Hi there. Remember me? Sorry it’s been so long but I’m a firm believer in only writing when I have something that I want to show, rather than just to keep the posts coming. Thankfully, last week I got the chance to shoot something different at the European Figure Skating Championships in Sheffield. Not only did it give me a chance to return to God’s own holiday destination, The Steel City, but also the opportunity to shoot something that I’d never photographed before.

Aside from the unbelievable quantity of bad haircuts and highly dubious fashions, it was certainly a challenge working out how to cover something I’ve never even seen before, never mind worked on. Thankfully, AFP photographer Andy Yates was on hand on my first day to show me the ropes and give me an idea of what the hell was going on.

First things first; light, or rather lack of light. With the Nikon D4 announced but not yet in my hands, I was relying on the D3s to step up which thankfully it did. With my ISO never dropping below 3200 and shutter having to always be above 1000th/sec to freeze the motion during the incredibly fast spins, there wasn’t much chance to get any depth of field on the subjects. F2.8 it was then.

With a mixture of men’s, women’s, pairs, short program and free dance routines, it took a bit of getting my head round but I very quickly realised two things;

a) Most of the routines have to include a selection of required moves or tricks. As some take more stress and energy than others, the competitors get the scary ones out of the way sharpish so it’s wise to expect the leaping and spinning pictures to happen within the first minute.

b) Falling flat on your arse isn’t necessarily the end of your hopes. While one competitor fell over three times, she still managed to come ahead of a girl from Ireland who didn’t fall once. I guess that didn’t say much for the judge’s thoughts on Miss Plenty O’Skates performance.

Shooting from the start of the day’s session, it quickly became clear that they run through the entrants pretty much in order of rank so just as you’re getting used to the speed of the action, along comes the world number 3 or higher to completely throw you out again. As I said above, thank god for high ISO settings that actually work. I can’t imagine how photographers shot this on on 1Dmk1 or D1 bodies that fell apart above 640ISO.

While I was mainly working alone, the other agencies had two photographers on the job with one shooting from up in the higher seating positions and one from rink-side but while the shots from above looked cleaner, they also became incredibly boring to shoot very quickly. While downstairs provided the headaches and mess of empty seats and garish advertising hoardings, upstairs provided no context. Press photographers strive for clean backgrounds, but you still need to have something in the frame to offer interest other than another skater doing the same moves you’ve shot on the previous 24 entrants. I soon found that rink-side allowed a few more options for shapes and reactions.

Having said that, rink-side also proved to be a LOT harder. With the positions at either end of the rink, the competitors were loose on a 400mm when they were at the other end but unbelievably tight when right in front of you. While I hoped for action to happen in the centre of the rink, I soon realised that this was going to be a rarity as the skaters use the length of the rink to build up speed and power to perform their airborne manoeuvres. Shooting alongside photographers from Reuters, AP, Getty and EPA, people standing nearby would hear the desperate mutterings of “no..no..No!. NOW! NOW! NOW! Nooo! No.. no.. no…” as the skaters rushed in our direction before spinning in the air a couple of metres in front of us.

As the competition came to a close, there were no real surprises on the podiums with the Carolina Kostner taking gold in the Ladies category and Evgeni Plushenko taking top spot in the Mens category. The only real shame of the week was that restrictions had been tightened on where we could shoot since I covered the Speed Skating last year. Having access to the gantry above the rink during these incredible moves would have been awesome. Boo to Health and Safety!

So there’s my first real blog of 2012 and it’s about sport. I can’t imagine there will be too much more of that kind of thing this year though. Now, what’s in the diary?


12 Responses to “Sheffield’s steel blades of glory”

  1. NIce work, my liege. Good to have you back again. To be honest, I thought the first blog would be with the D4, but hey, the D3s is still good. How far away were you shooting from?

    Posted by akin
  2. Awesome work Leon. As always.

    Posted by Jim
  3. @Akin – As of yesterday, Nikon were still waiting for the retail stock to arrive into the country and the loan gear will come from that shipment. Come on, damn it! Regarding distance, as I said above, it depended on the shot really but it mainly seemed to be a combination of too far away and too close!

    @Jim – Cheers bud! I’ll get round to finding those pics out of your nipper when I get the chance. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  4. As a die hard hockey fan (The prefix “Ice” is superfluous to us Canadians), I can completely sympathize & agree with you on the challenges of shooting events like this. I had the chance to shoot a training session of one of the AAA teams (Just below the NHL) and struggled with a) keeping it sharp b) high ISO’s c) keeping it interesting.

    You’d think with the controlled lighting conditions of an arena you’d be sitting at ISO 400 max?
    Still, it was a bloody good time.

    Cracking stuff Leon.

    Thanks for sharing

    Posted by Kris Mitchell
  5. Yeah, you’d like to imagine that they could pump the light a little but it’s all done for TV these days, I guess. Thinking about it, I think people would have to wear shades if they flooded the rink with enough light to allow 400ISO! :) Cheers for your comment Kris.

    Posted by tabascokid
  6. Very nice work Leon. Thank you for sharing them.


    Posted by Justin Sutcliffe
  7. Thanks Justin. Much appreciated, as ever. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  8. Top work as usual Leon, I’m sure you can’t wait to set hands on the D4 – Inspirational stuff!

    Posted by Mark McLoughlin
  9. Great set!
    Your blog is packed with amazing pictures, thanks you for sharing them.


    Posted by Peter
  10. Its great to hear from you again Leon! I figured you were taking a little time out, but great work. Stunning portrait of the Silver medal winner as well. Good shooting! 6400 ISO never looked so good :)

    Posted by Daniel Brennan
  11. Welcome back Leon, good to read again!
    Well perhaps You remember (I do) the time of the Lieca film, the highest was ISO 1600. Even the Kodak was so thin like a glass if you exposed well. At that kind of event like Figure Skating, you had two sure sharp shots . 1 starting pose, 2 ending pose, between them the pure ART, and 36 frames.. :-) (and do not speak about the box)
    And after it, whisper a pray in the lab.

    Posted by Ferenc Isza
  12. @Mark – Cheers Mark. I am indeed yearning for my own D4 to use and abuse. Hurry up, Nikon!

    @Peter – Thanks very much! Not much I can say to that but tell you I’ll endeavour to keep it that way!

    @Daniel – You can’t keep me down, I tell’s ya… No, I’ve been working lots but it’s just been scrappy bits and pieces that didn’t warrant sitting down and putting a post together for. Having just finished London Fashion Week and heading to shoot the Brit awards show tomorrow night, I think that may be about to change though!

    @Ferenc – Cheers Ferenc! That sounds like a total nightmare. I can understand your idea of the two sure sharp shots though! There are certainly many times in life that I cannot imagine how much harder it would be on film. All hail the legends of film!

    Posted by tabascokid

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