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Thread: The Last Skate

  1. #1
    purplehaze's Avatar
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    The Last Skate

    My nieces' last synchro skate of the season is later today and I am going along to try to catch some (gulp) stop action and motion blur shots for this week's course assignment. I'll be shooting shutter priority on my Nikon D90 with my longest lens, which is the Nikkor 18-105 mm kit lens, and taking along my tripod, in hopes that there are no prohibitions against using it. If there are, I will try to steady the camera on the sideboards.

    I'll only have four minutes in which to capture my nieces' team, so I will practice on the teams skating ahead of them. Haven't seen this particular routine, so I will try to have them describe it to me ahead of time.

    If anyone has any tips on shooting figure skaters in an arena, please share. Nothing is too elementary where I am concerned. I only just learned that I need to turn VR off when on the tripod, for example.

  2. #2
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    Re: The Last Skate

    I have shot indoor ice skating and it is challenging. The lighting levels are usually very poor ("atmosphere" you know) so you need a fast lens, high ISO but still a fast shutter speed. The D90 can come up with a decent photo at ISO 2000 (though definitely noisy) but even with a f/2.8 lens used wide open I was getting underexposure (trying to maintain a minimum 1/100 sec shutter speed). But it needs to be even faster to stop motion completely. You'll know more when you shoot the warmup teams.

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    Re: The Last Skate

    Thanks for the heads up, Ben. I may have to follow along to soccer, and try there.

  4. #4

    Re: The Last Skate

    Wow ... does that bring back memories. My daughter skated synchro for about 12 or so years, and I took pictures all along the way. Of course, 100% was film, and I would shoot a full roll every skate (short and long programs). Digital shooters today have it comparatively easy - hold that shutter button down, and you should get something great in there somewhere ;-). Wish I had that back in the day.

    Anyway, here is what I would shoot ...
    - Fuji 1600 ISO print film - grainy and cotrasty, but it worked.
    - Nikon EL2 (till it packed it in) then Nikon FM2 with MD12 motor drive (much much better)
    - Nikkor 80-200 f/4.5 zoom - was OK, but I had to be close to the ice surface to get some decent shots, which did not allow me to get good coverage
    - Finally picked up a Tokina 100-400 f/slow-slower lens that seemed to do the trick most of the time; allowed me to sit back a bit further and still get close; wish I has a 100-400 with constant f/2.8, but did I mention that my daughter figure skated for about 12 years? (bye bye $$$)
    - Ice level was OK, but things moved so fast that it was very hard to get a clear shot of the faces. I found that 8-12 rows back would give me a good angle on the ice, and allow me to take images of specific skaters. It is also the judges' view, so it is probably the best angle on the routine.

    I could generally shoot at about 1/125 sec in most venues (the EL2 was automatic, but the FM2 was completely manual, and, as you mentioned, with only a few minutes to shoot, there was no time to mess with aperture or shutter speed settings - just set it and forget it and keep shooting - something was likely to turn out.

    So, after all that, here are a couple of tips that I have ...

    First and foremost, know the routine. Most routines cover the whole ice surface, but there are points where the team is facing one way or another, paused, or at the peak of one of their moves (the decisive moment). If you know when and where some of those occur, then you will have a much better chance of success and at getting clear images. I have done both blur and freeze action, and knowing the routine really really helps capture each of these styles.

    Second is white balance. With film (outdoor film), it was generally OK. But in a sequence of shots (I would sometimes shoot a burst of 3-4 frames at specific points - did I mention that it helps to know the routine?), I noticed that one picture would be OK for WB, but the next one would be muddy, then the 3rd OK, and so forth. But there was no consistency in how this turned out Sometimes most of the images were OK, and sometimes most of the images were dark/muddy. What the ...?

