Seeing Is Believing: The Role of Reality In Skateboard Photography

Seeing Is Believing: The Role of Reality In Skateboard Photography

Skateboard Photography

Words by Neil Alonzo

The art of photography is perhaps the single greatest gift skateboarding has ever received.  We look to Skateboard Photography to document and validate the progression of the sport.  But what if all was not what it seemed?  What if the unspoken rule of running photos of tricks that weren’t made actually found their way into the magazines?  We are, in fact guilty of this, as is undoubtedly every other skateboard magazine. We decided to call a few photographers and a couple of industry heads and see what their standards are in the hope of bringing this issue out into the open.  

Skateboard Photography QUESTION 1: 
What is your take about photos that get run in magazines that weren’t a make?
“It’s like, Fake Tits! (Laughing) Nah… (Long pause). It’s a lie… anybody can pose on a board, but too each his own.” Tim Gavin (Marketing Manager at Podium Distribution)

“The skater better go back and pull it.  It is the skater’s integrity.  It happens all the time though, more often than you think.” Brenden Klien (Photographer) 

“I don’t think it’s good unless, it’s intended to be a bail.” Grant Brittain (Legendary Skateboard Photographer, Photo Editor The Skateboard Mag)

“You have to be there to actually know the circumstances or if there is security guards and other issues. I mean…everybody’s guilty of it.” Joe Krolick (Photographer)

“It would have to depend on the individual. For instance, Tom Penny could get away with it, because he is amazing. It also falls on the skater and the respect of your peers.” Corey Cady (Marketing/Team Manager Active Ride Shop)

“If they didn’t it’s not right. It’s falsely rising the level skateboarding.” DeVille Nunes (Photographer)

Skateboard Photography QUESTION 2: Do you use photos that weren’t a make?

“No!  We do not use any photos in ads that weren’t landed by our guys.” Tim Gavin (Marketing Manager at Podium Distribution) 

“I used to, back in 96, 97, and 98 when the skater would promise me he would go back and get it, and I would never see the footage.  Now I would have to see the footage before it was used.” Dave Swift (Photographer, Editor, The Skateboard Mag)

“I consult with the skater and if he needs a photo to send, then I’ll do it. Assuming he will go back and make the trick…” Tadashi (Photographer)

“Yeah…I’ll admit to that one. (Laughs) Like I said, though they always go back and get it on video. It’s the circumstances that may be involved as well, like getting kicked out and the photo came out great, but they need it for an ad or whatever else their working on. But they eventually go back and get it.” Ed Dominick (Photographer)

“Everything we do is backed up by footage.” Seamus Deegan (Team Manager, Birdhouse)

“As a photographer…yes. The photos that are used in a magazine, 9 times out of 10 are not the make. They most likely made the trick, but the best shot may not have been a make.” Jeff Taylor (Brand Manager, DC SHOES)

“I leave it up to the skater. He the one who busts his ass, is it not right to give it to him? He is the one who did it. It’s his photo, there are special circumstances, but if they want me to send it, I will.” Deville Nunes (Photographer)

Skateboard Photography

The most famous “Not Make” ever run. Jamie Thomas’ Leap Of Faith. Photo: Grant Brittain.

Skateboard Photography  QUESTION3: What’s you take on, if a photo is ran, then you see the footage in a video?

“It is better then. That’s cool. Especially if the photo was a still, then you want to see how the trick was done.” Dave Swift (Photographer)

“It’s good, that image is a still motion in time. Then seeing the trick in/on film, it reinforces the confidence of the photo.” RP Bess (Brand Manager World Industries)

“Personally, I don’t mind if it’s a still, then you get to see the whole trick in the video, but if it is a sequence shot. It takes away from the video footage. You have already seen the whole trick.” Ed Dominick  (Photographer)

“It’s good, you get familiar with the trick and it makes you wonder how or what did it take. Then you see the footage and it looks amazing.” Corey Cady (Marketing/Team Manager Active Ride Shop)

“That’s the way it seems too work…it’s become the standard. Everyone wants to see the flow of the trick after they see the photo.” Seamus Deegan

“It definitely makes the photographer feel good. It makes him more money.”-Cole Mathews

Skateboard Photography

Sammy Baca’s Airwalk was a make. Photo: Cronan

Skateboard Photography  QUESTION 4: What if you see the footage of a trick, and then see a photo come out?

