Interview With Skate Photographer Dan Sparagna.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

We've noticed that photographer Dan Sparagna has been at just about every women's skate event in the past few years (including Exposure just days before his daughter was born on the other side of the country) and regularly posts amazing shots of female skaters on his social media accounts.

Dan is also the photographer behind the recent Pacific Magazine cover with Amelia Brodka - and as we all know, female skate covers are too far & few.  So we thought it might be a good time for a sit down with Dan and ask him some things about photography, women's skateboarding, and why he feels that documenting the progression of women's skateboarding is important.

Photographer:   Dan Sparagna

Where do you live & work?  

 I live in San Diego. I am originally from northern California, moved to SD in 1987.

How did you get started in photography?  

 I have been shooting skateboarding since the late 70ʼs when I first started skating. I used to always bring a camera with me to sessions. I am one of those old dudes that used to shoot film, I still have shoeboxes full of slides from sessions at Winchester skatepark and my 1/2 pipe. I “retiredʼ from skating in 87 when I first moved to San Diego because Del Mar skateranch closed the month I moved here. I started skating again in 2010 and picked up a camera again as well.

Combining his two loves - skateboarding & sunsets

What type of photography do you do if you are not shooting skateboarding? 

 If I am not shooting skateboarding, I like to shoot sunsets. I also have a new subject to shoot. My wife and I just adopted a baby girl so she has been the subject of a few photo sessions.

Dan's new daughter - future shredder!

What made you decide to start shooting mainly female skaters?

 I donʼt mainly shoot girls but I donʼt discriminate when it comes to shooting skateboarding. I was first asked by Annika Vrklanʼs mom to shoot some photos of her for a poster and then from there more people asked. I have been fortunate enough to become friends with a lot of the female skaters and have a good working relationship with a lot of them. I have attended almost every major girls skating event and love to promote the female skaters. They deserve just as much coverage as men. Now that I have a future female shredder, in a few years you might see a lot more female coverage...haha.

Hunter Long at Vans US Open

You were the photographer Amelia Brodka chose to work with to shoot her shots for cover of Pacific San Diego Magazine - how did that come about?

 Amelia was approached by Pacific San Diego magazine and they wanted to do an article about her. We had been skating together and done some shooting prior to them asking her and when they did, she told them that she wanted me to shoot the photos for the article. We have a good working relationship shooting, I wonʼt let her quit on on a trick when we discuss a shot. Iʼll will make her try it (and shoot it) 50 times if that is what it takes to land it and get the right shot. When the magazine editor met with us he told us we had a chance for the cover, but we were going against 4 or 5 other articles that had the possibility of getting the cover. We made it our goal to get the right shot for the cover. We decided on a feeble to fakie because I could get close to her and it showed her skating. We did three different photo sessions working on shots for the article. One of the sessions we had a great background so we kept going for the shot that I had envisioned for cover shot. When we shot it I told her, “I think I got it”. As it turned out that is the shot they picked for the cover.

Amelia - Feeble on the cover

Where are your favorite places to shoot?

I prefer to shoot pools and vert ramps. I havenʼt really shot any street stuff. The current skate magazines have a million street shots in them and to me 1/2 of the shots I see look just like the other shots. Personally I like shooting pools because of all the different angles that can be used if you use your imagination. Skatepark or backyard pools, it doesnʼt matter to me.

Leticia Bufoni - Vans US Open

Do you have an all time  favorite skate image?

There are so many great skate photos out there that I canʼt narrow it down to one. I do have some favorite photographers, that have shot some of my favorite skate photos they include J Grant Brittain, Mofo, James Cassimus, William Sharp, Jim Goodrich, Bryce Kanights, and MRZ. I do have some favorite shots that I have taken.

Do you have a favorite trick you like to shoot?

I really donʼt have a favorite trick to shoot, but I am partial to airs and inverts. I like to shoot what the skater is comfortable with. I usually discuss with the skater the tricks that they are good at, I never try to force a skater to do something that they donʼt feel comfortable doing.

