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Up to Their Unusual Tricks: Photography In Motion

Posted on 01 Mar 2018

What does it take to snap skateboarders in motion? We asked a photographer who knows all the moves.

'If you’re doing something really dangerous you don’t want the photographer to mess it up' [Image Credit: Thomas Sweertvaegher]

Thomas Sweertvaegher’s The Journal of a Skateboarder is a chronicle of a vagabond culture. His photographs capture the beauty, the exhilaration and the risk. But what does it actually take to get action images of skateboarders? Jasper Rees asked British cameraman Johno Verity of Indeed Productions for a primer. Johno has years of experience filming skateboarders as they do their crazy stuff. Here are his seven rules for capturing them in motion.

1) KNOW THE TERRITORY

Knowing exactly what a skateboarder is going to do is the main thing. You are always trying to show it in the best light. If something’s going to be big you want to show it for exactly how big it is. You want to avoid foreshortening. A lot of photography is really low with a wide-angle lens. This is amplifying. You want to be clear with what’s going on. If he’s jumping a gap, you want to be able to see where he’s taking off from and going to and show it at the best size. You want to show how many steps there are and the height. Hitting a handrail, you want to show how difficult it is to get onto that handrail. You want to see the height.

2) DO IT YOURSELF

You need to able to do it. A lot of filming is done tracking along on a skateboard right next to the other skateboarder. You need to be pretty competent and be able to ollie up kerbs. To do an ollie is a trick that allows you to jump the skateboard. It’s quite technical, kicking the tail of the board down so it bounces the skateboard up. It’s the basis of pretty much every single skateboard trick there is. If you can’t do an ollie you can’t do much. Photographers are dropping big sets of stairs. It’s easier than you think to track alongside someone. If you do it enough it’s the same as walking.

'If something’s going to be big you want to show it for exactly how big it is' [Image Credit: Thomas Sweertvaegher]

3) ACCEPT THAT IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT AESTHETICS

Different photographers have different styles. Ultimately they’re taking pictures of bits of street furniture and concrete walls. You can get more artistic with them and really have some beautiful compositions and make stuff look great. But if it’s not showing the story then you’re not doing the job. Generally when filming you use quite a wide lens so you’re not really looking through the viewfinder. You’ll be very close to the skateboarder with the camera quite low and tracking with them.

4) SHOOT WHEN YOU CAN

Light is pretty important. A lot of photographers use flashes because it’s very fast-moving so you need a fast shutter speed. It’s nice to shoot at the golden hour: images just look nicer when you’ve got that lower light, longer shadows. But if someone needs to go at a certain time to ollie a huge gap then that becomes the main thing. Often it’s security you’re having to deal with. It might mean you need to rock up and skate somewhere at four in the morning otherwise deal with getting kicked off a place.

5) BE PREPARED TO GET HIT

When people are sliding down a handrail you have to be close in under and there’s where you get some of the best photos. You can have skateboards flying off, hitting your face or your camera.

'Ultimately photographers are taking pictures of bits of street furniture and concrete walls' [Image Credit: Thomas Sweertvaegher]

6 ) BE PREPARED TO WAIT

This is more for filming. Quite often people will do the same thing 40 or 50 times to get it right. Very important in skateboarding is what’s called a line, when you do a series of five or six tricks in a row so that the cameraman is tracking along next to them. And because style is so important if you’ve not got good style then you have to do it again until you get it. A single trick might take 40 or 50 attempts. It’s pretty unlikely you’re going to get the shot first go. It’s different shooting stills: you can capture sequences but they usually cover two or three seconds of tricks.

7 ) KNOW YOUR SKATEBOARDER

Having a good understanding of the skateboarder that you work with is really important. A lot of these people have worked together for years and years. And a lot of skateboarders use the same film cameraman or photographer all the time. It takes a huge amount of trust for the skateboarder to do something and know the photographer is going to get it right. If you’re doing something really dangerous you don’t want the photographer to mess it up.

Jasper Rees @ theartsdesk.com

Related Topics

The Journal of a Skateboarder

Thomas Sweertvaegher, Ed Templeton
£24.95