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Tips for Photographing Figure Skating

[Another oldie but goodie article]

In many ways, photographing figure skating is similar to photographing hockey because both sports are performed inside an arena on a rink.

But there’s one big difference. While hockey pictures usually concentrate on the brutal aspects of the sport, figure skating photos typically emphasize the grace and beauty. Having said this, however, we must admit that audiences (and judges) seem to be far more concerned with athletic prowess in the jumps than they are with the delicate balletic movements between jumps.

How can you best capture this athleticism as well as the beauty?
Where are you sitting? If you’re ringside with your camera, that’s one thing. If you’re sitting back in the stands, that’s another. Fortunately, sitting in the stands in a typical skating arena is not the same as sitting in the stands at a football stadium or Madison Square Garden. Usually, skating arenas are smaller and more intimate, with seating perhaps only ten rows deep. So being in the stands at most figure skating competitions or exhibitions is not as photographically challenging as being in the 50th row of a large football stadium.

In addition, skating audiences are usually more polite than their counterparts at more aggressive sports, which means that, when the skater leaps and gyrates, the spectator in front of you is less likely to stand up and block your view and knock over your camera.

copyright @NYIP

With these thoughts in mind, let’s turn to taking ice skating photos. While the “normal” lens on your point-and-shoot may give you a nice wide-angle picture of the arena, you will need a telephoto lens to get in close to the action – that is, to fill the frame with your subject. What if your point-and-shoot has a zoom lens, and you can zoom out to 105mm or even 180mm? Can you rely on it? Probably not…for another reason!

Most point-and-shoot cameras have a delay of up to a second between the time you press the shutter-button and the time they snap the picture. During this momentary delay, the camera has to automatically set the focus, automatically set the shutter speed and aperture to produce the “right” exposure, and automatically “decide” if you need flash. While a second is not long in a lifetime, it is far too long when it comes to snapping the shutter and getting a picture of the “decisive moment” – in this case, the high point of a jump or other maneuver. Unfortunately, you’re likely to end up with a picture of the skater back down on terra firma – or, at least, down on the ice…if the skater is even in the field of view at all!

This problem of delay can also afflict some SLR’s when they are set for autofocus and autoexposure. So our advice is to use an SLR, but set it to Manual Mode if possible. This way, you’re in charge of focusing and exposure, and you should set them in advance so there won’t be even a millisecond delay when you snap the shutter.

How do you set focus and exposure in advance?
Pre-focus on an area of the rink near you. You won’t be focused for the fireworks that occur farther away, but skating routines bring the performer to your side on each oval, and you’re prepared to shoot whenever the performer is in your pre-focused zone.

Set your exposure in advance too. Remember, you are aiming for correct exposure of the performer in the glare of the spotlights – not for correct exposure of the ice or the spectators in the stands. Even if your seat is not ringside, we advise that you walk up to ringside before the festivities begin. Take your reading at ringside. Perhaps, you can get a reading of your own skin in the glare of the rink lights. Or you can get a graycard reading in that light. Use this reading as your exposure.

Now return to your seat, and set up. You will be using a long lens. How long? This depends on the size of the arena and the location of your seats. Probably 180mm or longer.

Of course, when you use a long lens, you cannot safely handhold. You want to avoid camera-shake. Our suggestion is that you set your camera on a monopod to steady it. If the spectator in front of you jumps up, you’ll end up with a great picture of his back…but, as we’ve mentioned, this is far less likely at staid figure skating events than at raucous hockey or football games.

Since you are using a long lens and you will often want to freeze the action with a fast shutter-speed. That means you may need to set a higher ISO on your digital camera. If you’re using a film camera, ISO 800 film from either Kodak or Fuji is extremely good.

copyright @NYIP

Now, what about shutter-speed? As we just said, you will often want to freeze the action with a fast shutter-speed. But not always. We suggest that you also try to capture the feeling of speed and action in your picture by using a slow shutter speed to blur the skater and the action. To do this, bracket different shutter speeds – starting at 1/15th and getting slower – 1/8… 1/4… 1/2… etc.

