This guide is aimed at making the average player better at taking screenshots both for their own benefit and the benefit of those in the community who may see them. Anyone can hit the button and snap a shot, but an incredible number of factors go into making a shot more than just a dark, fuzzy photo of something interesting you saw. Screenshots can be indispensable tools, beautiful art, and perfectly preserved moments in time.
While this process may seem daunting given the length of this guide and the detail in which things are explained, I am simply breaking down the knowledge I have gained over more than a thousand hours of taking screenshots into textbook information that can be absorbed. Once you’ve gained some experience and go to actually apply what you have learned from this guide, it will occur in a fraction of a second and not as a long drawn-out procedure.
The best thing you can do for your picture-taking skills is to keep practicing. You will grow through trial-and-error just like everyone before you.
Much like a real photograph, there are a number of elements that go into taking the ideal screenshot:
1. Location & Position
2. Subject, Framing, & Background
3. Weather & Lighting
4. Health & Condition
1. Location & Position
Choosing a good location alone won’t make for the perfect shot, though. Give thought to what kind of angle you will want to photograph the subject at in order to determine where in the environment to position yourself in order to achieve that angle. You may need to seek out a higher building or hill to stand on to reach a suitable height. There may also be times where you need to crouch or go prone to produce the desired angle. Additional heights and angles can be achieved by doing things like walking while crouched and tilting your body left or right.
2. Subject, Background, & Framing
Once a location has been determined, background elements must also be scrutinized. Questions must be asked: does anything in the background draw attention away from the subject(s)? Does anything in the background clash with the subject or make it difficult to see (e.g. color)? Is there anything that can be added to or removed from the background in order to make the subject look better or improve how it is presented?
Different subjects need presented a little differently. This is one specific of screenshot-taking that must be learned through experience. As a rule, subjects should be framed as the center of the image — but as I noted earlier, context is equally important as subject, and sometimes the subject needs to be placed off-center in the frame in order to better display elements such as weather or lighting that greatly add value to the context side of the equation.
3. Weather, Lighting, & Time of Day
In addition to getting your gamma properly adjusted, situating yourself to account for sunlight is very essential. Positioning yourself on one or the other side of an object relative to the sun can greatly alter how that object will appear in the image and how much shadows will be an influence on the appearance of the image. This applies to any subject. To view this for yourself, run around the outside of a building and see how much the light levels change both on the building itself and the area around it. It’s a good idea to avoid looking in the general direction of the sun when taking pictures as it greatly darkens the foreground of the picture and washes out the screen with light rays.
Choosing a specific time of day (say, 10:00 vs. 14:00) will determine the position of the sun in the sky which directly affects the angle that light will hit objects in the environment. Time of day will be a factor you determine for yourself. This is entirely personal preference, but keep in mind that the lighting of your image is going to change completely throughout the day/night cycle depending on what time it is.
Weather can directly influence the light in a shot, but it is something to be reckoned with unto itself. While bad weather may inherently seem detrimental to producing a quality screenshot, the spirit of the game demands that all weather types be taken into account when creating a good picture. What you come up with should accurately reflect what it is you are portraying, and DayZ is many things… including a variety of weather conditions. Take time to consider what weather conditions are best for the theme of your image. If you are capturing a moment, this part will be taken care of for you.
4. Health & Condition
Good health is important to being able to explore and experience Chernarus for these screenshots to occur, so it is to your benefit to maintain it. If you stay healthy, it will make it easier for you to maintain a high blood level as well. A healthy photographer has no injuries, ailments, or negative conditions.
In the event that you are taking pictures of an object or a person (who is wearing/carrying objects), make sure that said object is in the best condition it can possibly be in. Similar to what I mentioned above, following the reverse of this advice could intentionally produce a desired “worn” look if that is what you are trying to accomplish.
Before we continue, it is important to note that as of this writing the game is in Alpha and the components of the game’s graphics engine are in flux at all times. That said, shadows seem to be glitchy the most often and in those instances it may be beneficial to turn the Shadows setting down or disable it entirely. I should also mention that I play with the HDR setting on “Low” (currently the highest setting available) at all times. One last must-mention: resolution size should ideally be the native resolution of your display (aka “100%”) unless, of course, you have a monster gaming computer with a 4K monitor and blah, blah, blah…
Certain video settings can be quickly adjusted to make a major impact on image quality. I feel that these few do the most good towards making the environment feel realistic and full. There are six in particular that should be turned up to maximum for screenshots if possible:
Examples of blemishes include status messages (bottom left), the hot bar (bottom), the weapon indicator (top right), weapon zeroing range (top right), the crosshair, and visible breath. There is a solution to all of these. Patience to wait out the status messages will see them disappear eventually, the hot bar can be cleared by default with the ~ (tilde) key, the weapon indicator will disappear on its own, the weapon zeroing range number can be cleared by putting away your weapon, and breath can be avoided with careful timing. You cannot be rid of the crosshair, but it can be “hidden” in the image with a careful choice of placement within the frame of the shot or by placing it off-screen by using the free-look function to tilt your head with the * (asterisk) key on the numpad by default.
By unwanted filters I of course mean degraded color due to low blood, but there are other factors to consider as well. If you have Postprocessing enabled at all in the Video settings, you can have a blurry screen at times due to being hit, being sick, or any other number of reasons; this can be reset by simply disabling and then re-enabling Postprocessing. Strong lighting can also cause haziness in the image if you aren’t careful about choosing the angle, an example of which would be glare from the sun.
It’s easy to spend a lot of money and crank up the settings to take pretty screenshots. It’s another thing entirely to have an eye for sizing up the perfect shot. Harder yet is the ability to humanize these images. Video games have an innate feeling of fakeness to them, but when you consider that every avatar in the game is just the digital representation of a real person behind a mouse and keyboard, it becomes possible to immerse yourself in the occasion and add another dimension to the image that transcends pretty visuals: humanity.
NOTE: None of my screenshots ever have post-processing, and this guide is no exception. Everything you see me post is straight from the game.
v1.0 – Initial guide posted.
v1.1 – Updates and improvements to “Weather/Lighting” and “Noise” categories.
v1.5 – All new pictures for the guide (mostly re-shoots).
v1.6 – Many small updates and some new pictures.