Behind the Scenes, May 2020
Published on May 11th, 2020
Head-on, powerful, commanding: Gilles Martin-Raget’s image in the 2020 Ultimate Sailing Calendar charges full-steam-ahead into the month of May! I’m delighted that this dynamic shot of the Maxi 72 Sorcha at Les Voiles de St. Barth Richard Mille gives me an opportunity to spotlight my esteemed colleague Gilles.
Gilles is from the cultured town of Arles, in the south of France; 20 minutes from the electric blue waters of the Mediterranean. But it wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he ‘discovered the sea’ and started sailing, and then progressed into yacht racing.
While racing onboard, Gilles started using his photographic talents to document the sport – a knack that benefits him today, as he understands just when and where to position himself for spectacular shots. This talent and perspective have served him well, in a career as yachting photog which has extended more than three decades.
Despite all these years, Gilles never tires of pursuing the perfect shot. He explains, “You don’t take exceptional images that often; maybe one a year – two or three if you’re really fortunate – and for that, you need the perfect combination of weather, action, and positioning, plus a fair amount of luck! So it’s a matter of trying to maximize the opportunities.”
Something most people don’t consider is that even as a professional photographer, you’re not out on the water shooting that often!
“Maybe five percent of the time you actually have a camera in your hands, trying to do your best. The rest of the time is managing the office and staff, traveling, preparation, maintaining your photo bank, trying to keep customers happy and find new ones, etc..
“When I started, you were the photographer but had a lab to process your images and an agency to distribute them. Now you do all of those jobs yourself, plus more, which takes a fair amount of time.”
But he’s not complaining! “I love the sea, I love to be at sea, I love being surrounded by nature, the wind, waves, and sky. I love nice boats, preferably big ones, and have been racing my fair share, so love the exciting action on the water too.”
In fact, some of Gilles’ vast racing experience includes crewing for two America’s Cup Challengers, but as much as he relishes the competition, Gilles says he enjoys the post-race camaraderie too. “I love the ambiance at the docks: sailboat racing has been my life for 35 years and I still love it.” But his passion isn’t limited to sailing as he adds, “I love the whole maritime world.”
Capturing these shots for the 2020 Ultimate Sailing Calendar was “like a dream,” he continues. “When you pack your bags to go to St Barth you know you will have all the best ingredients: big boats, big waves, and a lot of sun. And the tradewinds: one of the best things on earth! The temperature is mild but the people are warm, and everybody is happy to be there and having fun.”
It’s the ideal blend of serious racing with a friendly atmosphere ashore, but another great aspect about regattas in St Barth is that they use primarily natural features as marks, Gilles explains. The starting line is typically in front of Gustavia harbor on the leeward side of the island, then the first mark is on the windward side – using many of the rocky islets and promontories as waypoints and marks.
“To round the island the fleet beats close to the shore in shallow waters, which amplifies the waves. You cannot motor alongside and shoot, especially the big maxis: you can’t keep up! But if you hurry ahead and find the layline, you can position your boat on their course, so they come right at you. Then you wait for the right set of waves and hopefully it works.”
Gilles promised us he didn’t put himself in any danger, to capture this shot! He says, “Technically it’s better to use a long lens so you don’t have to be too close to the boats, and then you have more time to line them up. I generally use a 600mm handheld camera. A bit physical, but the outcome is very spectacular.”
Spectacular… I agree!
Gilles lives outside Marseille with his wife Maguelonne Turcat, a journalist and publicist; they have three sons.
As with so many others, Gilles reports his work has come to a “complete halt. But in one way, it has removed a lot of stress. Business? Gone! Let’s concentrate on other things for a while.” He describes himself as an optimist, adding, “I’m very fortunate to be with my wife right now at a family property we’ve had for eight generations, with a five-acre garden. So I haven’t really been too confined.”
Or bored! “First I had 130 olive trees to prune, then the garden to take care of: a huge job this time of the year. And I took the opportunity to do some nature photography during spring in detail, something I’ve never had the opportunity to do, as spring is usually the beginning of the sailing season. Also, I’ve tried to capture birds, insects, and bees (all very difficult!) flowers, and plants; and try to improve my video editing skills, which is not my usual cup of tea.”
But he is looking forward to getting back on the water, and hoping the events canceled in March and April will be postponed ‘til September, and not abandoned entirely. We do too, as we can’t wait to see more of Gilles’ fantastic talents and work!