So what is so special about poker photography?
1. Low light
Light levels are low almost everywhere poker is played. Poker is mostly played in casinos. That’s because of the characteristic of the game itself. But with the location such as a casino we get really low light levels and soft ambient light, which 99% of the time is really mixed with colourful mood lighting. All that will be handed to you without any ability to use flash. Flash is strictly forbidden in the casino areas all around the world. It disturbs the players and without good knowledge about right use of the flash your pictures will look really blank and washed out. So all that gives us really difficult light conditions and white balance problems, as well as much lower shutter speeds and image noise (because of the use of higher ISO) and no spare time to deal with all that during the action.
2. “Pokerface” and emotions
Basically most of the poker players are wearing a “pokerface” and who really wants to see hundreds of players with exactly the same face… So you have to get down on your knees and get close and personal. Also you have to be really patient to capture the emotion or a moment when your target “loses” the “pokerface” and shows some real emotions. Thing is that most of the poker players don’t like to be photographed and when they see you with your camera – they start to act differently. Some of them are trying to pose, some are trying to hide, some get angry and some want to see what are you doing. Anyway, you are not getting the shots you really want. The real emotions. Trick is to get really close and to be invisible, so the players will forget about you and act naturally.
You have to know what are you doing with your camera in those conditions – how to balance between ISO, shutter speed, aperture and so on, to get sharp images. You have to be really quick, aware about your environment and how the smallest light or different type of lightbulb can change everything. Low shutter, high noise and other factors will kill your sharpness.
Keeping all of the above in mind you can’t forget about the artistic look of the images. You have to compose, use background, NOT use background, choose the angle and be creative. It’s not the studio type of work where you can put everything as you like and keep pushing the shutter till you find a perfect shot. There will be moments that you will miss and never get back. Better be prepared at all times, know your gear and know what you’re doing.
So if you really want to be challenged, go and shoot some poker.
Names to keep in mind: Matt Edwards (Unibet Open), René Velli (Estrella Poker Tour), Neil Stoddart (European Poker Tour)