As the daughter of a photographer, I developed a love for the artform from a young age. But despite taking an inspiring film photography class in college and having access to great photo equipment, I rarely have time to pursue this interest. And though I’ve rarely used the “photo mode” features in other games, somehow Starfield, with its stoic planets and epic space vistas, is managing to serve that part of me that loves assembling a great shot.
Photo modes have become pretty standard in AAA games, available either at launch or as part of an update down the road. No two are exactly alike—and if I’m being honest, Starfield’s specific treatment is a little lacking in key ways—but I’ve rarely gravitated toward taking photo mode snaps in other games outside of occasionally grabbing a HUD-free screenshot for work. Starfield’s starting to change that, and a lot of it I think stems from the long moments of silence and wandering it lets you engage in.
Starfield somehow manages to feel both larger and smaller than previous Bethesda games. Because you don’t have a main map with key towns and settlements all within relative walking distance, you will almost never experience the phenomena of walking for some distance until you come upon a town. Yes, Starfield does have civilian outposts and other random buildings you can discover on planets’ surfaces, but none compare to the scale of its handful of main cities, like New Atlantis or Neon.
When you’re crawling the surface of a planet, the “natural” environment is pretty much the main appeal. Your trips are often in silence too, especially if you’re there to just survey the natural environment. And because the game isn’t stocked with typical fantasy creatures designed to attack you, and instead aims to emulate a (flawed) ecosystem, not every creature is hostile. As a result, your time is mostly your own.
The photorealism of Starfield’s environments is also a sharp contrast to the somewhat cartoony nature of No Man’s Sky, which while itself is a very pretty game, has rarely inspired me to stop and photograph a mountain, rock formation, landscape, or even starship encounter. And thankfully, Starfield saves your images as lossless .PNGs. I haven’t dragged any into Photoshop yet to pretty them up even more, but it’s been tempting. (You can find photo mode screenshots saved in My Documents > My Games > Starfield > Data > Textures > Photos.)
That Starfield also displays your screenshots during loading screens makes my efforts feel more a part of the experience. Even when I’m taking a break from shooting to do some, uh, shooting, the brief highlights from my portfolio in loading screens are always fun to spot.
I regularly find myself walking about the surface of a planet suddenly hit with a vista that I simply must document. Starfield’s photo mode is a touch lacking—especially where it concerns character poses. The ones on hand…aren’t great. I can barely even get action shots of my character, since there’s no pose to hold my gun even.
But those limitations are breeding a kind of creativity, pushing me more toward landscape photography, or action-free shots of ships and characters simply existing. I would prefer an actual aperture setting instead of the near/far depth of field settings, and I would like more control over the filters. I’ll be sure to check out a photo mode mod or two to see what else might be possible, but for now I’m enjoying the thrill of using the limited toolset to document this varied and enormous game.
In an unexpected way, Starfield’s strong photo mode is giving me the “pacifist” run I was desiring all along.