Saturday, January 24, 2009

US Figure Skating Championship

On Friday, one of our photographers had to back out of a fairly large assignment at the last minute for a family emergency. Needless to say, it left me and the primary assigning editor scrambling for a replacement. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anybody in reasonable driving range, so of course, as pretty much the only person on staff who also shoots, I ended up being sent to this assignment. So, the day before I was scheduled to go down to Tampa for the Super Bowl, I packed up my bags early and made a pit stop in Cleveland for the 2009 US Figure Skating Championship.

I'm sure this comes as no surprise that this was my first time covering a figure skating event. And this will probably be the case with many other winter Olympic sports, as we draw nearer to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. That said, I wasn't really worried about it. My boss pretty much summed it up: "It's like swimming" in the sense that if it moves, shoot it!

Well, not so fast. As I've preached many times before, it's one thing to just photograph something that moves around and get it in focus. It's a whole another thing to do so with clean backgrounds. Of course, the easiest way to do this at a skating event is to just go up into the concourse, and use the nice white sheet of ice as your background:

It was pretty easy to just follow the competitors around from up there, and I was happy with those results. Nothing terribly original, but it is exactly the kind of images that a client looking for figure skating images would be looking for.

That said, I got a little bored just sitting up in my perch in the upper levels, as all the pictures started to look the same. It's not like tennis where even though the sport itself is repetitive, changing your position on the court yields a different image because of the way the sun is shining, or the way the lines on the court get positioned. Here you are indoors and on a sheet of ice, so no matter which way you face it will look exactly the same! So, I decided backgrounds be dammed, I'm going to shoot from downstairs. Look at how ugly it is (I didn't use this shot, it's just an example)!

The only way to combat that is patience, and a long lens. So I pulled out the 400 (which is what I used to shoot with from the concourse), and shot everything super tight. I also waited for the skaters to drift into a spot on the wall that was clean of all ads, and a spot where there were no fans seated.

Needless to say, this drops the photo output pretty significantly, so for the last few individual skaters (and the most important ones for that matter), I went back to my perch up top because I wanted to be sure I got something of them to file.

From that vantage point, I got kind of lucky and got a nice moment after the final competitor and eventual champion Alissa Czisny received some gifts and a hug from who I would assume are friends or relatives.

But when it came to the real awards ceremony, I got the ol' Beijing treatment, where only "pool" photographers got to shoot front and center (aka Getty, AP, Sports Illustrated, etc). So all I could really get were partially obstructed views of the medal/awards ceremony (thank you TV camera man for always standing in the way).

Not amazing, but it's a shot we need to have. Unfortunately, this will probably always be a problem for our organization, unless we start to strike some deals and make some noise in the industry. I know we have some things in the works, so hopefully we get to that point by the time the 2010 Vancouver Games come around!


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