One of the fascinating ironies of poker photography is that legions of the game’s fans can be intimately familiar with the work itself — some images are quite simply engraved in our collective conscious — but have little to no idea whatsoever who the image-capturing artists are. At best, we see image credits, watermarks, and perhaps “hear of” exceptionally talented photographers without actually getting to know them.
Precisely that type of sentiment is what our ongoing Get to Know the Poker Media series aims to ameliorate.
We’ve profiled a couple poker photographers in the past as part of this series, and in a bid to be even more inclusive we’ve cast our eyes beyond American shores to find Danny Maxwell.
The jovial Irishman has always been one of the more amicable colleagues with whom I’ve had the privilege of interacting on my poker travels, whether seeing him at the annual World Series of Poker or at other tournament series around the world. Long admired for his tremendous work ethic, Danny’s talent has received “proper” industry acknowledgement with one of his images being nominated for a 2021 Global Poker Award.
It’s time to get to know Danny a little better, so we can more fully appreciate the man behind the lens.
How did you first get into the poker industry and for how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been around poker for 10+ years and sometimes I do forget that I’ve been around that long.
One of my friends used to run the poker society in his college. He taught me how to play poker so we could play home games with friends. That ultimately led me to play in his college society games. Those games, in turn, lead me to playing local pub games to then play more games in the licensed casinos in Dublin.
Poker was starting to consume me more and more and I got involved in the Dublin poker scene. Wanting to get better, I would hear players at the table talk about “poker forums.” So I joined up to irishpokerboards.com or IPB for short. It was a nice place for players from all over Ireland who got to know each other over a shared love of poker. There is a good community feel from the website.
I was just a member of IPB but a very active one at that, which ultimately led me to become a moderator. I was helping out around the site and doing the updates, and at one point the original founders made me a co-owner of IPB. We’ll never be millionaires from it but it’s a fun part of our lives.
Around the time that IPB was getting up and running (2010), the poker festival scene was pretty busy in Ireland. The Irish Open was such an iconic event so that was where some of the mods and members of the forum would rock up for some craic and to do some updates on fellow members. And, of course, we gathered for a few drinks to get to know other people from the forum.
I also remember that I was out of work at the time. So I had some free time to pop along to these tournaments and do some live updates for the site as a way of helping out and to gain some traction for IPB.
I have lots of fond memories of those times; getting to know people that were just a username then meeting them over a shared interest in the game of poker. Still, to this day, I call some of those people my friends.
Some people who were in the industry then are still in it today while others have gone on to be some of the biggest and most well known in their respective fields. I’ve got to single out Nick O’Hara, Luca Vivaldi, and Toby Stone; I feel a sense of pride and kinship with those gents. After all these years we are still in a world that we love, and that’s something truly special.
So I started out as a “player” who did some live updates in my free time. But at one point — and this is one of my most vivid memories — I had access to a camera at an event that we were covering. We didn’t get paid for this; it was more so for a bit of fun and to give the site some views. In return, some of the promoters would give us free accommodation, food, and entry into a side event as a way to say “thank you”.
So why did you specifically decide to further pursue professional poker photography?
I’ve always enjoyed being around poker. To be in this industry has been nothing short of fantastic.
I’ve always felt that my writing was okay, but I was never going to be a James Joyce. But with photography, it just felt right to me. Even before picking up a “professional” camera, I was that guy who, back in the day on nights out, would have the disposable camera and snap pictures of my friends.
What I’ve loved and really enjoyed about photography is that it has all been self-thought. Just trial and error, watching tutorials online, and reading and researching bits and then putting it into practice. That’s why I’ve always felt I’d be a better photographer than a writer, as my photography skills were constantly growing. Even so today.
There are so many techniques to master and then to refine when it comes to shooting and editing. Both will always be a constant to me. I do 99% of my editing in Adobe Lightroom but it was only last year during the pandemic that I took the time to take a course on Photoshop, just to learn more intricacies of photography and to broaden my skillset. Next up is video editing.
How did you first “properly” break into the poker industry?
