Chess Photography: Ray Morris-Hill on the Art of 'Shooting' Carlsen, Anand, Judit, other Top Chess Stars ~ World Chess Championship 2013 Viswanathan Anand vs Magnus Carlsen at Chennai Hyatt Regency

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chess Photography: Ray Morris-Hill on the Art of 'Shooting' Carlsen, Anand, Judit, other Top Chess Stars

Posted by World Chess Championship 2013 News Blog Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Ever wondered how you get those amazing photographs of top chess players even though the photographers have barely the first few minutes to take shots after the game starts? 

Ray Morris-Hill (Photo courtesy of Will Sowter) is a creative 'camera artist' who has wow-ed chess lovers over the last several years with his photos of top chess stars like Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen, Judit Polgar and others - particularly at the London Chess Classic. 

Ray Morris-Hill speaks to Chess Magazine Black and White about his favourite 'chess subjects', the art of chess photography and the fun of it all. (All photos in this article are copyright Ray Morris-Hill and may not be reproduced without permission.)

Q: What do you see - as the eye behind the camera - when you see Carlsen and Anand - their differences?

When I set out to take photographs of chess players I start work before they sit down to play. I am at the venue early, making friends with the support staff and the arbiters to determine my access, checking the backgrounds and finding the best angles. I will study my photos of the players taken at previous events, noting what they do at the board.

I like to get light into the eyes of my subject. Even better if they can look straight at me. Anand is a most gracious and modest World Chess Champion. His focus is always on the board and he rarely looks straight down the lens.

Vishy Anand 2012

Carlsen looks up once he has settled at the board but gives most photographers a distant stare. If he spots me then he will often give me a direct look. This connection comes from spending time photographing him away from the media crowds.

Magnus Carlsen 2013

Q:. Who are your - as a photographer - favourite chess players?

I have been fortunate to photograph Magnus Carlsen for the last three years and have sold more photos of him than any other player so he would have to be top of the list.

Vassily Ivanchuk and Veselin Topalov are great subjects to photograph as they both have a wide range of expressions.

Vassily Ivanchuk 2013

Veselin Topalov 2012

One of the friendliest players on the circuit is Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. I met him in London for the Grand Prix event last year and he was most engaging off the board, which undoubtedly helped to get this shot of him at the board.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2012

Judit Polgar is the most charming person. I spent forty-five minutes photographing her last year in London and she even gave me some advice to improve my own chess game.

Judit Polgar 2012

Q: What's different and special about chess photography compared to other sports?

A: Low light is a key difference and most photos of chess players are either under exposed, or not sharp because the shutter speed is too slow. There is also great pressure to get the shot in the first five minutes of play before the photographers are ushered off the stage.

On the other hand, the action is more predictable, especially when compared to a sport like football.

My approach has always been to look for strong expressive portraits of players under intense pressure. Many of my best portraits are in high contrast black and white to emphasise the dramatic context.

Magnus Carlsen 2013

Q: When did your love for chess photography start and how?

I played at the British Championships in Torquay in 2009 and took my camera to the prize giving. Malcolm Pein (Director of the London Chess Classic) spotted me and published three of my photos in Chess Magazine. That year I photographed several rounds of the London Chess Classic and found my photos were in demand around the world. Since 2010 I have been the official photographer at the Classic.

Q: Most memorable projects?

The shoot with Magnus Carlsen and Judit Polgar in the London Eye has got to be the most memorable. It was a cold November day last year but the light was amazing, wrapping around my subjects in the pod high above London. Magnus and Judit were a pleasure to photograph.

Judit Polgar and Magnus Carlsen 2012

I have enjoyed working for the Chess in Schools and Communities Charity. The junior days at the London Chess Classic attract hundreds of children and have produced some of my favourite photos.

Chessin Schools and Communities 2012

Q: Future exciting projects

The 2013 London Chess Classic starts on 10 December and I am looking forward to photographing Fabiano Caruana for the first time and meeting Boris Gelfand and Peter Svidler again.

Lookout for my photos on my website and follow me on Twitter @raymorrishill.