It’s all well and good for players to ‘donate’ their photographs to event organisers for publicity, but how often are those players shooting to a brief and capturing the shots that the organiser needs? It took a year and a round of ‘I don’t have any photographs I can use’ from Matt while he was putting together mail shots to realise how important correctly composed images are for an organiser.

The other thing is that as a crew member at LRP we have an arrangement in place for the organiser to use my images. In the wiki, in the mail shots and so forth. It’s all well and good ‘having permission’ from a player to use their shots, but what happens if they suddenly decide that they want to remove those shots from the internet? Someone gets the shit job of having to go through the wiki and take them all down by hand. What happens if they decide they don’t want their shots to use used after the mailshot has already been printed? Who pays for the redesign and the reprint? Not sure I’d trust my image licensing to those sort of terms if I was a business owner.

And that’s just the thing, image licensing isn’t simple and does demand some knowledge in order to ensure that you don’t land in hot water. As well as taking photographs at the event I am also (slowly) applying my knowledge built up as a working photographer to the massive wiki – which currently has around 2000 images on it. This point might not be directly related to ‘why we take photographs’ but it certainly is something to think about when booking someone to take photographs of your events.


Reliving memories

If LRP is all about telling stories, then images help us recall those stories, right? Maybe. I write more below about how images can influence our feelings about an event, but think about this;

How do images help you tell stories when you’re sitting around a campfire at the next event?

If you don’t have an image of yourself doing *insert heroic thing here* then does it mean it doesn’t happen? Or does it mean you have a chance to tell your version of what happened without the matter-of-fact documentary image of what you did? Inevitably the image would not look as cool as the story that you can weave, so it seems almost a little pointless from that point of view. I’m kind of getting the idea that LRP is about story telling and images can be detrimental to the telling of stories. Although I’d have to ask my friend Kat something about that. In fact, perhaps that warrants a blog post all of it’s own, once I’ve tied her down to quiz her on what she thinks.

Shit Images vs No Images

I read something the other day about how if you doctor an image to show a person was present at an event that they weren’t at, then their brain would make up memories for that event. You can literally fool a brain into thinking it went somewhere that it didn’t go. I mean, this is cool and I totally plan on testing this out on people, but what implication does it have for LRP?

If we take away the aspect of doctoring photographs, it’s reasonable to assume that images create a kind of false reality. My photos aren’t too bad, I like to think that they help people remember the event as being kind of shiny and polished, perhaps to a degree that it might not have actually been. I’ve blogged before about how I think that photographers have a duty to the social contract.

But how does that work if the images we see afterwards are not as good as the event itself was? If a great photograph makes us remember an event as being better than it looked in person, then by extension a shit photograph would make us remember an event as being worse than it was in person.

Obviously, this is not good. Not for the participants, nor for the event organiser. No one wants to be remembering of the crappy bit of an event – and all events surely have crappy bits (the Coke cans, the bad costumes, the slightly naff physreps…).

Sometimes you wonder if it would be better to have no pictures at all from an event rather than really awful pictures.


So I guess it makes me think that it would be cool if we could start eradicating personal cameras from events. I mean, not that I’m going to start enacting this policy at any events I currently photograph, unless the boss fancies doing that too (who am I kidding… the complaint emails would never stop). I mean there’s the argument that I outlined above about making bad memories and also the well hashed out arguments for breaking immersion (better to have one photographer breaking the immersion of players than a dozen).

As a photographer I sometimes think that images are a bit overrated. I don’t really take any images of ‘personal stuff’. You won’t really find any holiday snaps or ‘memories’ in my digital archives. I don’t have any pictures up around the house of ‘stuff I have done’ or of my friends and family. I prefer to remember things from my head and my heart, rather than from an image that was taken by somebody else. It somehow seems to be a truer, more faithful representation of what happened at the event. Perhaps it even feels more authentic.

  • An interesting and thoughtful article.

    I think the reasons people like having pictures of them, in LARP, is as varied as the people being captured. I think you captured the main ones, however. 🙂

  • Michelle Taylor

    I often find shit photos of myself after events – ones where I’m pulling a horrendous expression, where I look like a deranged chipmonk, where you can see the brightly modern printed socks which I’d been reduced to wearing because all the others were wet. Even photos where I’m just a blurred figure dashing around in the background.

    I massively prefer having those photographs to having no photographs. Even photos with all kinds of hideously failed elements bring the event back for me, let me look at the other bits of my kit and see how they’re working together or otherwise, jog my memory so I can remember all the good bits. And sometimes they’re hilarious too.

    Most ‘amateur’ camera-wielders I’ve been snapped by at LARP events have been just as invisible in the game as crew photogs – often even more so, as they tend to have smaller cameras – and do nothing but enhance my LARPing experience.

    I think you might get less flak for your opinions on what’s worth photographing and what isn’t if it wasn’t combined with the recommendation that other people shouldn’t be allowed to photograph the things you don’t think are worth photographing – it’s one thing to say ‘I don’t want to photograph that’, that’s totally fine, but another thing to say ‘no-one else should be allowed to do it either’.

  • Michael Chester

    One thing you missed in the reasons why we like photos. They are a massively useful tool for convincing non-larpers to give it a try. No words can convince a person that LARP is more than just a bunch of sweaty nerds in cheap costume waving toy swords around quite as effectively as a picture of neat Roman battle lines squaring off against a horde of Carthaginians. Hell, I’m fairly sure photos of me at LARP events on my online dating profile helped me get my current partner, and I’m absolutely sure that they’re a large part of the reason she’s coming to her second Odyssey in August.

    The pictures aren’t a substitute for telling the stories, but if you talk about LARP (or indeed any fantasy roleplay) to a non-roleplayer, you tend to sound like a raving lunatic. If you show them an awesome photo, and talk about the context behind it, you sound like a guy with an amazing hobby.

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