“The French Open has amazing positions for photographers and this shot of Serena Williams was taken from one near where the television commentators are stationed. The clay looks simply wonderful.” Photo by Bob Martin

How’d You Get That Picture? Bob Martin’s Glorious Sports Photography

5 min readApr 8, 2016

Bob Martin is an award-winning sports photographer who’s shot every major sporting event on the planet, from the last 13 Summer and Winter Olympics to elephant polo and horse racing on ice. His photographs have been published in Sports Illustrated, Time, Life Magazine and The New York Times, among many other places, and he’s received more than 60 prestigious awards, including British Sports Photographer of the Year (three times!) and the World Press Photo Sports Picture of the Year. Now he’s a consultant for the International Olympic Committee and the Rio 2016 Olympics, and the author of 1/1000th: The Sports Photography of Bob Martin. Here’s a look at his stunning work and the story of one particularly great photo.

I have covered every Olympic Games since 1984, which means I have shot 15 games in freezing blizzards and oppressive heat. There is nothing like the Olympics and they provide the opportunity to make pictures that are so completely different from what most sports photographers do on a weekly basis. There are enough different events in the track and field alone to produce a book. There is no safety net during the 15 days; no chance to redo a picture, no chance to find the “right” position after it’s over, no chance to reshoot in the right light if you are stuck with an overcast day or a terrible background.

My approach to the Olympics has evolved over the years. I started out on the finish line making wire service pictures for Allsport. When I then moved to Sports Illustrated in 1994, I made an effort to leave pack photojournalism behind. I went to the more unusual Olympic events like equestrian and road cycling where I could try to find and show a sense of place in my pictures. Rather than sit at the finish line, I chased the light at the track and would set up all alone on the third turn where I might get lucky and hopefully a American may drop their baton in the relay! I went to the “up” positions and the high-risk, high-reward places where few photographers roamed. I concentrated on the tears and cheers aspect of the athletes. I wanted to make iconic, signature pictures that would be used as double trucks in magazines.

This picture was shot during the 2013 World Swimming Championships in Barcelona and is one of my favorites in the book I’ve just completed, 1/1000th, produced by Vision Sports publishing. It is of the Russian synchronized swimming team that won the gold medal in the team final.

Synchronized swimming can often make good pictures, especially when outside in the sunshine. However, in Barcelona this time it was indoors…I presumed I was doomed and was struggling to find an interesting idea or way to shoot. Luckily, I noticed during qualification heats, the TV crews turned on their interview lights at the side of the pool for the last few competitors. I found one angle where the TV lights backlit the swimmers against a rather good, dark backdrop. I managed, for once, to avoid the advertisements all around the pool. However, it necessitated lying on my oversized belly in the corner of the pool in an unfortunately damp position.

As the competition came to a climax yet more of the TV crews put on their interview lights which further accentuated the backlighting which was a good thing at least for me! The favorites, the Russians, were going last. They were in a class apart from the rest so it all came together and their performance produced this one incredible frame.

Photo by Bob Martin

Camera Details:

Camera: Nikon D4

Lens: Nikon 300mm

ISO: 3200

Shutter Speed: 1/1600th of a second

Aperture: f2.8

“Pictorally, this is one of the best events I have ever photographed. At one point the competitors had to swim under an obstacle made of logs, and as soon as they came up they would shake their heads to get rid of the mud and water from their faces. I got hundreds of great shots but this one is the best.” Photo by Bob Martin
“I shot this from one of the lighting pods in the roof of the stadium at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Monaco. I’d watched the shadows the day before and knew exactly where I had to be to get the shot. The hard part was the negotiation to get up there.” Photo by Bob Martin
“This picture from the 2004 Paralympics in Athens of Xavi Torres has won more awards than any other photo I have taken, including the highly prestigious World Press Photo of the Year. I was shooting the 200m freestyle heats from the catwalk above the water, where the floodlights are fixed, but when the competitors came out for this particular heat there was this one guy in a tracksuit who didn’t have any noticeable disability. Then I saw him start to take his large prosthetic legs off and put them next to his chair and I realised it would make a great picture. But I was half a pool length away so I had to rush over there as quick as I could along all these narrow, rickety catwalks. I didn’t quite make it in time for the start, but luckily for me there was a false start so they had to get out and line up again, which is when I got the shot. The picture had a huge impact all over the world and was widely considered to be the best sports picture of the year.” Photo by Bob Martin
“I noticed that whenever Usain Bolt was going for a record, as he crossed the line he would look straight at the timing clock. So I started sitting down right next to it. This is when he broke the world record in the 200m final in Beijing and it appears that he’s looking directly at me. In fact, every time he broke a world record I was always the first person he saw!” Photo by Bob Martin
“I never used to take pics of hurdle races until I realised just how much debris is thrown into the air when the horses jump. This shot — taken by a remote camera in 2011 in Cheltenham — is a real ‘in the heart of it’ picture which I am very proud of. It won ‘Sports Picture of the Year’ in America.” Photo by Bob Martin

Bob can be found at bobmartin.com and on Instagram at bubblesontour.

Courtesy of Bob Martin

This excerpt has been republished from The Shot, Flipboard’s Photography Magazine and hub, and reprinted with permission from the photographer. The Shot also includes:

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