Behind the Lens: An Interview with Photographer Zorah Olivia

Zorah Olivia is probably responsible for your favorite skate photos.

She’s a tour de force in the skate industry, covering everything from: the X Games to the upcoming Olympics and goofy portraits of our skate icons. Zorah’s crystal clear style stops each moment so perfectly. This photo series from the 2019 Dew Tour offers a snapshot of what Zorah captures best. We sat down to talk the contest, Zorah’s life, and everything skate photography.

 

Photos by Zorah Olivia. A version of this interview appears in Issue 004 of Quell Skateboarding. Buy a copy online here.

 


Can you give us a brief history of how you started skating and shooting?

I started skating when I was 10 years old. I remember watching my cousins play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and I was hooked. I’ve honestly always been shooting photos. Both of my parents are photographers, so I grew up in an artistic household.  Naturally at first as a kid, you want to do the exact opposite of what your parents do, so skateboarding was my main focus for years. It wasn’t until I turned 16 that I really started taking photography seriously.

 

How do you think going to Woodward for skating and for photography has influenced your approach to skateboarding and capturing skateboarding?

Going to Woodward as a kid absolutely shaped who I am as an individual, skateboarder and a photographer. Woodward was the first time that I was exposed to other female skaters. I felt free and able to fully be myself. When they introduced the photography program to camp in 2009 my entire world changed. For the first time, I was given access to top professional skateboarders, the best photography equipment, and real life photo scenarios. To this day, I’m still incredibly grateful for that time in my life.

 

Often skate photography is just about the ‘spot’ as it is about the subject or the trick – can you talk a bit about how you approach skate spots and angles?

The majority of the time, skaters and filmers introduce me to spots, so when I go out with them I’m seeing everything for the first time. You can make a creative image out of any spot, it’s all about using your eye to pull the best qualities out of any location.  The key is to pay attention to the details, colors, textures, and human elements.

 

What’s your ideal setting for taking skate photos?

A spontaneous phone call from a friend, meeting up for iced coffee first, and exploring the city for unusual spots. It’s all about being spontaneous for me and my crew.

 

Do you approach street, park and contest photos differently?

Street definitely comes naturally for me, park and contest shooting is always a necessary learning experience. I just observe first and pre-visualize how I want to shoot the skaters desired trick. Contest photography is more so about getting as much content as you can in a set amount of time.

 

How did you get involved in shooting contest photography?

Contest photography was actually my first true introduction to the skate industry! In 2016, I emailed Kim Woozy from Mafia.TV and asked about internships. She emailed me back and really liked my portfolio. We ended up talking on the phone for over an hour. On that same first phone call, Kim invited me to shoot the X-Games in Austin, Texas! She flew me out to Seattle, WA first to introduce me to the female skate community. That was my first time at Wheels of Fortune, so officially WOF was the first time I shot a skate contest.

 

Specifically, what were some of the exciting parts and some of the challenges of shooting this year’s Dew Tour? 

My only challenge with Dew Tour was gaining access to the course to shoot with the girls. But I did end up meeting a lot of amazing people who helped organize Dew Tour that want me to officially shoot for them next year!  The most exciting part about Dew was seeing all of my friends in one place. That’s what we all love about contests, no matter how much pressure we all feel, we’re just thankful to be with each other. It’s like a big family reunion.

 

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How did you approach photographing practice versus the contest?

During practice, I always try to get as much action content as possible because on finals day they absolutely won’t let you anywhere near the course. Finals day I focus on the individual skaters, their reactions with not only themselves but with everyone else. I just want those viewing my photos to feel how they felt that day.

 

If we came back from the future to tell 14 year old Zorah that when you get older you’ll be shooting some of the biggest pro skaters in the world, how would you react?

I probably wouldn’t believe you! But that would have saved me years of worrying about my future.

 

We heard, from you, that you’ll be shooting at the Olympics, would you like to share a little about how you got the opportunity and how you’re preparing for it? 

Yes! I recently signed with FujiFilm. I’m incredibly grateful for their support. I’m currently working on the early stages of a photo series leading up to the Olympics. More details coming soon!

 

What’s your advice for people who want to get into skate photography?

Practice, be vulnerable and fully put your heart into your work.

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