It wouldn’t be a stretch to classify myself as a landscape photographer. If you look through the photos I’ve shared on this site, you’ll see the odd still life and portrait but for the most part, I shoot stuff that moves on a geological timescale. I wouldn’t say I’m in a rut but if I’m honest with myself I have to say that lately I’ve stuck to the easy and familiar. The other evening, in a strange departure from my norm, I took a notion to introduce myself to my neighbor down the street who has built on his property an incredible skateboard half-pipe. I’ve seen him and his friends out there many times before and it looked like it would be fun to try to photograph something like that. I asked if he would mind if I popped in on their next session, to which he kindly answered positively and enthusiastically. The following day, I loaded up some kit and walked down the street to check out all the action. Here is what I brought with me: Sony A7R, Minolta MD 35-70 f/3.5, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and an old Vivitar 285HV shoe-mount flash unit. For big bright light, I had planned to bring my Strobies Pro-Flash 360 on a light stand but when I went to fire it up, a capacitor in the flash head started to melt down. The Vivitar is a cheap and powerful flash but its nowhere near as good as the Strobies with its full-size studio flash tube.
Like any good race car driver would do, let me give you a few excuses – I mean conditions – that may limit my performance: All of my equipment is manual; manual focus; manual flash (no TTL); manual exposures. Shooting something that doesn’t move gives you ample time to set up your ambient exposure, then balance flash power based on subject distance and aperture, and then finally set your focus. The 14mm lens would be my ally in this as it has such deep depth of focus even with the aperture set wide open. Another challenge I faced is unfamiliarity with the sport. As a kid, I tried standing on a skateboard a few times and each of those times I fell to the unforgiving effects of gravity, usually resulting in some sort of skin loss and bruising. Not one for self-destruction, I chose other modes of conveyance like bicycles and shoes. This makes me as unfamiliar with skateboarding as an 11 year old behind the wheel of a Formula One car. Excuses out of the way, let’s move on now to the shooting.
First piece of wisdom I can offer – When shooting with a 14mm lens, never underestimate the illusion of distance. About a millisecond after this shot, that lovely mural became one with my lens hood and forehead. No damage to either but it did help me learn that not all tricks go as planned.
This is how it was meant to play out. Nailed it!
Rail-surfing like a boss!
I still can’t fathom how they do that and then keep on going afterward.
One of the guys there was into photography so I let him play with the camera. He shot this one of me. As is very apparent in the photo, I’ve grown a beard.
By this time, the sun was completely gone. This was my last shot of the night.
I’ve learned from this experience that skateboarding is blend of sport and art. Be it music, visual art, or a performance art such as this, I’m always impressed and blessed to get to witness the result of such dedication.
Mark and Kelly, thank you for hospitality and kindness. The kids had such a good time – they’re still talking about it. I would definitely like to do this again.