“That’s different. (Pause) Its like, “been there, done that”. Sometimes it’s not the photographers fault when a photo or footage comes out, but if it does happen it seems redundant.” Tim Gavin  (Marketing Manager at Podium Distribution)

“Stills I think are different. It’s Art. A sequence shot is almost the same as film. That’s why sequences are used, to give you the visual of the trick in its entirety; they are not as artful as a still. But if you see the sequence, then the footage is not as good too see. You have already seen what it looks like.” Dave Swift

“That makes it kinda stale. But if there is something about the photo, like the lighting or a sunset. Because you can’t truly get the feel of the background in video that you get in a photo. Some photos look better with the different lighting or angles.” Joe Krolick

“I don’t think much of it. Allot of it is out of the photographers control. Videos are coming out and you never really know when the photo is going to be used.” Ed Dominick

“The opposite bothers me. For instance, the éS’ video came out, and then Koston did an interview piece with all the photos from the footage that was in the video. It made the editorial lose its value, had it been the other way around it would have made people more excited to see the footage.” Jeff Taylor

Skateboard Photography

Mark Gutterman Backside Smith. Photo: Krolick

  Skateboard Photography  QUESTION5:  How do you feel about the use of Photoshop in photos?

“As long as you don’t alter the height or the size of the skater or a manual pad, gap. I have seen photos that the size of the skater was made smaller to make everything he is doing look bigger. (Laughs) Some people like to remove the flash stands and filmers, before you didn’t worry about that. But, it is hard to go out and shoot, and not have a filmer in the shot, so it makes sense.” Grant Brittain

“Sometimes it’s good. If you have to remove light stands or if a guy is riding someone else’s board and there is a logo that needs to be cut, because he blatantly doesn’t ride for that company.” Joe Krolick

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, that’s what it was made for.” Ed Dominick

“I heard stories that some have made people air higher on a mini ramp (laughs). If it’s not altering the skating in the photos, for like a flash or taking a person out of the background, I think it’s good. Look at Professional photographers in fashion magazines…they take it to an entirely different level with air-brushing and color changing.” Seamus Deegan

“Totally depends. For editorial it’s lame, but for advertisers it has become the norm.” Jeff Taylor (Brand Manager at DC Shoes)

Skateboard Photography

The Duffs Ad Campaign with Stacey Lowery doing a 360 flip on top of an airplane wing left most wondering if it was a fancy photoshop trick, it wasn’t. Photo: RP Bess

Skateboard Photography  QUESTION 6: Does it help if the photographer drinks and does other shit with their subjects?

“Fuck no…No Way! (Laughs)” Tim Gavin

“(Laughing loudly) Shit! Of course it helps. If I am a skater and a guy is offering me a bag of weed if I make this trick, then hell yes it helps. Or if the photographer offers to buy drinks if he makes it. Depending upon what they’re into. If the photographer shows up drunk, you could have a problem, I have heard some stories.” Dave Swift

“(Laughs) It depends on who they’re (photographer) is rollin’ with. Some guys like different things, but that doesn’t means the photographer has to do it.” Grant Brittain

“I don’t think so, but I’m down for anything…” Tadashi

“(Laughs) Yeah…sure. Couldn’t hurt.” Ed Dominick

“I don’t believe so…No. I don’t see how a straight-edged guy could shoot photos better or worse than a guy who drinks.” Jeff Taylor

“Of course in a big way.” DeVille Nunes

“Aw (pause)…yeah. It’s always good. It strange too say, but you have to bro down with people you sometimes wouldn’t in skateboarding. It’s like high school. So if you do some stuff with some guys and shoot them, who’s to say they are going to call you again to go shoot. You make that connection after the skating is done. It seems to be more of a thing down south than north, but on any given day…there are spots you can go too and count on seeing someone there.” Cole Mathews

Skateboard Photography  QUESTION 7: What are some of the more popular photos that you remember that weren’t a make?

“I really don’t know… (Thinking pause) well, the Leap of Faith, I shot that. But everyone knew that wasn’t a make, just the fact that he tried it.” Grant Brittain

Skateboard Photography

Tom Penny’s infamous Transworld cover. Story told by Dave Swift
It was a good day, I was going out to shoot some transplant from Europe, he rode for Flip. Tom shows up and he starts skating, he does some 5-0’s first try, then some other tricks first try. Then he goes out and starts trying those things (Front-Bluntslides) goes out and takes a few tries. I was all set-up to shoot this other guy. So I was like,”Fuck I’ll just shoot this” so the first one he tries he slides all the way down to the end and he pretty much could have made it, so I shot like four more. Then he heard one of his buddies showed up with some weed. So he goes and smokes weed, then takes off (laughing). I mean…there was no frustration; it wasn’t like he had been slamming all day. Everybody was like “Whoa…he was just doing something super gnarly and just stopped”. He could have done it, he hadn’t slammed…then left; and that’s pretty much the way Tom was. Everybody was like, “He’ll come back and make it” and seeing how he was doing it was it was no problem, like he’ll get up for breakfast and come down here and do this. And it just kinda of never happened. Cause at the time Tom Penny was the sickest dude…so we ran it right away, thinking he would go back and do it.


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