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Interviews

Kos Evans captures the drama and excitement of sailing

© Kos/Kos Picture Source

February 2013

Celebrating 30 years as a professional sailing and marine photographer, Koren ‘Kos’ Evans is allowing herself the merest of nostalgic glances back at her life with a new book entitled ‘Walking on Water’. CPN Editor David Corfield examines a career that’s taken her around the world and back again – with dramatic results…

Kos Evans never intended to go anywhere near the water. As a girl, her love was horses but it was through her father’s camera that she discovered her passion for photography. “He lent me a camera on holiday when I was about five,” she recalls. “I started taking snaps, but they weren’t normal snaps; they were a little bit different. I’d be shooting silhouetted sewage pipes and strange scenery, with the family in the pictures being very minimal. I think I always had an eye for the unusual…”

It was thanks to a horse-riding friend, who at the time was a PR girl for a powerboat company, that Kos Evans first started shooting boats. “She invited me to come to some powerboat and water-ski races and said that if the teams liked any of my shots they would buy them from me,” Evans recalls.

© Kos/Kos Picture Source

When the Italians launch a yacht, they do it in style. Kos Evans was commissioned by boat owner Raul Gardini to photograph ‘Il Moro di Venezia’ as it set sail from Venice. Gardini hired every single gondola, paid flights and accommodation for 1,500 journalists from around the world to attend – and even commissioned the late filmmaker Federico Fellini to make a movie about it. Taken on a Canon EOS-1 film SLR with an EF35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L USM lens at 350mm; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/5.6, ISO 100 Fujichrome.

“I started getting pictures published while I was at school and it gave me a focus to make a proper go of it,” she remembers. “But I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of technique and camera craft. I didn’t have a motordrive or anything like that, so it was a good education, as I had to wait for the perfect moment. Those early days were so important for me and helped pave the way for what I do now.”

When decisions had to be made on what to do after leaving school, Kos Evans opted to study photography formally and was accepted into the London College of Printing. “I studied photography, film and television for three years, gaining a degree,” she reveals. “But the best thing was that I got to play with all sorts of pieces of equipment. I got really stuck in, processing film by hand and learning how to make a perfect black & white print. It was a fantastic experience.”

One of the tutors on the course was former Picture Editor of The Observer newspaper, Gary Woodhouse. “I told him I wanted to be a sports photographer,” Evans laughs. “This was a bit of a thorn in the side for the rest of my year because they were all doing fashion and advertising. But Gary kindly took me under his wing and I sat at the picture desk at every opportunity. He got me press passes for various events, which was really exciting. I was lucky enough to be there when photographer Eamonn McCabe was working for them, too. Eamonn was such a big inspiration. He looked at sport in a very different way and I think a lot of that rubbed off on me.”

Making waves

The big break for Evans came at the London Boat Show in 1981. “I had a background in marine because my parents owned boats, so I naturally gravitated towards the show to earn a bit of extra money and helped on the Blue Bird Marine stand handing out brochures,” she remembers. “There was one particular day when a bit of banter was going on between the stand I was working on and the Yamaha team next door. The guys from Yamaha had a bet on who would be able to climb to the button on the very top of the 90ft tall ships mast to get a shot of the show. Of course, I did it. And I got the shot. The scariest part was getting back down, as I’m only 5 foot 2 and not tall enough to reach the first foot hold down! The Daily Express ran the picture full page with an inset shot of me. I didn’t think I was competitive, but clearly I was…”

© Kos/Kos Picture Source

A unique piece of work, entitled ‘Triple Blue Water’ featuring an oil painting by the artist Pippa Blake combined with an image by Kos Evans.

It was her determination to get the impossible that people remembered and soon after the boat show the work started to come in. “Within a few months I was getting jobs,” she remembers. “One of the many memorable moments at that time in my life was being asked to photograph a man drowning for a book cover. I used my then boyfriend and hired a swimming pool…”

Inventiveness and problem solving are the hallmarks of any skilled photographer and Evans quickly learned to tackle any challenge with determination and good humour. “In 1982 I was sent to photograph the America’s Cup for a magazine,” she recalls. “While I was there the Victory team owner, Peter de Savary, hired me as their main photographer for the sponsors.”

“I set about shooting everything that moved,” she laughs. “The guys on the yacht were getting fed up with me photographing them from every angle on deck, I’m sure, that they suggested I should go up the mast for a joke. Of course I thought that was a brilliant idea! So up I went, getting tangled in the rigging in the process with three cameras dangling around my neck. I got some amazing shots, though. I was on my way…”

Returning home, her pictures were used by Aquascutum in London’s Regent Street, every window of the store featuring a near-lifesize blow up of her America’s Cup adventure. Evans pauses and reflects on a recent conversation with a young photographer.

She says: “Digital is great, but one of the drawbacks is that there is a lot that’s created after the picture. Those Americas Cup images I took which were used in the shop windows, they were all done in the moment, not afterwards in Photoshop. For me it was always about the moment. I get quite annoyed when asked if I did some of the pictures on a computer! I was recently asked ‘why did you go up the mast when you could have put a remote camera up there?’ and things like that. Well of course, the simple answer was that I couldn’t do that then – the technology simply wasn’t around. You can't shoot with a 300mm using a remote camera in the rigging!”

