A clash of the titans.
Words by Max Olijnyk.
Anyone who’s attempted skate photography will know how addictive, satisfying, frustrating, and impossibly difficult it can be. Maybe you’re a natural, I don’t know. Lord knows I’ve tried, and failed miserably more often than not. A bad workman always blames his tools, so I started thinking to myself, “Maybe it’s my camera that’s the problem, not me.” Yeah, that’s it. So I asked a bunch of my favourite photographers what camera they use so I could get to the bottom of why I suck at skate photography. Their answers may shock you.
Q1. Do you shoot Canon or Nikon?
Q2. Which brand is the best camera set-up for shooting skateboarding, and what is your favourite camera?
Q3. Can you share a technical tip to taking a good skate photograph?
1. Canon has been my choice of camera since day one. I’ve never really had a reason to switch.
2. I still really like my Canon 1DX for shooting skate stuff because it has the sequence option for up to 14FPS and is full frame for stills. I have the Canon 8-15mm fisheye, 70-200 2.8 mark II, 24-70mm 2.8 mark II, and a few other random lenses I’ve picked up along the way.
3. Walk around and check for different angles before you shoot a skate photo. Don’t always rely on the easy/safe angle. That’s a tip that I need to remind myself of often. Don’t be lazy.
1. Nikon, because I like them better. Growing up, Canon cameras felt like toys. I still kinda see them that way. Canons generally have more features, like Wi-Fi and better filming capabilities, but Nikon is a better tool for simply taking photos.
2. My favourite camera is my Leica M240. Otherwise, I use a Nikon D4, and an 80-200 f2.8.
3. Pay attention to your horizon line. Crooked photos are NOT OK!
1. I have Nikon gear. I started buying Nikon lenses, so by the time digital really came around I was kinda stuck with Nikon, just because it would have been really expensive to change everything up. There have been periods where the Canon digital cameras seemed better than the Nikon ones, but it’s seemed to have leveled out now. It really doesn’t matter what brand of camera you’re using, anyway.
2. Last time I upgraded was about a year ago because my gear was stolen, but I actually just bought all the same stuff that I had previously. The D800E is the newest model that I own, but that’s a couple of years old now. It’s 36 megapixels and full frame, so it would take something really special for me to upgrade again.
3. Cross light.
1. Nikon, because the guy at the camera shop told me to go with that camera for the amount of money I had at the time.
2. There is no right or wrong when it comes to shooting skating. Heaps of people are using different cameras all of the time. It’s hard to keep up. I’m happy with my Nikon D800.
3. Try and have the skater as visible as possible. Have them against a blank wall, or in the sky to make them stand out from the rest of the image.
1. Nikon. Why not?
2. It probably has to go back to all the film cameras, like the Hasselblad with its square fisheye. But film’s dead, so I’m pretty happy with the Nikon D800.
3. Always be out skating and have your camera on you.
1. Nikon, but it doesn’t really matter these days.
2. I don’t think there is a best camera set-up for shooting skating, really. I’ve always sort of preferred shooting long lens photos. I used to hate shooting digital, but now I don’t really mind it. With a little patience in post-production you can do some great stuff. Also, having the option to work with HD video in the same camera is a plus. I recently upgraded to a Nikon D810, which shoots both high quality stills and video.
3. A tip to shooting a great skate photo is to grab someone stylish like Josh Pall, and a unique spot, and mix that with some nice natural light.
1. I am a Nikon man through and through. These days you have to really love Nikon to choose them. Canon are always bringing new stuff out and have so many options for photo and video, but Nikon is for the tough guys.
2. iPhone 6 with a Death Lens and Snapseed app.
3. To be a good skate photographer, skateboard.
1. I feel like a bit of a knob talking about what gear I use. But Nikon all day!
1. My first ever camera was a Nikon. They have never changed their lens mounts, so I’m able to still shoot with all of the old manual, fixed lenses that I like, and my process when shooting hasn’t changed too much since shooting film.
2. There’s no such thing. I really want to shoot a whole article with a disposable camera. I’ve been thinking about this for years now. Sometimes limitations of shitty gear force you to make something more creative and beautiful than if you are trying to fulfill the potential of your equipment all the time.
3. Be quick. Try to tell the whole story. Find a clean background. Take risks. Composition is everything.
So it seems, at least from the esteemed respondents to my questions, that Nikon is the tool of choice for the modern skate photographer – but mainly out of necessity, rather than choice. Once you’ve started investing in a system it’s hard to turn back, but it seems you can’t lose either way. If you’re about to take the plunge and buy your first camera, make sure you do lots of research, play with them in camera shops, borrow them from friends, and see if you can rustle up any deals. Most photographers have their eye on a new camera at all times, and they are often open to the idea of selling their old gear to fund a shiny new acquisition. And remember, many of the best skate photographs were taken on basic film cameras, so that’s a great place to start. As Andrew Peters says, “It’s all about the photo, not the gear.” I’m off to buy a Nikon.
Art by Dave Read. This article was printed in our 2015 Photography Edition – available here.