Taylor Ballard is a name now synonymous with skateboard photography in the Greater Seattle Area and beyond, so we reached out in order to get inside the lens of our latest interviewee. Here’s what he had to say…
So what is your current camera setup?
I just recently got a Sony A9 and am making the transition from my Canon 6D to that. I bought my 6D in May of 2015 and that has been my primary digital camera since until just this week. I have a handful of film cameras I shoot with as well but for film I mostly use a Leica M6.
What was the first camera you started shooting with? And was there
ever an aha moment when you realized that you wanted to be behind
the lens rather than in front of it?
Yea for sure and it’s kind of a funny story. I had a handful of experiences with photography before I really got into it and at first I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in shooting actual skate photos. I did running start my senior year of high school and my first quarter I signed up for a photography class. I had messed with little video cameras and Go Pros since I was a kid, I feel like most skateboarders do, but up to this point I had never used a regular camera. My aunt lent me her DSLR for the class and the first day the teacher asked us what we wanted to shoot. To make a long story short, she was super selective on what she would let students shoot for the class and she was not down with me wanting to shoot skating. She gave me a really hard time for it and I ended up three weeks in dropping the class and giving my aunt back her camera.
I had a handful of experiences with photography before I really got into it and at first I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in shooting actual skate photos.
Fast forward about a year later I was gifted my first camera by a bunch of friends when I was 19 right before I went and worked at a church that had a skate ministry in Santiago, Chile. I was there for about 3 months and shot a ton of photos and videos both skate related and not but after I came back my camera didn’t get a whole lot of use. It would come out skating with me every now and again but that was about it. About a year after this I ended up having to have a foot surgery, I started to have some knee and foot problems right before my senior year of high school and ended up having two knee and two foot surgeries over the course of about 5 years. I was skating the Mukilteo YMCA park a lot at the time and a week or so after my first foot surgery I went to just hang out at the park. A friend of mine had a film camera with him, an old Minolta SLR, and I was a bit taken back. I had never seen or held an older camera like that and I asked him a bunch of questions about it. He told me that there was a thrift shop up the street that had a few so I went and got one a few days later. I started shooting a ton of film and getting it all processed at the Bartells down the street from my house and this really helped me learn how cameras work. At first I had a lot more interest in shooting what was going on around skating rather than shooting the actual skating but this would change over the course of the next year or so. A few months later I got my Canon 6D and a little later on a fisheye and by time 2016 rolled around I knew that shooting photos was something that I wanted to do for a long time.
You are finished with the photography program at UW now correct? Did your parents ever try to convince you to do something other than Art School or have they always been super supportive of whatever you wanted to do?
Yeah I finished last June and never ever plan on going back, unless it is to shoot a skate photo or slap some curbs in C5. My parents have always been really supportive throughout my whole education, which I am very grateful for. I was never really much of a school person growing up, I never really went to a school where I felt I truly fit in and kind of accepted the fact that that was just how it was going to be, but I always saw it as important. I got good grades in high school cause I went to class everyday and always did my homework but math and science were always difficult. I originally was going to get a business/marketing degree but had really been set back by some bad math teachers in high school and a few even worse ones in college. When I was doing running start I barely made it through algebra 2 and failed pre calc twice. School and certain teachers so many times made me feel like I was dumb which seems so counter intuitive to how things should be when you are going somewhere to learn. I ended up in the Visual Communications program at Edmonds Community College and did well in that; I got my associates shortly after then ended up at UW. Sometimes I feel like maybe I wasted some time going to school for as long as I did but only time will tell I guess. Very stoked to be done!
When I was doing running start I barely made it through algebra 2 and failed pre calc twice.
What photographers do you admire?
You know how everyone says skateboarding has no rules and you can do whatever you want, but there are actually rules? Photography is kind of the same way. These rules can be subjective to an extent and people will always have different views on them but they very much do exist. I don’t want to get into too much of that but there are definitely a few things I immediately look for when looking at photos. I really appreciate guys who shoot film along with digital and or who take a different approach from time to time. I see this a lot in Anthony Acosta’s photos as well as French Fred’s. But man there are a lot of really talented skate photographers who’s work I really like: Michael Burnett, Dave Swift, Rhino, Jake Darwen, and Bryce Kanights just to name a few.
You seem to be at every major event all over taking photos. Have any
of your trips been on a brand or a companies dime?
Some are some aren’t. The past two Best Foot Forward Finals I have gone
to have been on Zumiez dime which has been super rad! I’ve even been able to make a few zines for them. They also covered my hotel and a few meals when I went to Tampa Am which was unexpected and much appreciated. The last Vans Pool Party I went to Psycho Mike was kind enough to let me crash on him and our friend Dane’s hotel room floor which was great cause after been paying my way to Denmark and Sweden for Vert Attack there was no way I was going to be able to swing a plane ticket and hotel. But yea here and there I’ve been getting some help which has been so rad.
For all the Groms that follow our blog and might be interested in photography and admire what you do, what advice would you give to them?
Find some photographer that you like and study their photos. Figure out what you like and don’t like about them. Ask questions, learn your camera in and out, stop shooting photos on your phone for awhile, find a cheap film camera or a disposable and try that out, shoot with your friends or at your local park, learn the basic principals of photo composition, and just have fun with it just like skateboarding you never know where it might take you. Always remember too photography just like skateboarding requires a lot of practice and patience. From the moment you pick up a camera and decide you want to shoot skate photos or whatever else, to the point of consistently creating good images is not an overnight process. Think about learning how to kickflip. I’m sure your first few months of doing them at least they probably didn’t look that good. However fast forward a few years and now you are popping them way higher and catching them with your back foot, maybe event taking them down
some stairs, you never know. What you probably do know is that had you not spent the last few years consistently doing kickflips they probably wouldn’t look much better than they did when your first started doing them.
Shoot with your friends or at your local park, learn the basic principals of photo composition, and just have fun with it, just like skateboarding, you never know where it might take you.
What is it about Seattle in your opinion that makes the Seattle Skate
Scene so unique?
Man that’s a tough one. I would for sure say it is a combination of things. To start we have 35th North. There are not a lot of cities that are lucky enough to have a shop that pours as much into the scene as 35th does. We have so many amazing places to skate because we have one of the best skatepark builders in the world in our city. We also just have a lot of really talented individuals. So many of the people that skate in Seattle have some other sort of interest or creative outlet that they are able to tie into their skating weather it be making videos, making zines, shooting photos, making art, etc… But ya Seattle is kind of becoming somewhat of a destination for skating I feel like. No matter where I end up Chile, Europe, or other parts of the states when I tell people I’m from Seattle more often than not they usually at least know of a few people, parks or spots that we are all very familiar with.
What is your favorite skateboard brand right now and why? Least
favorite (haha — be honest!)
Also a tough one. If we are talking local I really like Scram. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a good amount of time with Nolan, Keenan and Jesse the past few years. I love watching all of them skate and I am a huge fan of Nolan’s art. For more mainstream stuff I really like Spitfire and Vans; I really like the content they put out and how they support skating. It is especially rad to see Vans putting together things like Scene Attack and supporting skateboarding on the core level when they also have things Park Series. For least favorite I’d say Rip N Dip is pretty cringey. Its whack using skating to build your name and gain notoriety. Then just make a bunch of dumb stuff that kids will buy at Zumiez. There are a lot of brands where I’m not gonna necessarily buy their stuff or put their sticker on my board but that do some good stuff for skating. I’m down with most anything that supports skating in a positive and unique way.
What could local brands be doing that they might not already be doing to improve the scene locally?
That’s a tough one cause I already see so many brands supporting our scene in so many rad ways. I think it could be cool it more of us, brands, skaters, filmers etc… started making more shorter edits. I feel like Instagram has kind of killed that aspect of skating a little bit. When I was growing up I feel like there were so many more people making edits longer than 60 seconds with all their friends and putting them on youtube. People still definitely made edits like that but I’d really like to see more of it. I feel like this is something that Scram does a pretty good job with.
When I was growing up I feel like there were so many more people making edits longer than 60 seconds with all their friends and putting them on youtube.
What are your goals with photography in the next couple years?
The next few years I’m really hoping to travel and shoot as much as I can and get out to some places I have never been before. I’d really like to make another book, not sure what that is going to look like yet. I really hope to end up working a job in the skateboarding industry where shooting skate photos is at least a part of what I do. It’s really hard to make a living at just shooting photos but if one day that became possible that would be a dream come true.
Who is your favorite skater to go out and shoot with?
I really enjoy shooting with Jesse, Keenan, and Nolan. Some of my favorite photos I have every shot are of them. But there are a ton of other people I love shooting with as well.
Do you like being considered a “Skateboard Photographer” or just “photographer”? And why or why not?
Yes I would say I do like being considered a “Skateboard Photographer” but I wouldn’t want to be known as someone who shoots strictly skate photos. I think it is just as important to be to shoot what is going on during sessions or trips other than just the tricks. It’s a different kind of challenge. That was really the main focus of the book that I finished putting together this last summer.
How has Instagram changed the way you shoot photography/your outlook on usage rights for your photos?
Instagram has been a big thing ever since I started shooting so I wouldn’t say it has changed the way I shoot but something I did have to learn was not to just throw all my photos on Insta right away. At this point if I post something I always know there is a chance someone is gonna repost it which doesn’t bother me at all. What does bum me out sometimes is if people don’t credit me or the person skating or if they for some how find a way kill the quality of the image or add their own filters. For me when I take and edit a photo and put it out that is how I want it to look and when that is changed it can be a bummer. You would never go up to someone’s painting hanging on a wall and just paint some different colors cause you think it would look better that way haha. But yeah unless it’s a consistent thing with someone I usually don’t bring it up and it doesn’t happen too often. Most people know what’s up.
What does bum me out sometimes is if people don’t credit me or the person skating or if they for some how find a way kill the quality of the image or add their own filters.
Seattle has the same issues most Big Metro Areas have these days, Mental health and Addiction being two big ones. How have these issues impacted our Skate Scene (in your opinion) and what can we do to help those going through it? How has this impacted your life?
The stuff is really sad to see. I have been really fortunate to be able to not have personally struggled with addiction or mental health, but I have definitely seen a handful of friends both in and out of skating struggle with drug addiction and it sucks. So many rad people with so much potential end up in such bad places and even end up doing some really messed up stuff. Some people end up making it out and some people don’t. I think in a lot of cases especially with addiction its unfortunate, but there isn’t a lot we can do unless the person struggling is at a point there they want help changing their situation. With certain friends of mine I always make sure they know that I care about them and will support any decision they make towards getting themselves help. No matter how bad things look I think it’s really important to not give up on people. Remember to always make sure you tell your friends you love and care about them and call them out if they are blowing it; I’ve lost a handful of friends the past few years and every single one of them I thought for sure that I would see them again. It is so important not to take life for granted to remember that today is all we are guaranteed.
Skate and Create!