It felt very serendipitous, as I had done a bunch of smaller jobs which led me to doing some bigger jobs and getting recognised more. Covering a Unibet Open in Dublin for IPB, I met Remko Rinkema for the first time. Cut to me covering a UKIPT in Cork for IPB and I got approached by PokerStars to cover my first EPT which was in London. It’s there once again where I bumped into Remko and he put my name out to Donnie Peters, who was working for PokerNews at the time. Donnie contacted me about working at the 2013 WSOP.
The 2013 WSOP is where I pretty much solidified myself in poker photography as a go to photographer for some of the biggest brands in poker.
What poker outlets have you been involved with and which has been your favorite (one-time or ongoing) gig over the years?
I’ve worked for numerous outlets over the years. From small independent operators in Ireland to then working for BoylePoker and Paddy Power Poker, to then working with some of the biggest and most prestigious brands in the industry like PokerStars, the WPT, partypoker, and PokerNews. I’d call PokerNews home, as it’s where I’ve spent the vast majority of my career photographing all over the world for them.
The Irish Open will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first big tournament I ever attended. I was just in awe of the whole thing. Seeing all the tables and so many people playing, the sound of the chip riffling in the room… It was such a buzz. It was one of the first places where I was doing live updates for fun to then become employed by Paddy Power Poker to officially work the event for a number of years.
I’ve been covering the European Poker Tour for a vast majority of my photography career. They’ve been some of the best jobs I’ve had the pleasure of covering as they bring together the top people in the business, which then brings together a group of poker players from all walks of life, be they pros or amateurs.
What most poker players and poker fans would consider the pinnacle, is, of course, the World Series of Poker. That is always one of the greatest events to work.
What made those gigs special to you over other “more standard” assignments?
The Irish Open was just “craic,” as we say in Ireland. It was a near requirement that at the end of each day you were at the bar enjoying a drink with the players, staff and colleagues. When the boss is ordering shots of vodka, it’s okay to have two or three…
Moving onto the World Series of Poker. It’s a roughly seven-week job which is a hefty undertaking. I could never have guessed that I’d have had the opportunity so early in my photography career to cover the WSOP. For this poker fan to be a part of something like that, was insane for me to comprehend at the time. I’ve had the opportunity to cover it a number of times already and hopefully I’ll be covering it in 2022 in its new home: Horseshoe and Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. That will be a new and exciting challenge.
Usually at events, it’s just myself and a small live reporting team. But at the WSOP it’s such a big undertaking that it takes a lot of moving parts. You get to work in a much bigger team of photographers, live reporters, and a video team. Not to mention all the other reporting teams from around the world. And then you have production crews for the likes of ESPN or CBS. It’s massive and awesome to be a part of.
What is it that you love about poker that keeps you so interested in the game?
It’s an equal opportunity game in the sense that, if you have the money and the confidence, you can sit down beside some of the best poker players in the world and take your shot and win.
Even though it’s an individual game, it can be such a social game as well. You and your friends can sit around for an evening, have some food and beverages, and shoot the breeze over a game of cards. I tend to find there’s a good community in and around poker.
Certainly, I felt it at the 2021 WSOP. There was a good buzz in the rooms of the Rio as people got to play a game they enjoy and got to reconnect with friends and colleagues that they had not seen in a while.
As we’ve all got smartphones, cameras are ubiquitous nowadays; so much so that perhaps anyone feels they could take decent pictures. What does being a professional photographer mean to you?
Anybody can take a decent photo, which is what’s great about photography.
Whatever camera you have on you is the best camera. Be it a smartphone, a point and shoot, or a high-end DSLR.
I remember starting out years ago and using my mobile phone to take photos of players at the tables because that’s all I had. It took me a long time to feel comfortable calling myself a “professional” as I’m not classically trained. The vast majority of my learning has been through different mediums but it has ultimately led me to where I am today. I’m proud of who I am and what I can do.
People have asked me over the years why I use a Canon camera? Simple answer was at the time I was starting out I didn’t have lots of money to be buying lenses etc. but some of the lads I knew from poker were into photography and they had better lenses than me and knew I could ask them to lend them to me.
Where do you feel your skills shine best, and what are you looking to capture when you get behind the lens?