    I happened to mention this to a newspaper photographer frend of mine, who also does hockey and basketball in arenas. He told me that it was the type lighting in the arena - it actually fluctuates/cycles, and the colour and intensity actually shift within that cycle. But it happens so fast (60 cycles per second) that your eyes do not pick it up (well, maybe if you know what to look for), but the camera never lies - at 125th of a second, there is a chance that you will catch it on the bright part of the cycle, or the dark part of the cycle, or somewhere in between. If the camera is on automatic exposure, your shutter speed or aperture will fluctuate to compensate, but on full manual with a single exposure setting it cannot compensate for these cycles. So, with digital and either aperture or shutter priority, you should be able to avoid this, but you might not get the shot you want (shutter too slow/fast, or aperture to closed/open). Also, auto WB might help out, but not having shot skating with digital, I am not sure what to expect - try it with one of the teams that skates before youe friend's daughter's team and see what WB setting turns out best for you.

    Anyway ... those are the things I found. It is probably too late now for the competition you were covering, but maybe there might be something in there for you the next time you go. It was fun, I captured lots of memories of her skates across North America and Europe, and more than that, was thrilled to watch my daughter work hard at, and compete in, a sport that she loved.

  5. #5
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    Re: The Last Skate

    Not at all too late, Chugger. An excellent first post; welcome to the forum. Feel free to amend your profile to include your real first name, unless you want to be addressed by your screen name.

  6. #6
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    Re: The Last Skate

    Just as an addendum to Chugger's excellent post, when it comes to the white balance issue, I'd say bring a couple extra cards and shoot RAW. White balance in post. RAW will also give you some latitude for adjusting exposure after the fact, although to avoid adding noise, you'd prefer not to underexpose.

    My personal druthers would be to a) rent/borrow a faster lens and/or b) invest in some good post-procesing/noise reduction software. I far prefer getting a shot that's grainy/noisy but doesn't have motion blur to a motion-blurred shot without noise, but tastes vary.

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    Re: The Last Skate

    I think I may have the evidence of that very phenomenon you were talking about, Chugger. The first two images, shot of the exact same subject at the same focal length and exposure have distinctly different colour casts. Shutter speed was 1/250, firing in bursts, and WB was set at auto. Interesting.

    Thanks for your input, Inkista. I have a lot to learn about white balance correction and noise reduction, but I got lots of raw material to work with today (pun intended).

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    Re: The Last Skate

    It turns out that the colour shifts back and forth throughout the entire set of pics, corroborating what Chugger said about arena lighting, except for the part about shutter priority exposure compensating for the cycling, which it didn't do for me. It would seem from this post on a sports photography site that there is no getting around this if you are wanting to shoot faster than 1/60.

  9. #9
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    Re: The Last Skate

    I agree that the camera can't/doesn't react fast enough to compensate for the 120cps flicker, in either white balance or shutter speed adjustments. I have had success a couple of times in having maintenance replace the bulbs left-right to right-left in pairs. This makes one bulb on while the other is off. However, I've never talked maintenance into making the change in every fixture prior to replacing individual burned out bulbs.

    The newer ballasts operate the bulbs at a much higher frequency, so that will eliminate that problem. You can do that in your home or studio, but talking a sports venue into make thousands of dollars (Pounds, euros, etc.) worth of upgrades just so your pictures will be exposed properly isn't going to happen. Note also that the screw-in flourescents have the ballast built in and don't cause that problem (in my Stateside experience.)

    Because the frames per second repeat speed of today's cameras set to burst mode, getting one good shot out of three is hit or miss, but will usually give you a good one.

    Pops

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    Re: The Last Skate

    Thanks, Pops. I'm going to experiment with your technique at home. If it works, it'll make for good entertainment the next time my science-minded nephew is over.

  11. #11
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    Re: The Last Skate

    Quote Originally Posted by purplehaze View Post
    It turns out that the colour shifts back and forth throughout the entire set of pics, corroborating what Chugger said about arena lighting, except for the part about shutter priority exposure compensating for the cycling, which it didn't do for me. It would seem from this post on a sports photography site that there is no getting around this if you are wanting to shoot faster than 1/60.
    Hi Janis,

    Some camera's 'fast' burst modes will set the metering on the first exposure and, to save time (i.e. get a faster fps rate), use that for all subsequent shots while button held down. It resets when you release and start over.

