“In this second edition of Confusion magazine’s online exclusive skate photographer check out “Behind the Lens” we check in with Dan Sparagna, a skate photographer from San Diego, California who started shooting skate photos in the 70s and early 80s, and after a 25 year break – he’s back!”
Age, where are you from and where do you live?
50 years old, originally from Saratoga, CA, now reside in San Diego, CA since ’87.
How many years shooting photos and how many shooting skate photos?
I have been shooting skate photos since the late 70’s and early 80’s. I took my last film shots in ’85 at the Mile High Massacre and started again in 2010 with digital.
What camera set up do you have (camera and accessories)?
I used to shoot with a Canon AE-1 Program in the 80’s that had a motor drive that shot 2.5 frames per second and I shot mostly slide film. Back then no one really shot with a flash, but I think Grant and Goodrich were experimenting with it. Today I shoot with a SONY NEX-3 Digital and 2 Metz flashes.
What’s your secret fstop and shutter speed without flash? with flash?
I don’t have any secret settings, it is usually determined by the location I’m shooting at and the time of day.
Do you shoot other styles of photography except skateboarding?
I also shoot sunsets beside skate photos, living close to the beach you can capture some great stuff.
Which skate (and non skate) photographers inspire you?
My favorite skate photographer today is Ray Zimmerman, a few of my favorites from back in the day are Grant Brittan, Glen Friedman, William Sharp, James Cassimus and Jim Goodrich because they have captured so much skate history. I don’t have any non skate favorites, there are so many good ones out there in all disciplines, you just have to admire their work
Have you had your photos published in a magazine
I have had photos published in The Skateboarders Journal 3rd issue, Concrete Wave photo annual last year, Lowcard last year, and Heelside magazine from Australia, two centerfold pullouts last year, Pacific SD magazine a non skate magazine, which did an article about upcoming kids and some action sports magazine over in Dubai who still owes me money !
I also shot ads for S-1 Helmets, Khiro bushings, Black Leather Racing, Green Issue Skateboards, stuff for Duane Peters website, numerous skate company website shots and I am the staff photographer for World Cup of Skateboarding, for their website.
What’s your favorite place to travel for shooting skating? non skating?
I haven’t traveled much except for a trip to Bondi, Australia last year, everything else has been in California. There is so much to choose from here and the wealth of good skaters and good locations here, especially in San Diego really helps. I would love to go back to Australia and would like to try to make it to Sweden also. All of my non skating shots have been here in California.
Did you go to Photography school or did you just learn by doing?
I have never been to any photography schools, I am self taught. Being an actual skater really helps in learning angles and timing and then you just need to learn about lighting and settings from there. I did take a photoshop class last fall at the community college to learn how to use photoshop, I am still a beginner at it, I need a lot more practice.
What do you like better, digital or analog, and why?
Part of me being and old schooler likes film, but there are so many advantages to shooting digital. Back in the old days (80’s) I could shoot a whole roll of film (24 shots) and the settings may not have been right and all the photos would suck. I still have tons of shoe boxes full of slides that I will keep for the rest of my life. With today’s technology you can shoot a couple test shots and be ready to go and have great results every time. Plus digital is so much cheaper to shoot, no waiting and then paying to get your shots developed. It’s instant gratification I have shot close to 30,000 photos in the last 2 and half years. That would have cost me a small fortune to get developed.
Any advice to aspiring skate photographers as to how to stand out from the crowd?
If I could give any advice to aspiring photogs, be respectful of other photographers who are working, try for shots that haven’t been seen before. Work with your subjects and ask them what they want to shoot. Be courteous to the skaters you are shooting, don’t force them to do stuff that they are uncomfortable doing, get a feel for how they are feeling that day. Use your imagination, almost every angle has already been shot. Think outside the box, see things in your mind first before you shoot them. Always try to get your subject’s face in the picture, enough of the butt shots. If you can’t see the subject’s face the picture is not worth seeing. Don’t post up fake or obvious bail shots, make sure your subject can make the trick you are shooting. I always like to see experimentation with shutter speeds to show action, when done right those shots can’t be beat… I’m still working on that one myself…
Interview by Jonathan Hay
All photos by Dan Sparagna