We started this feature to hear from the photographers at the front lines of skateboard action. It’s they who fill our pages and screens with the stunning visual imagery we all desire. What they’ll show us is a selection of their favourite images they’ve shot, and offer us some insight into how they got their start and what gets their heart pumping. We can all take a picture, but these are some of the people that do it best and with the most thought put into it. First you’ll see a gallery of their photos with extended captions, and below that is an interview with the photographer. -Jeff Thorburn
Paul Gonzalez photo
Name: Keith Henry
Hometown: Vegreville, AB
Currently lives in: Vancouver, BC
Social media handles: @keithhenry
Tyler Warren, Toe Clip – This photo is gold. I never wish this upon anybody, but sometimes a bail can make the best photo. They don’t say “a picture is worth a thousand words” for nothing.
Max Fine, Smith Grind – Max Fine may be the greatest name is skateboarding. Max Fine is also a fine gentleman. This is from a trip to China a couple years back. This area in Foshan was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I was down on the stairs next to the river at one point and a lady came from out of her house to pour a piss bucket out beside me. I wasn’t alarmed based on what I’d seen that entire month, but I opted to walk back up the stairs and shoot from there. I love the kids in the photo. They’re probably seeing skateboarding for the first time.
Dave Ehrenreich, Wallride – This photo makes me XD. Daver is one of the best people I’ve ever met and I love skating with him. He doesn’t take skating seriously and it’s nice to surround yourself with people like that. His outlook inspires me to take make the best of every moment, and anyone who’s met him will say the same.
Dylan Fulford, No-Comply – I shot Dylan when he was 13 years old living in Edmonton. I hadn’t seen him in a few years until he made a trip up to Vancouver last summer. We decided we were long overdue to shoot and I was pleasantly surprised to see how good he’d gotten. Dylan was always one of those kids who dressed well and looked good on a board…nothing has changed.
Mike Campbell, Ollie Over to 5050 – You don’t get lighting like this every day. I was shooting with flashes, but as the sun started to creep into the frame, it cast a lovely bleed of yellow over the left side of the frame. I coudn’t replicate it if I tried. I had a similar situation with Russ Milligan in Chicago, but you’ll have to stay tuned to see it in print.
Ryan Witt, Backside Flip – Lighting is such an important aspect of a photograph. Ryan and I just happened to show up at the right time and get the photo with some unexpectedly pleasant sunlight. No flashes were used on this one, and I think if I had used them, I wouldn’t like the photo as much.
Skylar Kehr, Ride on 5-0 – I love this photo because of the composition, and the story behind it. I was borrowing Dylan Doubt’s Hasselblad, and this was one of my first times using it. We got kicked out the first time we tried going there, before I even had intentions of shooting it. I opened up the film on one session, overexposing the roll and ruining the photo. I shot the roll backwards, not even letting light touch the film the time after. Finally on the fourth try, we got the one I wanted and never had to go back. I like the perspective of the shot, the simplicity, and the scaling with the cars below him. I’ve always loved square format, and personally think it works better for most situations in skateboard photography.
Jed Anderson, Over Under – I shot a lot of film this summer, skating around with my friends, taking shooting a little less seriously. I feel like the old me would want to set up flashes and get in really close with a fisheye. Never limit yourself to what you think others would like to see. Please yourself, and the rest will come naturally. I like the colors and simplicity of this one.
Brett Gifford, Kickflip – Timing is everything when shooting a Kickflip. Gifford has the best one, and I somehow was able to capture it at the perfect time. Style is everything in a photo and this just solidifies that ideology.
Drew Summersides, Backside Lipslide – This spot is at an abandoned school in San Francisco. There were construction workers at the entrance when we walked in, and they warned us that cops may come and bust the session. Luckily nothing of the sort happened and I was able to get this photo while the lighting was just right. I love that having a skateboard is almost like a hall-pass to do whatever you please. People walk past this every day, but they’d never have a reason to step inside. Skateboarding gives you that reason.
An interview with Keith:
What came first, skateboarding or photography? How did one meet the other? Do you remember them coming together? Skateboarding came first. I had been into shooting photos for a while before I got into shooting skating. Growing up, there weren’t a lot of skateboarders in my town so I started out shooting my friends and abandoned houses around my place.
