They say diversity gives a break from the norm and expands your creativity.  So last weekend, I switched from being on or in the water to what might seem like the opposite of the sporting spectrum - Chess.

A whole different approach to photography.

"Could we look into the head of a Chess player, we should see there a whole world of feelings, images, ideas, emotion, and passion."  -  Alfred Binet


is the single most important consideration.  Catching the twitch of an eyebrow, a minute change in body posture or the stifling of a yawn can make the photo.  Chess photography is like street photography with all your subjects trapped in one room.  The comparison I make is to the unpredictability of when the twitch will take place and will you be in position ready to catch it ?  The changes in expression or posture can last a fraction of a second and in that fraction everything must align - you must be ready, exposure set, focus set, depth of field set, composition set, distracting objects out of shot, no spectators blocking the view.  A number of these, exposure,etc. are technical and can be eliminated by pre-setting the camera, the rest are in the hands of the gods.  For that reason, for every one good shot, 20 others have passed by.

Nowadays grandmasters no longer study their opponent's games so much, but they study his character, his behaviour and his temperament in the most thorough fashion.  -  David Bronstein

While the players are intently studying the positions on the board, I am intently studying the players.  

Often the room is large with up to 50 games in progress at one time with the tables arranged in rows.  What surprised me the first time at an event was that after a move the players would get up from their own game and walk freely around the room often pausing to watch other games.  This could be an advantage to my shooting or it could be a hindrance.  I would often see an opportunity unfolding in one game but with no clear line of sight to capture the shot, then someone would get up and walk away leaving an opening that I would leap into (discreetly of course) to capture that finite of moments.  Or I could be standing observing the emotions enfolding and whispering subconsciously to my obstructor, 'move, please move just for a second and let me get this shot'.  As the games progress there are more openings and someone I have been trying to photograph suddenly becomes available, so long as their game does not end before I get there.

There's also the non persona  obstructions, aka  water bottles.  The number of times, I have a perfect shot lined up -  the hand hovering over the decisive move, knight f3 to Queen g5 - or is it Bishop g5 or Pawn g5 - the  camera lens can't see because of a Nalgene water bottle - arghhhh!  I'm so tempted just to step up and say 'excuse me', and move the offending obstruction out the way.   

Technical considerations - Indoors means low light without flash which means slow shutter speed demanding a steady hand.  Often the players are seated next to a concentrated light source such as a lamp which although provides for some moody contrast, can also throw your exposure out of balance ending up with silhouetted faces.  To avoid this, I manually set shutter speed, aperture and ISO based on a few test shots before I begin shooting.  I find that f4.5, 1/50th sec works best.  I am mostly using a 200mm lens which lets me cover a number of games from a distance without disturbing too many players.   Then there are the side games, the fun games such as blitz or bughouse which are played at a furious rate. For these  a 14mm wide angle lens standing on the back of the players chair for an overhead shot or from board height under the players arm often gets good results.

Back in the darkroom, I process the images in black and white which I find concentrates the viewer on the emotion without the distraction of colour.

... and If all goes well, I have a few photos that capture the intensity, emotion and concentration of the game.


Photos from the Grand Pacific Open can be found at