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Daniel Wagner has been skateboarding for 15 years and shooting photos for almost as long. He modestly ascribes some of his success to the city he grew up in – the skateboarding Mecca of Stuttgart, Germany – but in reality it’s his talent and his eye for unique compositions that has seen him become one of the best-respected snappers in the game. His career has taken him round the world shooting many of the world’s most famous skaters for magazines like our sister title Kingpin and brands like Nike SB and he’s captured some truly incredible images along the way. He talks us through five of his favourites below.
Stuttgart was the perfect place to grow up as a skateboard photographer. It sits right in the middle of a valley surrounded by hills that have beautiful spots scattered all over them. This and the fact that there are downhills everywhere make it a really great city for skateboarding. Torsten Frank filmed a German video magazine Stuttgart was his headquarters – the biggest and best skaters from all over the world came to throw down tricks for his lens. So I was really lucky and had everything I needed to become a skateboard photographer right on my doorstep.
Ever since I bought my first camera, I’ve seen the world with different eyes. I really just bought it because I wanted something to document the tricks my friends were doing, but I quickly realised it’s more than just documenting moments, it makes you look at things differently.
I got really lucky with my choice of first camera. It was a Nikon D70, which had features that were perfect for shooting skateboarding. It could sync flashlight faster than 1/500s which makes it possible to shoot well-lit, crisp images of action, and with the 10.5mm fisheye you could shoot full-frame fisheye even though the sensor was cropped. I didn’t know any of that when I bought it second-hand though, it was just luck.
Shooting skateboarding is about more than just getting the trick
Rain, extreme hot or cold temperatures and getting hit by flying skateboards are all hazards of the job. So you need a camera that’s tough. I’ve continued to use Nikon because I can totally rely on them – my D4 can handle anything.
Shooting skateboarding is about more than just getting the tricks. There are so many emotions involved in skating: the success after fighting hard for a trick or the disappointment when a skater has to give up because he’s tired or got kicked out by a security guard. Shooting any of that can make really strong photos. Shooting stuff on the way to the spot and of course the whole lifestyle and culture around skateboarding… All of it is important.
I try to shoot photos that don’t lie – I don’t want to make the spot look harder or bigger than it is. Also I’m not a fan of tight compositions, I like to give the skater a little space to breathe in the frame and if a spot looks good I want to show all of it. I rarely shoot portrait format because human eyes naturally see the world in landscape. Sometimes I like to work with natural light but sometimes I prefer the artificial look you get with flashes – that depends on the spot and the light of course.
I shoot maybe just three or four pictures a year that I’m really proud of. On a trip I always want to come home with at least one strong picture. That might sound easy but it’s not. But once you’ve got one no one can ever take it away from you.
The great thing about photography is that the possibilities are endless. There are many beautiful things to capture. I just read an interview with Timo Jarvinen on this page and it really made me want to go out and shoot empty waves in the ocean some day even though I’ve never had anything to do with surfing in my life.