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Spark Photography // Skate Patrol

How to take spark photos and break your face.

by phoxy  |  published February 19, 2019

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Skating parking structures is a time-honored tradition among my friends. Not much has changed about this since high school: We pile in somebody's car, find an empty parking structure, skate, get kicked out, repeat. This time we grabbed a couple spark sticks and a couple cameras. 

Helmet advisory: Please ignore our bad example and wear a helmet. I end up falling on my face and head super-hard, but more on that later...

Top floor of the first structure

Top floor of structure number one.

Party Time

When you're hunting for your own parking structure to skate: find an office park on a weekend. They're always empty so you usually get more time before getting busted. Also, find a structure with a downhill ramp going both directions. A lot of structures have a downhill section followed by a million feet of flat ground. Luckily we have a couple go-to local spots.

We head to our first structure, park near the exit, and take off on our first run of the night. That first flight down is always magic. Soaring across the pavement, shirt waving in the wind, weight shifting as your wheels carve into the concrete. I could do this forever.

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The Gear

overhead skate patrol web

You don't need a lot of gear to get good spark photos. The main gear we used were a couple of GoPros and a Sony RX100V.

Spark sticks: You can get these from any camping / sporting goods store, or you can order them online. I picked these up from REI for about $8 each. Make sure you get one with a good handle because the sticks heat up really quickly and you might burn yourself.

GoPro: We used a GoPro Hero 5 and Hero 7 to get a lot of the shots. The two main benefits to GoPros for spark photos are 1: they're simple to use so you can focus on not falling (or try anyways). 2: The wide-angle lens makes the sparks look more epic when you're up really close.

Sony RX100V: We used this one to get some photos that were higher quality than what you can get with the tiny sensor inside a GoPro. We used a Sony A7R2 for some of the shots too, but truthfully it was overkill and it would have hurt my wallet a lot more to fall while carrying that.

How to Take Spark Photos

1.  Grab a camping fire starter and a camera. Any camera will work but something with a wide-angle lens will make more compelling spark photos.

2.  Set your camera's exposure 2 stops darker than normal. You can set your "exposure compensation" to -2 to achieve this. This will prevent overexposing the highlights from the bright sparks.

3.  Find a rough surface for the spark sticks to work best. When you're ready to shoot, try getting close to the sparks so they fill up more of the frame. Protect your eyes and take some photos.

The Finale

Pretty quickly we get kicked out of our first location so we head out for the next spot. We start having a little more fun, getting a little more cocky, and then after 10 years of not wearing a helmet on these trips the odds finally catch up. I hit my face and head on the concrete super hard. For a few hours after the crash my short-term memory was looping and resetting every few minutes. Scary stuff, but I recovered in about a week and bought a helmet for the next time.  You can watch the crash in the video above.

The End

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