Taking poker photos of people playing card games while trying to stay still in a controlled environment sounds like one of the easiest photography jobs. However there are thousands of bad poker photos circulating on the Internet.
Photographing gambling players at poker tournaments around the world for nearly 10 years now and we’ve taken hundreds of thousands of photos. Some of our photos are good, some bad, but we think we’ve picked up a few tricks over the years.
We thought this would be a great time to share some tips for anyone just getting into poker photography.
This article assumes you already have a camera to work with, but stay tuned for our next article on poker photography where we’ll cover the best starting equipment. The introduction to poker photography awaits after the break.
So here’s the thing: low light performance is perhaps the most important factor for poker photographers.
Why? There are a number of reasons. First, there are many poker rooms that are not very bright. Second, you’re never allowed to use flash during a poker tournament so you can’t rely on filler flashes or strobes or whatever (although you can use them for winning shots once a tournament is over).
That means you’ll need to raise the ISO on your camera and hopefully get a lens that has an aperture of 2.8 or less (more on that later).
There are tons of settings for different cameras so we’ll just touch the basics.
ISO: This is light sensitivity and there’s a good chance you’ll have to do this for a good shot in most poker rooms. Most modern SLRs can do more than 1,000 ISO without a problem.
Aperture: You want it to be as wide open as possible for two reasons. First, you want to let the most light in. Second, you want to get a nice background blur to help make the background more dynamic.
We’re talking about f / 2.8 or lower. The openings are very confusing, by the way. Lower number basically means more light. F / 1.8-F / 2.8 is good for poker. Beyond rough F / 4.5. Exceptions to this rule are group photos or pictures of entire rooms.
Shutter speed: Unless you’re trying to capture the card in the air, you shouldn’t worry too much about this. Most of the players are silent and you will be more concerned about getting the maximum light.
White Balance: You can choose a car and hopefully fine but in our experience most poker rooms are too warm due to tungsten lighting. Your camera must have a setting for a tungsten bulb.
Of course if you really want to be a pro, you can take a white sheet of paper and run some white balance adjustments.
First of all, assume you have media credentials because otherwise you won’t cross the line and you’ll find it hard to get close enough to the action to document it.
Poker rooms are very different around the world. Some are well lit and offer interesting backgrounds while others are poorly lit and look like basements. You have to be satisfied with what you have.
If the tournament has a TV table in use, use it to take photos. You’re all guaranteed some great shots thanks to professional-grade lighting and dramatic backdrops.
Decide which seats you want to aim for and arrange them in a suitable position (remember not to get in the way of the tournament staff).
Ideally you want to be a little lower so that you get the distance between the subject and the background. Depending on your height, you can take one knee, both knees, or use a monopod (a rather large tripod).
Take multiple single-use shots of your subject just to make sure your setup is correct.
Wait until the player has a card (this makes it easier for the player in the final position to shoot).
Try to catch them looking up, not down.
This will become easier if your subject is involved in a hand game that lasts a while.
Here are a few examples of poker photography, good and bad, with a little commentary on each.
You must not use flash when poker is played. Not only because it annoys the players, but also because it generally makes for really bad photos. In this case Phil Hellmuth is too bright, you can’t see what’s going on on the table and the background looks bad too. Do not do this.
On the other hand, this is an example of too little light. The Jett chip is very red and there is very little detail in the image. A large part of the reason is that the camera aperture is set to F / 5.6, which is too slow in this situation.
It is not good. The image is not sharp. Annie Duke posing awkwardly. He didn’t even look up. This is all bad
First of all, it’s good for Phil Ivey to smile. The camera is set to f / 2.8, which increases the exposure and also blurs the background slightly. It’s a shame that dealer is so close to Ivey but that’s a common problem with overcrowded poker tables.
Considering poker is all about staring coldly and staying immobile, it is great when you can actually get a bit of action, whether it’s a player throwing his chips or cards in the air.
The key is to be prepared. If you want to catch players who are wasting just focus on them well in advance, increase your shutter speed a little and shoot fast when it’s their turn to act. It’s all about anticipating action.
You will find that poker players are much more expressive after they win or lose. It’s a good idea to wait about an extra minute or two to catch a smug smile when a player drags the pot or shakes his head and looks up at the sky after seeing the pot go the other way.
This is a standard shot of the Amazon Poker Room in Las Vegas. You have seen it many times before and you will see it again. It’s a relatively easy shot.
One of the best ways to frame it is to go to an angle and shoot at a good height to capture as many tables as possible. Try to avoid lots of empty space.
This one’s rare. Every now and then there will be some bad beats in poker and the expression on the player’s face will be priceless.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most time-consuming shots you can imagine because it means taking your camera and pointing it at the player every time it all comes in.
You can get this shot maybe once in 50 tries. It’s amazing when it works. This particular shot was captured by the impersonator BJ Nemeth.
It’s amazing what some TV quality lighting can do to your shots. Taking a photo on the TV feature table is like photographing a fish in a barrel.
The backgrounds tend to be dramatic and the lighting has to be right. Great for getting high-quality profile photos of big name poker pros. This Gus Hansen shot takes all of two seconds with a decent zoom lens.
Don’t underestimate the power of good zoom in poker. If you want to get a good close-up of a poker professional, that’s really the only way to do it. This can be especially helpful if the background is very boring or the table is full of coffee or other debris
Good poker photos can be used for gambling sites like pkv games . The results will look better.
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