What was your first camera and how did you acquire it? Do you still have it? My first camera was my Dads Canon AE-1. I used to play around with it in his office without his knowledge and finally asked to bring it on a family vacation; I think that was around 12 or 13 years old. It doesn’t work anymore, but I’ve still got it hanging in my room. I’ll never throw it out.
Early on, how did you figure out shooting skateboarding? Did someone with more experience help you? Was it books, the Internet, school? I had a subscription to Skateboarder magazine, which provided years of inspiration as a kid. I hit up Nathan Matthews via email when I was 15 or 16 and he got back to me with a long and detailed email explaining his process. That really helped me figure things out and showed me that you can learn a lot by asking questions.
Who was the person you had the earliest success shooting with? Someone you got along with on a personal level that also happened to rip. Ryan Fyfe-Brown. We shot a Youngbloods in 2008 for Concrete. After that, I shot ads for the local skateshop in Sherwood Park, Solid, that ran in SBC. Shortly after moving to Vancouver, I was introduced to Nate Lacoste and started shooting him quite a bit, which helped get a few more published here and there.
What photos jump out at you in a skateboard magazine? Can you pinpoint something that the best photos all have in common? Which ones get you excited? There’s a lot of good stuff out there these days. I’m stoked to see the new kids coming up. I can’t really go into detail at what makes a good photo; I just know it when I see one. It could be really dynamic and have a lot of flashes involved, or the complete opposite. It’s hard to explain. I don’t care about stair counts or ABD’s; I’m just stoked to see something visually appealing.
Tell me about a skate photographer that first caught your attention. As in you noticed something about their shooting style, beyond just capturing the trick. Nathan Matthews was the first because he shot locally in Edmonton, and had great lighting and composition. Brian Gaberman, John Bradford, and Oliver Barton are others that I admired. I looked up to the photographers that shot for Skateboarder because it was the magazine I looked at religiously. I think a lot of other photographers would say the same. I spent hours looking at the photographers positioning, the lighting, and timing for each trick.
What is your approach to skateboard photography? Do you try to be right in the middle of the action, or watch from afar and document it without disturbing? Do you like more emphasis on the skateboarder and trick, or the overall environment? Most of the time, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m running around, trying to figure out how to shoot it, stressing, etc. Somehow they usually work out, and I can’t tell you how. I don’t really have a planned process; I sort of just wing it and hope for the best. I used to shoot really tight and try to get right in there, but lately I’ve been stepping back a bit and shooting without flashes. I like the idea that I can make a photograph that looks like you could have seen it walking down the street rather than a set-up situation. The best photos are usually the one’s where I don’t have to worry about my flashes going off. If a passerby walks into the frame, that’s gold.
Outside of shooting action, are there other things you like to photograph, either related or unrelated to skateboarding? I love shooting my friends and our daily routine. In the summer, we go on all these camping/swimming missions and its great to shoot that aspect of life. I like to think I get to do some cool stuff in my spare time, so it’s great to document and show what we’re doing. Other than that, I’m working on more commercial photography, lifestyle, and editorial stuff, just getting my foot in the door and pursuing that realm.
Is photography your primary occupation? If so, what does that involve? If not, what else do you do, and how do you balance it all? I’m a freelance photographer, yes, but Vancouver is expensive so I have a full time job in addition to that. I work at a place called A&B Partytime Rentals. I’ve been there for four years or so and they’re incredible for letting me have my free time to shoot and travel. My boss, Mark Johnson, is my friend and also skates, and they employ a lot of my friends who skate and do other cool stuff. The owners are the best and I can’t thank them enough.
Are there some photos you see that make you want to go skate, and others that make you want to go photograph? What’s the difference or similarity? That’s a tough question. I think the lines are a bit blurred as of late because I love seeing my friends in magazines – both photographers and skateboarders. It makes me want to go skate, and it also makes me want to shoot. I get the best results when I shoot with my friends because I’m more comfortable around them. I’m not worried about experimenting and trying new things because I know they’ll be patient for me.
Name one photo that we should all go look at right now. Brian Gaberman proving that sometimes even a bail can be beautiful. There’s just something I love about accidents in photographs. It makes them unique.