Top 5 Poker Photo Tips

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Guest Post By Arthur Crowson

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Taking photos of people playing cards — while they try to remain absolutely emotionless in a controlled environment — sounds like a relatively easy photography gig. At PokerListings we’ve been photographing poker tournaments around the world for nearly 10 years now and we’ve taken hundreds of thousands of photos.  Some of our photos are great. Some are good. Many are bad. Very, very bad.

But we have picked up a few tricks along the way and thought we could offer some tips for anyone just getting into poker photography (or any type of low-light, indoor portrait photography).  Here are five of our top tips for producing quality photos from poker tournaments:

1. Lighting is Everything

Low-light performance is probably the single most important factor for poker photographers. Why? Most poker rooms just aren’t very well lit. You also can’t use a flash during a poker tournament so you can’t rely on fill-flash or strobes (although you can use them for winner shots after the tournament is finished). That means you’re going to have to crank the ISO up on your camera and use a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or less.


2. How to Set Your Camera for Poker Photos

  • ISO: There’s a good chance you’ll have to crank this for good shots in most poker rooms. Most modern SLRs can do over 1,000 ISO with no problems.
  • Aperture:  You want to set your aperture as wide as possible for two reasons. First, you want to let the most light in. Second, you want to get a nice background blur going to make it more dynamic. We’re talking f/2.8 or lower. The only exception here would be group shots or pictures of the entire room.
  • Shutter Speed: Unless you’re trying to capture cards in the air, you don’t have to worry about this one too much. Most players are quite still and you’ll be more concerned with maximum light.


3. How to Take Photos in a Poker Room

Let’s just assume you have media credentials because if you don’t you’re not getting past the rail and it’ll be hard to get close enough to the action to shoot it. Poker rooms are vastly different around the world. Some are well lit and offer interesting backgrounds. Others have horrible lighting and look like basements (mostly because they are basements). If the tournament has a “TV” table (a feature table being recorded to be shown later), by all means take advantage of it. You’re all but guaranteed some good shots thanks to professional-grade lighting and dramatic backgrounds.


4. Equipment

A decent camera is important for poker photography but you won’t have to go quite as high-end as you’d think. Instead of a really expensive body a better investment is probably a fast prime lens like the Canon 50mm f/1.8, also known as the “nifty fifty.” A lot of kit lenses won’t work well unless you’re taking shots of the entire room. You’re probably going to need an aperture value of f/2.8 or lower. A cheap body with an expensive lens will probably get you better results than an expensive body with a cheap lens.

5. Miscellaneous Suggestions

Finally here are some quick, miscellaneous tips for photographing poker:

  1. Never use a flash during the tournament.
  2. Seriously, don’t use a flash.
  3. In general don’t take pictures of people eating or in other unflattering situations.
  4. Be aware of your surroundings.
  5. Knocking over chips is a cardinal sin.
  6. Watch out for waiters.
  7. Try to limit your shutter noise when directly behind a player.
  8. Be warned: It can be challenging photographing players early in a tournament. Pros are simply more interested in their iPads or coffee at that point. Short-handed games such as 6-Max, 4-Max or Heads-Up are much easier to photograph because there’s more space.
  9. When possible shoot in towards the middle of the poker room. It’s tough to take good shots of players sitting right next to the wall.
  10. Lastly, here’s a cheap DSLR set-up that will get you started in poker photography:
  • Camera: Canon T5i (body only) Also known as EOS 700D in Europe
  • Price: $749
  • Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
  • Price: $121
  • Total Cost: $870

Winners and a Sexy Image Review!

Fashion shoot

A couple weeks ago, I received a cool little camera bag for your point and shoot camera from the folks over at CaseLogic.  Since then, I’ve been everyone time to chime in for a chance to win this handy pack and the time has come to close the window for comments.  So…without further ado, the winner of the the camera bag is commenter #3 – aka Cynthia!

