Petri Levälahti, known to many as Berduu, talks about his personal journey capturing beautiful screenshots from video games and becoming a full-time employee at DICE, where his artistic flair for in-game photography captures the imagination of players around the world.
When did you first become interested in in-game photography?
I stumbled upon Dead End Thrills about four years ago. It’s a website that celebrates the talent of video game artists and engineers via the hobby of taking screenshots. The site is run by Duncan Harris, a screenshot pioneer, all-around extremely talented DIY man; a sort of Wayne Gretzky of screenshots.
Browsing their forums, I saw these amazingly crisp, clear, and well composed Battlefield 4 shots by jim2point0 and thought that's something I want to try. Jim and other active members of the screenshot community showed me the ropes. Photo modes were a rarity, so I mostly used camera hacks and mods, most notably ones by the Finnish modder, Matti Hietanen.
Do you follow a particular process with your work?
Usually it starts with me drooling over the amazing concept art we have here at DICE. Then I load up the level and start looking for nice spots.
Working in-engine is more about making the screenshot than taking it. For a marketing action shot, I’ll scout for an angle that has a certain balance of lines, depth, shapes, lights, and shadow and preferably at a key location in that level. Then I throw in some action and characters and shake it a bit to see what comes out. That’s when I normally realize that there's a better location around the corner…I repeat this process until I get it right. Of course, I want to do a great shot every time, but sometimes "yeah, that looks pretty cool" works fine as well.
I usually compose and build the shots in a small game window, then work in a bigger frame when I need to check out all the details. It's important that the shot is easy to read, even in thumbnail size.
How did you end up becoming employed at DICE as their Media Editor?
DICE contacted me in 2014 and asked if I’d be interested in freelance screenshot work for Battlefield 4. This extended to Battlefield Hardline and the alpha/beta of Battlefield 1, and eventually saw me move to Sweden to work full-time at DICE.
What does in-game photography allow you to do in terms of a video game’s narrative?
Marketing shots aim to condense the look and feel of a certain level or character to a single image. I want to show off cool moments and characters, gorgeous levels, interesting gameplay mechanics, or the objective of the level in a cinematic fashion.
The hobby shots on my Flickr page are just video game tourism, snapping shots as mementos, or a way to document and highlight the art of a particular game I'm playing at that moment. It's a bit special when you actually manage to inject something interesting into your own shot. Especially with character shots, it's about the small subtle things - the right angle, lighting, and animation paused at the right moment. This makes the difference between a relatively relatable human moment, and a soulless video game character.
Do you get much creative guidance from DICE?
We have tons of talented Art Directors, Concept Artists, Level Artists and Lighting Artists. They're the ones that make the magic happen, so when they show and tell, I try to learn from them.
I also work closely with our Trailer Team, they are industry veterans and did our screenshots before I joined. Our Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II Art Director, Andrew Hamilton, was insanely helpful in my first year here and is probably the nicest guy living in Sweden at the moment.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job?
Marketing shots need to check many boxes. You need to please a lot of parties and get approvals whilst keeping shots well composed, purposeful, and on-brand. It's a lot of balancing for sure. Luckily, I can just focus on the shots as my excellent manager, Viktoria Anselm, deals with everything else.
A lot of the time I work with unfinished levels, so I just kinda have to close my eyes and imagine what it will look like in a week or two. I’m also often constrained to a certain part of a level because other areas are not yet polished. There are also some technical issues I have to work through on in each project—sometimes I can spend hours figuring out how to fix something that’s broken and in my shot.
The most rewarding part of my job is when I drag the image to my "Done & Approved" folder. I also get excited when our artists use my shots for their portfolios - it means I've shown off their work in a somewhat decent way.
What do you feel the future holds for in-game photography?
It's becoming more accessible and popular; photo modes show up in many games these days. Hopefully they keep evolving, as almost all of them are quite limited and often leave the user crippled because of very restricted camera movement. A totally free camera is far more important than the filter selection. A good photo mode is something you can't blame for your bad shot.
Do you have any advice for players wishing to pursue in-game photography as a hobby or even career?
If you enjoy photo modes on consoles, but want to get more serious about screenshots, invest in a PC. It doesn't even have to be super powerful, although pixel pushing power will help as you'll have way more options and opportunities.
You can use camera mods by guys like Hattiwatti and Frans Bouma. You're not constrained to 1080p or 4K or 16:9. Your friends will like you more. You will feel more attractive. Food will taste better. You will live a happier life.
If you want a career in screenshotting, don’t expect to have one. Just make sure you absolutely love doing this. Be active, take great shots in the communities of the games you love and good things may happen. I got noticed by the Battlefield community, whose members like Shadow6ix and Hoodoo_Operator create official screenshots and trailers for us.
Also, be critical of your own work. 1,000 likes on your Instagram post doesn’t actually mean anything. I’m only satisfied with about 10% of the shots I take. I often wake up with a screenshot hangover, look at my shots from the previous night and get somewhat embarrassed.
One of my favorite quotes is from Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God", where a blacksmith is talking about his craft:
"It's like a lot of things,” said the smith. “Do the least part of it wrong and ye'd just as well to do it all wrong."
DICE is always looking for talented and self-motivated individuals with the capability and drive to help create the greatest games in the world. Learn more about their openings by visiting EA Career Search.
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