Life through a lens: superyacht photographer Jainie Cowham tells us about her amazing experiences behind the camera

Professional photographer Jainie Cowham has spent over 30 years capturing ...

Life through a lens: superyacht photographer Jainie Cowham tells us about her amazing experiences behind the camera

April 17, 2024

Written by Rachel Kelly

Professional photographer Jainie Cowham has spent over 30 years capturing stories about the most stunning superyachts and their adventures around the world. Even in the most challenging circumstances, her passion and enthusiasm deliver captivating images and stunning films.

From her home on the Island of Mallorca, she sat down with us to share some of her own stories.

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection

What makes your photography, particularly of superyachts, stand out?

“My passion for them (I hope). My father built a yacht when I was a kid, and so my formative years were spent helping him with hammer in hand, drooling over build plans, plotting the globetrotting we would do when she was finished. That’s a long story, but the essence is that I breathed, dreamed, perhaps even inhaled boats and adventure from as far back as I can remember!

To see the yachting world of today; the old classics kept alive, the new wacky designs, new technologies building on sustainability and awareness, the fabulous new trend in explorer yachts with tug-style lines and go-anywhere muscle; it’s all tremendously exciting, it’s all visually stimulating, and it’s all my world. I LOVE it! So I think it’s this love affair with the superyachts that drives my creative eye. What better stimulus than love!”

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection

When shooting a superyacht, what tips and details do you have for ensuring it looks its best in photographs?

“I think the best tip I can give is to treat each yacht as a unique still-life. For me it’s not just about recording what is there in front of the lens. The camera, coupled with clever lighting techniques and intuitive set design, has the ability to portrait a specific emotion. This, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of any photography, superyacht or otherwise.

With the use of props, drop focus (as an aid to steering the viewers focus), and a keen eye for aesthetics and pleasing angles, the photographer can add that ‘special something’ that lifts an image out of the technical and into a realm that makes the viewer want to be there. Any art form has this magic, but photography especially so.

Can the camera lie? It was the first question we were asked as shiny new students of fine-art photography half a lifetime ago. I don’t believe so, but I think the photographer can extract aspects of what is in front of the lens and enhance a suitable mood. This is done through a combination of lighting and props, atmosphere and story. Be it a subtle or glaring approach depends on the emotion you want to portrait. It’s all there for the creating.”

Image from Jainie Cowham collection

Image from Jainie Cowham collection

What are the best and most challenging aspects of being a photographer/filmmaker?

“Life is full of moments – some more memorable than others. For me the best part of being a photographer and filmmaker is that I get to help people capture their moments of adventure and holiday, before they get lost in the mists of time. As I’ve already mentioned, for me it’s far beyond the mere technical ability, (though of course that has its obvious huge importance). Those special memories should be recorded in the feeling of the moment.

An artistic interpretation that incorporates the sound, smells and atmosphere. And I’m not just referring to video. Obviously that medium has more complex tools to help capture the atmosphere, but photography can do that too. If an image is alive enough, the viewer can smell what’s cooking, hear the wind howling or the seabirds calling…. I would say the most challenging aspect of my job is to still grasp these special moments when the conditions are far from perfect. A snow blizzard, a torrential downpour, lightning bolts… these are all part of the memories that need capturing, and they are far more technically demanding. That’s when experience lends a hand in ensuring the essence is captured and the cameras survive to tell another day’s tale!”

Jainie worked for many years as a private filmmaker for a yacht owner, creating inspirational films to entertain and educate the owner’s young family.
Here she tells us more about this fascinating assignment.

“I was contracted to shoot a superyacht owner’s holidays. Sounded fun and straight forward on the surface, but I’ll never forget the first event they sent me off to reccy. I walked in on a huge castle teeming with around 300 extras displaying medieval crafts, street theatre, hawk displays, jousting knights…. you name it, it was there. I was literally petrified!!!!! The results were good, and it started a 10-year journey of amazing magnitude. This most discerning yacht owner took his young family onboard twice a year for an educational holiday, and with a team of actors, set designers, makeup artists, and special effects, we recorded an interactive ‘open’ theatre on varying topics in line with the history of wherever we were cruising in the world. After each cruise I disappeared into my office for months at a time, and we produced dynamic videos and handmade albums of each cruise.

I’d like to say I was very lucky! I know we create our own luck, and I certainly did my fair share of ‘apprenticeship’ in yachting photography and videography, but I was lucky too. I also had to make a very tough decision to follow this amazing lead I’d been offered, as it meant stepping away from maintaining my presence in the industry for any other clients.

Was it worth it? Yes absolutely! It gave me an astounding amount of experience and skill in video production and team directing, which I can now bring to the table too.”

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection

Which photographers or other artists have influenced your work?

“So many for so many different reasons! I trained in black and white fine-art photography under a professor hero of mine, John Blakemore. Funny I should end up working in colour on the water, but I brought that eye for composition with me, and the technical training to degree level gave me a lot of confidence in extreme conditions. I don’t think any weather or lighting problems phase me now!

So my early years were heavily influenced by the great black and white gurus – Mr Blakemore as mentioned, Sebastião Salgado (specifically his landscape work of later years), Don McCullin (bitter raw and painfully honest), Edward Weston (natural form and human presence), Annie Liebovitz (barking crazy creative), Fan Ho (“light is the soul of a photograph”) and specifically Ansel Adams who’s incredible zone-system we studied in great depth as students (read about it – it’s fascinating; science meets art!!),

As I moved into photographing yachts, I became mesmerised by the works of photographers like Kurt Arrigo and Eugenia Bakunova, people pushing the boundaries and exploring creative ways to portray yachts and yachting. And my all-time heroes who capture mood and emotion to dream levels are the tough expedition photographers and filmmakers such as Benjamin Harman, Frederic Lagrange and Michael Yamashita.”

Do you have a selection of favourite photographs you’ve taken of a yacht and what do you love about them?

“It’s the classics .. I adore them! My favourite shoot was for Germania Nova… admittedly she is not very old, but she’s a replica of the original Germania built in 1908. I was given time and a free reign to capture her magic, and it really was a magical shoot.

As a child I spent time in a little boatyard watching an ‘old timer’ build clinker yachts with his adze and old-school carpentry skills. Wood has always fascinated me; he even gave me a book full of wood samples, their names, where they grew etc. So the classics have a special place in my heart. Germania Nova encapsulates all the above, and her then Captain was the adorable John Bardon; a living legend and an absolute pleasure to work with.”

What is the most remarkable destination you travelled to, to photograph a superyacht?

“The Archipelago of Myanmar (before the recent painful and grotesque military coup). We joined the boat in Phuket and spent 3 weeks cruising the myriad (800 apparently) remote and mostly uninhabited islands. Beautiful, untouched, teeming with wildlife and fishlife, and a fascinating history of Chinese piracy – namely the red fleet run by the fierce female pirate, Shi Xianggu between 1801 – 1810, totalling 1,800 junks and over 70,000 pirates!”

When you travel so much, how do you ‘get away from it all’?

“It’s simply the opposite way round than for most people. I get away from it all when I get home!”

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection

Image from Jainie Cowham Collection


Jainie has had quite the career so far with fascinating projects taking her all over the world. We look forward to hearing more of her stories in the future and admiring her beautiful photography for years to come.

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