Interview with Lennart Ootes, photographer and do-it-all (1/2)

by Albert Silver
8/11/2016 – In the world of chess, Lennart Ootes is one of those names you might see crop up here and there, without fully appreciating his role in the grand scheme of things. Much like the arbiters, his name goes unsung for the most part, while having a vital role in helping make a great event what it is. He is a regular guest of top events as the man who runs their DGT boards, he also helps run live video commentary, is a web designer, and talented photographer. Here is an interview with many high-res photos.

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All photos by Lennart Ootes and Albert Silver (click on them for high-resolution versions!)

I first ran into Lennart Ootes online as a person running the web page of a Dutch event, and who had signed daily summaries in good English, as well as provided a nice selection of photos. As time went by I saw him as a part of more and more events, and his photography began to stand out for his talent and desire to capture a well-made image. Then about a month ago, he told me over Skype that he was coming to Rio de Janeiro. We coordinated so that he was someplace nearby and I told him that as a visitor of my city I considered him my guest and I would show him around. I was surprised to find out that he would not be staying for the Olympics, the biggest attraction of the city right now, due to a conflict in schedule that will become apparent later in his interview, but assured him that he would not be left wanting in any other way. We viewed a selection of places and sites, enjoyed local night life, and watched the final touches of the Olympic preparations be put in place as the city readied itself for a wild and unique moment in its history. Naturally, I took the time to also interview him so that ChessBase readers and others might be introduced to this gentle soul. In the article you will also find a generous swath of photos we took.

As he is Dutch, the first night I took Lennart (left) to a local beer store, Melhores Cervejas do Mundo (best beers in the world), whose specialty is craft beers made in Rio de Janeiro. Only a few years ago, the idea would have been ludicrous, but there has been an explosion of interest in original craft beers here, and as such there are literally dozens upon dozens of labels now.

Above are just three, chosen because they use the names of famous beaches here in Rio: Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. That said, one we tried had been made using also 'umbu' a unique Brazilian fruit.

Albert Silver – How did you get started in chess?

Lennart Ootes – I started playing chess as a young boy. My dad played chess throughout his life, and this got me interested in it. So he taught me chess, as well as to my brother. We played a lot together at a chess club, played a lot of tournaments in the Netherlands, and then tournaments abroad. At some point, when I was 19 or 20, when I was too old to play in the youth events, I was invited to write reports about them for the tournament website. At those events I introduced videos and DGT boards and I got support from some people in the chess world in the Netherlands, which allowed me to buy a camera and start to produce videos and photos as well. At some point I thought I could turn professional in this. Now I handle the DGT boards for a lot of events.

AS – How many major events in a year do you cover?

LO – Let’s say… 12 to 15 a year.

AS – What would be the most prestigious ones? The best known?

LO – The Grand Chess Tour of course, with the Sinquefield Cup. After that, the Qatar Masters in the last two years and Wijk aan Zee. At all these events I do the DGT boards or I handle the live video streaming such as the live video commentary you can watch at home. I also take photos, or do other behind-the-scenes work.

The arena for beach volley under construction in Copacabana. It took nearly three months to build, and cost millions of dollars.

Here is a view of it from the seaside as it was still being erected six weeks before the big show

A week before the start, it still had elevated sandbags around it to prevent the ocean from rolling in and damaging it

AS – Do you have to provide your own DGT boards for these events?

LO – No, most of the time these events have their own boards or the national federations supply the boards. So, I don’t have to travel across the world with tons of luggage.

AS – This no doubt also spares you a lot of explaining at customs too.

LO – Yes, exactly.

AS – Recently we have seen your photography more and more prominently, and it has been very much appreciated. I noticed you got a new camera as well. How did you get more involved in photography specifically?

LO – I really enjoy taking photos, of chess events foremost. I do not really do the tourist type of photos covering the locales I go to. Alina L’Ami for example is very good at that, but it’s not really my thing…

AS - …Yet.

LO – (laughs) Yet.

