We’re coming at you from San Francisco Bay this month, through the lens of Peter Lyons. What a thrill to focus on another of my talented colleagues and his exciting images featured on the June pages of the 2020 Ultimate Sailing Calendar. Before becoming a full-time photographer, Peter admits he had pursued “a more responsible” career – despite a passion for photography since his teens. Eventually, he returned to his first love, saying, “As cliché as it may sound, you work a lot harder doing work you love. In the case of photography, I feel very fortunate to have a career so innately pleasurable to me: the freezing of an instant, or the manipulating of a scene through careful use of angle, color, light, composition, and staging, or pose and expression.”
“One of the things I love most about being a photographer is the diversity of it,” Peter adds. “One day I’ll be shooting interiors with an award-winning interior designer and architect team; the next day I’ll be on San Francisco Bay covering the Rolex Big Boat Series.”
And San Francisco Bay is where we meet up with Peter here, where he captured these daring shots during the SailGP race series.
In the feature shot, five foiling F50 catamarans are charging at us at warp speed! “We were opposite the start line,” Peter explains when the race began. “They start on a beam reach, and during this first leg across the racecourse they’re packed together, in a tight fleet.”
SailGP calls the F50 “the fastest race boat in the world” – claiming speeds over 50 knots!
“They close the distance real quickly!” Peter notes. “But they were actually going to hit their layline and turn before they got to our photo boat: they are further away than it looks here,” he laughs: but close enough for excitement.
“The opportunity to shoot can be so brief! You can’t chase them around the course; you have to plan your shots around where they’re coming from and where they’re going and be there before them. Then, you’ll be focused on one boat and all of a sudden hear the “whhhhzzzz!” of the foils of another boat coming at you (from a different angle) and you miss that shot. It happens that fast.”
Peter was shooting aboard a 35-foot Protector provided by St Francis Yacht Club. “We had very skilled drivers, some professional captains even, who know a lot about sailboat racing and how to work with photographers and put you in position. You don’t have to watch and worry about the race boats, because the drivers are professional; so you can feel safe and concentrate on shooting.”
Despite their skill and the agility of the photo boats, he says, “you can’t keep up with these things and you can’t get that close.” Photo and spectator boat aren’t actually allowed on the course, he explains; race organizers enforce a wide safety perimeter.
For that reason, Peter used exclusively his 100-400mm zoom lens for this shoot; all Canon equipment.
It was more than just the F50s that created an aura of excitement, though, Peter adds. Although the action took center stage, there were helicopters, drones, and a crowd of photo and support boats on the water. Ashore, a huge race village held large grandstands for onlookers, with commentary, large screens, vendors, and so on. With the competition visible from shore, it brought sailboat racing into the realm of a spectator sport.
“This was an incredibly well run and very impressive event. An elite event, with elite sailors and super competition,” Peter says. “It was really colorful and exciting and created a real buzz: a real thrill for me to be involved in!”
On more of a day-to-day basis, Peter emphasizes architectural and real estate photography, but he admits sailing and maritime photography is “the icing on the cake.”
“I really, really love getting out on the water, and the diversity of shooting a variety of things. It keeps it interesting.” And living in the Bay area – with his wife and “a mixed collection of eight mostly grown kids” – he has plenty of opportunities to capture an incredible variety of subject matter. “I love living in a beautiful place that lets me enjoy the ocean, bay, and mountains, plus the city and wine country.”
Peter enthusiastically noted this is his first entry in the Ultimate Sailing Calendar, something I am equally delighted with!
“I’m totally thrilled to be in the calendar and among such premier artists,” Peter says. “How cool to be in the company of the best photographers in the world!”
And I couldn’t agree more! Thanks, Peter for your contribution and welcome to the Ultimate Sailing Calendar! I hope to see more of your excellent images here in the future!
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