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A Photographer Reflects on the Street Skateboarding World Championship

For seven days, photographer Jason Halayko captured images of the world’s elite skateboarders, both during practice sessions and competitions, in Tokyo.

In my professional and personal work as a photographer I get many chances to shoot a wide variety of "action sports." At an event like the X Games I will need to cover everything from crazy freestyle motocross best trick competitions to explosive breakdance demos. 

I am fairly confident in my ability to capture stunning images in all these fields, but there is one action sport that has always been a challenge for me personally, that would be street skateboard photography. So when I was asked to be one of only three local official photographers for the World Skateboarding Tour Tokyo Street 2023 World Championship, which was held December 10-17 at Ariake Arena, I was both excited and quite honestly, a little nervous.

In all action sports one of the make-or-break aspects of good photography is capturing the proper timing of the tricks the athletes are performing. In general, I feel I have a good sense of this for other action sports. But for skateboarding I am still learning, and my experience at this world championship competition was basically an intensive internship in street skateboard photography. 

A Helpful Conversation with an Accomplished Photographer

For the first several days of the competition all the competing athletes were given specific practice times throughout the day, and I was the ONLY photographer covering this practice for most of this time. It was great fun. I was able to move around the stadium freely (except for one or two areas set aside for athletes and coaches) and play with different angles and various lenses. 

For any photographer looking to improve their skills these kinds of days are invaluable. Just shoot, play, and enjoy. Of course I had a shot list as well for the comp side, but these days were really meant for me to get used to the area and learn how to best shoot the upcoming qualifiers and finals. 

Sometime after a couple days I was able to meet one of the main organizers of the event who was also an accomplished skate photographer and we were able to go over a few of the images I had captured that he had been able to see. Through our conversation I was able to gain many critical points I could improve on moving forward during the competition. 

I would be lying if I said my pride hadn't taken a little hit, but you don't last long as a professional photographer if you can't take well meaning professional criticism. Taking what I was taught to heart I set out again with camera (and heart) in hand. 

An Enjoyable Experience Working with the World Skateboarding Tour Photographers

As the days went on I was joined by the other local photographers, as well as a couple photographers who were on the side of the World Skateboarding Tour itself. These guys were all great to work with, and were more than happy to help me pick which images were best as far as timing for the amazing tricks that were being thrown down. 

Through their advice I had a better and better idea of what the best timing would be for each trick or section. Thank you all so much!

I won't go into too much detail here, but one critically important aspect of street skate photography is showing the entrance and exit of a trick. This means you shoot wide enough that anyone looking at the photo knows exactly where the rider came from, and where they will be landing. This is something most normal sports media ignore and zoom in way way too much, to a point where you have no idea of what the rider is even doing the trick on. 

It's just a shoe!

Reflections on Photographing Practice

Looking back on my photos from practice I was probably a little too zoomed in myself, but this was more to keep out unwanted parts of the background than anything else.  

More than that though, for me the most difficult timing to grasp was when to shoot when the riders do a flip trick onto a rail or box. In the past I would pick the moment of biggest movement, where the rider is most dynamic with the arms and legs, but for core street skateboard photography this is not the case. There is a moment when the board has come around and the rider is just about to reconnect with the board, but hasn't yet. A SUPER split second moment that makes a good picture a great picture. 

Capturing the Moment

What I was most surprised of, though, is that by just seeing this one moment captured in a picture, the other more experienced photographers knew the exact trick being done, amazing! 

In the end, my seven days of shooting this competition were super long, super exhaustive, and super challenging, but also I feel I have grown yet again as a professional action sports photographer. Thanks again to all the staff and riders who made the competition amazing in every way, and thanks again to my fellow photographers for being so kind and forthcoming with your knowledge.      

For a more detailed event review and final standings, please see the official Street World Championship website.

The photos you see here are all from the finals on the last day of competition. 

Author: Jason Halayko

Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.

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