PhotographyTips.com - the #1 guide to better conventional and digital photography Become a Member iPhone Posing GuideGuide to Posing the Female Model BookGuide to Posing the Model CD
Search
Login

Member Login

Find us on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter
Find us on Flickr
Connect with us on LinkedIn

SPONSORS

Sell Photos Online

FEATURED SITES


Photographing figure skating


The ability to stop action in low light is a function of fast film speed (permitting a fast shutter speed) and timing more than anything else.
The ability to stop action in low light is a function of fast film speed (permitting a fast shutter speed) and timing more than anything else.

Ice-skating shows, whether the huge spectacles that tour the nation or the one-time presentation in which your child participates, combine color, action and spectacle. They are a natural for photography. But, they present the photographer with challenges, too.

  • Skating action requires a fast shutter speed to "freeze" it on film or your digital camera's sensor.
  • Lighting conditions can vary significantly throughout a skating program, from very bright overall to a tight spotlight on a single performer. Obtaining accurate exposure readings can be tricky.
  • Lens selection is also important, since skating arenas are large and performers will often be at quite a distance from you.
  • Determining the best shooting location, and then actually securing it, can be difficult.
  • In some arenas, cold temperature can be a factor the photographer has to contend with.


STOPPING THE ACTION

Electronic flash can be employed to stop action when you are unable to use a fast-enough shutter speed, but it is generally not the most-desirable alternative for illuminating a figure-skating performance. (See Flash for figure skating.)

Ambient light photography (i.e. - without flash) will often produce the best results of a skating performance, capturing the atmosphere of the show.

A fast shutter speed is essential when you wish to stop movement (i.e. - no blur in the image). The ambient lighting in most skating auditoriums is rarely bright enough for action-stopping shutter speeds using slow to medium speed films. Fast film or an equivalent fast ISO setting in your digital camera, and a camera with a fast lens (ƒ/2.8 or faster) should be used. Film speed or digital sensitivity should be at least ISO 400, but don't shy away from using an ISO 800 sensitivity setting or ISO 800 color or black and white film, either, since it can produce images of surprisingly good quality.

If you know in advance that most of the lighting will be from floodlights, your best film type will be Tungsten film. However, since many figure skating performances are illuminated by a wide variety of lighting sources, you are probably better off to use daylight-type film. Subjects lit by floodlights will appear "warm" (reddish-yellow) while fluorescent and mercury vapor lights will cool your images, even turning them greenish. This is usually not as bad as it sounds, since most people are accustomed to seeing a multitude of different lighting effects at a skating performance.

A good time to practice your photography is during a figure skating practice.
A good time to practice your photography is during a figure skating practice.

Not everyone has the ability to sharply capture fast motion in low light. Slight blur from a relatively-slow shutter speed is often not all that noticeable. Photo courtesy of Michelle Wojdyla.
Not everyone has the ability to sharply capture fast motion in low light. Slight blur from a relatively-slow shutter speed is often not all that noticeable. Photo courtesy of Michelle Wojdyla.

WHAT IF YOU DONT HAVE A FAST LENS?

You may not have a fast lens on your camera, making it impossible to use very fast shutter speeds. Don't let this stop you from taking pictures during a performance. Ensure that your lens is set at its maximum aperture, which may be ƒ/4 or ƒ/5.6. Exposures as slow as 1/60 sec can still produce fine figure-skating pictures, provided you "shoot smart." There may be some blur in the image, but you can minimize its effect.

Shooting a skater traveling from one side to another in front of you (parallel with the film plane) should be avoided, since the entire skater may be a blur, but photographing subjects as they approach or skate away from you will minimize blur. You can reduce blur when the subject is crossing in front of you by using a panning technique.

Look for shooting opportunities when a skater is illuminated by two or more bright white spotlights, perhaps permitting you to increase shutter speed to 1/125 sec. If the subject is illuminated on the front or side by particularly bright lighting, you may even get away with a shutter speed of 1/250 sec.

Watch for moments when the action is stopped - at the completion of a spin, for example, or just as the skater's arms are raised following completion of a maneuver. You will probably have a second or to shoot a dramatic picture before the skater begins to move again.

Remember, too, that blur is often intentionally used by photographers to show motion. You can take slow shutter speed pictures that you know will be blurry, but that may contain sufficient color, movement and compositional elements that they capture the graceful movement of a figure skater and have merit due to the image's artistic appeal.


EXPOSURE METERING

When the skating arena is uniformly illuminated by an unchanging light source, an ordinary exposure meter will generally provide acceptable exposure settings, especially if you are able to take a reflected light reading with your camera's meter from a subject close enough to fill the frame. Even if you are seated well away from the spectacle, you may be able to leave your seat for a few minutes, and descend to ice level to approach closely enough for a reading that can be used from back in your own seat.

But, accurate metering of a figure skating performance that is lit by a wide range of constantly-changing light sources with subjects who are sometimes near and sometimes far away is often impossible. The photographer's most helpful instrument is a spot meter, but not everyone is equipped with one.

The good news, though, is that such colorful performances can often be photographed using a variety of exposure settings with pleasing results. With so many different light sources, there is very likely a wide range of different brightness levels throughout the scene. Overexposure of one part may properly expose another area. And, even if an image is underexposed a little, the darkness can add to the drama. Exposure uncertainty can be ameliorated somewhat by switching to a fast black and white film, since its exposure latitude is so much greater than color slide and negative films.

There can be a wide variety of lighting sources at a figure skating performance, making exposure calculation tricky. A spotmeter can be particularly helpful. Photo courtesy of Michelle Wojdyla.
There can be a wide variety of lighting sources at a figure skating performance, making exposure calculation tricky. A spotmeter can be particularly helpful. Photo courtesy of Michelle Wojdyla.

A long telephoto lens that is fast, in combination with a fast color film, will deliver excellent results. Photo courtesy of Michelle Wojdyla.
A long telephoto lens that is fast, in combination with a fast color film, will deliver excellent results. Photo courtesy of Michelle Wojdyla.

LENS CHOICE

Since the performers in a figure skating spectacle are likely to be anywhere on the rink when you notice a good picture-taking opportunity, a sharp, fast (ƒ/2.8) zoom lens in the range of 80 to 200 mm (for a 35 mm camera system) is probably the ideal lens. Such a lens, however, is expensive, costing more than many cameras.


A good compromise is a fast medium telephoto lens, with a focal length in the range of 105 to 120 mm. This size of lens will enable you to fill the frame when the skaters are close and to sufficiently enlarge far-off skaters or groups of skaters for pleasing images. If your lens choice is restricted to a normal lens (around 50mm for a 35 mm camera system), you would ideally be positioned at rinkside and look for shooting opportunities when skaters are fairly close. The nice thing about most normal lenses is that they are generally fast and sharp, often with maximum apertures of ƒ/2 and faster, permitting you to use fast shutter speeds. If you are unable to fill the frame with your skating subjects, the lens' sharpness will be advantageous when cropping your images after development of the film or when you download your digital images to your computer.

You can sometimes compromise slightly on shutter speed when the subject is coming straight at you. Photo courtesy Michelle Wojdyla.
You can sometimes compromise slightly on shutter speed when the subject is coming straight at you. Photo courtesy Michelle Wojdyla.
Further information...

Flash for figure skating