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Poker Photography for Beginners

Poker Photography for Beginners

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Even the best camera won’t do without practice.
Even the best camera won’t do without practice.

Poker tournaments are an excellent way to hone your skills as a photographer, especially if you’re into taking photos of people. However, there are many objects to photograph, and plenty of challenges that you need to creatively overcome if you want your shots to be worthy of display. Here are some tips that will guide you on your way to mastering people photography and poker photos, in particular.

Usually, lighting in poker rooms is less than ideal.
Usually, lighting in poker rooms is less than ideal.

The Challenges

There are no two ways about it: you need light to take photos. The proper lighting conditions are easy in the studio because you can use as many lights as you need. However, things are different in the poker room where photographers understandably are not allowed to use flashes or external light sources. What makes the situation even worse is that in many poker event halls, the lighting is not set up for photography.

And here comes the next challenge in taking high-quality poker photos: picking the right settings. A camera’s automatic mode can only do so much when it comes to poor lighting conditions, and the manual option is the only way to take decent photos in a poker room. But finding the right balance requires experience.

Cranking up the ISO will help with light, but at a certain level, it comes at the expense of more noise. You can tweak the aperture but need to be careful not to overexpose the image. And then comes the white balance — poker events can be quite colorful, so getting the right colors into the camera is paramount because post editing can only do so much with recovering a lost color or detail.

And how about capturing exciting shots? Taking the same old profile shot and telling a story require different skill sets. Poker tournaments can go on for a long time without anything exciting happening, so you need to be on the lookout for interesting angles or expressions. What’s more, professional poker players are careful about expressing emotions, which makes it even more challenging to take a photo of them. At the same time, if you are lucky enough to snap a grimace behind a “poker face,” you will tell a story that few can.

Be prepared but also, mindful of how much stuff you bring.
Be prepared but also, mindful of how much stuff you bring.

The Setup

Poker games are crowded events, so there will be a limit on how much equipment you can comfortably carry with you. Here are the basics.

Camera

No surprise here. The most critical piece of equipment that you need to select carefully is your camera. Everything else can be improvised, but if you don’t have the right shooter, there is nothing that can save you. And if you don’t trust that your camera can take the right photos in the conditions mentioned above, here’s a guide on how to select the best DSLR.

Tripod

Even though there is not much movement during regular poker games, you still need a tripod nevertheless. There are quite a few reasons for this. Poker sessions can last for several days or even weeks. While you’ll not be on duty 24/7, holding a camera for hours is exhausting. Also, it would be much better to set up a camera on a table, especially if you find a decent spot. Furthermore, you might need to take photos with prolonged exposure, in which case having a tripod is a must.

Lenses

Various shooting conditions call for multiple lenses. The least you need is a telephoto lens for shooting across the room and a wide-angle lens for group photos — for example after the games end. Depending on lighting conditions, you might also need a variety of apertures. However, be mindful that this equipment is heavy, takes up space and will be with you for a long time. To minimize the bulk, scout the location beforehand and don’t bring unnecessary equipment.

Batteries

The horror of every photographer is losing power in the heat of the moment. Imagine being in a situation where you are about to take the photo of your life and getting the low battery icon across the screen. You still have a couple of seconds to switch batteries, so you fumble in your bag, only to find out that you have forgotten to bring a spare one. Don’t be mistaken: such things happen even to professional photographers, so take care to bring at least a couple of batteries with you. Note that poker sessions go on for a long time, so it’s unlikely that only one battery will do.

Cheat sheets are an excellent way to make sure you have the right settings.
Cheat sheets are an excellent way to make sure you have the right settings.

Now, let’s look at a couple of iconic poker photos and the stories behind them. They were taken for 888Poker by photographer Fabian Grubler and are featured on their website in a post on poker photography.

Doyle Brunson at the WSOP 2011.
Doyle Brunson at the WSOP 2011.

Doyle Brunson is an icon in the poker world. The veteran has played the game for decades and left his mark in poker history. This photo is from Brunson’s participation at the 2011 World Series of Poker. Notice the dramatism of the image. The emotionless yet concentrated face of Brunson, the left alignment of the object and the black-and-white filter all tell the viewer that much is going on in the object’s mind, even if it’s not clear that it’s happening at the poker table.

Fabian Grubler’s first photo for 888Poker.
Fabian Grubler’s first photo for 888Poker.

This one is among the first photos that Grubler took for 888Poker. It was at a tournament in Austria, and the player in the center had just won a big hand. Hence, the burst of intense emotion that you need to watch as mentioned before. Also, notice the framing of the shot. The photographer could have zoomed in on the player’s face and captured only his facial expression, but in using a wider shot that includes the player’s friends’ excitement, Grubler passed along the magnitude of the situation.

The only way to master photography is through practice. There are, however, some basic rules that you need to stick to at least in the beginning. Proper framing and composition, as well as a knack for detail, are a must for taking breathtaking shots. Once you master them, improvisation will come naturally. And where best to let it free than in a room full of poker faces?

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