I take pride in the fact that when somebody contacts me for a job, they know that my work speaks for itself. They know that I’m hardworking and trustworthy and will always do my utmost to put my best foot forward.
I’ve been fortunate that I can work well on my own or can integrate within a team also. That leads to a harmonious work life; knowing that people look forward to working with me.
This article has allowed me to reflect on my photography over the years and to see how far I’ve come since starting out. Poker has made up 95% of my portfolio and you always try to refine and tweak how you work. I try to work on a quality over quantity approach. Sometimes, that’s not possible because you could be working three, four, or five events a day, so you don’t always have the luxury to get that “perfect” shot. But I tend to focus on what’s in front of me and try to capture a moment.
Good timing can also play a part in photography: being at the right place at the right time. That was true for me at the 2021 WSOP when I was able to capture a picture of Brandon Shack-Harris at the tables with an umbrella. In an unexpected but pleasant surprise, it was nominated for “BEST MEDIA CONTENT: PHOTO” at this year’s Global Poker Awards.
I asked Frank Op de Woerd if he would mind giving me a quote for this article as to why he would hire me. It was really nice to see his response to what I said myself above:
“For me, you’re one of the best in the business. You make stunning photos, crisp, clean, great composition, eye for detail, and you’re fast. But, on top of all that, you’re just so damn easy to work with. No complaining, no drama – you’re part of the group instantly, work long hours with great attitude.”
There are some truly excellent photographers in this industry with more coming up so for myself to continue to be recognized for what I do it’s always good to keep on top of your game.
During the pandemic, masks were an almost ubiquitous site at poker tables and might likely be for a while yet. It would seem that poker photography has become significantly more challenging as a result. What are your thoughts on this?
While poker was nearly non-existent in Europe, it was starting to come back in the US. So when I would see updates on PokerNews from events, there were plexiglass dividers coupled with masks. I thought it was going to be really difficult to photograph and it was certainly a challenge and something new. Ultimately though it went smooth.
You just work with the situations that you are presented with. While masks were not a requirement at tables during the 2021 WSOP, there were players who still opted to wear them. Sometimes people are just so recognisable even with a mask, that it was easy to figure out. There were some who would need a double take, and then there were some who were missed completely because of them.
What sort of job(s) – if any – did you have before getting into poker?
I completed school when I was 17 and had no interest in going to college, so I worked in a local supermarket for a number of years before leaving that. I floated around for a while doing odd jobs over the years, and then playing poker around Dublin.
In my mid 20s, I went to community college and studied computer networks and software systems. I finished that course and got my qualifications and a little while after that is when I started to get into poker. The rest, as they say, is history.
As a freelance photographer you have a certain idea from year to year what events you are likely to work on but when a global pandemic comes along and stops the majority of the world, travelling for events wasn’t happening. During lockdown I was out of work once again as no events were going ahead so that was tough at times but I eventually picked up some work locally delivering kitchens for a design company called Kitchen World.
It actually ended up being a pretty fun job as I was travelling all around Dublin and up and down the east coast or Ireland getting to see the countryside and some wonderful houses and got to work with some nice people. Doesn’t hurt delivering HEAVY kitchens leading up to your wedding to drop some extra weight.
Tell us a bit about your personal life; where you live, family, etc.
I live with my wife Laura and father Danny Sr. in Dublin, Ireland. People have the perception that it’s always raining here but when the sun is shining, there’s no other place I’d rather be.
Laura and I originally planned to get married in May 2020. Two weeks after the wedding, I would’ve been heading to Vegas for seven weeks to cover the WSOP. Unfortunately, we had to postpone the wedding twice but on the third date we were able to have the absolute BEST day of our lives. We chose 11/11/21, and it was a beautiful day!
I had a feeling that when the WSOP wasn’t going ahead during the summer of 2021, that it would fall during my wedding date. Quelle surprise: it did. I can’t really think of too many better reasons to cut a work trip short than to fly home to marry the woman you love.
On a side note, hopefully this article will give her some insight into my life in poker that we haven’t talked about already. She’s really understanding of the life that I’ve lived and continue to do so with travel. It’s tough leaving her to head away but it’s one of the best feelings knowing that there’s always a smiling face and the biggest hug waiting for me at the airport when I return home.