    It might be worth trying a slower burst mode (if your camera has one), that may enable metering of each exposure in the series.

    This idea is more an "I read this somewhere" than "personal experience" though.

    Hope the skating went well for your niece.

    Cheers,

  12. #12
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    Re: The Last Skate

    Yes, the D90 has fast and slow modes, so I will maybe try that out on the flourescents here at home (before I try Pop's left-right switcheroo), or at least keep it in mind for another time.

    Thanks, Dave. And yes, the girls were thrilled with their skate, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough to take first place.

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    Re: The Last Skate

    Hi:
    I used to have Canon 20D and basic kits lens, you can image I can't cut my daughter figure skating!
    Then, I switch to 7D , and I am all the time using 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II USM.....
    The f 2,8 solve the poor lighting problem.
    7D 8 fps helped me a lot on frezzing the skating.
    Still, I need to do lots of cropping..
    that's why I put the 2.8 400mm in my dream list!! hoping 1, 2 years later I got the $$$ and upgrade with my daughter's skating.
    if skating is expensive down the road, it seems that sport photography is also expensive.
    The only difference is: coaching can go endless in figure skating. Yes, photo still have an end in equipment, it is only I use it more and make it worth the money.
    The reason I put this much money into the photo gear is I hope that one day she will cherish the memories from the photos

  14. #14
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    Re: The Last Skate

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Yeung View Post
    The reason I put this much money into the photo gear is I hope that one day she will cherish the memories from the photos
    I'm sure she will, Bill. My siblings, cousins and I are at an age now where we are really appreciating the thousands of photos my dad took of us all growing up. They are priceless.

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    Re: The Last Skate

    just by curiorsity, are you in Vancouver?
    as March 19 is the annaul show of Sunset Skating club too.

    (2) Yes, the huge amount of money to the sport as well as the photo equipment definitely will bring the priceless memory to them.
    Kids with parent sport TOGETHER with them is blessed. Kids with parent willing to spent the money, the time in capturing their action is blessed.

    (3) To myself, while I learned together with my kid in figure skating, I as well finding channels ( like learning from this site) to sharpen my photo techinque to catch up with their sport.

    learning is fun indeed.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  16. #16
    purplehaze's Avatar
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    Re: The Last Skate

    Hi Bill,

    I'm in Winnipeg, but I have fond memories of Vancouver and hope to return someday, preferably when the sun is shining . Your daughter is charming. Is that a recent photo?

    This is a crop of one of the shots I got that I submitted to class as part of our stop action/motion blur assignment. On top of my lack of preparedness, my too-short lens with the too-small aperture, and the white balance problem, it turned out that the entire rink had a net around it. Who knew? The rink is out-of-town, and the girls hadn't skated there since last year. Anyhow, the class liked it. Niece #1 is in the middle.

    Nikon D90 with 18-105 mm lens; F/7.1 at 1/125 and 1600 ISO

    The Last Skate

  17. #17

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    Re: The Last Skate

    yes, it is just last month.
    she is now in Junior enrichment academy under Canskate program.
    Luckily, I take most of her pictures during her practise. This is the time I can sneak into the hockey player seat and take the pictures without the glass panel or the net in between.
    As you can see from the photo, it is not your lens or camera, it is the net which make the pictures like this.
    otherwise, the pictures are totally fine, is it?
    anyway, we all are for challenges, while the skater is falling to the ice and our's is light, shutter, aperture!!!!!!!

    enjoy.

    have fun.

  18. #18
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    Re: The Last Skate

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Yeung View Post
    anyway, we all are for challenges, while the skater is falling to the ice and our's is light, shutter, aperture!!!!!!!
    LOL! I'll be grateful I only have my ego to bruise.

    have fun.
    You too.

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