A few handy tips for setting up your DSLR, composing your photos and getting some great photos.
I want to start this by saying I’m not much of a skater, so apologies if I use some dodgy terms to describe things. I’m trying to write this post for a wide audience, so I won’t go completely into the basics or advanced stuff so that I don’t bore/confuse people.
This is for people using a DSLR, if you’re just trying to take better photos on your GoPro then you can skip these two sections.
I get asked this a lot, so I’ll tell you what gear I use:
Nikon 35mm 1.8
Sigma 100-300mm f/4
Tamron 17-50 f/2.8
Sigma 8mm f/3.5
Godox VT560 Speedlite
Of this bunch, I use the 35mm and the 100-300mm the most. The 35mm is great to work with, as it’s wide angle, focuses instantly and gives a very nice background blur (bokeh) to isolate the skater. The 100-300mm I use for really tight crops, when I can’t be sat in the middle of the road with a wide lens. The 17-50mm is great for wide corner shots, when you want everything in focus. I use the 8mm fisheye infrequently because I have to be about 20cm away from the skater for them to look big in the photo, which is impractical.
First of all, make sure your shutter speed is 1/500 or above to ensure the skater is sharp, below this and you’ll likely get motion blur. The exception is when you want ‘panning’ shots, where the background is streaked from deliberate motion blur. More on panning later.
For aperture, it depends:
If you want to blur the background, only focusing on the skater, then use an aperture of f/2.8 – f/4. If you have a lens that lets you go to f/1.8, still don’t go below f/2.8 as it will be impossible for the whole skater to be in focus.
If you want to incorporate the landscape/background into the photo, then using an aperture of f/8-f/16 will make sure that everything is in focus. When you’re shooting at these apertures you don’t need to worry about auto focus, just focus on something a few metres in front of you and switch to manual focus. Everything will still be sharp and it’s one less thing to worry about.
For ISO, I use whatever lets me use the above settings. You always want to try and use the lowest ISO possible (100) because this gives you the highest quality, but if you need to get the shutter speed faster to remove motion blur then yank the ISO up to 800-1600.
I always shoot on continuous autofocus, so that the skater stay’s in focus as they come towards you.
Finally, I have continuous drive mode set (rapid shutter/ action mode), although I rarely use it. I find that I’m better off focusing my attention on taking 1 picture at exactly the right time than firing off 10 photos and hoping 1 comes out OK.
One issue is predicting the movements of a skaters. At new hills I get the skater to stand/sit in the spot where they’re going to slide. If I’m using a prime lens then this means I can position myself in the right place for the skater to fill the frame. If I’m using a zoom lens then it lets me check what focal length I need to use.
For framing a shot, it’s normally pretty crucial to get the limbs in, without clipping off any fingers or any part of the board. However, you still want to try and fill the frame as much as possible, so don’t be conservative and shoot from further away.
As a skater comes towards me, I will either gradually zoom out or if I’m using a prime lens, walk backwards. This means that I am keeping them at the right size in the frame for longer, giving me a longer time to get the photo. Don’t be lazy, you need to move around to get the best shots sometimes!
Unlike almost everything else with Photography, most longboarding photos suit having the subject in the centre pretty well. This is because if you’re filling the frame with the skater then they have to be centred in order to have even space around them. Sometimes you’ll want to position the skater away from the centre though for variety. If you’re doing this, it will typically look best to leave visual space, for the skater to ‘travel’ into:
The idea behind this is that your eyes follow the movement of the skater, so if they’re pointing right to the edge of the frame, then your eyes will follow that direction.
A lot of amateur photographers take their photos from standing up at chest level. But you can greatly improve your shots by experimenting with all levels.
I try and get low on the ground for most shots, especially sit downs. The first reason being that you get a greater sense of depth when you are low. You can see the unfocused tarmac in the bottom of the image, and there is also more separation with the skater and the background.
Lying down frames the skater with the background rather then the road.
For pictures where you want to include more of the landscape, it’s normally best to place the skater according to the rule of thirds. This means that if you draw a grid over the photo, like this:
Then you would want to try and place your subject on one of the intersection points. Vertical subjects (like someone pulling a standy) would be placed along one of the vertical lines, horizontal subjects (like the horizon) placed along the horizontal lines.
Most of the time it’s important to keep the skater well, and evenly lit. You want to be able to see their face, which can often be shadowed by their helmet. To avoid dark shadows on the skater’s face and body, shooting when the light is low is best, so a few hours after sunrise, or before sunset. Then, you want to make sure your skater is facing into the light. Sometimes, if the skater is facing away from the light I will ask them to change their slide – go switch for example.
Alternatively, if you’re not fussed about detail on the skater’s face then backlighting can work – especially on people with longer hair, it catches the light and glows. Otherwise, try using baggy, fairly transparent shirts to catch the sun’s glow. For backlighting, you basically just use the light about an hour before sunset, and have the sun behind them.
If you find yourself a suitable location – normally a ridge that the sun sets behind, then silhouettes are an awesome thing to mess around with. Silhouettes are simple, so you have to pay extra attention to the composition, and more importantly the positioning of the skater. There needs to be a clear, easily distinguishable shape, otherwise it could be a silhouette of anything.
Wearing dark clothing is a never great for photos, the reflected brightness between dark clothes and the skin means that one or the other will always be too bright or too dark. Try and get your squad in lighter/colourful clothing to create contrast and vivid photos.
Overcast days are always pretty awful, so if you can, don’t shoot on a cloudy day. With low contrast everything just blends together.
With lots of trees and shadows find where the sun is hitting the road and use that like a flash gun, tell the skaters that is the best location for a great picture.
The basic key to panning (motion blur) is moving the camera at the same speed as the skater. So always follow the movement of the rider, matching the speed of them with the speed at which the camera moves. I use a focal length of 50mm or more, below this is too wide, creating weird distortions.
Use a shutter speed from 1/4 to 1/50. Anything longer like a second long and you will find it very difficult to keep the skater sharp and in focus. Shutter speeds any quicker mean less streaks in the background.
Monopod’s make this easy but if you don’t have that luxury then brace it against your face and get used to pivoting with your hips.
You want to be perpendicular to the skater’s motion, so stay at the side of the road.
The best and most important part of photography is experimenting and finding out what you enjoy shooting and how, sometimes that means breaking the rules but that doesn't matter if you end up with a great shot.