Fred Lucas: Illuminating Chess

by Frederic Friedel
9/12/2023 – Fred Lucas is a Dutch photographer who specializes in chess photography. He has been doing it for well over 20 years and documented the most important tournaments – the World Chess Championship, Candidates, and Olympiads. He shot most of his pictures with a Nikon and 200mm lens, meticulously capturing the action, the mood and the emotions of the players. Now Fred has compiled his best pictures into a historical book that visually takes us through the world of chess in the first decades of this century.

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Fred Lucas' photos are greatly admired for their beauty and expression. He captures the intensity of the game, as well as the concentration and determination of the players. He also has a keen eye for detail, and his photos often capture the subtleties of the game.

Lucas' work has been published in magazines and newspapers all over the world. He has also won numerous awards for his photography, including the Chess Photographer of the Year award in 2010. Earlier this year he published a book of his chess photography called "Illuminating Chess." The book contains over 200 of his best photos, and it provides a unique glimpse into the world of chess.

Thinkers Publishing, which brought out the book in April, aptly describes why it was so important. 

Chess, a game that has fascinated people for centuries, has sparked debates about its classification as a sport, science, or art. Some grandmasters argue it is a sport, while others see it as an art form. Remarkably, chess also serves as a social activity.

Photography, like chess, can bridge time and distance, capturing moments that transcend language and culture. Photos preserve memories and showcase the world’s beauty and diversity. In today’s digital age, physical photo books still foster a sense of belonging.

Lucas and ChessBase

I believe I first met Fred twenty years ago, at the Chess Olympiad in Calvià. He walked around with his giant lens, one that had a relatively modest focal length (up to 200mm), but extreme light-gathering power. He did own a flash, but just barely. In Calvià it wasn't working, and wasn't welcome. With the long range and available light Fred was able to take some remarkable shots, which we included in our report at the time

"My relation with chess is simple," Fred Lucas told us. "I'm a photographer who is very fond of the game, who loves the atmosphere at tournaments – it's if you can really feel all the ideas coming up on all those boards – and who loves to make pictures, especially with available light. What I like most when photographing chess players is to get their emotions that are otherwise hard to see, because life immediately proceeds to the next moment. Before the start of a game most players are busy with themselves, concentrating, and some give you the impression that they really don't want to pay attention to anything else than the game to come."

From then on I met Fred many, many time, and enjoyed his company immensely. Of course our meetings resulted in numerous pictorial reports which you can review in the links below. But don't let that stop you from buying "Illuminating Chess" – from the publisher, from Amazon, or from your favourite chess dealer. It is not cheap (€45), but the large format, 31x24,4 cm, and luxurious binding justify the price. On the publisher's page there are sample images – click on the thumbnails and the magnifying glass to get them in full size.

Here are some of the ChessBase reports that were made highlighting Fred Lucas photography:

It is definitely worthwhile for you to take a walk down memory lane and enjoy the wonderful photographic insights Fred has provided us with over the years.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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