Playing cards and chips are common in poker photography
Poker is a game of minds and wills. You can often cut the tension with a knife at the poker tables. Ordinarily, you might think it’s impossible to capture that drama on a photo still, but the world’s best poker photographers manage to perfectly lock in the essence and the emotion of live tournament poker. That’s why the poker industry’s premier photojournalists really do earn their corn. Professional poker tournament reporting has been taken to a whole new level thanks to the ingenuity and commitment of the world’s best poker photographers. This article is designed to shine a spotlight on the fresh perspectives that perfectly capture the game of poker through a lens.
Joe Giron: A man with over a decade of poker photography experience
It’s likely you won’t have heard of Joe Giron before. But you will definitely have viewed his work if you’re a Texas Hold’em poker fanatic. Since 2005, Giron has been working the professional poker scene, capturing all of the delight and despair that the pros experience at the world’s biggest tournaments and even online poker games where players can qualify for No Limit, Fixed Limit and Pot Limit Hold’em events and attempt to win huge piles of cash and prizes – the facial reactions to the wins and losses are exciting and interesting to capture in both cases. Giron was already an established professional photographer, shooting for big-name music magazines and record labels, before being enticed to the poker industry.
Capturing the joy of poker success
Giron was contacted initially by the World Poker Tour magazine at the end of 2005. He was given a brief to capture the WPT action in a journalistic style, suitable for the WPT website. Giron’s first assignment was at the WPT Bellagio, where he snapped legends such as Doyle Brunson, Patrik Antonius and Phil Laak at the event’s final table. Giron quickly developed a photojournalistic style for poker events that would give readers a genuine sense of what is taking place in each shot. By capturing reaction and emotion – either positive or negative – Giron has developed a reputation for story-telling through photos. Giron himself once said that he wanted to use photography to make people feel like they were witnessing the poker action in person.
Arguably the pinnacle of Giron’s career to date is his 2016 American Poker Award, for capturing the despair of enigmatic poker pro, Daniel Negreanu at the 2015 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. Negreanu busted-out in 11th place, missing out on a chance at the final table. The image of Negreanu sprawled on the floor, head in hands, just seconds after being eliminated was Giron’s finest work. It depicted brilliantly just how emotionally charged and brutal the world of poker can be.
Perfecting the “poker face” with Klamber Productions
On the other side of the pond, Estonian photographer Tambet Klask has also become world-renowned for the innovative ways he captures in-game reactions at the poker tables. His work has been featured in more than 100 media outlets and online publications throughout Europe. Operating under the umbrella Klamber Productions, Tambet’s work takes him everywhere from Malta and the UK to Denmark and Poland.
Image: Klamber Productions
An Tambet Klask, an exceptional poker photojournalist
Tambet breaks the challenges of poker photography down into four key elements. Firstly, the low-level, soft ambient lighting and the inability to use a flash in poker rooms and casino floors represents a significant challenge. With the awkward light conditions, as well as the need for reduced shutter speeds, Tambet tries hard to use the vibrant, colourful mood lighting to “frame” a poker pro at the table. Tambet is also right in saying that the essence of perfect poker photography is to capture the variety of facial expressions the pros exhibit throughout a poker hand. Almost all professional poker players sport some kind of “poker face”. If a photographer was to simply snap players demonstrating the same moody, sultry stare in each picture, that would hardly capture the imagination. Instead, Tambet cleverly waits for the players to let their poker face slip, displaying their genuine emotions. Tambet acts naturally and attempts to blend into the background so that the players never know he’s there.
A genuine craftsman for poker photography, Tambet takes all the components of a poker room environment into consideration to create artistic-looking photos. Tambet considers the perfect angle, whether to use or not use the background. You can’t just keep putting your finger on the shutter until you scoop the perfect image and that’s why Tambet’s craft is so highly revered. Poker fans crave feeling as close to the action as possible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a low-stakes Omaha Pot Limit event or a 7-Card Stud high-roller showdown, these guys have mastered what it takes to deliver.
Artistic Instagram-style filters for a classy poker edge
Joe Giron has remarked in the past how camera technology has improved to allow even those with very little skill to take passable amateur photography. That’s proven by the increasing number of Instagram-style images of live poker action that appear online. With just a reasonable smartphone digital camera, it’s possible to use clever filters within apps such as Instagram that create the right atmosphere.
The PokerPictures Instagram feed is the perfect example of an account that’s capable of taking snapshots in the moment and making us feel like we’re there with them. Whether it’s a snapshot of a bottle of Corona at the table or a controversial winning hand, these snapshots capture the tension and excitement that travels around any poker table. With millions of people around the world using Instagram to tell their story, the need for new features and functionality has grown to help amateur photographers stand out from the crowd. A new wave of applications for Instagrammers has transformed amateur poker photography. Apps like Boomerang take 10 quick snapshots and turn them into a mini-video that loops continuously – perfect for capturing that winning moment at the table. An app such as Hyperlapse also helps amateurs with shaky hands to take stabilized time-lapse videos, presenting a fresh perspective from beyond the felt.
By capturing the moment and the vibe of a poker tournament, photographers can make big money. Many of the professionals are self-taught, using their flair and ingenuity to bag the all-important “money shot”.