Part 1: Framed shot
More and more city dwellers are attributing a lot of importance to their physical fitness, and you have to applaud them for all their efforts. Every day, you have a bus to chase ofter, you scramble to finish your work on time, and you have to skate through a minefield of canine excrement on the city sidewalks. With that kind of workout, all you need is to slip on a pair of athletic shorts.
As for me, I can honestly say that the marathon is still forty kilometers off my record. So instead of running, I spent some years on the longboard. This activity gave me a chance to take a wonderful tour of Manhattan, and also I got a great view of the world of skateboarding, always right there at sidewalk level.
So let’s get to the heart of the matter: how do you take photographs of urban sports activities?
So as you may have guessed by now, I am going to use this space to present to you one of the techniques I use often to immortalize skateboarders. My experience has shown that it will work just as well for BMX flatland, outdoor ballroom dancing, or lots of other activities.
Skateboarding is without a doubt one of the most interesting urban sports around from an aesthetic point of view. In this sport, you’ll find all levels of stylish maneuvering. These athletes with their elbows in shreds are easily identifiable as much by their technical ease as by their place on the board or their style of clothes.
Rather than moving all around the athletes, I like just staying calmly in one place. When I get to the skating site, just like for any shoot, I start by identifying the light source, the contrasting elements, and the reflections and moving shadows that might add to the drama of the scene. In this type of situation, I tend to prefer harder light that lets me capture the body in movement. Skateboarding requires a series of steps and moves at different points on the board, and spotting them can be practically impossible for the untrained eye.
Strong lighting has the tendency of erasing the textured details, so I would recommend not to overdo it with high speed saturation (1/800 in this series) and go down to 100 ISO otherwise you’ll lose the subtle details in the darker areas. The high contrast you’ll get will allow you to put the emphasis on the dominant lines of your composition and lend a structure to the decorative backdrop.
Now this is my main piece of advice in this first article devoted to sports in an urban setting: set up a strong frame for your shot. Just as if I were shooting in a studio, I like to create a decorative scene and then let the models of that particular day engage in their activities within the frame.
Since you can’t assume 100% control of the subjects of your shot, you need to leave a margin of maneuverability and make sure to keep some critical distance as well. You never want to get knocked over by the athlete as he completes his moves while you’ve got your face glued to your camera. Then you’ll have ample opportunity to change your photo format while you shoot.
This distance will enable you to work on different angles and make surprising and unexpected connections. While you focus on getting the best shot of the skateboarder, don’t try to keep passersby out of the shot. They can contribute to the work you create with both enthusiasm and determination.
For this last point, your urban setting will bring a really original perspective to this sport. Outside a stadium, a gym, or a practice facility, the subject confronts the crowd. Unexpected moves may mean that you miss some of the jumps, but they will also add more life and some elements of surprise that are what street photography is all about.