One of my favorite photo shooting techniques is ‘run and gun’ photography, rolling with a lightly equipped photo bag documenting action and lifestyle as it happens with no set art direction or plan in hand. You could be at a contest, meeting some friends at the skatepark or hitting up a skate spot on a moment’s notice. Mobility is key to successfully shooting these scenarios, aka a light backpack with minimal photo gear. Equipped with only a body and two to three lenses keeps it light and nimble as you skate around with the crew, making the best out of any situation with a wide, prime and zoom lens that’s ready for action.
The first scenario I’ll discuss was attending a skateboarding contest in a downtown setting, middle of the day, the area slightly shaded by the city park trees, two separate events happing. The ‘game of skate’ positions two skaters against each other, where they attempt to match each other trick for trick (the rules were taken right from a ‘game of horse’ in basketball), if you don’t land back on your board on any given attempt, you receive a letter, once you spell ‘skate,’ you’re eliminated from the competition, the winner moves on to face the next opponent. The ‘high ollie contest’ is very a straightforward battle between the competitors as you stay in the game as long as you can continue jumping over a stack of skateboards as one is added each time that particular height it cleared.
As you could imagine, a skateboarding contest moves along rapidly, a lot is happening with dozens of skaters battling through the early rounds, but this is your opportunity to get a lay of the land, see where the light and shadows are falling and work out your angles. It’s easy to get that feeling of missing this or that because you can’t be everywhere at once, so pick your battles, work on a solid shot and feel good about chipping away at a collection of images covering the day. I aimed to capture lifestyle, media personnel and some skating happening just to the side of the contest, then positioning myself for the final round where the champ would be crowned.
One thing to remember about covering a competition is it’s a competition, so there will be a winner, and the winning photo is the most important image to take home from the entire day, especially if you’re on assignment. Everything else builds the story, the vibe and supplies your readers with a background of the event. When those early rounds of elimination are happening and you’re figuring out the photo possibilities, you’ll be set up to capture a solid image of the winning trick (and winner) because you knew right where to be at the right time.
The second scenario is throwing your camera pack in the car if you’re headed out to burn a day with no set plan in mind, a bag equipped with a body, couple lenses and tripod. Maybe we’ll go here, go there, stop by and see so and so, or the call may come in saying: “hey, we’re skating such and such park, come through.” This technique of cruising with a ‘run and gun’ set up is something that will surely get you a couple of images by day’s end. Since I was moving about via the automobile, I threw in a basic flash with remote simply because it takes up very little space, weighs nothing and would be available if needed.
A couple of friends had pedaled from New York City to San Francisco over the course of eight months, skating everything they could get a pair of trucks onto, so they hit me up during the closing days of the adventure and asked to meet at the Pacifica Skatepark. I was already roaming around the coastline outside San Francisco; so driving my car just a few miles to meet them wasn’t even a question. Besides, how could I say no to a pair of friends who spent that much time on bicycles in the name of skateboarding!
First and foremost I was there to see my friends, hang out, skate the park and enjoy a Saturday afternoon under partly sunny skies. With a small camera bag sitting by our other supplies, I got to skating around the park with the crew, knowing full well the possibility of snapping an image or two would present itself. While I was taking a break from rolling around on the concrete, a local skater was ripping the bowl section right where we were camped out trading travel tales, so I took out my DSLR, mounted up the 20mm lens, placed the small flash just out of frame to the right, and readied for his next line. Sure enough, he came through along his route, busted a perfect ‘frontside rock and roll’ and I captured a completely natural moment in our day (see above image). There was no set plan for this, we didn’t know the guy skating, he was a local ripper running through his lines in the bowl, my camera was sitting there, I snapped a pic.
It’s funny how capturing a photo works in shaping your day from there on out, as it did with this moment. After I showed the guys the above image, they got hyped to shoot a few images skating the bowl themselves, so I quickly sussed out three angles, kept the 20mm on the DSLR and climbed up the perimeter fencing to have an upper angle of the action below. Moving myself into this position created a feel to the photo I thought would make a satisfactory image, and then waited for the guys to roll through and shot a burst of images as they grinded the pool coping. After two images on two different top angles, I moved into a wide-angle position to capture a feeble grind, getting it within a couple attempts, then put the camera away and kept skating.
This third scenario involves running out the door at the very last second to collect some skateboarding photos I hadn’t planned on shooting when I woke up that morning. The same two friends who pedaled their bicycles from NYC to SF decided to pedal from New York to Vermont over a one-week period, arriving around 11am on a Thursday, skateboards and tenting equipment stacked onto their bicycles in trekking fashion. After some warm greetings and storytelling of their epic adventure, they said they’d love to go skating, so we bounced out the door to a DIY (Do It Yourself build) spot around the corner. I grabbed my camera bag along with one body, a wide, prime and zoom lens, my BeFree tripod and skated out with them.
These guys had just pedaled from New York City to Burlington, Vermont on bicycles, which is a big task given the constant elevation change through the Green Mountains, so all they wanted to do was skateboard for a bit and enjoy being out of the saddle. With that said, I wasn’t asking them to help me out with any images, I was strictly shooting whatever they were skating, and that’s what you need to remember with photography: read the situation, know when to ask for this or that, and more importantly, know when to not say anything at all and just shoot.
On our way to the DIY spot, I knew we needed to push for awhile to reach the build, so I shot off ahead to ready an image of the guys skating up to the spot, and with a light set up it was quick and easy to whip out the DLSR, attach the 70-200mm lens and snap the first image you see below. After that, I set up on the BeFree tripod, aimed my camera at a couple of different obstacles and pressed the trigger when they decided to skate through. An hour’s worth of taking pictures and I came away four photos that summed up their arrival to Vermont, enjoyed a skate session with my friends and heard many great stories about their latest adventure.
A ‘run and gun’ set up is a fun photo kit to bring along when embarking on a journey, of course I would love to have all my camera gear available to me on every shoot, but if that were the case, you would miss a lot of images dealing with excess gear. There’s plenty of photo opportunities that call for complex lighting arrangements with multiple takes, so the ‘run and gun’ set up is actually refreshing, because it’s so simple and light! Give it try on your next mission, enjoy.