Not all action photography is created equal. Obviously, shooting in the water is way different than shooting on land or while jumping out of an airplane, but also each sport has it’s own speed and good angles and classic shots. Since we’re usually so focused on surf around here, we decided to talk about skate photography for a minute with the help of super rad skate photog Jordan Langdon. He agreed to put together this quick breakdown of a recent skate photography session he did with equally rad Sam Lind. This article details what a skate photographer is thinking about while you’re cruising through bowls and half-pipes.
Ok. So, here is our spot: a nice oververt pocket with some pool tile coping. Definitely a challenge to skate, but no worries, we brought Sam Lind. There are a lot of shapes and lines we can use to our advantage and there are also a lot of background elements that might be distracting. The ultimate goal is going to be finding the balance between showing the spot and showing the trick in the most complimentary way we can. I think any solid composition needs to be just that: a composite of one or more elements. A good goal to keep in mind is a landscape so compelling it stands up without a subject, combined with timing and placement of the subject in such a way that we can see the trick moving in our heads.
Now Sam is in the mix and we’ll go for some testers. I tried a vertical composition first thinking that might work for such a big wall. My first problem here is the massive amount of headroom left above Sam. I’m also not such a fan of the amount of treetop interfering with a nice clean coping. The vertical angle also robs us of the natural flow of the bowl which is going to steal from our ability to visualize the moving trick.
My first thought is to get lower to immediately eliminate all the background clutter. We still have to be mindful of the strong vertical lines created by the poles. We don’t want to stab right through our subject with those. Subtle interactions between the subject and background can end up really distracting. My next idea was to include the lines made by the roller leading into the wall.
Alright, it’s time to get Sam in there to check this composition. Lowering myself has really helped clean up the trees-coping edge. We’re keeping Sam from intersecting the strong vertical lines made by the poles. By going horizontal we get a much more pleasing view of the coping sloping down on the left side of the frame. This is a leading line. It helps to create a little narrative; we can see where Sam is going and can read the trick better.
Now comes the time to split hairs. The dilemma is choosing between being so low that we clean up the coping but end up with that roller cutting off the real flatbottom, or coming up a little higher and trading that roller for a real look at the bottom. In this case, I think we have to show the real bottom to help bring the full impact of the depth of the bowl. Now it’s time for some last tidying up. I’m going to try to get rid of that last little corner of roller in the lower left.
Well, here it is. Sam ripping a front-side feeble across some tile and you can all imagine the amazing ‘clack! clack! clack!’ the truck is making. So the end product suits our original goals (I hope). We have tried our hardest to show the spot cleanly, choosing a horizontal composition that captures the flow of the coping. We left Sam in the right of the frame to give him room so we can let our mind finish the trick with some intuitive narration. We got low enough to clean up the background, but not so low that we hide the depth with that roller.
Sam skates for Vans Canada, Anti Hero (Flow), Pig wheels, and Top of the World Skateshop. Stay tuned for another article that unpacks some questions regarding lighting.