Also, try panning some shots by following the movement of the skater as you press the shutter-button. A good pan will produce a sharp image of the skater against the blurred background of the spectators. During panning, use a slow shutter speed – 1/15th…1/8…or 1/4 – and keep the skater in your viewfinder as you press the shutter. A monopod or tripod is essential for good panning, otherwise the skater will be blurry as well as the background. There’s an example of a well panned picture taken during a speed-skating race.

What about flash? Many arenas don’t allow it. Even when they do, be aware of the limitation of your flash. The typical built-in flash has a range of just 10 to 15 feet. Will this be enough to light the skater subject from your seat? If you use a separate flash — rather than a built-in — know its maximum range. Can it reach out 20 feet‚ 30 feet‚ 40 feet‚ or even farther? The answer depends upon the particular unit, so read your unit’s specs and know its limitations in advance.

So much for figure skating. One final point about these winter sports: When it comes to early-morning hockey practice, we think your best shots may be of those sleepy-eyed moms and pops!


Reprinted with permission of the New York Institute of Photography


Filed under Figure Skating Parents, Ice Rinks,

Books on Ice Skating

Look for great books on the subject of figure skating? Visit our custom Amazon storefront.  Check out “Yuna Kim: Ice Queen,” “A Skating Life: My Story” by Dorothy Hamill and more!


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My Experience at Cup of China 2011 – The Short Programs

This was the chance of a lifetime.  I had so many questions about what this experience would entail

by Renee Lacy

I’ll admit to being obsessed with ice skating for most of my life and when I was assigned to go on a business trip to Shanghai, China the same weekend as Cup of China, I was ecstatic.  Finally a chance to see an international competition!  The biggest event I had seen previously was U.S. Nationals in St. Louis.

I had a work colleague buy me tickets in advance.  The price was very reasonable; approximately $50 US for two full days of ice skating.  This was the chance of a lifetime.  I had so many questions about what this experience would entail:  What food would be served in the stadium, how the crowd would act, were there skating nuts like me in China, etc.

The Old City

I arrived in Shanghai a few days in advance to take care of some work assignments for my employer.  The evening I arrived the city was covered in fog and mist.  I survived the hour long taxi ride to the hotel that rivaled “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”  Then there was the wake-up call that never came the next morning.  International travel can be so exciting.    Fast forward through two full days of work…

It was show time!  And I was still at work.  My co-worker from the Philippines decided to come along with me to see what figure skating was all about.  We tried to leave early to beat the traffic, but no luck.  My colleague was worried about me getting to the stadium at rush hour, so he decided to lead us most of the way there.  We hopped on a packed bus and headed to the metro station.  The ticket stations have English, so you just select the route and stop you want and insert your money.  Then you follow the lines of people to the train.  There were people everywhere, and just when you thought that the train was packed full, more people got on.  At the transfer point we switched trains, and he headed home.  There was a stop right at the Oriental Sports Center which is less than 1 year old and was previously used for the world swimming championships last summer.  We passed through some metal detectors and headed in just in time to see Carolina Kostner finishing her program.  Work paid transportation and lodging but that also comes with a price – and for me, it was missing the short dance and ladies short program.

During the resurfacing I cruised around the stadium to see what was available.  It turns out that concessions are not very popular.

Oriental Sports Center

There were a few places selling bottled drinks and cookies, a tea stand, and a counter with two mystery dishes with rice.  Risport had a display of skates and dresses and Canon had a booth where you could pose with skater cutouts and they would take and print your photo.

It was time for the men to begin skating.  I rushed in to discover that someone was sitting in my seat.  Apparently the Chinese are not shy about moving to a better seat.  I saw people moving around to empty seats all night.  So I joined in and sat in someone else’s spot.  The crowd was very polite and wanted everyone to do well.  There was noticeably more cheering for the Chinese skaters as should be expected in any host city arena.  Many people had cameras with long lenses and were taking action shots.

I was very impressed with the quality of skating as even the lower-ranked skaters were still displaying great skating skills.  We saw a quad or two, all kinds of costumes, and a few falls.  The pair skating was exciting with the tiny girls flying high.  I didn’t always agree with the judges’ ranking, but without an announcer telling you the skills, it’s hard to be sure what credit was given, so acceptance is the best policy  – in addition to looking up the summary online afterwards.

