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