The career of SailGP’s chief photographer Bob Martin spans 30 years, during which he has photographed almost every major sporting event in the world, including the Olympic Games, Wimbledon, Formula 1, and The Masters. Impressed by his stellar track record, SailGP recruited Martin at the very beginning of Season 1 in February 2019, and since then he has lead the league’s photography operation at every event.
Ahead of SailGP’s first event in the Middle East, Martin explains how he applies his background as a multi-award winning sports photographer to the race track of SailGP and how his team rallies against the confines of traditional sailing photography to push SailGP into the mainstream news cycle.
So how does Martin make the world take notice of the fastest fleet on water? For him, it’s simple. “My job is to take SailGP out of the sports pages and get it into the news pages,” he says. Key to this is ensuring a ‘sense of place’ throughout SailGP’s photography, with the iconic city backdrops of the league’s circuit captured throughout. “Our photographs clearly have to be shot in Chicago or Saint-Tropez or Cádiz,” he says, “I work at getting those backgrounds relative to the boats and shooting at unusual angles.”
This, he says, is one of the key ways SailGP’s photography portfolio differs from ‘traditional sailing photography’. “We try and get something more dynamic than just a boat flashing through the water with surf coming up”. Equally important is capturing the ‘participation of the crowd’ alongside the ‘foiling F50s’. “We’re always looking for something bigger because we want the pictures to be used in the news pages,” he says, “yes, they’re sports pictures but equally they’re the best pictures of the world and getting SailGP into that sort of media really helps build the brand.”
Key to this is Martin’s special formula of photographers, which involves mixing ‘sailing specialists’, such as Ricardo Pinto and Felix Diemer, with ‘hardcore sports photographers’ such as Jon Buckle or Simon Bruty. The latter are used to ‘sitting on the touchline at Arsenal’ and ‘photographing Usain Bolt winning at the Olympics’, Martin says, and they ‘bring a different look and feel to the photography’. The sailing specialists meanwhile ‘really understand the intricacies of the racing and take pictures we don’t think about,’ he says. “We bring both types of pictures to the table and the team works very well together.”
While a typical SailGP event takes place across a weekend, the photography operation begins much earlier. Martin will take between 7-10 photographers to each event, depending on commercial demands, with some photographers arriving on location as much as 11 days ahead of racing. Despite the F50 fleet not yet being in the water at this point, there’s a big photography to-do list, which includes shooting portraits of new athletes, and capturing content for SailGP’s social media channels, such as the tech site build and SailGP advertising throughout the city. The core photography crew will then arrive the day before the boats start sailing. When racing days dawn however, Martin splits up his team.
Four photographers - including Martin - capture the racing action; three from the water and one from the broadcast helicopter, with Martin himself positioned on a RIB. The rest cover commercial obligations, while another heads into the crowd to ‘photograph the racing from the spectators’ view’. Every day begins with a photography meeting during which Martin explains the storylines of the event. “Each day has a slightly different twist to it, so we have a meeting in the morning to position the photographers,” he explains.
Storylines influence the attention of the cameras and have recently included Nathan Outteridge helming the Swiss F50 for the first time and the Princess of Wales Kate Middleton visiting the British team at their home event. Photographers will also be briefed to capture ‘new sponsor logos’ on the F50s or up to date boat imagery. “We have to take account of all the changes to make sure SailGP’s pictures are completely up to date.” Across both racing days, the photographers ‘work far more as a team than traditional sailing photographers,’ Martin says. “We’re very strict - we’re a team, we work together and we deliver.”
Once the photos have been taken however, the second stage of the operation begins. The time sensitive nature of the racing and impatience of the world’s news desks means quick distribution is essential. This is done with the help of transmitters, which connect to the cameras. These transmitters utilise 4G or 5G to send the pictures back to Martin’s UK office, where he stations a team of editors. These editors are charged with toning, cropping and captioning the images before distributing them. “The editors prioritise the best and most newsworthy pictures and move them to the front of the queue,” Martin explains.
They’ll then be posted to SailGP’s internal photography hub and sent out to news desks around the world, from BBC News to the Associated Press. The editors will also target specialist sailing press and local media in each location, such as USA Today for an event in America or the City Morning Herald for an event in Australia. “It’s not just about getting them out to the big organisations,” Martin says, “it’s about scatter-gunning them to as many places as possible to maximise the chance of a SailGP picture being used - it’s more extensive than most people realise”.
Despite the scale of the photography operation, Martin stresses the simplicity of his winning formula. “We very carefully pick the photo team by mixing sailing specialists with hardcore sports photographers and we’re clever in our bespoke approach to distribution - that’s the reason we’re good at this.”
Fans can own a piece of the SailGP's award-winning photography themselves with SailGP: Racing on the Edge - the league's official photography book for Season 2. The book, which is now for sale, curates the very best of SailGP's world class photography from the second season, as the world's best sailors race in the some of the most iconic locations around the world.