The crowd got a kick out of throwing things on the ice, but the stands were quite a bit higher and back away from the ice, so you needed a strong arm and heavy gift to make it.  The people really liked seeing the skaters hold up their gifts in the “Kiss and Cry” area on camera.

The lady seated next to me spoke English very well, and we chatted about the various skaters and programs.  She said she liked to see the skaters having a good time and skating to fun music.  Her favorite all time skater is Plushenko.  Mine is Kwan.  We bonded over skating, and now I can say that skating fanatics are the same everywhere.

Stay tuned for tomorrow for more about free skates and my experience at Cup of China!

Renee Lacy

Renee Lacy is a materials engineer, adult skater, and part time skating instructor.  She recently achieved a personal goal of passing the adult gold moves in the field test.

Learn more about Cup of China on Wikipedia along with official results for all events.

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Filed under Ice Skating Competitions, Ice Skating Events,

Following My Own Instructions: A Plan for this Skating Season.

By Katherine Ruch

Fall is in the air. I make this statement for a whole variety of reasons. The kids are back in school, the school supplies have been bought, Labor Day has come and gone and, most importantly, the ice rink has already been open this season for a few weeks!! While it was closed, it sure seems like I did my fair share of driving to other rinks, complaining about how I missed skating as well as plotting my return.

Looking back on it, is seems that summer flew by faster than ever this year. As the skating year gets off to a fresh start, I must begin to consider where I’m trying to go with skating this year. How in the world do I expect to get anywhere if I don’t put some thought into where it is that I’m trying to go? It would be somewhat like taking a trip without knowing where you were going or having directions.

What is your plan for this skating season?

I’m finding it slightly comical that I told my students they had to make a list of goals they would like to accomplish this year, while I am having trouble making myself do the same thing. I know the rules – you want to make goals that are short and long term and for all areas of your skating.

In terms of this year, I’m having trouble because what I have come up with so far has either been too vague or too pie in the sky. Goals that are too vague include: improving my jumps and spins. What does that really look like? In terms of pie in the sky: landing that elusive Axel seems to come to mind. It really doesn’t get more pie in the sky than wanting to land an Axel before the Mayan calendar runs out in 2012 if I haven’t even started seriously working on it!

So, down to brass tacks! Here are some legit goals for the year and the future:

  1. Find a few competitions to go to this year for myself, and pick a couple to take my students to. I think it may be best to coach at a couple and compete at a couple. I get nervous enough for myself and my students, that combining the two doesn’t seem like a great plan.
  2. Work on the Gold Moves so that I can hopefully at least test them at the end of this skating year. The keyword here is “test” not complete. Although, it would be delightful to pass them the first time!
  3. Finish the Bronze Dances this year- Hickory Hoedown down, the Willow and the Ten Fox still to go.
  4. Improve jump height on all singles and eventually land that darn Axel.
  5. Improve spin positions on sit spin and camel, learn layback and flying camel. Place the emphasis on eventually for that flying camel
  6. Move towards my goal of only teaching Moves in the Field. I’ve discovered this has to be my niche. I love the technical side of skating!!

Now the question goes to you! What would you like to accomplish during this skating year?

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Sports Ethics

by Susan L. Ward

Ethics is a complex philosophical subject because it involves the study of morality and human values. Defining values in terms of sports participation is a difficult task which all coaches must address. What is good? How do we judge what is good? In order to answer these essential questions, we utilize our standards, principles and belief systems. We may not all subscribe to the same values but we can simplify our ethical concerns when we examine issues in terms of minimizing harm and maximizing benefit. When we look at the paradigm of risk management, we can easily understand what “harm” means. Teachers do not cause harm nor do they risk harm to their students. On the positive side of the scale, teachers prevent harm and promote their students’ well being. In his book The Inner Athlete, Dan Millman says, “Second only to parents, teachers of movement can have a profound influence on a student’s self-concept and outlook on life.”

