The secret message behind Annie Leibovitz's chess image of Messi and Ronaldo

Image of chess match between Ronaldo and Messi
(Image credit: Annie Leibovitz (via Twitter))

Two footballers with a long-standing professional rivalry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, have been photographed by the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz in a campaign commissioned by Louis Vuitton, to mark the start of the FIFA World Cup   in Qatar.

In what will likely be their final world cup performance, the iconic duo has a mutual respect for one another, but this is the first time that they have been pictured together in this way, head-to-head in a fierce game of chess, held on top of a Louis Vuitton luxury briefcase, photographed in a dark setting. 

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Two of the world's most famous and leading legends of soccer have had their images captured in a recent photo shoot that went viral over the weekend, captured by one of the world's most famous photographers, Annie Leibovitz. The notable image features Manchester United player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Paris Saint-Germain player Lionel Messi in what appears to be an intense game of chess. 

Speculation among football fans has uncovered an amazing reference within the image, and through attention to detail of how the chess pieces are positioned between the players on the board, many are suggesting that it exactly repeats the famous chess match had between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura in 2017. 

This famous chess match resulted in an inevitable draw between two of the greatest players of the sport, fueling the fire that it reflects and parallels the equality between Ronaldo and Messi as two high-level phenomenal players, that have been pitted against one another for sixteen years in a never-ending debate within football to determine which player is considered to be the GOAT (greatest of all time). 

Leibovitz is said to have used the 100-Megapixel Fujifilm GFX 100S to capture this profound chess image, and while she's no stranger to this camera - having used it in another Vogue photoshoot (opens in new tab) where she captured a heavily pregnant Rhianna - this progression to a medium format mirrorless Fujifilm presumably as her new workhorse camera, is a great leap forward and certainly encouraging for those looking to embrace the new wave era of mirrorless cameras. 

What's most interesting about this image, however, is how Leibovitz actually created it. A behind-the-scenes video shared by Louis Vuitton on their social channels, but later deleted, shows that the image is in fact a composite, and the two players were never actually in the same room at all, as Leibovitz can be seen photographing both Messi and Ronaldo separately.

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The two footballers were supposedly asked to pose in their respective positions at different times and in different studios, before being composited together by Leibovitz during post-production. Messi is in the natural location that was selected for the final image, and Ronaldo was actually posing in front of a plain gray wall, to make it easier to fuse him into the original setting. 

Take a look at the deleted video that has been re-uploaded below:

As the world cup kicked off in Qatar this week, a few former players that include David Beckham have come under fire for supporting Qatar, in light of the country's policies and attitudes not only towards LGBTQ+ communities, but accusations of human trafficking, and poor wages for stadium workers.

Qatar has also made it clear that it does not welcome the media, as we recently reported that a Danish reporter was issued an apology after Qatari security officials threatened to smash and destroy the crew's camera if they did not stop recording, while broadcasting live to Denmark network channel, TV2.

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Both Ronaldo and Messi have played against one another countless times in the La Liga Spanish football league for many years, with Portuguese-born Ronaldo playing for Real Madrid, and Argentinian Messi representing Barcelona. Both players have also been record-breaking recipients of the French Balon d'Or award, with Messi having won seven times, and Ronaldo five. 

Ronaldo and Messi have shared the image to their own personal Instagram accounts, and Ronaldo also tweeted the image with the caption "Victory is a State of Mind. A long tradition of crafting trunks" with credit to Leibovitz as the photographer. 

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• You may also be interested in learning the dangers of AF: camera mistakes ref's bald head for a soccer ball, as well as how pro sports photographers prepare for the world cup (opens in new tab), and how Sports photographer Hamish Blair gets hands-on with the Canon EOS R3 (opens in new tab).

• Take a look at these rare archive images of World Cup and football legends (opens in new tab), as well as these fun photos of English soccer celebrations (opens in new tab), plus you may benefit from our guide to the best 150-600mm lenses (opens in new tab).

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Beth Nicholls
Staff Writer

A staff writer for Digital Camera World, Beth has an extensive background in various elements of technology with five years of experience working as a tester and sales assistant for CeX. After completing a degree in Music Journalism, followed by obtaining a Master's degree in Photography awarded by the University of Brighton, she spends her time outside of DCW as a freelance photographer specialising in live music events and band press shots under the alias 'bethshootsbands'.