The Art Group » Discussions

Tutorial: Screenshot Zooming with "Field of View"

Tags: #Broken Gallery  #Tutorial 
  • Member
    September 29, 2013

    This is the second in my series of Screenshot Tutorials.  In this tutorial, I will assume that you have already read and mastered the techniques described in the Screenshot Basics tutorial.  If you have not, please go and read that tutorial now.

    Controlling the Camera

    The secret to taking great screenshots is in controlling camera.  To achieve a truly great screenshot, you must not only aim the camera at the subject, you must also keep in mind the camera's relation to the subject in three dimensions while composing the frame in an interesting and artistic way.

    In the previous tutorial, we learned how to use the tfc 1 console command to pause the action and allow us to move and rotate the camera freely to capture the action.  However, you may have noticed that the resulting screenshot still doesn't look quite right.

    The screenshot is well framed.  Both our Dovahkiin and our bandit are in the shot and well centered. But why does the bandit look so huge compared to our Dovahkiin?  The answer should be fairly obvious.  He's closer to the camera.  So of course he's going to look bigger!  But the Dovahkiin is the star of our game.  We don't want him to look inferior compared to some lowly bandit.  How can we fix this?


    To solve this dilemma, we must first understand the concept of parallax.  Put simply, this is the phenomenon where things closer the the observer (in this case the camera) appear bigger and appear to move more as the observer moves than distant objects do.  Much like when you look out the side window of a car and see nearby trees whizzing past you while distant trees barely seem to move at all. This phenomenon also happens in Skyrim.  For example, let's try to take a close up of our Dovahkiin dual-wielding some swords:

    Keep an eye on the sword on the right as we move the camera closer to get a closeup.

    What is happening?  Our game is paused, and our Dovahkiin hasn't moved a muscle, yet the sword on the right side of the screen is moving towards the right as we move the camera closer.  The reason for this is parallax.  As we move the camera closer to our Dovahkiin, the angles between the sword and camera change.  As these angles change, the sword appears to move in relation to the camera.  Not what we want.

    The problem is more pronounced in this particular example, but the parallax effect can give all of your screenshots an unnatural feel as the size and angle of close objects can look very out-of-place compared to what you would typically see in movies or on TV.


    There is another problem that sometimes happens when you move the camera close to a subject: clipping.  Because Skyrim is a virtual world and objects have no real mass, there is nothing stopping the camera from getting too close to a object, to the point where part of the object actually passes through and ends up behind the camera.

    Let's get an extreme close-up of our Dovahkiin's face to demonstrate this phenomenon.

    We've moved the camera as close as we can, but what happened to his face?  His nose, mouth, and part of his helmet are sticking into and through the camera!  Our poor Dovahkiin doesn't look very good without a face!

    Field of View

    So, how do we solve these two problems and still get screenshots that are really close to the action? If we were using a real camera, we would use the "zoom" feature to zoom in on the action.

    Skyrim's camera supports the same function, but it's called a slightly different name.  The console command we need is SetCameraFOV (or just fov for short).  This command takes a single parameter that specifies the field of view, in degrees, that the camera should capture.

    Ok... what does that mean!?  It's probably easiest to explain it with a picture.

    Imagine that the camera is at the bottom of the picture, in the middle of the bridge, looking towards the waterfall.  It's hard to see, but our Dovahkiin is actually standing on the edge of the bridge facing the camera, right between all the lines.

    Each pair of coloured lines represents a different Field of View setting.  For example, the angle between the two red lines is 75 degrees.  Whatever falls between these lines will be displayed on the screen, and anything outside those lines will not be displayed.  You can see that the closest trees on the right are being intersected by the lines, and will be included in the image.  The rocks on the left will also be included, but the large cliff wall will not.  Here's the view from the camera.  You can see the trees included inside the red box on the right, and the rocks included on the left:

    Each angle and the corresponding box represents a different Field of View.  Once the game has determined what angle to use to display the image, anything inside the rectangle is drawn and fills the screen.

    The key thing to understand is that the image doesn't actually get smaller as the angle gets smaller. Instead the game draws a smaller area of the image at a larger scale to fill the display.  The result is a zoom effect.

    fov 75

    fov 60

    fov 45

    fov 30

    fov 15

    The default field of view setting depends on your particular display configuration.  On my 16:9 widescreen monitor, the default field of view value is 75. On traditional 4:3 monitors, the default is 60. You can find the default by typing help fov in the Skyrim console.  You can also reset the field of view back to default by omitting the number and just typing fov.

    I recommend sticking with the fifteens as a starting point for your screenshots, then fine-tuning by trial and error until you get exact level of zoom that you need:

    • fov 90, 75, or 60 for wide-angle shots, landscapes, etc.
    • fov 6045 or 30 for mid-range shots, such as full-body profiles, most action shots, etc.
    • fov 30 or 15 for close-ups, facial shots, or getting in close to the action.

    You usually don't need to go any smaller than 15.  I have occasionally used 10 or 5, but you can usually get a better shot by staying at 15 and moving the camera a little closer.  Going to small makes it very difficult to control the camera.

