For those unfamiliar, Vic Harster (@victureproduction) is one of the most well-known photographers in the longboard dancing scene.
She’s been involved in collaborations with brands such as Paris Trucks and Loaded Longboards, and she’s captured some of the most amazing still photos of the riders we all know and love.
In the longboarding world, video tends to reign king, but we can’t forget about the art that is still photography. Mastering the camera is one thing, but mastering your composition and techniques for skate-based photography is a whole other beast.
Hence it is my pleasure to have had this amazing interview with Vic, to learn more about her, her skate story, and what goes on in her head when she’s capturing a moment in time.
Vic, what’s your skate & photo story, how did it all begin?
Well, first and foremost, we need to talk about my Chinese Portrait, because without that the world would be at a loss 🙂
According to Chinese Lore:
- I would be orange, if I would be a color
- I would be a squirrel, if I would be an animal
- I would be the morning, if I would be a time of the day
And with that, let’s get into a bit more about my story with skate photography!
In truth, it’s kind of a boring story of how I came to photography, it was more of a passion until I failed my studies in chemistry (or rather, until I gave up), and I decided to give photography a try, to see what it really means to take pictures as a job.
I was always very attracted to light and motion. I was working for a small agency in sport photography, but we were only shooting cycling, running, you know, the sports that are already super saturated, and with these sports I didn’t feel like my “eye” was very welcome there.
I think around 2017 I first saw some videos of Lotfi and Hans and I was entirely captivated! I was looking into social media to explore the visuals around the sport, and I thought about what I love in the sport – mainly the motion and the very urban vibe of it – was not captured so often. So I decided to go for it…
I started a long search for riders in my town, which at the time was no one, so this lead me to travels to Berlin, Portugal and Paris so I could bring my ideas to life, or at the very least, to be able to try.
I mean, who could’ve known? The reality was that maybe I was living in a lie since I found photography, and longboard photography didn’t have any potential at all?
But I had believers, even in the super early stages, and my local skate shop gave me an old longboard so I could try to create my own community. Through this, I discovered the fun and joy of longboarding, and I met the people that trusted my ideas and helped me create my images.
With every attempt, my shots got better and better and my passion for photography and skating started to spread within the longboard dancing and freestyle world.
Words of wisdom on planning a shoot
What’s the best time of the day to get the best skate shots?
I think it helped me a lot to learn how to deal with every kind of light because when it comes to shooting athletes, you often have to fit the shoot into their schedule.
That being said, morning or sunset – the famous “golden hour” – light is always a good choice. 😉
My personal favorite is somehow hard mid-day sunlight, because it creates some very interesting light games on walls, which I love to pay around with.
What is your strategy for choosing locations for skate shoots?
I am inspired by architecture a lot! I love to bring those city spots together with longboarding!
So when I choose a spot I try to find interesting architecture settings, something that catches my eye – a place where there is room to play with light and buildings.
I work closely with the athlete, because most of the time they know their cities pretty well 😉
Bonus tip: Never forget to check the quality and rideability of the floor, faked pics are really easy to identify!
How important is the rider’s outfit to you, how can it effect the shoot?
It goes hand in hand with the location.
Depending on the theme and the effect you want to achieve, you’ve just gotta stay flexable and be prepared. Imagine a black outfit in front of a black wall, this doesn’t make so much sense if you want to capture the movement and shapes of the body well.
Most of the time riders take at least two outfits so we can decide together what fits best, this is definitely something I can recommend doing in my experience, my go to setup is to have a plain soft color and something more colorful are great choices to fit almost any location.
Geeking out on skate photography tech specs
What camera do you normally shoot skate shots with, and why?
I aim to say that I like to shoot with anything that makes pictures!
But my workhorse to this day is still the Sony a7iii.
Disclaimer: I started with a camera that was too slow to shoot burst mode, which can be essential for capturing certain moments. However, everyone needs to know that in the end, skill trumps technology.
I trained myself using analog photography techniques to shoot exactly at the right moment – It is possible to shoot with everything really!
Talk with each other, the rider knows most of the time when the trick looks best, and they can guide you to reach for that one moment!
If you would recommend only one lens to aspiring skate photographers, what would it be and why?
Most of the time my favorite lens is the last one I bought 😉
But, specific to skateboarding photography, I would recommend a 28mm or 35mm lens..
It gives you a good range with wide angles so you can create some power in your shots, but at the same time it doesn’t distort the image too much.
Furthermore, a prime lens (that’s a lens with no zoom function) will teach you to use your legs and body position to improve the shot, and give you more possibilities with the aperture.