How often do you play poker?
Back in 2009 I had a decent little score in a tournament in Dublin and won €5,900, so I took that money and used it to visit my family in the US. My aunt lives in Los Angeles so I went and stayed with her for a week and then spent one week with my cousin and her husband in Las Vegas. The WSOP was going on at that time and I remember bumping into Scotty Nguyen in the Rio hallways and asking to get my photo taken with him and then only a couple short years later I was now taking his photo across the table was a goal come true for this poker fan-turned-photographer.
I do enjoy playing the media tournaments at EPTs and the WSOP, as they are a way to kick back with colleagues.
I very rarely get the chance or have the inclination to be playing poker much over the last number of years.
It really did consume a lot of my life back in the day and I would just constantly talk about it to friends. I’m sure it got to a stage where they would just tune out. Soaking up so much poker, I’d watch all the televised shows about it. There was a period a number of years ago when I was very busy and just travelled a lot. So when I had some free time at home, I wanted to be away from it all and just enjoy hanging out with family and friends and spend time relaxing.
I have a very modest Hendon Mob and have never really played too many big tournaments. At one point, though, I was in the top 10 most searched people on the Hendon Mob, which did give me a chuckle.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about people who work in poker media?
I suppose people tend to see it as very “glamorous”, travelling to such locations as The Bahamas, Macau, Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, but sometimes the work schedules are gruelling. To try and take it all in can be tough to find the work/life balance.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve loved the travelling aspect of my work and it’s always good when you do get the opportunity to take in the sights and culture these places have to offer. I’ve had some really awesome trips with colleagues when the events are over and you’re able to spend an extra couple days. I’m a pretty self-effacing person so the glitzy life of Monte Carlo and €8 cans of Coke and €15 bananas in the Bahamas are way over my head.
Do you do any other sort of work, or have a side gig?
I don’t at the moment, but I’ve recently been reaching out to some people and companies about possibly doing something on the side in relation to graphics. The lockdown gave me the time to broaden my photography skills and I ended up taking a course on Adobe Photoshop which I passed, so I’m now certified. I’m also looking to learn how to shoot and edit video to be able to put my hand to a multitude of creative endeavours. For anybody reading this who has any collaboration ideas, please do reach out.
What other hobbies do you have? Tell us about them.
I like to shoot long exposure photography, be it cityscapes or landscape photos in my personal time and travelling for poker has given me the chance to photograph some wonderful sights. One of my assignments for my Adobe Photoshop course was making a book or magazine cover so I decided to make a “fake” poker magazine which I should probably continue on with for some fun adding new people for each addition.
I’m an avid movie fan so I like going to the cinema in my down time. I’m fascinated with documentaries and love getting engrossed in all manner of subjects.
In anticipation of our marriage, Laura and I got back into a health buzz and I was out walking and also in the gym. Walking was a good way for me to clear my mind and get some fresh air, and it also gave me time to listen to podcasts while out and about. I aimed to do a minimum of 10,000 steps every day. I was ticking along with that and then we went into lockdown. It was a scary time for a lot of people and it would’ve been very easy to just fall by the wayside and let things slip. But I persevered on and kept the steps up. We were in a strict lockdown and you couldn’t travel more than 2 kilometres from your home. So another factor in walking was to try and keep my mind busy and to force myself to get out and about and not sit around watching all the Netflix.
I managed to make it 21 months of minimum 10,000 steps a day and was absolutely chuffed to be able to keep a streak going so long. Three days after the wedding, my streak came to an end.
What’s something you still haven’t yet done/accomplished in poker that’s on your bucket list?
I’ve worked the WSOP 3 times but I’ve never had the opportunity to shoot a main event winner pic.
Plus, I’d love to play a WSOP event one day. Qualifying to play the Main Event would be amazing.
I’ve never been to South America. I know the poker scene is supposed to be incredible there, so hopefully one day I’ll get to work at the BSOP or something similar.
Have you got some special memories or stories that you’d like to share from your years in the poker industry?
Getting to spend time in Wisconsin with Chad Holloway and meeting his family and friends, and not forgetting his dogs. Having the opportunity to attend Frank Op de Woerd’s wedding in the Netherlands. Seeing a Broadway show and off-Broadway show in New York with Josh Cahlik.
Working a Triton Poker event in Montenegro and it was one of the first trips my wife got to attend. We were enjoying a drink on the terrace with poker player Alan Sass. It turned out he knows Tom Dwan pretty well and lo and behold, Tom walked out onto the terrace not too long after and he joined us for a drink. He’s originally from New Jersey and my wife Laura lived in New York for a number of years so they were chatting all sorts. It was very surreal to have “durrrr” just shooting the breeze with us.
Working an event in Montreal and getting asked by PokerNews to cover the 2017 Poker Masters in Vegas. It worked out well as my sister-in-law and brother-in-law were also in Vegas for his 30th birthday. It was fun hanging out with them and drinking some Fat Tuesday’s while walking around the strip like proper tourists.
I was in Sydney and walked into the sports bar after the event finished, only to see that the 2018 WSOP Main Event was being shown on the screens. I saw Joe Cada exit in fifth place and I remember it because I was shooting that final table. Wouldn’t you know it, up on the screen I could just see myself in the background! Good timing as I’d never seen it before. That was kind of cool to see.
You’ve shot tens of thousands of photos, so I imagine it might be tough to pick, but have you got any favorites?
Ian Simpson winning the Irish Open in 2013 to then drop down on one knee and propose to his now wife Emma.
Photographing the 2018 WSOP $1,000,000 The Big One for One Drop and a woman on the rail is looking out for players and spots Phil Ivey and she let out an audible gasp. Stuff like that, I remember as one of the reasons why I love poker.
Covering the UKIPT in the Isle of Man and taking photos at the player party and get a phone call to say “Isai Scheinberg is heads up in the High Roller and probably going to win, we need you back here for the winner photo” packing up my bag and jumping into a taxi straight back to the venue. When he won, there was a big round of applause for the man who founded PokerStars. Some of the staff and players joining in his winner photo was something special.
Kevin Killeen winning UKIPT Dublin and being hoisted up onto his friends shoulders was a pretty great picture to capture.
Some of the venues I’ve been to over the years have been incredible. One that always stands out in my mind was the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. That was an absolutely stunning room to play poker in.
I love seeing my work out there and especially printed that people love it enough to hang it up on their walls. Frank Op de Woerd has some of my Las Vegas long exposures hung up on his office walls but recently he went one step further and got one of the images made up into wallpaper and now it takes up one whole wall in his office. It’s absolutely incredible.
Adrián Mateos‘ winner photo from the 2015 EPT Grand Final is pretty spectacular and I used it as the landing page on my personal website.
Having one of my photos be the lead image on Daniel Negreanu’s Netflix documentary KidPoker was a personal highlight for me.
My very first EPT I was covering the £10k High Roller and I was still so new and trying to put my best foot forward. Somebody was heckling me from the rail saying I was in their way. Feeling so embarrassed and sheepish I side stepped only for JC Alvarado to step in on my behalf and say: “he’s just doing his job”. That was greatly appreciated. He posted a tweet in 2019 announcing his retirement from playing poker professionally so I thought I’d send him a message about my story and he remembered it.
Getting the opportunity to photograph Phil Ivey’s NFT launch at a swanky mansion in Las Vegas was pretty cool, too.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
The poker world has given me more than I will ever be able to repay it. It’s given me a career, a passion for photography, friends, and life experiences I would’ve never had without it. Travel was a huge thing as I’d never really done so before, and now I’ve travelled all over the world. I’ve worked with some of the best people in the business and got to know so many people from such varied walks of life. That has opened up my heart and mind to what life can offer.
I’ve had some really awesome experiences from being in the poker world and feel fortunate to do what I do and long may it continue. Working on this interview has been a really fun experience, looking back at my time in the poker world.
To contact Danny and see more of his work:
Lead image courtesy of René Velli, wedding photos by David Frain, Danny working by Carlos Monti