    Going any larger than 90 also causes problems. There is always a little bit of distortion around the edges of the camera - a side-effect of mapping a three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional image.  You can notice it a bit at 75 and quite a bit more at 90.  Items at the edges of the screen stretch or appear larger or smaller than they should be.  At extremely wide field of view values, it becomes even more noticeable:

    fov 180

    Unless you're specifically looking for the fishbowl effect, you probably want to stay under 90 degrees in most cases.

    Adjusting the Camera Speed

    If you adjust the camera to a very small field of view, you may find the camera very difficult to control, as even very slight movements of the camera can have a huge effect on the display.  Even with a good analog control for the camera (I use the Xbox 360 Controller for Windows, which provides analog control for all camera movements) it can still be very difficult to move the camera into the perfect position.

    Fortunately, there's another console command that can help.  SetUFOCamSpeedMult (or just sucsm).  The number you pass to this command will adjust the the overall speed of the camera controls.  The default value is 10.  Entering sucsm 1 makes it very easy to set up close-up shots. And a value of 5 seems to work well for general shots.  You can also increase the camera speed by entering larger values, which might be helpful if you are trying to take an extremely wide screenshot and need to move the camera very far away from where it started.

    Solving Parallax and Clipping Issues

    The zoom effect is exactly what we need to fix our earlier problems.  Going back to our dual-wielding scenario, let's use the Field of View commands to "zoom" in on our character, rather than moving the camera closer.  To do so, enter the tfc 1 command in the console, position the camera where you would like, then instead of moving the camera in, use fov ## to zoom. You will need to adjust the height of the camera a bit as you zoom in to make sure that our Dovahkiin is still centered in the shot.

    fov 75

    fov 60

    fov 45

    fov 30

    fov 15

    Notice how we are able to get much closer to the action, and the angle between our Dovahkiin's two swords remains constant the whole time?  Additionally, the background objects become larger and a bit less well defined, which helps put the emphasis on the main subject of our screenshot.

    This technique also allows us to get extreme closeups without any clipping issues:

    fov 5

    Our Dovahkiin still has a face!

    Faking It with FOV

    Here is another example screenshot like the one at the start of this tutorial:

    The bandit in the foreground completely dominates the scene, and makes our Dovahkiin look much less impressive than he is.  The reason for this is these two characters are actually very far apart:

    As you can see from this angle, our Dovahkiin's attack completely missed the bandit!  The setup for this particular screenshot is really bad.  But suppose it took a lot of work to get our Dovahkiin into the right position at the same time that the bandit was performing her particular action.  We don't want to try to set up the shot again.  Is there any way to save the shot and make it look more convincing?

    There is.  The farther we move the camera away from the bandit, the smaller she will become.  Our Dovahkiin will also become smaller, but the bandit will become smaller at a faster rate because of the parallax effect described earlier.  By moving the camera back a very long way, then zooming in with fov, we can make it look like the two characters are much closer to each other than they are, and by rotating the camera, we can hide the distance between them, making it look like our Dovahkiin and the bandit are locked in a fierce battle.  Without moving either of the characters, this is the result:

    As you can see, by simply adjusting the field of view, we can dramatically improve our screenshot without adjusting our characters at all!


    I hope you enjoyed the second part in my multi-part tutorial on how to take great Skyrim screenshots. Controlling the position and zoom on the camera are the most critical techniques to master in order to get great screenshots. By adjusting the zoom, you can compensate for bad positioning of the subjects, and can eliminate annoying distortions in the image that make the screenshot look unnatural.

    Although it's counter-intuitive, the key to getting a good screenshot is to move the camera farther away from your subject and use the fov command to zoom.

    If you have any questions or other tips to share regarding zooming and moving the camera, please post them in the comments.

  • Member
    October 2, 2013

    Again a great article and very well explained. Even though i have experimented quite a bit with fov, its great to have it broken down. Very useful

    Looking forward to the next article 

  • Member
    October 2, 2013
    Thanks. FOV itself is pretty straight forward. But I've seen a lot of people taking screenshots with the default FOV and it really makes objects in the foreground, characters arms, and other things look really bad. The key is really knowing when to use it to enhance your shot or fix errors. Still planning to do an article on lighting, and one on composition soon.
  • Member
    October 2, 2013

    I am enjoying these (and learning a few things too). Looking forward to your next installment.

  • Member
    October 26, 2013

    I have a small suggestion: how about numbering your articles? like screenshot tutorial 1: basics, screenshot turtorial 2: zooming with fov.

    I think it would make sense at least. And it would be easier for others to navigate as you write more articles.

  • Member
    October 26, 2013
    Thanks. That's a good idea. I also plan to make an index discussion that just lists them in order, but it seemed like overkill with only 2 done so far.
  • Member
    November 11, 2013

    Such a helpful article. I already knew about angles, tfc 1, fov etc. But not about suscm! It's the exact problem I was having.

    Thanks so much Zimbu!

  • Member
    January 3, 2014

    this is beautifully done - the images for the fov explanation are perfect!