Many coaches teach the way parents learn to be parents: one generation repeating the best and worst of the last generation. It is not enough to know the subject matter and the methodology. It is necessary to have a philosophy, a code. Ask yourself: Why skate? Not everyone can win and we have all seen the importance of winning lead to cheating, soliciting, taking “cheap shots” and other unethical behavior on the part of athletes and coaches. But if winning is not the only thing, what other positive goals you can instill in skaters? If your teaching methods focus on concepts such as character development, sportsmanship, the cultivation of discipline, teamwork, fair play and self-motivation, you know the positive side of the scale: maximizing benefit. Skating is a sport that children cannot pursue without the support of their parents. Parents are legally, financially and morally responsible for their children. They are consumers and they do have rights. Most parents are primarily motivated by what they perceive is best for their child. Parents arrive knowing little if anything about skating but they can certainly be ambitious and competitive for their children. It is unwise to place the parents of your skater in an adversarial role. When a teacher or coach competes with a parent for control of a child, it is a Lose/Lose proposition. Besides, control is never a healthy or realistic goal.

Instead, a coach’s honest ability to communicate with both skater and parent is paramount. Consider the parent as your ally in the development of a well-balanced skater. An educated parent is the best advocate for a young athlete. The principles ‘to keep in mind are not new ones: teach with dignity, equality, privacy, loyalty, commitment, honesty and reliability. Your reputation will grow and the parents of your skaters will respect the work you are doing with their children.

Consider one parent’s perspective on reasonable expectations which parents place on coaches. Ann Masten, an associate professor of Child Psychology at the University of Minnesota and mother of two skaters, wrote the following list, previously published in Focus for parents, the newsletter of the USFSA’s Parents Committee:

What I Expect of My Child’s Coach*

  • - To teach my child this sport to the best of your ability.
  • - To promote the development of my child as a whole person, as well as an athlete.
  • - To respect my child and act in my child’s best interests.
  • - To be aware that you are one of the most important people in my child’s life, and to act accordingly.
  • - To honor the confidences of my child, except when it would endanger my child to do so.
  • - To inform me as soon as possible of any serious problems or concerns about my child or about my parenting as regards my child’s skating.
  • - To clearly communicate your expectations of me in this enterprise.
  • - To keep me informed on a regular basis (such as monthly) of my child’s general progress and to promptly address the questions or concerns that I might raise.
  • - To bill me accurately and with timeliness.

Reprinted with permission of U5F5A’s Focus for parents.

Coaches who deal with parents fairly enhance their own reputation in the arena. On the other hand, dissatisfied customers are all too prone to discuss their problems in the rink. Bad news is often embellished and all rink gossip is damaging. Minimize harm, encourage positive public relations by your own example. Keep the parent-coach-athlete dialogue in confidence.

The primary step in establishing healthy community relations starts with solid credentials. Most people are familiar with state education requirements in their schools. They know what certification signifies. In order to teach one must have learned the subject (skating technique) and how to present knowledge (methodology). Today coaches study physiology and psychology. Be prepared, continue your education and accept your ability as a teacher. Are you a good “kindergarten” teacher? Are you qualified and confident to teach the next grade? Do you realize that at the “end” of the year your child will be promoted? Do you hold back or let go? Are you willing to send the student on the next leg of the journey with your blessing even if you can’t go along?

Most importantly, the best coaches stop to consider their own motivations for coaching and are great motivators of their students. They are consistent in their approach and expectations of their students. They give all skaters a chance to become their personal best and avoid forming snap judgments or permanent opinions of skaters. They know that skaters will mature. No one can truly predict who has the most promise. Coach-motivators know that all people are different and have different styles and rates of learning. The best coaches are never too busy to listen. They keep confidences and promises.

The greatest coaches know that the best motivator is love; love of the sport itself, love of the process and love of teaching. All students benefit from the principles which these coach-motivators impart as part of the process. Everyone who walks into the arena recognizes them, not from their personal accolades, or skating achievements but by the accomplishments and attitudes of their students and the trust which parents place in them. They are real masters who teach with a commitment to excellence.

Reprinted with premission from :

The Professional Skater Magazine
January / February 1997 – pp. 16, 29.
©1997 by Professional Skaters Association

For more articles for skating parents, visit

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Filed under Figure Skating Education, Figure Skating Parents, Ice Skating Coaching,, Coaches Corner

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