Nora Vasconcellos - Vans US Open

What is your favorite camera body & lens?

 I shoot all my digital stuff with a Sony body. Most all of my shots that have been seen by people are shot with a Sony NEX 3, one of the first mirror less bodyʼs to come out. I got that camera in 2010 when I started shooting skating again. I shoot with a Rokinon fish eye and I use Metz flashes. I also have Sony lenses in 16mm, 18-55mm, and 55-210mm I just recently got a new Sony A6000 body and just started shooting with it. Iʼve only had it for a month so I am still in the infant stages with it but Iʼm looking forward to seeing itʼs results. Itʼs basically the same camera as the NEX 3 but 4 years more advanced, so if you put that in technology terms, it has a lot more features and updated tech stuff.

Do you like to light or do you prefer shooting with natural light?

 I usually use flashes when I shoot skating, unless I am trying to get a certain artistic shot ( Iʼm not very artistic ) or a distant shot. The more flashes the better is my thinking when it comes to skate shots. I just like how the shot looks when it is lit correctly. I try to put a different spin on my shots so they donʼt look like everyone elseʼs. I want people to be able to look at one of my shots and without seeing a watermark knowing that I shot it. For the average Joe that will probably never happen, but for a photographer we know other guys or gals styles.

Julz Lynn air at the Combi

Any girls out there you haven't worked with yet that you'd like to?

I have shot most of the top female pool and vert riders but most have those have been in contests. I would like to do some shoots with any of the top pros, it doesnʼt really matter who it is just somewhere outside of a contest. Shooting contests these days is really starting to become a pain in the butt. There are usually less than 10 people who know what they are doing and at least 20 people that donʼt. Iʼll leave it at that.

Allysha Bergado - Vans US Open

Any advice for someone who wants to get into action sports photography?

Going back to my last statement, with advent of the digital camera and the camera phone, everyone is now thinks they are a photographer. My advice to anyone that is trying to get into action sports photography, donʼt expect to make a living from it. It is very hard to make a career out of it. I just do it as a hobby because if I did it as a job I would be homeless..haha. If you are trying to break in to skateboard photography, practice a lot with your friends, before you go to a public setting with other photographers. If you find yourself shooting at a contest, be respectful of other photographers. A lot of novice photographers ruin other photographers shots by shooting from the wrong angle, sticking their cameras in the other personʼs shots, adding extra flash when an experienced person has set up a shot. Nothing worse than setting up a shot with a skater, usually during practice and someone else leans over your shoulder and “poaches” your shot and ruins it. Never just lean over and stick your camera out, you will get 1 out of 50 shots that is usable if you are lucky. Compose your shots, think about the correct angle for the shot before you shoot, make sure you can always see the skaters face in the shot. Butt shots and pictures of the bottom of the board just donʼt work. Donʼt be a machine gun shooter, you donʼt have to shoot a shot every time a skater comes by.

These are just some small samples of advise for people who want to start shooting skating. Enjoy yourself while you are shooting, the angry guys are the guys who do it for a living and are not happy especially when you get in their way. Be respectful of the more experienced photographer. They in turn will start to respect you more. It takes a lot of practice to figure out lighting, settings, ISO, shutter speed for different settings or locations. Donʼt rush it, the good photographers have been doing it for years and they have spent countless hours working on their craft. The photographers who are just starting these days have it easy with digital cameras. When I first started I had to wait to see if my shots turned after they were developed. Todayʼs photographers learning curve has increased ten fold. With that being said, take your time, study the good photographers shots, I did when I was a kid and still do today.

Where can people see your work?

My work can been seen on my website which is I have also been published in Pacific San Diego magazine, Concrete Wave, Heelside magazine, Lowcard, and The Skateboarders Journal. My photos have been used for numerous skateboard company websites.

You can also follow Dan on:  



 Dan is also in charge of the social media for World Cup Skateboarding:

WCS   Facebook page -
WCS   Website -

Next time you see Dan at a contest, say "hi" and let him know you appreciate all he does for girls in skateboarding! 

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