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World class chess photographer David Llada turns 40

by Sagar Shah - 25/11/2018

Chess photography has the power to take our sport to the next level. A good picture shows the emotions, the strain on the mind, the ecstasy of finding a hidden idea, and conveys to the viewer how interesting chess is. One person who has been working ceaselessly to promote the game of chess by capturing fantastic pictures is David Llada. David is considered by everyone in the chess world as one of the best photographers. He has been an official photographer in countless events and his pictures have ensured that the tournaments where he is present reaches millions of people across the world. This article is a dedication to the man who has devoted his life to popularize the game of chess. As David turned 40 a couple of days ago, we asked some of his colleagues, famous photographers in world of chess, what they thought about David's skills and their favourite pictures captured by him. 

One of the best chess photographers in the world turned 40 years old on 23rd of November 2018.

Chess photography is one of the most important ingredients to take the game of chess to the next level. A good photographer with his skill and imagination can even make an insignificant event look like a major one. That's what a world class chess photographer does and that's what David Llada has been doing for a living. Recently, he has become the editor-in-chief of American Chess Magazine, but we all know him as a person who captures the mood and emotions of a chess tournament in a way that words cannot explain. For example, here's one of my favourite pictures of David:

When I look at the photo I instantly realize that here is a young man who is extremely important. The journalists love him and want to get near him, and at the same time the police protection shows that he is someone important. Of course, that is Magnus Carlsen after winning the World Championship Match 2013 in Chennai. This is what David himself said about the picture, "Probably this is my best photo. It has some artistic value as well as historic. It was the day when Magnus became the World Champion in Chennai. I was behind him and all the media was in front of him. I thought to myself I have missed the photo. But sometimes you get lucky if you keep your eyes open and don't give up. I got the best shot. It is a photo of someone young, successful, the media adores him. You cannot even see him, but you get the entire picture. I got lucky!"


David has many such pictures, but instead of me, who is a writer and doesn't understand photography at such a deep level, I decided to ask two questions to the most prominent chess photographers in the world today about David's photography. The questions asked were:

1. What do you think is one quality that makes David Llada's photography special?

2. Which is your one favourite photo captured by David's camera?

We have six of the best photographers in the world of chess who replied to these questions. (L-R, top row): Alina L'Ami, Lennart Ootes, Niki Riga, (Bottom Row L-R) Eteri Kublashvili, Eric Rosen, Amruta Mokal

Alina l'Ami

I like David's portraiture and branding (or selling himself). But what helps a lot is the interaction with his subjects. He selects them carefully (not everyone makes for a good shot) and he makes them feel good later on through the social channels with his words. I also worked with him in Batumi and absolutely loved it.


About his best photo - it has to be a portrait. Ah, yes, I remember. It was a strong Indian IM and David made him look like a Bollywood Star.

Nubairshah Shaikh, IM from Mumbai

Lennart Ootes

His biggest strength is that David is able to hunt his prey for hours. He sits there in the playing hall, looking through that 400mm lens, many meters away, and waits for that moment when the player has the right pose and looks either to the opponent or towards the camera.


Best photo? It's hard to pick one. His consistency is very high. One photo that I liked a lot is Snoop, a chess hustler at Union Square, NYC.

You can meet him at the Union Square in New York!

Niki Riga

I am particularly impressed by his quick perception, his ability to spot and also anticipate those crucial moments that make a photo memorable.


I like two of his pictures very much:

This one I adore because of its composition. It feels like it is split in two parts: the top part seems like a “typical” chess portrait, with an expressive face staring intensely at the board; but then you notice the bottom half, and you see something completely unexpected for a chess photo, reminding one more of yoga! The combination of these two parts produces a wonderful result; it almost feels like a collage!

And this one, my absolute favorite, well, because… it is ethereal! The Taj Mahal, India.

Eteri Kublashvili

What I like about David, first of all, is his enormous interest and devotion to his work and chess players. Secondly, his brilliant skills and technique, and his desire to be perfect. And finally, his attention to details.


I love all his works, but the photo attached is a special one for me, of course!

That's Eteri herself, captured by David's camera

Eric Rosen:

His ability to capture decisive moments. During a chess game, this can be difficult since expressions of players can be extremely brief. It can take a lot of patience to capture players when they are most expressive. Based on David’s photos he clearly possesses the patience and attentiveness to capture amazing decisive moments.


There are so many. But here are just a  couple from the past week… 

This photo of Magnus Carlsen:

When I first saw this photo, I thought it was photoshopped... Carlsen’s expression is hilarious! The fact that he’s staring at the camera makes it even better. Given that this expression likely lasted less than a split second, I admire that David was able to capture this with very crisp focus. 


I also admire this photo of Mike Klein… 

It tells the story of what it’s like to be a photographer at the World Championship Match…. highly uncomfortable, crammed in a small space with barely any room to move, and in this case nearly getting choked!

Amruta Mokal

There are many skills of David as a photographer that I admire. But I feel that his human traits are the most impressive, the biggest one being the ability to help and share his knowledge. Whenever I have asked something about photography to him, David has openly shared his techniques and methods. This is very rare. Because once you are at the top of your field you would like to keep your tricks as trade secrets that give you an edge. But nothing of that sort with David. For him friendships and human beings come before photography.


The photo that I like the most is the one pointed by Niki Riga of the picture being split into two. It is my absolutely favourite. I would recommend the readers to go through the video (below) that I made with David discussing his book "The Thinkers". We went over almost all the pictures and David explains his thought process behind capturing each of the photo. I learnt a lot from those 30 minutes, and I am sure you will as well.

David Llada and Amruta Mokal discuss "The Thinkers"

To many more years!

David Llada is a great asset to the game of chess. His photography has taken the sport to a new level and his pictures have been used by major media outlets outside the game of chess! This article has been a dedication to Llada's nearly two decades of service to the sport. We hope that he continues!

And we have another Llada coming up soon - David's daughter Nahui!

"The Thinkers" by David Llada contains:

177 photos in 208 pages. 

111 pictures in black and white, 

66 in full colour. 16 breathtaking double spreads. 

The most visually stunning book ever devoted to chess; order your copy at:

Indians can also get this book from Amazon India:

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