What do you feel is the most underrated camera accessory for skate shots?
Something to sit of lay on?
But in truth, I’m not a super gear freak so i like my set up to be pretty simple 🙂
You’re going out for a fully planned and paid skate photoshoot, what’s in Vic’s gear bag for the day?
My camera, a wide angle lens (currently using a 12-24mm), my 35mm lens, my 50mm lens, and a whole lotta memory cards.
Water and snacks, because im a pain when I am hungry, and it’s very easy to get lost in the zone on a shoot which can lead to neglecting your body.
I like to bring along some toys like an analog camera, a polaroid camera, some prisms, or colorful foils. Depending a bit on the mood, I like when the creative process gets a bit messy… Once we have some good “safe” shots that satisfy the goal of the shoot, I can use these items to help me unleash creativity and just give things a try and sometimes be pleasantly surprised by the results.
What software do you use for post editing on the computer and/or mobile devices, and why these programs specifically?
I’m a big fan of the Adobe Photographer Suite. This gives me access to Lightroom and Bridge, which is truly a winning combination for editing and organization.
On mobile, I’m also using Adobe’s mobile version of Lightroom, it’s quite good and it is completely free, you just need to make an account.
Beyond the gear, how to compose and tell a skate photo story
For posed pictures, how do you direct inexperienced subjects/models to get them to feel natural and not awkard in front of the lens?
That is a really good question! Most of the people don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera, so sometimes we have to give them some support and/or guidance.
Being friends (at least a little helps), build trust, don’t be shy yourself, make jokes, and try to direct your subjects.
Even if you don’t really know what you are doing, just remember that the one in front of the lens has even less experience than you.
To very uncomfortable people, I love to give them some sort of concrete directions, so it takes thinking out of the equation for them. Simple things can work in the beginning – sit here, lean on the tree, kneel there, these are all fine examples of basic direction for aspiring photographers!
Another tip is to let them look away from the camera so you can try and catch more genuine moments when they are not actually posing for the picture. Specific for skate shoots, you can typically catch them packing things together or warming up, and don’t forget to catch some candids when changing spots!
On the flip side, how do you direct skaters to do their tricks / lines so that you can get the best shots of them in action?
Since architecture is so important to me, we really work hand in hand.
I see a “picture frame” that I like and I choose a part on the floor where I know that the picture will work the best with the skater being on that spot.
We choose a trick that fits together with the spot and setting, and the person helps me understand how the trick works and where and when is the best time for a picture.
And then it is all a question of us syncing up and hitting our marks 😉
Being that most skate shoots are outside, how do you best use the sun as a light source?
This is also a very important question.
I like it when the sun is a component of the picture. Very often, you can achieve cool results with framing or light flares if you learn how to use the sun to your advantage.
It is also crucial that you learn to edit your pictures, so you will better understand what is the raw material that you need to be able to create a style that you like.
When you’re on a shoot, what is your base exposure triangle you try to stay close to, and why do you like this?
The thing I like to compromise the least on is speed.
In order to get those super crispy shots, I need at least 1/800s. I would rather raise the ISO than reduce my shutter speed.
Open aperture works well in most cases, you just have to remember to actually have your focus on the head!
If you struggle with the focus, you can close the aperture a bit to help increase the sharpness and clarity of the shot.
When I’m shooting with my prime lenses, most of the time around f/2.2
When catching a subject in motion, what focus settings do you use on your camera / How can a novice photographer catch great shots in motion that are properly in focus?
I use AF-C, which is very useful while shooting in burst mode.
I would recommend to follow the rider coming towards you, or passing in front of you, and pre-focus on the frame you want so the focus don’t have to go all the way down when pressing the button.
When shooting subjects in motion, where do you typically like to position yourself?
I like getting really low.
Sitting, kneeing, laying down – I feel these low angles give the most power to a rider, and the shots we are capturing.
Of course, a some tricks or steps like Peter Pan would not benefit from this, you need to adapt based on the trick and the effect wanted.
Vic’s Closing Thoughts on Skate Photography
Photography is like staking, you can get as much advice as you want, but in the end, it all comes down to practice.
So my best advice would be not to overthink the technique, but get out there and shoot A LOT!
If you need further help or guidance, leave a comment on the blog and we’ll get back to you there, or you can hit me up on Instagram!
Last but least, every artist has their inspirations. If you’re finding yourself in a good flow with your still photos, I’d highly recommend checking out these accounts as well for some further inspiration and muses.
Skate / Sport photographer: