Skateboard photography can be quite interesting and exciting for a photographer. Skaters can be found in most cities and towns, either in skate parks or out on the streets. Below, you’ll find a collection of skateboard photography tips and great example photos.
The tips aren’t massively in-depth because the intent isn’t to lecture about these things. Instead, take what you can from them, build on them with your own knowledge, and study the photos for inspiration. You’ll also notice that many of these tips can be applied to other types of photography, so keep an open mind while reading.
Even though the exciting part of photographing skaters is when they’re in action, you shouldn’t forget that they’re still people with a face. If you don’t know the skaters, you might try working up the courage to ask them for a portrait. A lot of these folks are interesting and outgoing – the perfect ingredients for a great portrait.
Shooting at your normal stance is so 2005. Shooting from a crouch is a little better. But if you want some really interesting stuff, get down on the ground and make giants of the skaters. If you’re really brave, let somebody jump over your head (of course, use caution and don’t be stupid about it).
The skaters aren’t the only good subjects out there – shoot the boards too! Focusing the attention on the board and allowing the legs and feet to become secondary subjects can be quite powerful.
Adding tilt to your composition naturally creates a feeling of uneasiness and slight chaos. That type of mood goes quite well with extreme sports such as skateboarding.
Watch your subjects (or even just one subject) and take note of what they’re doing. I had been watching this guy skate for 15 or 20 minutes and I saw him move the trash can in front of the ledge he’d been jumping from. It was obvious what he was going to be doing, so I positioned myself, got the camera ready, and fired one off right at the perfect moment.
6. ACTION SEQUENCE
If you happen to have a tripod with you (or a really steady hand), you can leave the camera pointed in one direction and rapid fire as the subject crosses your path. Then use a little post-processing trickery to create a composite, and you’ve got a slick little action sequence.
7. ALTERNATIVE SEQUENCE
Catch a bunch of different poses from one of the skaters and slap them all together. Go beyond the typical diptych or triptych – four or five makes for a pretty cool image.
Working at night can help you isolate your subject better than during the day. And depending on your light source, you can really add some intensity and contrast. Alternatively, working at a high ISO can produce beautifully gritty photos (especially if you go black and white).
9. UP CLOSE
Don’t just sit off on the sidelines trying to keep your entire subject inside the frame. Get up close and focus on different parts of the skaters – just stay out of the way or you’ll tick people off and kill your chances of finishing the session. If you’re unsure, talk with them and let them make suggestions for getting close-ups (you can bet they’ll have some good ideas).
If the lighting is all wrong for your typical photos, work with it and go for the silhouette shot. This works best if the sun is somewhere other than straight above (preferably behind the skater and in front of you) and if you use manual exposure settings or play with your exposure compensation.
Rather than freezing the action in every shot, try mixing it up by slowing down that shutter speed and conveying the motion of the skaters.
12. WIDE ANGLE
Using wide angles will allow you to get fairly close while including much of the surrounding scene. Pay attention to the shapes and structures around the skaters and include them in the photo for more visual impact.
If it’s nice and sunny, pay attention to the shadows. Sometimes they can be quite interesting subjects – especially if you cut out part of the person creating that shadow.
On the flip side of slowing down and capturing motion, sometimes you’ll want to freeze the subject completely. Unless it’s bright and sunny, you may need to use a flash to accomplish this. Try working with an off-camera flash for more interesting results.
Not all skaters stick to the skate parks – with a little luck, you can find skaters in just about any city. Look for rails, steps, ramps, or any other structure that could be used as a skater playground. Capturing skaters away from a park can make your photos more raw and real.
Always keep your eyes open (and your camera ready) for the oddball encounters. You never know who or what might cross your path unexpectedly.
Likewise, watch out for interesting characters.
18. STEP BACK
Not every skateboarding shot needs to be up close and tightly cropped. Step back a little and make the skater a small, but important, part of the scene. Also, if you’re near any structures, try going vertical and shoot down onto your subjects.
Make good use of longer lenses to give yourself more working distance – this allows you to stay out of the way while catching true moments candidly. And don’t put the camera down as soon as the action is over. Sometimes you’ll find great shots when the skater isn’t even skating.
This is part of the Beyond Phototips Birthday Special Series. Go here to see all the posts so far.
Susheel Chandradhas is a Photographer and cinematographer. He has been taking photographs and studying photography since he was a kid. His classmates all believed that he would write a book on photography... Instead, he writes this blog. His passions include photography, parkour, wide-angle lenses, blue skies, fire extinguishers and fast computers.