“I’m from the old school,” she proudly states, “And I get passionate about it. You can see the reality isn’t there sometimes, with digitally manipulated images, and yet people without an educated eye can’t see that. I do have to say, though, that digital is amazing – it gives you so much freedom. You don’t have to carry lots of types of film with you, and it gives you much more flexibility to do your job. I don’t particularly enjoy sitting at the computer – it doesn’t feel like you are creating an image. To do it all in camera is what’s special for me but you have to move with the times, I guess. To use Photoshop properly is an art in itself! But there’s a common factor in all this: you need to have the eye for it.”

© Kos/Kos Picture Source

Musician Simon Le Bon, from the band Duran Duran, photographed halfway up the mast of his yacht ‘Drum’ before he went on to compete in the Whitbread Round The World Race in 1985.

Trials and technique

Refining her craft on the deck of a yacht, Evans began to realise that speed was everything. She used two bodies, one with a telephoto and one with a wide zoom, but obviously there could be no change of lenses when she was 200ft up in gale force winds… “I started to love shooting from the top of the mast with a 300mm lens, cropping into guys on deck, that sort of thing. But I couldn’t have done it without Canon.”

“I started using Canon gear when the EF lenses came out,” she remembers. “I loved the fast autofocus and the service Canon provided was phenomenal and, for me, that was really important. When something breaks down you need to know that you’re going to get your equipment delivered the next day. I’ve never used anything since.”

“My main cameras these days are the EOS-1Ds Mark III, EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark III. I like to have one camera that’s light and great for people pictures [the EOS 5D Mark III] and another that’s balanced for when I’m using big lenses. All the cameras are very robust, as indeed they have to be – especially when you’re working in extreme conditions.”

When quizzed on her favourite lenses, Evans pauses to consider. “I really loved fisheye lenses early on in my career – the curvature they gave the images I took from the air made it look as though you were on top of the world. But I don’t use them at all now. I love my EF300mm – the fixed lens is great because you’ve got the speed and narrow depth-of-field that goes with it. The zooms are great too, especially the old EF35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L USM which had a fantastic range. I still use that lens, in fact. Zooms give you much more flexibility, especially on the sea. When you’re working from a moving platform while shooting a moving subject you’ve got to have flexibility so changing lenses is a nightmare with waves crashing over you.”

© Kos/Kos Picture Source

A commercial assignment for Fairline powerboats saw Kos Evans shooting from a helicopter as the boats came towards her. Taken on a Canon EOS-1 film SLR with an EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens; the exposure was 1/500sec at f/5.6, ISO 50 Fuji Velvia.

With the right tools for the job, Kos Evans could tackle anything she set her mind to. But a fear of sharks had always stopped her from exploring the underwater world. A trip to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the fabulous world beneath the waves, convinced her that she needed to tackle that personal challenge and overcome her fear.

“Ironic isn’t it, with a career photographing boats on water!” she jokes. “But I was terrified of sharks. I wanted to learn how to dive, though, so went to the Great Barrier Reef and learned how to do it properly and get over the fear in the process. I saw what amazing pictures there were through the surface of the water and knew straight away that I needed to get a camera in there and explore. With a camera, I forgot my fears immediately.”

“But sharks aside I’ve had plenty of other hairy moments…” she explains. “I was up a mast once, presenting for a television programme and the boat capsized while I was up there. I could feel it going, and realised the crew had lost control. My first instinct was to protect my cameras! No chance though, all the kit got completely written off and I was dragged to safety by the film crew who who quickly moved in alongside us in the camera boat. They had to cut my harness off quickly because I could have been dragged under as the boat turned over. [It was] not really worth thinking about the consequences…”

Survival instinct

Fear is something that Kos Evans has never really had a problem with. “I never used to give it a thought,” she admits. “I remember shooting powerboats from a helicopter and we were so close, the rooster tail [the water plume thrown up by the outboard engine] hit the canopy of the helicopter and smashed the windscreen. The pilot was brilliant, and quickly flew up to 1000ft. It could have wiped the engine out. We were so lucky.”

“Now, though, I have a 10-year old daughter, so I pick and choose my work carefully,” she admits. “I spend two months of the year shooting and the rest I’m helping to run the business back at base in the UK. I’m lucky in that now I have 200 photographers around the world sending their stock images (Kos's stock library Kos Picture Source is one of the biggest specialist picture agencies in the world) so I can be a lot more creative with long-term projects. I do a lot of work in the superyacht world - my latest venture is an interactive magazine on iPad called BOYD which uses stunning photography and virtually no words - and this other work gives me time and flexibility to be creative.”

Kos Evans likes a challenge and – after thirty years – still retains a youthful approach to her work. “I like to push and be innovative. It excites me,” she smiles. “Every problem is an unsolved opportunity. People expect me to be quite feisty, being a woman in a man’s world I suppose, but I’m not like that at all. I prefer to fit in; its not professional to be arrogant about your role as a photographer but it is important to remain focused on the images you are trying to achieve.

“If you give people a clear briefing, and they know what you want, then it’s all plain sailing.”

Technical

Kos Evans’ kitbag

Cameras:

2x EOS-1Ds Mark III
2x EOS 5D Mark II

Lenses:

EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM
EF14mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM
EF35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM

Accessories:

Seacam and EWA underwater housings
2x Speedlite 580EX II flashguns

Biography: Kos Evans

Kos Evans is a British sailing photographer with a worldwide reputation for artistic, dynamic images of all things marine; from yachting to offshore powerboats. She has carved a reputation as an action-specialist: dangling out of helicopters on a harness at 100mph, chasing the leaders in powerboat world championships... for Kos it's just another day at the office, and when she's not photographing, she's busy managing her very successful international picture library, Kos Picture Source, based in the UK.



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