Welcome Mountain Bikers, we’re stoked to start a new monthly feature with our best photo friend and trackside heckler, Sven Martin. A week ago, using Instagram, we challenged you to #AskSvenAnything. Sven has chosen a good handful of questions out of the many that came in and dives deep into the answers. Whether he’s giving a masterclass in his photographic process or trolling Rachel Atherton to race enduro, the insight and experience in his answers are priceless.
Sven personally chose photos that correspond to some of the answers here…some classic photos that many of you may have never seen before. You can see the photos along with his answers below.
A big thanks to Santa Cruz Bicycles for getting behind this fun feature and thank you to everyone who participated in the first round of questions. Stay tuned to @VitalMTB on Instagram for round 2 in early January.
Follow Sven on Instagram - @svenmartinphoto
You can listen to the individual answers as you cruise through the photos or hear them all at once in our podcast player at the end of this page.
@alan_butler1997 - Who's the coolest person you shot on camera?
Everyone is cool in their own certain way, but the skateboarders I shot at the beginning of my career were cooler than a lot of the mountain bikers (laughs), no, I'm just kidding...
@ammusmies1 - 5 most important apps/computer essentials? 5 most important travel essentials? 5 most important photo essentials out of actual gear.
You don't have to have the top-of-the-line of anything to take good photos, but it always helps when shooting a high quantity of photos. Decent computer with solid-state drive, enough storage space and back-up harddrives. I've moved up to a RAID system to store 10 years of photos, accessible from anywhere in the world. Everything is about time when dealing with 2-3000 photos per day at an event. Fast cards and readers are important. Photo Mechanic and Photoshop are apps of choice for speed and cataloging photos. They are faster than Lightroom. A good data plan for phone is essential to create wifi hotspots in remote places. Shimoda packs carry all the gear, TripIt travel planning app and Jack Warshaw with All-Ways Travel as an agent.
Canon 1Dx Mk3 is most used body with 70-200mm lens at World Cups because of weather resistance. 24-70mm lens used often at EWS races and 15mm fisheye, too. 300mm f2.8 comes out on race day along with remote triggers.
@by_Denzil - What is your process for turning around photos for clients and slideshows at a World Cup?
Shooting on track from 8am to 6pm at night, try to get some interviews in there along the way, capturing 2000-3000 photos. Get back from the track, try to get food and start the photo ingesting process. While that happens, maybe get a shower. Break down the 3000 down to about 1000 then a second cut to about 300 photos that are needed (for clients) and wanted (for slideshows). Edit, process and send to clients. Around 1am, Boris, Dan and I start arranging and captioning slideshow photos, using a pseudo-democratic process to choose photos which may or may not be involve plenty of arguing...
@davidackland - Have you ever had to shoot on film? What were the pre-digital days like?
Everything I shot pre-2004 was on film and I'm thankful to have learned about lighting, composition and image processing without the ability to see the photograph immediately. Over the years, everything has changed and is changing, but you adapt to those changes and use them to your advantage.
@fcactionfoto - What is your favorite bike discipline to shoot?
In the early days it was downhill, but shooting races like Cape Epic and the pressure of a slopestyle event or XC race is fun and challenging with a single chance to capture action. Being involved with a photoshoot is as enjoyable as event photography, where I'm capturing five controlled images in a day - shooting where I want and when I want, compared to 2000 photos a day at a race. I always find myself coming back to downhill, though.
@jimmy_james_hughes - Do you prefer racing World Cups or shooting them?
2007 World Champs in Fort William was my last Elite downhill race, but I only started riding when I was 28. When racing, I had only ridden for about two years and was still learning to actually ride the bike. I had never developed any racecraft and was riding on excitement. Over the years I've learned a lot watching racers. While I still get to do the occasoinal race now and then, I prefer shooting World Cups but would wish I had learned how to race at an earlier age.
@valihoell - Are you still mad that I’ve my own personal lifestyle photographer at the races now?
That's a funny one. Vali, I was never mad, I was just jealous. This year has been a crazy one and since media wasn't allowed to be around the racers, I missed having the photos of the tech, the people and the culture that I normally shoot at races. Luckily, you had Angie, who is a very talented photographer and friend to get those shots. It's great to watch another racer with such a good eye progress.
@raisa_da_ruppe - How many fisheyes lenses do you actually break in a year?
The first 15mm 2.8 Canon fisheye that I got in 1998 lasted for well over ten years, even with shooting skateboarding. Since then, I've had maybe 10 or 15 of them since, going through 5 or 6 last two years. Canon no longer services that lens, so minor issues can't be repaired and I just have to buy a new one off eBay. Using remote cameras with it means I can't get the camera out of the way of a crashing rider and shrapnel from roost has dinged the glass beyond use.
@rachybox - Could Sven win the Women's World Cup DH?
I did get Top 30 at World Cups and lately the women's times have not been Top 30, so I would say maybe in the early days of racing downhill I could have beaten Rachel, but seeing what the women are doing now in EWS and Downhill, I would say there is no way I could beat them today. The differences between men's and women's racing both visibly and in times just seems to get less each year. It's a testament to the professionalism of the sport, the work ethic and the talent and skill of the women racing. Going back to you, Rachel, I want to throw the challenge out...when are you going to enter an Enduro World Series? I've ridden trail bikes with her a lot, have crashed a lot in front of her because I'm trying to stay in front of her and that's probably why she's asking this question. But I've seen her ride Ride Don't Slide, completely blind on a trail bike, hitting everything at speed with natural set-ups. Just what she does on a bike, naturally, from all her years riding downhill, I could tell that she could win an Enduro World Series if she put her mind to it.
Stay tuned in early January when we give you the chance to ask Sven more questions for episode #2.