“One more try.”
It’s a superstitious phrase certain to cause sprained ankles, stitches, and skinned palms. Telling your friends or filmer that this is your last go-around is like pushing under a ladder and in front of a black cat before setting up your feet. But when you’re filming yourself, there are no friends waiting for you to finally land it, there’s no filmer sighing between misses, and no one there to say “one more try” to. You can’t jinx yourself when you’re all alone.
These days, everyone is learning how to film themselves. Students and office workers are testing lighting options and shoving dirty laundry out of frame, talk show hosts are broadcasting from their living room couches, and adult content websites like OnlyFans are seeing more new users than ever before. And finally, as any skater can attest, Instagram feeds are packed with self-filmed content.
But all solo filming is not created equally, and even with professional-quality cameras in most of our pockets, getting decent clips on your socially-distanced skate session requires a little effort, creativity, and finesse.
Luckily, we’ve spent the last month propping our phones up phone poles and balancing them on tree branches and took the time out of our busy schedules to help you go Ty Evans on your iPhone.
Delete Some Apps
Before you start filming yourself, make sure you have enough storage on your phone to actually capture your session. Sure, it may seem important to have six different dating apps (damn bro, still on OkCupid?) and a few TikTok editors, but when you’ve been pushing back and forth trying a line for 10 minutes straight, it really sucks to go back to your phone and realize the camera shut off after 30 seconds because it didn’t have enough memory.
So whether it means clearing out old photos and videos, deleting Uber (you won’t need it for a while) or the ESPN app (again, not gonna need it for a while), make sure your phone can handle a few minutes of consistent recording, because going back to check if you’re still rolling after every attempt is way more hassle than it’s worth.
Spot Selection Is Key
Let’s face it, if you’re out skating by yourself, odds are you’re not pushing the limits of human capabilities on four wheels – and likely for good reason. And when you want to capture your session on film without leaning on stair counts and NBDs, spot selections and creativity become paramount.
In the months before and first weeks of the COVID crisis, skater Adam Abada teamed up with Village Psychic to release an entire video part of selfie footage. For Abada, self-filming was an opportunity to show off unique local spots that might not be worthy of a full session with a dedicated filmer.
“It’s hard to motivate yourself to try hard tricks when you’re alone,” Abada explained. “So it became more about showcasing the weird infrastructural stuff around my neighborhood that you daydream into thinking is skateable but never actually skate. A hard trick on an otherwise perfect spot has less value than showcasing the weird fire hydrant you pass every day but don’t skate.”
Skating solo is a great opportunity to explore nooks and crannies of your paved environment and experiment on obstacles you would typically skip. Get your Bobby Puleo on and get dirty (just so long as you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after.)
Get Your Phone Off the Ground
Once you find a spot and pick out your tricks, it’s time to find your shot. And unless you’ve got a clip-on fisheye lens for your phone, skate clips filmed with the camera at ground level just look flat out bad. In most instances, your footage will be dominated by unnecessary amounts of cement in the foreground, too much sky in the background, or both depending on the angle.
Just like Hollywood cameras adding the appearance of pounds, putting your camera on the ground will cut your pop in half – at least.
“You sorta have to think more about the trick as a photo than a clip because the frame doesn’t move – what is gonna be a good angle that is static that will showcase the things that are unique about the spot or trick you’re trying?” Abada said.
And when you’re setting up a good picture, you don’t often see photographers lying on the blacktop on their stomachs.
Double Angles are Your Best Friend
If you can manage it, land your tricks twice. Because solo skating is all about learning new things, pushing your own imagination, and exploring new spots, finding a few different locations to stash your phone while it records can force you to get better at your tricks, and produce footage that your friends might actually want to watch.
And if you’re at a desolate foundation DIY and are forced to break the cardinal self-filming sin and film from a worm’s eye view, try to make up for it with a second shot of the same tricks, even if you have to cross traffic.
“I recommend trying to get as wide a shot as possible when you can,” Abada said. “Like from across the street if you can swing it – get the whole environment in. That’s sick.”
When you’re looking for a spot to rest your pocket-sized camera that is not a dirty street, it’s always wise to look up. Whether it’s perched in a tree, balancing on top of a bus shelter, or sitting on a telephone pole, angles shot from above will capture the full breadth of your solo session and allow you to show off your location as much as possible.
You may be tempted to get in as close as possible to replicate follow filming with your friends, but when you’re by yourself, it’s best to treat your phone like Bill Strobeck and get it as far away from the subject as possible – just make sure to ditch Bill’s spastic zoom tendencies for a nice steady long lens shot.
Everything Is a Camera Stand If You Put Your Mind to It
When it comes to placing your phone for the perfect footy, you gotta think outside the box. Shove your phone between the chain links of a fence. Use the inside of a cinderblock as an artsy shadowbox to frame your flat ground kickflips. Pile your jacket, sweater, and shoulder bag on top of each other and turn them into a two-foot-tall camera perch. Put your phone in a bird feeder. Use the snap strap of your favorite hat to secure a vertical angle.
Once you do find a spot for your next shot, try your best to focus the lens (one tap does a lot of work), take a test shot to make sure the ledge is actually in frame, and do your best to create some stability so that your phone doesn’t tip over, fall down, and go black mid-try.
Like every aspect of skateboarding, the most important part of filming yourself is to have fun. Skating by yourself can sometimes feel monotonous and boring, especially if you’ve got pandemic, unemployment, and a depressing news cycle 24/7. And so whether it’s a desire to stay connected to your friends by uploading clips to your IG story or sending them in the group chat, or just a concrete goal to keep your skating focused and your head clear, filming your solo sessions should be about having fun.
With all that being said, the no headphones rule still applies ;) even when you’re by yourself, and turning your phone into a camera balancing on a bus bench is a good reminder to keep your earbuds in your pocket.