Earlier this week, Mike Harrington photographed a couple of skateboarders in Norwich as part of a shoot for Getty Images – with the aim of expressing a few ideas that occasionally get left behind when photographing the activity.
Mike and I are in agreement that the strongest image from the shoot is the one illustrated below. The strength of the image lies in the superb use of context and in the creation of a strong lighting set-up. Mike makes a point of stressing “good lighting that makes sense” – slight adjustments of lighting situations that might already be found in certain contexts. If the viewer is led to question a lighting set-up, it hasn’t worked. To fit the sporting subject and the context, then, Mike aimed for a ‘floodlit’ effect, with the subject and the ground amply lit from above. One portable Elinchrom quadra light was set up on a boom to a height of twenty feet, with another, stopped down, used at a separate angle to fill in the consequent shadows. Such crisp light allows the skateboard and the skateboarder’s legs, in the foreground of the image, to be ‘frozen’ in motion, drawing attention to the skateboarder’s skill and lending a sense of drama to the image. The texture of the ground is also significant: along with the graffiti on the wall in the background, the grit communicates a strong sense of urban life – a popular theme in this style of photography.
In addition to all of this, the composition of the image is excellent: the alignment of the tip of the skateboard with the apex of the building, in the centre of the shot, is an outstanding focal point – and from it, the rest of the photograph unravels, from the skateboard to the ground and then to the background. There is a refreshing simplicity to this image – which also contains a good deal of space for, say, superimposed text or graphics. The ground-level shot is a relatively common theme across skateboarding photographs, although some photographers working with similar subjects have combined it with other perspectives, using wide angles to maximise background contexts, placing skateboarders near more contemporary architecture and even photographing them underwater (to convey a sense of skateboarders’ velocity, presumably…) As I have stated, the strength of this image lies in the context and the lighting, but we must conclude that the desired effect of the combination – particularly as a stock photograph – is to portray a sense of normality. It does this very well.