Jaka Babnik is the first serious Slovenian skate photographer who has put Balkan skateboarding on the global skate map, if that means anything. His true dedication to the medium and skateboarding has produced intense and inspiring video and photo results, of which every Slovenian / Balkan skater should be proud of. He helped our skateboarders look special and specific which is exxactly what they are but not many would have known that if he was not everywhere with them with his heart and camera(s). Beside creating his own skate publications/magazines, Jaka published lots of his photos in several European skate magazines, welcome to his Triple Shot interview. – Leon Zuodar
How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve started taking photos back in 96, so 10 years.
How did you get into skate photography?
I started skateboarding in 1991, so as time went on, we started taking photos of each other and I just took it a bit more seriously.
What were the best and worst bits of advice anyone gave you in regards to photography?
Uf. I don’t know if I can say that there was any bad advice, because for sure all of them were given with the best intentions. As for the best ones: you have really quality lenses, so try to shoot with the aperture opened as much as possible; stop taking all this equipment around; start shooting other things beside skateboarding…
Published in Transworld Skateboarding, January 1995. Kris Markovich – ollie at Romford’s snake run.
Ph: Jody Morris.
Why did this image you have submitted inspire you so much to take up photography? What effect did it have on you?
I was flipping the pages and when I got to Kris’s photo it was a done deal. Not just because he is one of my all time favourite skateboarders, but that photo has everything. Power, grace and style. And that is what skateboarding is all about.
Have you ever felt bad about taking a photo? If so, which one?
Yes I did. Check the answer to the next question.
What were the best and worst days shooting skateboarding of your life ever and why?
Well, I was not even taking photos. We were filming for “Damage” video and a friend of mine Dean Gostimirovič was trying bs 180 of this roof, when he broke his ankle. Even though he told me over and over again, that I was not in any way responsible for that, I know that I was too eager to get the trick.
And the best? For sure all of those, when you go out, not even thinking about shooting anything and than everything comes together. Quite a few of those lately. When you have no expectations, you can not get disappointed.
What’s the relationship like between a photographer and filmer?
They get in to each others way a lot, just because of different natures of the medium they use. One is interested in the whole trick, from pushing to lending and the other is after just that certain moment in the trick.
I’ve filmed 2 skate videos (“Damage 2002“, “Listen To Srecna Mladina, 2005“) so I have been on both sides. It just depends on the person. If there is mutual respect, than there is always a way.
What main advice would you give to upcoming skate photographers?
Be patient. Don’t push skateboarders into doing tricks. If the trick is suppose to happen, it will happen with out you putting extra pressure on the rider.
Please tell us why you have picked your fave skate shot you have submitted?
The reason why I chose this photo of Primoz Jan doing a flat ollie is it’s simplicity. No fleshes or anything. Not even with Primoz in the photo, but you can still tell from the shadow that he has style. Less is more.
It sure is…are there ways of getting better/free equipment as you continue to grow or do you have to fund everything yourself?
I fund everything by myself, but with time you learn more and more about where to buy films and equipment and obviously if you are a regular customer it is a lot easier to get some serious discounts on film/developing/equipment. And when it comes to free stuff: today nothing is free. I don’t know any photographer, let alone skateboard photographer, that gets free promotional equipment from let’s say Canon distributor, and if you work full time as a photographer for some company and they provide you with equipment, keep in mind that you are there to do your job and that all the gear is not actually yours and that it is just a tool that helps you get the job done.
Is the work of a skate photographer well paid? Do you get by in life with this income alone?
Well, some people make a pretty good living out of skateboarding photography, especially with the money they get for ads, but down here that is impossible. I am lucky enough that my parents support me and help me make my ends meet when my bank account goes in to sub zero numbers. So no, I can not get by solely on skateboarding photography.
Please tell us about the non skate shot you have submitted and the story behind it.
This photo was taken on the skate trip to Thessaloniki/Greece. There is so many packs of dogs just wondering around the city that locals don’t notice them anymore. Well, tourists do. This one was just taking an afternoon nap by the beach, really close to the old skate park, when the old man walked by. As if he knew what the photo was missing in the first place.
Does music ever inspire your photography? What music artists can you not leave for a tour without?
I don’t see that direct link. For sure music inspires me as a person, and my photos are the way they are, because of me as a person but there is so may influences beside music. I don’t have a problem going on a tour with out any of my music. I used to, but not any more. Long drives are always good to do some thinking or have a good conversation.
If you were to buy a pocket snapper for capturing skating on a budget to get going, which camera would you suggest?
This one is a hard one. If you are after the tricks and you want your photos to look like in every skateboard mag, than there is no camera that will fit into your pocket and still make images you are after. But if you are up for a different approach, than check digital Sigma DP1 that is came out in February. But if you’re thinking about skateboard photography a bit more seriously, than Nikon FM2 is still the way to go.
Would you recommend digital or film?
What are the benefits of using film or digital?
Well, when digital first came out I taught to myself: “OK, at least the quality of photos will get higher. It is like having unlimited Polaroid cameras, so you can check the photo, make the adjustments and take a better one.” But if you check the newspapers or magazines, the quality of images did not get any higher. You have photographers coming for example to shoot photos of basketball game and they are taking photos for so long, that they get “the shoot” that is “good” enough, than leave. So instead of improving they are staying in the average zone. (This last example is based on my observation of the quality of photos in Slovenian newspapers.) Or you have skateboard photographers that are so busy going back to the preview button, they don’t even see if the trick was a make or if guy just broke himself in two. And than all this sequences in the magazines. It is crazy.
Or people go to some exotic place for their holidays and come back with like 800 photos and before digital era the came back with 1 roll. To the certain level things are getting out of hand.
Is digital faster? For sure it is. Is it cheaper in the log run? With out a doubt. Is the quality of the digital image better than with the old negative? NO! Not even close. If it was, people would not be spending hours working on them in Photoshop to make them look like film. If you’re good with Photoshop, than you are a good photographer.
What kit do you use?
Hasselblad 501CM, 30/3,5 and 60/3,5 Distagon lenses, 100/3,5 Plannar lens, 180/4 Sonnar lens.
Any links you wanna share with us?
Yeah, www.art-of-asfalt.com, It is a project that Segej Vutuc and I started, have a peep.