As a skateboarder, it was only natural that I wanted to capture the action going on around me, and as did others. The first skateboard photographers I noticed would always be the ones with the huge bags with tripods hanging from them struggling to skate from spot to spot, the ones that took 20 minutes to set up their flashes to shoot something that happened in a split second. When I go skating I want to be able to get from a to b, I want to be able to skate, and when something catches my eye, I want to be able to get my camera out and ready without having to stop everyone in their tracks to set up.
This article will hopefully help those, like me, who want to shoot action sports, but want to shoot it as and when it happens, with as little hassle as possible. Hopefully, the following tips will show that aspects such as timing and composition are far more important the equipment you are using.
Choosing a focal length
As with shooting anything, different focal lengths with give images different perspectives. When thinking of skateboarding, you may instantly think ‘FISH EYE!’, and yes a super wide angle can give some awesome shots, it’s also a pretty specialist lens; it isn’t going to come in handy all of the time. If you have the cash, go ahead buy one (look at Samyang’s current 7.5mm model), it will get you right up close with the action, but in most cases, a fisheye might just not get enough use to justify the purchase.
In my skateboarding shots, I like to go a bit long, I like to remove myself from what is going on a bit, completely out of the way. To do this, I usually grab my Olympus 45mm 1.8, and in my opinion, this gives the most pleasing perspective for skateboarding shots, I’ve tried shooting with wider lenses, but always end up the 45mm on the end of my E-PM1.
Composition is ultimately, the most important aspect of an aesthetically pleasing image. A lot of the time people when starting out make the mistake of getting too close, with the skateboarder taking up most of the frame, and this removes the context from the image. The obstacle and surrounding areas are just as important as the trick and skateboarder themselves. When looking at a shot of a trick, you should be able to see where the skateboarder was coming from, the obstacle they are doing the trick on/over/through, and where they will land.
Will Creswick, Backside Kickflip
The better action shots are those that stand out, not just because of the trick alone, but the image as a whole. The easiest way to achieve this is to be aware of how different lines and shapes can impact the photograph; this may be the way an obstacle is shaped or the way the back drop and sky line lies.
I have heard many people claim older Micro Four Thirds cameras aren’t up to scratch for shooting sport, due to the slow auto focus and lacking quality tracking focus. None of these points have ever been of any issue to me when it comes to skateboarding, even when shooting with the ‘ancient’ E-P1, the main reason would be that you don’t even need auto focus.
Once a skateboarding shot is composed, focusing is as easy as locking your focus on the obstacle that will be used by the skateboarder, for example, the stairs they are performing a kickflip over, or the rail they are grinding , then all you have to do is wait for the action to happen. There is no need to try and track a skateboarder with your camera; it will just make things difficult.
Matthew Smith, 50-50 Grind. For this shot I focused on the rail before the trick was performed
When to Press the shutter
With skateboarding, pressing the shutter a split second late or early can completely change how dramatic the photo will appear. Shooting something early will give a shot where the skateboarder is just about to ‘pop’ or ‘popping’, in a skateboarder’s eyes this will appear odd, you won’t be able to tell what the trick is and the posture of the skateboarder will appear obscure. If you don’t get what I mean, imagine you are shooting a portrait of someone, and you want to capture a smile, but instead you get that not so great expression just before the smile. The same applies to pressing the shutter too late.
An example of a shot taken too early
The aim is to capture the trick at its most photogenic point, and this could be for example, when the skateboarder is at the highest point of a trick, in the middle of a grind, or just as they ‘catch’ a flip trick. By getting the timing right, not only will the trick be more visually pleasing, but the skateboarders individual ‘style’ will start to become apparent through their posture and other skateboarders viewing the image will be able to work out which trick is being performed and whether it is likely the individual landed it.
Jamie Cairns, Hardflip, shot when the trick is at it’s highest point
When to Shoot Sequences
It’s best to shoot sequences of action when there is more than one aspect to a trick, or the action is actually a combination of tricks, for example, a ‘K grind’ or ‘kickflip’ alone may only need one single shot, but when a skateboarder is kickflipping in to a K grind, that is when a sequence can come in handy. Usually capturing around 4 or more shots per second is good enough to capture sequences of skateboarding.
I shot this trick as a sequence as I wanted to capture both the ollie over the bench and the grind itself.
Steer clear of using continuous shooting to capture multiple shots, when you only plan on using one of the them, it is far more reliable and pleasing to choose that moment yourself when pressing the shutter.
When shooting with an Olympus PEN, or the E-PM1 in particular, the sequence mode can be set bottom dial of the control wheel, from there you can select 2 different sequence types, I would suggest choosing ‘Sequental H’ as you get more shots per second!
Don’t forget to shoot some lifestyle!
Lastly, skateboarding and other action sports aren’t always just about the tricks individuals are performing, a great shot could come from individuals getting from place to place, or even the just the energy given off by these personalities that immerse themselves in this lifestyle.