Friday, August 13, 2010

Shooting the Skate Park with style.

Here are some great tips if you are just starting out, or working towards shooting skating professionally.  Here's the first truth:  You don't have to shoot pros.  They are not willing to sign releases usually and are tougher to get a hold of.  The amateur guys are often just as good, and are far more fun to work with since they don't shoot all the time!  They are more excited about getting great images and often more willing to work with you.

So how did I find these athletes to shoot with?  It does help that I'm at the skate park quite a bit skating for fun....  However, often times I'm shooting people that just happen to be at the park and are good.  And no, shooting them from a distance and hoping to get a good shot is not the best approach.  Walk up to the athletes and ask them if they want to take a few shots.  They are usually very interested!  Also, get them to sign model releases if they are willing after the shoot.  This way you have them in case you sell the images for stock purposes.

With skateboarding photography you can't really be timid.  If your staying back too far you may not get the best shots.  A lot of published images are taken in close with wide angles lenses.  This is because it makes the trick look a little bigger and showcases how extreme the sport really is.

So here are my 2 favorite shots from an hour of shooting with Will, the descriptions contain my setups and why I set them up the way that I did.


The above image was taken late in the evening right after sunset.  Thanks to my D3S and it's extremely good high ISO quality, the shot was captured at ISO 1000.  I set a flash up behind Will and to the left because I wanted somewhat of a ring light on his side.  When shooting in the skate park, it's often very limiting on where you can setup your flashes.  Work with the athlete and figure out your angle first.  A lot of the time you'll find the best angles are in the danger zone.  Don't risk it too much!  From there, build up your flashes one at a time, and have the athlete pose in the location for test shots to get the light just right.

The flash that is behind Will is set to about 1/4 power, is at 85mm zoom, and is roughly 20 feet behind him.  Zooming the flash head in gives it more power, so use this to your advantage.  Then, I added a second flash to the left of me, and up on top of the wall.  This flash was set to 1/16 power, 85mm zoom.  The lower power is because this is the main light, so I want the lighting to be even and not blown out.

This creates a very cool look, because the overblown edges highlight the athlete, and separate them from the background more.  This was shot at 1/250 sec. sync speed so that the flash fills the whole frame, and an aperture of f/4 so I don't have to power the flashes up too much.  When the light starts getting darker, to retain ambient, lower your flash levels, and bring up your ISO and aperture.

Look for great angles in the photo, and try to showcase the landscape as opposed to just the action.  These shots are more appealing as they tell more of a story.


First off, the coolest part of this shot to me (besides the gnarly grab over the spine) is the rain falling into the image and the spots that show up on the wall.  At first it would be tough to tell what this is, but to me it gives the image a very surreal look.

This image was approached completely differently.  I knew that because it was so dark out, and the rain was coming, I would not have time to create a setup showcasing more of the park.  So I really wanted the lighting on the athlete to bring him to life.  I set a flash on either side of the athlete directly on top of the spine.  Both flashes were set at 1/16 power and 50mm zoom, with the athlete directly in the middle of them.

The side lighting look is really in right now, and is highly dynamic.  The reason the flashes are zoomed back out a little from the other image, is because the light would be more distributed, and would therefore light up the landing.  Without being able to see the landing, this shot would be a throwaway for me.  I'm a firm believer in that there needs to be more than just an athlete to tell a story.

Skateboarding is a blast to shoot, and way more accessible for using lighting gear than mountain biking or skiing.  It's a great way to experiment and learn what works.  Not to mention it's a ton of fun, and it's easy for the athletes to try the trick multiple times so that you can get the shot!

That's the BUZZ for Today!  Please check back soon for more.


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