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Connected Photography: Interview with Ian Roman

by Mark Jardine 19 Jul 12:00 BST
The Audi MedCup Region of Murcia, Cartagena Trophy day 3 © Ian Roman / Audi MedCup

Ian Roman is one of the world's top sailing photographers and is known for always staying at the cutting edge of technology, linking his kit through tablets to the internet while out on the water to provide real-time, watermarked photos during events, and embracing the world of drone photography. I caught up with him during the International Paint Poole Regatta to find out more...

Mark Jardine: When did you first start sailing?

Ian Roman: I started sailing at the age of 15 when my family relocated from Sheffield to the East Coast. Before we moved I spent a lot of time in the Pennines; when we moved I was looking for new hobbies and my parents suggested sailing. I went down my local sailing club, the Walton and Frinton Yacht Club, and was introduced to a young lad who wanted a crew for his Mirror dinghy. These were the days when people used to wear the inflatable lifejackets. I clearly remember my first time out, on a screaming broad reach my helm turned to me and while blowing his life jacket up and said, "I don't normally capsize, but there's a good chance we will today!" and that was my introduction to sailing!

Mark: Was that racing or just for fun at that point?

Ian: Always racing, initially dinghies in a club handicap fleet. As I met more people I found there was an active offshore scene and I started sailing in the EAORA fleet (East Anglia Offshore Racing Association), competing in races such as the Buckley Goblets to Ostend, overnight races to Lowestoft.

When I went to college I met a group of guys that were sailing International 14s, at the time it was the only twin wire dinghy with an asymmetric kite - the boats were amazing. I went to Itchenor Sailing Club, and teamed up with Jonathan Pudney, we were fanatical, sailing all year round. We based ourselves at Itchenor in the summer and Queen Mary SC during the Winter though in reality we weren't at either location that often there as there was a very active open circuit. It was a great time – I loved it!

Mark: You then became involved in the photography side of sailing. Did you have a love of photography before you took it up professionally?

Ian: I suppose I've always had a love of photography, and while sailing I got to see a lot of cool stuff. The real catalyst for me was in 2003 when I went down to NZ to visit friends who were sailing GBR Challenge in the America's Cup. I was introduced to Thierry Martinez (a very talented French photographer) and ended up spending a lot of time with him. After my trip I went home and decided I needed to learn more about photography, so I signed up for an online course, which taught me how the camera worked and gave me a grounding in composition and general photographic techniques.

Armed with a camera and a whole bunch of ideas I went down to the Solent and photographed any fleet I could find. This was at the time when everything had just gone digital and I'd submit images to the online publications, such as YachtsandYachting.com, and they got published and this encouraged me to get out more and improve my skills.

Mark: As you mentioned, this was the dawn of the digital photography era. Technology has moved on relentlessly during the last fifteen years; how do you keep up?

Ian: There's a lot of information online if you are willing to look for it, there are so many forums that offer an incredible amount of knowledge.

The media centre is another great place to find out what's new and share ideas - a bit like Andy Warhol's Factory (without the drugs!).

Mark: It's obvious looking at your photos and watching you work, that the aspects you find important are the light and making sure that a photo sets the scene of the event. Is that what you've learnt from other photographers, or a technique and style you've developed yourself?

Ian: There was a moment, about ten years ago, when I was working for the Audi Medcup (which has now become the 52 SUPER SERIES). The Event Director wanted a meeting. I was excited - in my mind he wanted to congratulate me on the great work I was doing! However, when we met he sat down, looked me in the eye and said, "Ian... boats. We have too many pictures of boats!" and it was the seminal moment when I realised photographing yacht racing is not all about boats!

As an example, a photo of a boat sailing with a blank horizon could be anywhere in the world and tells the viewer very little, but as soon as you put the boat in context of the event, give it a background then the image starts to be relevant to the regatta and the venue. Now, whenever I compose a shot, I try to show more than just a boat.

Mark: Photography equipment and the sea don't mix, and technology doesn't like salt water. Every sailing photographer has a story of kit they've lost, broken or had near misses with. What's the worst thing that has happened to your photography gear?

Ian: Where do I start? I've had a few mishaps! In Sardinia we were chasing Team New Zealand after they'd won the Audi Medcup and I was on the front of a RIB standing up (when I should have been sitting down). We hit a wake, the boat swerved one way and I the other, the next thing I know I'm doing doggy paddle trying (but failing miserably) to hold my camera out of the water!

On another occasion during the Olympics in Weymouth I was in a RIB with my gear neatly stowed in a Peli case - there was a lot going on and I'd forgotten to shut the lid – and the RIB driver was all over the place. As I looked down I noticed the entire back of the boat was full of water and my case was floating in around a foot of water. That was a lucky moment as nothing got damaged, but it was a bit of a wake-up call!

I hesitate to say I've learnt my lesson because I'm sure I will lose more cameras and drown more drones in the future!

You're right – cameras and sea don't mix.

Mark: Probably the biggest change technologically, and from the point of view of professional photography, is getting photos out to the internet as quickly as possible. How have you embraced the immediacy and getting photos to social media channels fast?

Ian: A lot of it is out of necessity. When you're working at an event, you're very proud of the work you're producing, but if you don't have the technology to get it back to base quickly – almost instantly now – then people will use whatever content they've got to hand, and in the early days that was iPhone photos! Images with tiny boats and skewed horizons, they were horrible shots, but they were all they had.

Faced with the reality that I was being replaced by iPhone photographers I had to find a solution. Fortunately, I did and now, and as you say in your introduction, I'm shooting, editing and posting pretty much in real time, so now there's no excuse to not using my images.

Mark: Another area you've embraced and are fully licenced for is drone photography. What challenges and opportunities does this present to you?

Ian: When you're on a RIB you have one position to shoot from, and if you want to see things from another angle the RIB needs to be moved (and that can take quite a while). A drone can be moved quickly around the race track and you have the vertical axis to play with. In the old days you needed a helicopter at around £1000 an hour, now you can throw your drone in the air, take a picture and have it posted online in less time than it would take to strap yourself into a chopper!

You ask about the challenges: I'd say landing! Taking off is relatively easy, getting it back on the boat is much harder! But let's put this into perspective, what I'm doing is quite easy, look at what they were doing in Southern Ocean on the Volvo 65s - that was impressive!

Mark: You've worked with the Volvo Ocean Race, the America's Cup, the TP52 circuit as well as for smaller scale events. What advice would you give to event organisers before an event to make sure they get the most from your services?

Ian: My advice would be to involve the media team from the early stages of an event and get an understanding of what they can offer. Writers can highlight sponsors in their articles; Photographers and videographers can produce sponsor-specific content featuring logos and products. This information should be in the initial presentation to sponsors and is one facet of what the event can offer.

There are some events that see media as an overhead and do everything to reduce costs. This is a false economy; sponsors want to be associated with excellence. Badly written articles, substandard photos and videos will make your event look second rate, and given the choice I don't think there is a sponsor in the world that wants to be associated with second rate.

Mark: Many thanks for your time and insight. In the words of Extreme Sailing Series Racing Director Craig Mitchell, "I'm a great fan of your work!"

Ian: Thanks Mark, you're too kind.

Find out more about Ian's work at www.ianroman.com

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