Skateboarding provides endless opportunities in exploring your surroundings, near or far, whether you pile into the car with your crew and hit a specific spot or taking the highway in any direction to see what you find. Road trips and exploration opens your eyes to new realms of possibility and creativity by seeing what others are doing with their skateboarding terrain, inspiring change and evolution to your own.
Take this ‘Do It Yourself’ spot on the east coast, a location we call the ‘Dead Freeway’ as it was a two-lane road that was built but never opened to motorized vehicles. The skateboarders of this region used what they knew from seeing others turn abandoned areas into viable skate spots to create something of their own, open to all.
The ‘Dead Freeway’ plays host to any and all who want to come out and skateboard, while being an open canvas to anyone wishing to construct a new obstacle on these abandoned grounds. The attitude of DIY (Do It Yourself) projects goes hand in hand with photography, as most of what you’ll shoot with your camera is something you dreamt up and made happen, just like the area featured in these photos. Your camera won’t take pictures for you, it requires that motivation in capturing those images you want, and documenting subject matter you find interesting or completing an assignment.
From time to time I’ll pack up a couple DSLR bodies, three or four lenses along with two to three small flashes and catch the crew for a session at the Dead Freeway. With this relaxed environment I can take my time setting up shots, working with the guys on specific tricks or push around the skateboard for a bit. Having the two camera bodies available provides a chance to set up your first unit on the obstacle, flashes in place, while the second camera can stay around your neck or nearer other areas of the skate spot.
With a session happening on the bank wall, I decided on a composition that worked in the tall trees and foliage around the obstacle to give the viewer an idea of the environment while clearly showing the skateboarding (see above image). I set up a Sunpak 544 on three-quarters power left side out of frame, with a second Sunpak 544 out of frame right side, set at half-power, hoping to match the ambient light of the distant sky. There was a bit of wind as well, so I opted to use the Pocket Wizard TT5 high-speed sync transmitter on a Nikon D4, allowing me to shoot at 1/1000 shutter speed (f7.1) to keep the trees from blurring in the background and offering plenty of flexibility in freezing the fast moving skater for a tack sharp image. With all of these exposure settings in place, I was able to get excellent contrast throughout the image, from the shady areas to the sky and flashed areas.
The placement of the flashes was key in highlighting the obstacle and the skateboarder within the image, which is what you want out of any given photo so the viewer knows what they’re looking at initially, then taking in the remainder of the composition. You could micro adjust either of these flashes a handful of ways to give you the exact feel to the photo you’re going for, so never hesitate adjusting any equipment if your gut tells you something is in need of change. While setting up this shot I probably adjusted the flash head angles three or four times, along with moving each Manfrotto 190CXpro3 a couple of feet forward or back before I was satisfied.
After prepping my primary angle and securing the focus point and composition with the D4 mounted to a Manfrotto 190CXpro3, I readied my Nikon D3s with a 20mm 2.8 Lens as a second unit to capture some (slow shutter speed) moments as the guys skated into the obstacle. Opting on a slower shutter speed in hopes of producing a bit of blur with the skateboarder, pavement and background, I felt it a worthy contributor to the day’s photo collection. I had time to follow the skater running in, dropping his skateboard down and pushing, either panning with the camera in hand, or skating next to them utilizing the continuous shooting mode, and then arriving at my primary angle to press the shutter button at the proper moment. Whether I’m shooting two cameras or not, I generally keep my primary angle on a tripod ready to go if the athletes are repeatedly performing their maneuver in the same exact location, this saves a ton of work recomposing and focusing every time they have a go at it.
Working a second angle to capture those additional moments is a solid practice because you’ll always end up with a couple of gems, and you have nothing to lose in burning through a few extra megapixels during the editing process.
As the afternoon progressed, the ambient light started its trek to sunset, so I powered down the flashes just a bit as to not over expose the subject matter, which now included another skateboarder in the frame, who was following the skateboarder with video camera in hand capturing video footage. Keeping my D4 settings at 1000 / 6.3, the dark areas were nearing complete black out while the sky was taking on a sunset tone with the flashes providing my desired pop. I lowered the flash on looker’s right to get the skater’s shadow off of the cement bank (as you can see in the first image) to let the looker’s left flash illuminate the asphalt and bank while it lit just enough of the other skater to get an idea of his role within the image.
With the available light winding down, I grabbed my flashes and placed them in position to catch another skateboarder warming up on a different obstacle. As I was readying the tripods and testing flash placement, I happened upon a good moment of the skateboarder trying to figure out his maneuver over the obstacle, which is pretty common when each piece of the photo party is dialing in their responsibilities.
Flashes set and camera settings carried over from the cement bank session, we rattled off a few attempts on the wooden spine ramp, then a couple of tricks over the cement spine before the ambient light had departed and the skateboarder could no longer safely pursue take off to landing.
After photo shoot completion, I headed to home base to download the images (Raw Files) and back up the day’s bounty to three separate storage devices, ensuring their longevity amongst the craziness of life. The first step in processing the photos is adding metadata, then renaming each image according, which I organize as follows: ‘AthleteName_Location_Photographer_ImageUniqueID,’ example being: ‘StefanEcho_DeadFreeway_Blotto_1083’
Once the numbers and letters are in place, I move into Adobe Lightroom to manipulate the raw file including crop, tone adjustment, saturation or any other adjustments I deem necessary to my vision of each individual image. Many times you’ll find no adjustments or manipulation is required, so don’t feel like you have to modify or change the image every time. Upon completing any given folder, the export process includes one DNG File and one Low Res Jpeg per image, that eventually get cataloged according to your organizational preference.
These types of days bring a smile to my face in knowing the time and effort paid off with a few photos to share with the athletes, a fitting reward to their time and effort in dreaming up and building a great photo shoot location.