Bob Martin is a multi award-winning sports photographer specialising in shooting sports and action pictures for advertising, corporate and editorial clients.
During a career spanning thirty years, Bob has photographed every major sporting event – from the last fifteen Summer and Winter Olympics, to Elephant Polo and Horse Racing on ice. He has photographed the Wimbledon tennis tournament since 1982 and his work has taken him to the farthest corners of the world. His photographs have been published in numerous publications including Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, Life Magazine, Stern, Paris Match, Bunte, L’Équipe, The Sunday Times and the New York Times to mention a few.
His work has been recognised by over 60 national and international awards and is a three-time winner of the coveted British Sports Photographer of the Year award.In 2015 he released his award-winning book, ‘1/1000th: The Sports Photography of Bob Martin’ – a stunning retrospective covering his thirty years of nearly every major sporting event.
We caught up with Bob recently to discuss photography and why he switched from a DSLR to Sony mirrorless cameras.
What inspired you to become a professional sports photographer?
I was always a sports fan, although I wasn’t set on being a sports photographer. My dream was just to be an ordinary photographer and at school I became completely obsessed with the darkroom. At college I was constantly taking pictures and then I gradually starting working as a photojournalist. I loved the travelling, and seeing my images appear in newspapers a few days later was exciting. I started getting occasional work offers from sports-related photo agencies, and that was the start of it.
How do you keep your photography fresh and exciting?
A good friend of mine in the US, Walter Iooss – perhaps the most famous sports photographer ever – said to me once, years ago, ‘You’ve got to keep re-inventing yourself or you’ll become a dinosaur’. I’ve never forgotten that and it’s so true, even today. As someone who loves newspapers, who loves printed images, it’s horrible to say this, but newspapers and magazines are a dying breed and the photographers still rooted in these ideals, who haven’t moved on, are the dinosaurs. I don’t want to dumb down my photography – I still want to push it as far as I can and the only way for me to keep my work fresh is to look outside the box. This is why I now work a lot with sports governing bodies and federations. They’re the ones who are still willing to spend budgets on quality photography, and what I do is to try and offer them something different to the run of the mill images you generally see.
Does your work with these governing bodies and federations mean you don’t get a chance to shoot as much as you’d like to?
I shoot less than I used to, especially as I’ve gotten older, but I still shoot a lot of big events such as The Olympics and Wimbledon. I still attend the smaller events but rather than being in the thick of it, I’m running the show, so to speak, and I organise teams of photographers instead. To be honest, I’m past the stage of wanting to sit behind a goal on a wet Saturday afternoon.
You also act as a consultant to the International Olympic Committee. What does that entail?
It can be as straightforward as suggesting best practices for organising photographers, or as detailed as advising on logo sizes and placement to ensure the best visibility in final images. At the Rio Olympics I helped pick the colours for various venues. For example, for the swimming events, they originally wanted to use green as a colour scheme until I pointed out that it wouldn’t look particularly good reflected in blue water!
Do you think camera technology has changed your approach to sports photography?
Without a doubt. When autofocus first came out, people were saying it’ll be the death of photography because anyone could take a sharp image, but for me it was brilliant because my eyesight wasn’t fantastic. Cameras are now so good at what they do that it’s made sports photography even better. Instead of having to worry whether a shot is in focus or not, I can now concentrate more on the composition, the background and the lighting. But it’s important to remember that even though modern cameras will do so much for you, you have to understand the basic principles of photography and understand when particular features will work for you. I’m not at all sentimental about the kit I use – if a camera works for me as a tool then I like it.
What made you decide to look at the Sony Alpha cameras for your work?
To be honest, the initial draw for me was the silent shooting. That was a feature that excited me, because it meant I could shoot in situations where I previously couldn’t – at the golf for example, when I’m close to the final putt on the 18th hole and the situation calls for a quiet approach. The first camera I tried was the α7R II and it allowed me to get shots I previously couldn’t. I must admit I wasn’t excited about the prospect of the EVF because I was so used a DSLR viewfinder, but it’s now something I couldn’t live without. It’s made a huge difference to my workflow, being able to preview the exposure before I’ve even pressed the shutter release. I’m now using the α9 for the vast majority of my shoots and it suits my style of working perfectly. As I mentioned before, I see my cameras as tools, and it just so happens that the α9 is a tool that works well for me.
"Sony α9 - silent, Eye AF and live viewfinder is a game changer for me!"