Starting Out With Skateboard Photography
In the first article of the series, we looked at starting out with photography in general. In this post, we will look more into making first steps in shooting skateboarding.
Words and photography: Maksim Kalanep
Skateboard photography is no different to regular photography, it is both easy and very challenging at times depending on the assignment. It involves shooting portraits, lifestyle, events, various products, advertisement and so on. Most of it is done with regular photography equipment and requires no additional learning. It is as relative and individual as any other type of photography, however, when photographing tricks and action there are a couple of fundamental points good to know from the very beginning.
First, it is important to understand the concept of trick and the right moment to capture it. It doesn't really matter if you have the best & latest tools for this. Any camera with an option to set & choose shutter speed will do. Each trick has its right moment - with right position of the body, legs and arms. To learn this - you either start skateboarding yourself or spend some time learning the basics. Always talk to riders if you are not so sure. In the end, both you as photographer and rider have to be happy with the final result. And don't forget - trick has to be frozen. Unless you go for a specific effect - use a high shutter speed above 1/1000th of a sec.
Choosing the right lens for the right trick and place is another challenge. Some riders will leave it to you, some might ask for the fisheye shot. There is no right and wrong, but it's always a dilemma, what will look better and more dramatic.
If you go for fisheye - in photography terms 16mm lens on a full-frame body - then you have a next technical barrier - using on/off camera lighting. Why would you need that? Fisheye is an extreme wide angle lens and gives you almost 180 degrees angle of view. So literally everything gets in the frame and is in focus thanks to physics of the optics. To make a rider and trick stand out you'll need to add some contrast to the scene. This is where on & off camera lighting comes in handy. On top of that 'artificial lighting' helps to freeze the movement. When you shoot so close power of the shutter speed might not be enough so you need a 'magic freezing power' of flash duration. Sounds a bit too much, right? So now you have to learn - how to best compose with the fisheye, then at the same time use on camera & external lighting and what settings to choose to freeze it all. Great.
But before diving into spending money and learning all the technicalities it might be a good idea to get a simple setup of one camera body and a single fixed lens - 35mm, 50mm or 85mm. Getting a used film camera might be the best idea. It's affordable and will help learn all the basics of operating the camera. And with only 36 shots you'll quickly learn to think twice, compose, wait and choose the exact time for the right moment since you don't want to waste the precious frames. You can apply the same logic to digital camera by using a small capacity memory card as well.
In the end, you might find it satisfying and enough to shoot with one lens in almost any situation. So the need to own all the latest and cool equipment straight away might go away. Of course, there will be situations where you might need something wider or longer and that is when creativity comes into play like mirrors, reflections, under or above angles, etc.
For now, it doesn't matter what setup you'll end up using - the main thing is to shoot with it as much as possible and learn from the process. Everything else will come with practice.
Below are some tried and tested examples of where to start & what to expect both in terms of workflow and associated costs both with film & digital setups.
What you need:
- Film or digital compact camera with an option to set shutter speed - e.g. Sony RX100 IV, Fuji X70, Fuji X100T, Sony RX1R II, Leica Q.
- Or affordable film system with interchangeable lenses - e.g. Canon AE-1 + 50mm Lens, Nikon FM2, Nikon FE2, Nikon F100 + Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D Lens.
- Or a digital system with interchangeable lenses - e.g. Canon 5D Mark II, Nikon D700, Nikon D3, Fuji XT2 Kit, Nikon D500 Kit, Nikon D750 Kit, Canon 5D Mark IV, Nikon D810, Canon 1DX Mark II, Nikon D5.
- Prime lenses - e.g. Canon 8-15mm f/4 EF L, Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM, Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM, Nikon 16mm f/2.8 D, Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G, Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G ED, Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art.
- Black & white or colour film - e.g. Kodak T-Max 400, Kodak Portra 160.
- Or memory cards - e.g. SD Card, CF Card.
- Local photography lab to process and digitise your films.
- Computer or phone/tablet with software to process digital files - e.g. Apple MacBook Pro, Microsoft Surface Book, Apple iMac, Microsoft Surface Studio.
- Software - e.g. Adobe CC Photography Suite - Photoshop + Lightroom.
- External hard drive or cloud option for backup - e.g. WD Elements, Lacie Rugged, Dropbox, Google G Suite, Apple iCloud, Amazon Prime Unlimited Photo Storage.
- Speedlights - e.g Nikon SB-80DX, Nikon SB-600, Nikon SB-800, Nikon SB700, Godox Witstro AD360.
- Radio triggers & transmitters - e.g. Pocket Wizard Plus III, Pocket Wizard PlusX, Pocket Wizard Plus II, Pocket Wizard FlexTT5.
- Stands - e.g. Manfrotto Nano Stand.
- Accessories - e.g. light meter, batteries, memory card reader, bag, screen calibrator, tripod, etc.
- More powerful lighting solutions - e.g. Elinchrom ELB 400, Profoto B1.
- Chemicals and all the tools to develop films - e.g. Ilford B&W Film Processing Kit, Kodak B&W T-Max Developer, Paterson Film Processing Kit.
- Enlarger, paper & chemicals to print those developed negatives - e.g. Ilford Paper, Ilford Chemicals.
- Digital scanner to digitise negatives and prints - e.g. Plustek 8200i, Epson V850, Nikon Coolscan 9000.
- Accessories - e.g. negative sleeves, light box, storage boxes for prints & negatives, etc.