Sven Martin – Photographer Focus
DW: Who is Sven Martin?
SVEN: A South African Mountain bike rider and photographer soon to be American living in Oregon but moving soon to Santa Cruz, Australia or New Zealand. Bikes, sun, mountains, forests and beaches all rate high in our (my wife Anka) lives.
DW: What first inspired you to pick up the camera and start shooting?
SVEN: When I was a kid, as a family we used to go travelling and camping a lot on school holidays, we would go to game reserves and other wild spots in Southern Africa, my dad was a pro photographer on the side so I used one of his spare bodies and lenses. His was all hi tech (for a 10 yr old) manual Canon gear, so I learnt the basics the good old-fashioned way. Then later my brother got me into skate photography. Which is what made a living from when I moved to the USA in 1998. I was skating and shooting professionally. I was living in Southern California which is the centre of the skateboard industry. As went in and out of skate injuries, my wife Anka got me into DH and as my passion shifted form skateboarding to mountain bikes so did my lens.
DW: Aside from the obvious advantages of digital cameras when it comes to getting photos to the press from a muddy field in the middle of the Alps, would you rather be shooting with film or in digital?
SVEN: I have had my camera serviced and cleaned by Canon a bunch in 2008. Every World Cup had rain at some point. Canon told me my months old camera was the dirtiest (mud, dust and moisture internally) camera they had ever serviced. But with the demands and deadlines from clients and magazines, digital is the way to go. What you save on film processing though you spend on equipment and computers and drives. Not to mention all the extra time you have to spend behind a computer these days too. That job used to be done by someone else in the past. So there is a bigger workload now and you provide extra value and service, but some people still expect to pay less?
DW: You take photographs of cycling for cash, what do you enjoy taking photographs of in your spare time, is there any other type of photography that helps pay the bills?
SVEN: Mostly cycling photography pays the bills right now. I have in the past also shot snow and surf stuff for work and still do skateboarding from time to time, but cycling is so diverse it keeps me busy year round for the most part. There is a lot more to shoot than just DH race stuff and Iv’e been shooting it all. I like the travel aspect to it, especially when you get to shoot new in new and exotic locations. In my spare time (not much of that) I like to pack my G-10 point and shoot on long XC/trail rides just in case an interesting shot or crazy lighting spontaneously presents itself. Having a good quality point and shoot makes it worthwhile with minimal hassle.
DW: How much time do you get behind the bars (of a bike) instead of behind the lens. these days?
SVEN: My new years resolution is more in ’09. I get to ride a bit in the off season, xc stuff and some local DH shuttles. But as a DH racer I get very little chance now, because during the season I’m super busy and travelling with a DH bike in addition to camera gear in Europe is tough, you cant share rides because of luggage and renting a van by yourself gets expensive especially when it will be parked for 5 days while you work. There are a few gaps in the season though and when they are not taken by press camps or editorial trips you get a chance to ride. Sometimes you can do both, like at the Mega Avalanche last year I worked and raced, that was fun, although practising on the glacier near 80km/h with a 30lb camera pack on a trail bike is scary.
DW: You are in the lucky position where you have been on both sides of the tapes at races around the World, now when you get off the hill at the end of the day and download some great photos of some of the best riders in the World do you ever wish you were back in front of the lens rather than behind it?
SVEN: I was never really in front of anyone’s lens, maybe in the way of someone’s lens. When I started late in the game, (28) I never thought I would race pro, but I became fully hooked and soon accomplished a lot of goals I had set. I qualified and raced in the final of every world cup I entered, I represented my country a few times at the world champs and ran an international pro race team. All while juggling photos and team manager duties. So now its good to just focus on one thing instead of being mediocre on a lot of things. I have met many people along the way and have made many lifelong friends in this little family, it’s been a great ride. I will still do some races just can’t do world cups anymore, maybe masters worlds one day.
DW: What would be your top tips to an enthusiastic snap happy guy or girl who would like to take their first steps towards taking great action shots?
SVEN: Shoot away. Experiment with the basics; exposure, composition etc. Shoot your local scene, you will learn a lot and hopefully have a lot of fun along the way. When you start shooting bigger events and pro-riders the same basics apply. Just remember the riders safety and line is more important than any shot you try get. Get creative; try set yourself apart from the crowds of photographers out there. Eventually when you want to get serious invest a little in good lenses. Your bodies will always be replaceable as your financial situation allows and upgrades become available, but good lenses you will keep forever. Be strict on your editing, don’t dilute your images by constantly spraying the web, and most importantly never ever give away shots for free, you will only be selling yourself and others short in the long run. Find a mentor, there are always people willing to help and give constructive criticism and advice. I remember as a kid in South Africa getting hand written notes back from Grant Brittan (one of the best skate board photographers and editors ever) giving advice on slides I submitted to Transworld Magazine, that kept me motivated that one day I could get a shot run in the magazine, which brings me to my last bit of advice, don’t be afraid to submit your best shots to your favourite magazine. Good luck.
DW: Before we get on to looking at some snaps, is there anyone you would like to thank for their help along the way?
SVEN: Lots of people, my wife for getting me into Mountain bikes in the first place, then all riders who have made it possible to make a career out of doing something I love. For all those pushing back up the hills, and “just one more’s” and all the raw emotion they put into their racing, thanks. For all the legends for their inspiration, Fearon, Dawson, Gibson, Sterling. And then thanks for those people who have helped out along the way, while we all are going after the same fish we have become great friends along the way. Spomer, Flipper, Victor, Damian and Colin and the rest of the MBPHC.