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Get to know the CNET family: Q&A with James Martin

Get to know James Martin, the man who brings life to CNET through his camera lens. Find out how he sliced his wrist on the job!

James Martin/CNET

Take a step behind the scenes at CNET to get to know some of our staff members better and learn what they do to make our site a success.


Riding along a bumpy dirt road through the rolling green hills of Rwanda.

James Martin/CNET

Hi, there, everyone, welcome to another edition of Getting to know the CNET family. I'm here today with James Martin -- a dedicated dad who loves exploring California and once had a legendary Sade karaoke performance.

If you're a regular CNET reader, chances are you've seen James's work all over our site, James being one of our incredible photographers/photojournalists. He's been on the front lines bringing our readers photos from around the world ranging from mine fields in Angola, tech events from far and abroad, to everything in between. He even sliced his wrist while on the job! Want to find out what happened? Read on...

Q: What's your job title and what do you do?

A: I'm the senior photographer and photo editor at CNET. I'm on the News team and work primarily as a photojournalist based in San Francisco. I spend most of my time shooting news stories including features, photo galleries, portraits and some product photography for CNET Reviews along with print editorial art for CNET Magazine. I typically work alongside a writer out on assignment, chronicling the stories of cutting-edge thinkers, robots, geeks, gadgets and innovation in Silicon Valley, as well as going behind the scenes at places like Google, Facebook and Apple.

Q: What's a fun fact about you related to work?

A: Earlier this year I sliced open my wrist accidentally when I broke a bulb while moving lights in the photography studio. I dropped a huge bulb, and instinctively reached out and tried to catch it, cutting a huge gash into my wrist. It was pretty bad -- I could see my tendons. We called 911 and an ambulance took me to the emergency room -- it was all pretty frightening! I'm OK now, I have a pretty gnarly scar as a memory.

Suited up in protective gear, Dara Kerr, James Martin and Rich Nieva explore an active minefield in Cuito Canavale, Angola.

Ralph Legg

Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

A: The most challenging part of being a news photographer is that oftentimes I have just one chance to get a photograph, often under unknown conditions. Every shoot is filled with unknowns that I need to adapt to.

My job is to come back with a great photo that illustrates a story or an idea, and oftentimes, I arrive to an assignment not knowing who or what I'm going to be shooting, where I'm going to be shooting, what the lighting is going to be like, how much time I'll have and what kind of restrictions I'm going to have to work around.

I make dozens of critical quick decisions on the fly everyday, and adapt to unknown situations. It's important for a photojournalist to be patient, calm and quick-thinking. That ability to go out and make it all come together -- everyday -- only comes with experience.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

A: The Bay Area really is an incredible place, and getting out of the office to explore the stories behind the scenes is really an incredible gift. There's stunning natural beauty, artists and big ideas everywhere. I'm so fortunate to be here in San Francisco, surrounded by so much inspiration. It really is unreal. I've been in San Francisco for almost 20 years now, and it's still a place that amazes me. In the end, I love being able to capture an image that both tells a story, and also stands on its own as a piece of art.

Jamesmartin_syria

Taking pictures with Syrian refugees kids living in a hotel squat in Athens, Greece on assignment in 2016.

Ben Rubin/CNET

Q: What is in your pockets right now?

A: Let's see -- I have a lens cap in my back left pocket; a quarter, a penny and a 100 Rwandan Franc coin in my front pocket and a 64GB SD memory card with images from a shoot I still need to download tonight, and my wallet.

Q: Besides your phone, what's the most influential tech item in your life?

A: My camera! I've been able to do some pretty incredible things as a photographer over the years, including test fly NASA lunar lander simulators, go inside the Tesla factory, visit refugee camps in Greece, see President Obama sign an Executive Order, fly with the Blue Angels, and even explore live minefields in Angola. My camera has taken me places, and I've had some incredible experiences during my career.

Q: Where do you like to vacation?

A: We love to explore California! There are just endless adventures here. We do a lot of hiking and camping, and California State Parks have all kinds of hidden spots to visit, with nearly endless beaches, mountains, deserts, Redwood forests, lakes, rivers and waterfalls to explore. We do a lot of skiing up in Tahoe in the winter.

Q: If you had to pick a place right now, where would you want to be?

A: Right where I am, of course.  

Q: What is your favorite food?

A: Hummus is one of my favorite foods to both make and eat. It's simple, but deeply complex, and has many subtleties to it that makes every iteration different. I like to experiment with my cooking.

grand-canyon-zion-9319-1

Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon on family vacation.

James Martin/CNET

Q: If you could only keep five possessions, what would they be?

A: I really prefer not to collect too many things. My house is pretty full -- mostly of things that aren't really that important to me in the end -- I should probably have a garage sale. My passport certainly is one of my more prized physical possessions, along with a few old family photographs and travel journals I've written over the years. I have a collection of pins from National Parks and places around the world I've visited that is pretty special to me too. I generally prefer experiences over things.

Q: What's your go-to karaoke song?

A: I once had a legendary karaoke performance in Bolivia of Sade's "Smooth Operator" that I'm sure they're still talking about. That might be my go-to at this point.

Q: Who is your favorite Star Wars character and why?

A: Obi-Wan Kenobi. He's the personification of the Force and the whole amazing idea of what Star Wars is. He's an almost religious figure -- the robes, the beard, his deftness with a lightsaber. He's authority, honor and justice, but also one of the rebels.

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Taking a break at The HALO Trust compound in Huambo, Angola while on assignment. 

Ben Rubin/CNET

Q: When you have some alone time, what would you be doing?

A: Well, I don't really get a lot of alone time. I have two energetic young kids and they keep me very busy and usually pretty exhausted. I'm always chasing someone around, reading a book, helping to smooth over a disaster or trying to get them to go to bed, but when I have a moment of alone time you'll probably find me in the shade on an Adirondack chair by the plum tree in my backyard drinking a cold beer.  


There you have it folks, James Martin, the smooth operator and photographer who brings our stories to life through his lens. I hope you all enjoyed his Q&A. If you have a killer spot in California that you think James would enjoy exploring or have crazy photo stories to swap with him, hit up James in the comments section. Thank you for reading and thank you James for the fun Q&A! Until next time folks, have a great day. Peace out!