Congrats to Cynthia, as I’m sure this would make a great gift for your sons friend.  Please send me an email with your address information and I’ll make sure this gets shipped out to you!  I can be reached at: jason <at> canonblogger <dot> com.

Thanks again to the folks at CaseLogic for their generosity.  If you’d like to purchase this handy point and shoot bag, be sure to visit them here.


In other news, I was pleased to find that not everyone has forgotten about the image review area of the website (which you can find here:  I saw an upload come through a few weeks ago from from fellow photographer James Broom.  His submitted image in the review section yields what I would call a nearly perfect execution of a model shot.  Take a look here:

Fashion shoot
Fashion shoot

What makes this image successful?  Well, there are several levels of success here.

#1 – The Lighting

First off, more than anything else – the lighting is spot on.  it’s not distracting, it’s not glaring, and really draws you into the picture.  I want to see her closer!  I want to see more of those eyes!  That is what makes model and fashion photography compelling.  Does it help that it’s a particularly attractive model?  Of course, but I’ve seen glamour shots of otherwise attractive people ruined by bad lighting!  Not the case here…the light setup is perfect.  Can you tell how he lit the background to give a nice two-tone effect?  It does seem like the vignette is almost too perfect, which does suggest post production work toward those ends, but you can always tell a well lit background, and this is one such scenario.  (And truth be told, we always use post production to smooth skin, clean up blemishes, brighten and whiten eyes and teeth – all part of the trade in model and fashion shoots).

The other part is the warm light that looks like it’s coming from camera left.  Nice, warm, inviting, and even throughout.  He either used a strobe with a CTO gel behind a shoot through or a strip bank, but either way, it looks spot on to me.  Very nice lighting work!

#2 – The Posing

An unflattering pose can absolutely make a gorgeous person look like they have flabby arms, a third arm, and wrinkles all over just because the body is not positioned right.  Totally not the case here.  Look at her arms, comfortably positioned slightly away from her side – and look at her neck…it’s got a bit of a cant or angle to it, but any fake wrinkle that may produce is nicely blended away from her hair pose.

Look also at how he’s got her body in this sort of semi-S shape.  It gives more of what I call “the curve appeal”.  Let’s face it, guys like women with curves…and her pose accentuates her hips and chest without being too gauche about it.  It’s got classy rather than trashy to it and adds to the total composition.  (Speaking of which – where did your eyes start and end on this photo?  Did you notice how he positioned her body so that you literally looked either top to bottom or vice versa – with a momentary pause on the eyes?  That’s how you successfully pose a model!

#3 – The Make-Up

Any photographer that is working in fashion or modeling shots simply must have a Make Up Artist (or MAU).  Many female photographers may be able to do this themselves, but I couldn’t apply blush, eye liner, lipstick or any of that stuff even if I tried. I know what looks good, but have no idea how to get there.  You could have the model do it, but in a model shoot – you want him or her relaxed (and yes, male models need a MAU as well!), not working on your side of the camera – let them just do what they are intended to be there to do, hold a pose, and smile brilliantly for the camera. (I wish I could look good enough to model!  LOL)

#4 – The Post Production

Finally, since I already mentioned that we do post production work in model and fashion photography, I’ve seen some stellar work out there and other work that surprises me it made the magazine.  Some folks just have a tendency to overdo the skin smoothing, eye brightening and teeth whitening.  It looks too pasty and fake.  It’s very difficult to resist the urge to go just a little bit more to make them stand out.

I know some agencies even have staff separate from the photo staff that does post production.  It’s difficult to remove your photography skills and insert your post production skills into the mix because you can easily become emotionally involved and not remain detached. James does an excellent job of separating the two tasks from each other and comes up with a great result here!


But, that’s just my four cents (two cents more since the cost of living seems to be going up).  What about the reading audience?  What are your pros and cons about this submitted image?  Feel free to chime in and don’t forget, you can upload your own images here too (and get a free plug for your website)!  Congrats to James and be sure to check his site out over here:

Finally, feel free to check out the other images reviewed (or submit your own for consideration) here: