Tum Yeto Foundation F-Stop Photographer Interview: Don Luong

Don Luong is one of our resident filmers for Foundation and the other Tum Yeto brands. For our latest installment of the F-Stop Photography Interviews, we wanted to catch up with him to see and hear about  the photographs he's been shooting lately.

Hi Don. You're a full time filmer for Tum Yeto, but I see often with a 35mm camera in tow. What kind of pictures are you shooting when you're not filming at skate spots?

I'm usually just shooting photos of the bros looking cool and doing the awesome stuff they do everyday.

 When did you first start shooting photos?

My first experience with actually holding a camera and shooting was probably around my senior year of high school when I took a photo class. That was right before digital photography took over so there was still a dark room and I got to learn the process it takes to make your own prints.  I was so blown away at how precise you had to be to make the perfect print. I remember messing up a lot but the photos were still turning out cool. That's when I realized photography was kick ass.

What type of camera(s) you shoot with?

An Olympus 120 and an AE-1.  You could probably find both of those at any pawn store. They're super common and easy to use.

Are there certain elements that inspire you to shoot photos?

I really just enjoy shooting photos of the bros. I've traveled for a year straight with the same group of people and they have all become my best friends.  So there's that level of comfortability of being able to get into someone's face even at their most vulnerable moments to shoot their photo.  It's also awesome to look at a huge stack of 5 x 7's and reminisce on all the places I've been and people I've met over the years. The difference between holding a print you've shot, to looking at a little photo with 10 filters on your iPhone is insane. The print is always gonna have more sentiment.

Was there a certain point when you decided to shoot video full time, over shooting photos?

I actually started filming before shooting photos. So video was always my first interest. Those two go hand in hand, so as I was learning how to film I took those basic guidelines and applied them to photography. I still have no idea what I'm doing out there though, haha.

How did you get your first start in filming skating?

It was never  a conscious decision to become a skateboard filmer for a living, I just did it cause it was fun. I grew up skating with Kevin Romar, Nick Garcia and Julian Davidson. Those dudes were on such a different level than me growin' up, so I found myself filming them more than skating. We used a High8 camera and our fisheye threading didn't match our camera, so you would literally have to hold up the fisheye with your other hand. Extra bootleg, hahaha.  We would film all day, rewind the tape to the beginning and watch the entire thing on the TV.  It became a really addicting lifestyle. Eventually everyone started getting sponsored and I bought a VX and we became our own little crew. It's a real trip seeing where skating has taken all of us over the years. I have those dudes to thank for starting me off on the right path for sure.  

That's awesome. Do you remember the first Tum Yeto skater you started filming with?

JLay (Johnny Layton) most definitely. He had just moved 2 blocks from our local park EL DO and we met through mutual friends. I just started hanging around and skating with him a bunch. Through him I met all the Yeto bros and we've been bro'in ever since.  

What's the first full length vid you made. Who was all in that vid?

"TA-HA". It was a Furnace Skateshop video with all the local riders I grew up with. Nick Gar, Ju ju,  Alec Jamir, Billy Davenport, Brian Price, Jordan Vititow, Michael O'toole, and Derrick Wilson. I'm finishing up the sequel "Tee-Hee" and it definitely won't be out by the time you read this.

 What led you to becoming the full time Dekline filmer?
Up until real recently I was working for Vans. It was a filming/editing job but i was working with a lot more art/fashion based type things than skating. I found myself in an office from 9-5 everyday, editing videos of things I really wasn't interested in. My bosses were awesome, the money was good, but I soon realized that it wasn't filming and editing that I loved as much as it  was being in the streets with my friends everyday filming skating. I spent a little over a year doing that while just street skating as much as I could on the weekends. I was losing it pretty much. Then one faithful day Sinclair called me said the crew was down and that he wanted me to make the Dekline video and work for the Yeto. He got me out of there and showed me the light. Thanks Mike.

What filmers have been an inspiration to you growing up?

Kevin Barnett, Ricki the dude, Cole Mathews, Matt Bublitz and  Dave Hoang.  Just all the local dudes I grew up around, watching film and edit. All those guys are awesome and have taught me a lot.  It's seriously a trip working along side KB (Kevin Barnett). I grew up watching all the Toy (Machine) vids and now I'm making a video with him. Its insane.

 Any photographer that you draw inspiration from. In or outside skateboarding?

 I recently went on a trip with Jonathan Mehring. He rules and so do his photos.  

He's one of my favorites too. How about filming missions. You're almost guaranteed to get into a sketchy situation at some point. Any crazy stories from filming while growing up?

One in particular is one time Nick (Garcia) was trying to skate down some stairs and an off duty security guard tried to kick us out. When you're younger you don't really think about putting yourself in the other persons shoes, so we were being real defiant. On the last try Nick Lands almost square on this dudes head, off a 10 stair and things get heated. They get in each others faces and the dude pours his hot coffee all over Nick's head. Next thing I know my bros are trying to jump this security guard and I'm not sure whether to keep filming or get outta there. After a few scuffles we got out of there before the cops came.

What about while filming with the Yeto dudes?

We went on a Dekline trip to Nor Cal and JayTay found this spot  at night he wanted to skate. It was on the side of a busy downtown street in San Jose. He had been trying his trick for a while, when all of a sudden this dude comes up and tells us to leave his territory. Apparently we were scaring away his customers. Drug lord style. He starts eyeing up the camera gear and before we know it he flashes a gun and tells us to leave. We all scram, but half the crew got split up and me and Blake (Carpenter) got stuck in a dark corner, trying to find the van, with that dude lurking just around the corner. We had to wait for what felt like forever, for Sinclair to find us and pick us up. Scary times.

What projects are you currently working on and what others are on the horizon?

As of right now we are deep into the making of the upcoming Dekline video. Everyone is really going for it, so its gonna be amazing to see all these guys' hard work in the final product. I'm also working on my own little video "Tee-hee". It's all VX and I've been sitting on the footage for over a year now. Taylor Smith, Andrew Lutheran and Alec Jamir all have full parts.  It should be premiering really soon. After all these are done, we are gonna start Toy Machine and Foundation videos at the same time. We'll work on those for a few years. I'm definitely excited for all the things Yeto has in store.

Any advice can you give for the up and coming filmers that want a job filming for one of the brands in the skate industry?

This one is always tough. To be honest I got really lucky to be born in southern California. It's in the epicenter of skateboarding and my friends just happened to be amazing skateboarders. If I had to give any bit of advice I'd say just try to keep skating real and authentic. Skate with your friends, have fun, explore, don't worry about dropped pins, secret spots, or ABDS.  Film and edit because you love it, not because you wanna make money. And if you love it long and hard enough, something will happen.  It's such a short window that we get to live this lifestyle, so just enjoy it and appreciate it while you can.

To see more of Don's photography, follow him and his adventures with the Tum Yeto dudes on Instagram: @yerdone

Interview by Tyler Culbertson

Posted February 6th, 2014 by Tyler Culbertson
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