Lennart's reluctance to do landscape and 'tourist' pictures was knocked down as he visited the city, its sights, as well as the national park in Foz do Iguaçu. Unable to resist the urge, above is a shot he took from the bus.

While there he visited a specialized bird zoo

This allowed him to capture images of many beautiful birds...

...many times very close.

In spite of enjoying the uniquely close visit...

... he explained that this image in which the cage was in focus as opposed to the birds, was deliberately shot this way as a means of commentary.

LO - I was hired for half a year to do video reports for a Dutch chess website, and with the salary they gave me I was able to invest in a good camera. That was my first camera, and I mainly used it for video, though it was really a photography camera with video functions. Then at some events I began taking photos, and people told me they were nice and above all very useful. The turning point was when I was hired for the 2014 US Chess Championship, only for the DGT boards. There were 12 or 14 boards, and this left me with plenty of time in between to take photos. Although they have good photographers there, they started using my photos as well. Since I had plenty of time to spare, I was able to spend time properly editing my photos, something I learned a lot about that year studying courses online. This inspired me to take more photos at more events. Most of my work has been from St. Louis as well as the Grand Chess Tour events in Paris and Leuven.

AS – Don’t forget the Candidates.

LO – The Candidates as well, yes. So that camera I bought sometime in 2011, and at some point I realized I was starting to make some money selling photos, such as to New in Chess magazine.

AS – If I’m not mistaken, I saw a Tweet announcing one of your pictures had been the cover of New in Chess for the second straight issue.

LO – Yes, I am very proud of that. That was really cool.

AS – What was the story behind those pictures? What pictures were chosen?

LO – The pictures that were chosen were taken with my new camera. It got to the point where I wanted to make a major upgrade to my camera. In technical terms I wanted to move to a full-frame camera with higher resolution, better lenses…

AS - … Better low-light performance…

LO – Exactly, those sorts of technical details. Though, some of those things I only came to realize after I had purchased the new camera.

AS – (Laughs)

LO – Not long after I bought it, I also managed to find and purchase a fantastic lens that was in high demand.

AS – What lens was that?

LO – It was an 85mm lens, a portrait lens.

AS – It’s a beautiful lens. I saw your work with it from one of Gareyev’s blindfold simuls.

A good friend, Alexandre Albuquerque, drove us to several beautiful places to shoot

One of these places was the recently inaugurated Museum of Tomorrow

Located near the harbor, we saw poor kids cooling off by leaping into the water

At night, the museum would light up for a breathtaking sight

The colors would actually change as it grew darker. Here is a shot with a couple, Jacob and his wife Allyne, who joined us.

LO – Yes, that was a fun event to cover.

AS – I remember seeing the pictures and thinking you had clearly made a change in your hardware.

LO – Yes, I went to the Candidates because it is the most fun event of the year in the World Championship cycle. There is so much attention, and I fell in love with it after going to the Candidates in London 2013 that Magnus won. It is such an emotional roller coaster, and I really wanted to go back. So I booked a ticket to Moscow and asked around if anyone was interested in purchasing photos taken there. Chess.com said yes, and one photo I took was of Karjakin, which New in Chess decided they wanted for their cover. That was my first cover for New in Chess.

AS – What was the second?

LO – The second was of Garry. Garry was in St. Louis for the US Chess Championship to play an exhibition blitz event with the top finishers, a truly amazing event. I happened to be taking a ton of photos, and one of them came out really good, and New in Chess chose to use it for the cover of the following issue.

AS – Nice!

Continued in part two...



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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fons fons 8/13/2016 03:20
I do not like the pictures from Lennart Ootes' so called new camera at all. The colors are plain ugly, especially the Kasparov one. Ugly white light. The pictures from the Gareyev blindfold are the same; ugly light.
chessdrummer chessdrummer 8/12/2016 07:34
He does excellent work!
basler88 basler88 8/11/2016 06:12
Great job!
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 8/11/2016 03:34
Wonderful images from the natural world!
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