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Welcome to the third interview in this series where I have been talking to people across other photographic disciplines to find out just how well virtual photography is blending with its real-world counterpart. Previously, we have heard from former game director and urban photographer, Liam Wong, and got the thoughts of award winning landscape photographer, Pete Rowbottom, so it's a genuine pleasure to introduce my latest guest, Leonardo Sang.

A well established name in both real and virtual photography circles, Leo is a self-taught freelance photographer who co-founded the Estúdio Arnold strategic design studio in São Paulo before fully dedicating his time to image capture. With a wealth of experience across both disciplines, Leo pioneered his 2011 VRP (Virtual Reality Photography) capture art project and has since contributed to more than 15 published articles about virtual photography.

Let's add one more to that list then, and find out how much experience in one art form can apply to another.

There are many visual elements that can drive the viewer to a message...

You describe yourself as a self-taught photographer, give us some idea of how that started for you...

I've graduated with a degree in graphic design and worked in the area, and in advertising for many years. During this time, photography was a hobby and a way to experiment and inspire myself. Eventually I just grew tired of the advertising industry and went full freelance photographer, even though I did some work while I was still in advertising / design. It was actually very productive matching my design experience to my photography style.

- "paiN GAMING" 2020 // LEO SANG -

Having studied industrial design and co-founded a graphic design studio, how much do these things influence your photography style?

I think it helps me understand and see each project as a whole, considering all key areas and what are their requirements. Graphic design and composing a shot are really similar between them; there are many visual elements that can drive the viewer to a message, an experience, or a feeling. It is how you combine, position or design these elements that creates an image that people will look at, read and interpret.


I know you are a fan of film as well as digital cameras, what is it that keeps you going back to older formats?

I guess I'm a big fan of mechanical and analog stuff, and I just like how pretty film looks!

At the other end of the spectrum, you also embraced the modern art of virtual photography in your VRP project. What did you set out to achieve in that work?

VRP was always about experimentation, a place where I could create with or without rules, half-rules or random rules. Sometimes it works, a lot of times it doesn't hahaha. But it's mostly about testing out ideas that come up and wanting to see how it looks, plus I just enjoy doing it!


Of course, video games and virtual photography have moved on a lot since 2011. How have recent photo modes changed the way you capture virtual worlds?

It's a lot easier today. Even if most native photo modes have limitations, at least we have them and sometimes it really is the only way to shoot certain games.

You have also worked on capture art for the game industry, do you see many parallels between that and freelance photography?

They share many similarities for sure. In the end, we're creating images to promote or communicate something, so the briefing is basically the same.

Sometimes even in 'production' stages, with designing sets or visuals. This is especially the case in Fortnite where we sometimes get more people to act or be extras etc. We kinda have to plan the shots and the concept before starting the shoot, then 'perform' all the scenes and actually shoot in Replay Mode.


Some people would say that having the most powerful hardware or highest resolution is an advantage in VP, how would you respond to that?

In my opinion, "realism" or the "realistic feel" isn't about Visual Fidelity or if you got 8K textures that goes to incredible details. I think it's more about how visually familiar a virtual photo can feel to the viewer. And you get this through composition and design, not how many pixels you have available.

Maybe this isn't applicable to certain situations though, powerful hardware does allow you to experiment further or use a multitude of tools to create something special that's actually only achievable with a beefy PC. Certainly helps, but I don't think it's a big changer.


One area where resolution does make a difference is in printed media, do you think it is important to see digital art being shown at real-world art galleries and exhibitions?

Yeah, for sure. I think all kinds of art should be at any gallery. But I also don't think we need the approval of galleries to see videogame photography as 'art', or any other art in that matter.

That's a really great point!

I don't think anyone expects only photography geniuses to dive into virtual photos...

With virtual photography, do you apply the same sort of post-process workflow as you would do with real-world shots?

It's very much the same hahaha!

Of course, computer generated images and digital camera image files have different readings, etc... but I've found the logic to get similar results between them. It's also about just being used to the real-world workflow, so it kinda just happens.

Finally a quick word on your recent experience judging The VP Awards, did you enjoy seeing the entries and what do you think about virtual photography's continued growth in popularity?

I loved it! I usually don't "critically judge" photos I see around, I enjoy them all regardless, but it was a great exercise and it's a fun event for the community. I don't think anyone expects only photography geniuses to dive into virtual photos, all skill levels are part of this and improving should be part of their goals too!

Well that's all, some excellent insights there. Thank you so much for joining me Leo and I hope you have some more virtual projects lined up.


I hope you all enjoyed hearing about how art needs no validation, no matter the format, and I think it is so important to remember how transferable the skills of each are. That applies both to people bringing in prior experience to virtual photography, as well as taking away the things you learn while in photo modes.

Please do show Leonardo some appreciation by checking out his pages on Twitter and Instagram, and visit where you can find his full portfolio of work and publications.

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