Getting Started In Skateboard Photography: An Interview with Kyle Seidler
Kyle Seidler is a skateboard photographer based in the Long Beach, CA. His works can be seen in Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding. Currently, he’s a staff photographer for Sole Technology, which is a collection of skate brands such as Etnies, Emerica, Altamont, and éS. He also stays busy as a freelancer, traveling with brands and working with magazines pitching articles. We sat down with Kyle to talk about his work, his process, and what it takes to break into the competitive skateboarding community.
BL: How did you get started in photography?
Seidler: I was in grade school when I first I started photographing skateboarding. I was able to rent a 35mm camera from my school’s photo lab and would focus attention on my friends skating. I was inspired by the individualism of skateboarders and observing their style. The timing of how someone does a kickflip or 360 flip, an interesting posture they’ll have – it contains the same artistic feel as choreographed dancing. My first published photo was from a roll of film I’d shot during a random session with a buddy of mine that I had decided to submit to a monthly contest in a regional skate publication. The photo came in 3rd place and after seeing my image in print I knew I wanted to continue.
When I decided to take things more seriously I sought inspiration from older issues of skate magazines, like Skateboarder and Thrasher, to see how the photographers I looked up to, like Grant Brittain or Atiba Jefferson, shot things. To this day those magazines have a great impact on the way I shoot.
BL: What is your game plan when you’re shooting? Do you ever conceptualize?
Seidler: I’ll try to have control over the shoot maybe a quarter of the time. My style is more ‘go with the flow’, which is generally what you’re forced to do when it comes to skateboarding. When going out to shoot an unpredictable sport like skateboarding there are many variables that the photographer has no control over that they would in another genre. What you get in the image all depends on the skater and the obstacle.
When I do plan my shot ahead of time the first consideration is understanding what I’m trying to highlight in the shot. I’ll ask myself whether it’s crucial that the hero image be horizontal or vertical. For example, if it’s going to be a 2-page spread (depending on the layout), the orientation must be horizontal. Another example is if I’m trying to exaggerate an obstacle I’ll shoot vertically from a lower angle to make it look taller and the maneuver more dramatic. In some situations we’ll have a specific location planned for a photo and, depending on where or what the obstacle is, the background may play a more important roll than the subject. Sometimes, what the subject is wearing needs to be the focal point in the image. If the photo is advertorial then I’ll play more of a roll instructing the skater to do a certain trick or shoot at a different angle in order to highlight the product.
If I’m trying to make a mundane scene more interesting I’ll play around with placing an out-of-focus object in the foreground or isolating the subject in a specific spot. It’s rad when you have a situation where the background carries the image. Sometimes I get lucky and find a cool spot with a view that can really create beauty in the mundane.
BL: What gear do you use and how you consider what you choose to shoot with?
Seidler: I’m in the school of thought that photo gear is only as good as the person using it, so it’s not all that necessary to be shooting with the newest, most expensive equipment to create work you can be proud of. In may bag now is a Nikon D700 with a few different Nikon lenses, including a Nikon 16mm f/2.8D, Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 24-120mm f/4G, and a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II.
I also use a few different light sources, such as a Sunpak 120J II and two Neewer AD360s, which are nice, bright, bare bulb flashes that create a hard widespread light (similar to a Quantum Qflash) and are usually used in situations where I want to be in complete control of my lighting or when battling sunlight. I also have two Nikon SB-900 Speedlights that are usually used for edge lighting on the subject, with a few Pocket Wizards to trigger the lights remotely (a Flex TT5, four Plus X triggers, and one Multimax). These are essential for shooting skateboarding since my work is primarily shot on location in varying light conditions. I’d love to get my hands on the Nikon D5 and some Profoto lights, like the B1 Air, so that I can get the super high speed sync shots but what I have now can still do the job.
When judging my exposure for a skate photo I’ll usually try to keep my shutter speed at 1/800th of a second or faster to fully stop motion, which can be difficult when using flashes unless you use the Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 or similar hyper-sync trigger. If I’m in low light conditions, I’ll rely on the quick duration of my flashes at low power to freeze the subject and slow my shutter down to expose for some ambient light.
BL: What do you look for in your work when submitting them for print or updating your portfolio?
Seidler: When submitting photos to magazines to get published I’ll choose images that I think can stand out from other photos, whether it’s the difficulty of the trick or an interesting composition. If the trick I’ve captured is really good or the skater is at the top of the game, those factors will absolutely help sell the photo. For myself, however, I like to create photos that have a different ‘feel’ to them – something more than just the trick. If I can include an interesting background or dramatic lighting that highlights the skater’s style as well as the trick, I always push to accomplish that.
BL: How did you get your start shooting for Thrasher and Transworld Skateboarding?
Seidler: I’ve been submitting photos to editors and skate magazines for years but started really getting noticed once I moved out of my hometown of Chicago and started shooting in New York. It was at that point I decided to move to California, being at the epicenter of the sport where many of the brands and magazines I wanted to shoot for are located. This opened the door for me to start skating with bigger-name pros who have a higher demand for photography.
For beginners, I suggest getting an inexpensive kit to start with and a few good lenses. One of my first lenses was a Nikon 50mm f/1.4G and that has never let me down – it’s still one of my main lenses.
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