Skateboarding photography in the mainstream world can be pretty cut and dry. Most of the photos appear so similar to me, I’ve always felt this way, but more so as I’ve continued in skateboarding photography. Resultingly, I let my subscriptions run out with main magazines like Transworld and Thrasher. The Skateboard Mag was good for a while, but I’ve gotten bored of their photos too—as well as their ever-shrinking magazine. Those simple fisheye photos amidst a dirty stairset. Boring sequences. Fisheye at the top of a pool with a flash. The standard shots showing nothing but a handrail and trick. Trendy tilted fisheye or nighttime long exposures with flash. Not only do you see them in the fading glory of print, you encounter them online over and over.
They’re just boring to me. But seeing them everywhere in skateboarding causes me to start falling into the trap of shooting and posting similar uninteresting photos. When I realize that I’m shooting in this uncreative, cookie-cutter fashion, I get burnt out and slow down shooting stills. There have been numerous times where I’ve completely stopped for months in frustration and solely filmed for the skate video. I’m usually able to find a good balance between shooting and filming—but not when I’m burnt out from making boring images.
There are a few things that I’ve learned that help remedy getting burnt out on skateboarding photography:
1. Know that most of the time it’s a skateboarder who has a camera, documenting the trick solely for the purpose of letting viewers know “this trick went down on this spot.” This is not someone who is really involved in photography outside of skateboarding that wants to make meaningful and creative imagery. Usually these people are the ones shooting images that look just like everything else because that’s what they learned from and look towards. If not, it’s one of the staff photographers who just go out and lazily shoot whatever “hot” skater the editor picks. Their job is to fill up magazines month after month, so over their years at the mags you can watch as the quality and effort put into making something original and creative dips. Hell, they’re probably burnt out too.
2. Realize that sometimes you need to be that guy above. If you’re shooting something where the the kickout factor is high (think skating in a subway or downtown area) and/or the trick is insane or dangerous (think Jaws), you may need to stick to something standard and conventional. There may not be enough time to plan out and execute an original photo if you need to run and gun, the skater lands their trick, or gets broke off by the time you realize your unique lighting or angle isn’t going as planned. Definitely not every photograph falls into this category, but occasionally it’s necessary to remember.
3. Try and shoot other things, things that are new or different to you work best. Don’t get burnt out on all of photography. If you need to shoot a trick, try to focus on documenting faces, broken boards, battle scars, or kickouts. I like to shoot things outside of skateboarding photography like street scenes and urban landscapes, so maybe I’ll focus on those instead. I can often do that while everyone’s warming up at a skatepark which is all the better.
4. One of the larger remedies for me is looking at photos from far beyond the hotbed of skateboarding that is California. I often need to remind myself that California’s magazines and photographers are only a fraction of what’s out there. Look at photographers who are from Canada (many of my personal favorites are), the east coast, Europe, and everywhere else. I’ve find that these photographers and their local publications like Kingpin, SBC, and 43 Magazine offer a massive refreshment creative spark and reprieve from seeing all the same spots that have been photographed to death. Their photos encourage me to try to find and shoot at unique spots, as well be more creative with what I have.
5. Of course, you will need to keep shooting and moving forward with skateboarding photography—like everything else. But experiment everywhere possible. Remember that experiments are just that: experiments. Some will work and some won’t. The key is to try something and learn from it, be it radically different angles, ways of lighting, or post-processing for example. Just continue on.