In between being a three-times Olympic gold-medal winner and Royal Navy officer, Pete Reed is a keen photographer. Geoff Harris catches up with him for a chat
Pete Reed is a man with many strings to his bow, the most famous being the gold medal he won for rowing in the Men’s Eight at the Rio 2016 Olympics. He is also a serving officer in the Royal Navy, and somebody who counts photography as one of his biggest interests – particularly since he discovered the Fujifilm X-series of mirrorless cameras.
‘I’d been to some nice places with the Navy, and always fancied having some photographic memories, so I first bought a point-and-shoot compact back in 1999,’ he recalls. It wasn’t until I started going abroad with the GB Rowing Team that I decided I wanted to take photography more seriously. So in 2006, I bought a Nikon D80 and kit zoom lens for about £400 and learned how to use it by forcing myself to shoot in manual mode. I read everything I could about photography and caught the bug.’
Pete reckons he’s always been quite a disciplined person – something that was also drilled into him during his training as a Navy officer, and, of course, as a world- class sportsman. ‘I enjoyed photography, so it felt more like playing than learning,’ he says. But even a polymath like Pete admits he struggled at the beginning.
The hardest thing was learning which settings did what and what a lot of the more technical terminology meant. Stuff like f-numbers – it just didn’t feel natural. It’s the same as when you learn to drive – it’s about safety and feel; making instinctive and reactive decisions quickly and correctly. Once you’ve mastered aperture, shutter speed and ISO, then you start looking for good light, good composition and the right moment,’ he explains.
Embrace your mistakes
With the right attitude and a willingness to make mistakes, Pete reckons anyone can make progress in photography. ‘I simply don’t believe you have to have an “eye” or any of the other stuff you hear about photography – I am telling you, anyone can learn it. I started by reading magazines like Amateur Photographer, and indeed I had a subscription. But although it’s useful to read and absorb information, you then have to practise. You can’t take better photos by sitting down and reading everything. Go out with a notebook, and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Digital allows you the luxury of making mistakes – and believe me, I have memory cards full of mistakes.’
Pete may have cut his teeth on Nikon, but is now a resolute Fujifilm convert.
As he says: ‘I changed to Fujifilm about three years ago. I’d had my Nikon D80 for quite a long time, but thought more expensive was better. So I bought a Nikon D800, a D810 and even a D4. I got suckered into a trap of owning gear. People read too much about gear and think if they just had that one body or lens, they would be a better photographer. I now know the opposite is true. I had a cupboard full of Nikon f/1.4 G primes and the holy trinity of f/2.8 zooms, but the gear was just too big and too bulky and I wasn’t using it.’
Pete reckons this cupboard full of gear also got him into a spot of bother. ‘I’m a big guy, and security guards and the public would sometimes wonder what I was doing and where the photos were going,’ he says. ‘You don’t want to feel you’re hassling people when you are just going out, enjoying an honest day doing your hobby.’
The catalyst for Pete was the Fujifilm X100S, which he started using in 2013. ‘It revolutionised everything and it was always in my kit bag,’ he says. ‘As a result, I started taking more photos and developed a more personal relationship with my subjects. The camera was starting conversations; people would ask me about it. All the Nikon gear was gathering dust. It was an emotional day when I decided to sell it all, but I didn’t regret it for a moment. In 2014 I bought a Fujifilm X-T1 and a 56mm lens, and then the X70.’
As well as street portraits and everyday scenes in his home city of London, Pete likes to shoot landscapes and cityscapes with filters. ‘I use a tripod and find it very calming,’ he says. ‘I like to take travel shots too. I’m always on lookout for something different – reflections, colour and a nice bit of emotion.’
So what about shooting his team mates on the British Olympic team? He says: ‘I do shoot my teammates when they are training but it’s hard as I am usually training at the same time. I did get some good shots at the recent Rio Olympics, but there were security concerns with pickpockets so I mainly used a Fujifilm X70. You can easily tuck it into your jeans’ pocket.’
Help for heroes
While Pete’s current status as an Olympic rower makes it hard to capture as many shots of his colleagues training as he’d like, he’s clear that this is a compelling goal for the future. ‘As I’m not a pro, I can do any project I like,’ he adds. ‘I’d like to start shooting the rowers in training. I want sports fans to see who we are, what we wear, how honest and determined we are. I want to show the highs and lows in my photography – in the changing room, in the meeting room, as they are dying and crying for their mums on the rowing machine… I want to show how hard we work every single day.’
‘I currently use the Fujifilm XT2 and X70,’ says Pete. ‘My main lenses are the 16mm f/1.4 and the 56mm f/1.2. For landscapes and cityscapes I take the 10-24mm f/4, the 16-55mm f/2.8 and the 50-140mm f/2.8. Yes, there is a lot of gear here, but to be honest I’d be quite happy with just one lens. I recommend you get one good camera and prime lens and use it until you know it inside out – only then start buying extra stuff. If I had to get by with just one camera, it would be the X70, which I love. It’s a quarter of the price of the X-T2 but delivers great results.’
Pete Reed MBE is a British Olympic rower and three-times Olympic gold medallist, winning gold in the Men’s Coxless Four at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and a gold medal in the Men’s Eight at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He is also a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and a keen photographer. Visit www.instagram.com/PeteReed