Skate Photographer’s Etiquette and Technique or lack thereof

05.17.09 – J. Grant Brittain

The fisheye lens has been the skate photographer’s staple lens of choice for over 30 years since the late, great Warren Bolster(RIP) first captured images of the 70s skate legends on film. The fisheye is an essential tool when shooting skateboarders. Skateboarding is one of the few photographic subjects where the fisheye is used extensively. The lens has its uses and misuses. Many years ago, I can remember Thrasher’s photographer, Mofo lecturing and regulating the younger photographers about their bad habit of not looking through their viewfinders, holding the camera out at arm’s length and just shooting willy-nilly anything that moved. I admit, I was guilty of it in my early days of shooting. Making skate photos is no different than making any kind of photos. Photography is an artform and certain elements must all come together to make a nice photo, a certain amount of skill in operating the camera is also essential. In skate photography, the action, the light, the vantage point, the exposure and the composition are the main ingredients neccessary in creating an adequate skate photo. Anyone can learn the technical basics of the camera. I have checked out thousands of other photog’s photos and the ones that have really stood out are the ones where the composition of the photo really put it over the top. The photo had balance to it, the horizon was straight, not tilted, arms and legs and boards not cropped out, it was composed. You can’t possibly compose a shot if you are not looking through the viewfinder, that’s why the manufacturer put it on the camera! Very few of those haphazardly taken shots come out. I was compelled to write about the fisheye and its proper usage after shooting at the Protec Pool Party yesterday. I was amazed and shocked that the old ways of shooting without looking through the viewfinder had again raised its ugly head. Ok, it was very crowded on the deck of the combi pool, five to ten photographers lined up at each trick spot. That’s just part of shooting a big contest where anyone with a camera(phone) can obtain a wristband(or not) and sit shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow with skate photographers who have paid their dues to skateboarding over the years. Well, that’s another story, back to not looking through the viewfinder. I hadn’t really witnessed this nasty habit in a long time, I think a Munster Monster Mastership in Germany in the mid 90s was the last time, the habit had spread from the States to Europe, our gift to them. I thought it had thankfully died out until yesterday, it’s back with a vengeance! Unfortunately, the practice of not looking through the viewfinder not only affects the practitioner’s photos, but also affects the photographers’ photos around them. In one instance, I had a photo framed(composed) and then had a hand holding a camera come into frame from Stage Right and at the same time a photographer walking by, stopping and taking a photo with camera held at waist level in front of me.
I actually shook my head rapidly from side to side like in the cartoons, I was amazed at the lack of etiquette, skill and manners. It was unbelievable. I finally had to call off one guy after he repeatedly ruined several of my shots by sticking his hand and camera into my viewfinder frame. This isn’t all about ME, I saw this action committed over and over again to many of my peers and it’s simply NOT COOL!
My advice to novices is to learn the rules of photography first and to realize what is an acceptable way to act when shooting around other photographers.thomasJamie Thomas, Photo: Brittain