The Default Skating Image

The Default Skating Image

I was shooting skating during this weekend. Finlandia Trophy, the opening of winters­ports season for me. As I posted couple of images in the FB, I got into an argument — no, call it “fruitful exchange of ideas” — which I thought merits more discussion. Basically, my friend argued that the image I posted “did not portray they quality usually present in my sports imagery” — as I had e.g. cut away the fingers.

So briefly: I was concent­rating on women and one skater particu­larly. Someone I have shot dozens of time. At this stage and age, it is a no-brainer to take a sharp, well lit image of a skater on ice. Get a bit elevated position to get rid of the ads on the sides, use a bit longer focal lenght, large enough aperture and fast shutter speed , make sure you do not amputate off any limbs but keep your cropping tight… and that’s about it. As I said: no-brainer. Done it dozens of times.

Thus:I would argue that I know the rules, I know exactly how it “should be done”...

But as I know them, I can break them. And the image below does just that.

So: not only did I amputate the legs, but also the fingers and half of the head. Also, it is not the image of “peak action” as it by default should be in sports.

But in my personal opinion, the image works: the compo­sition based on the triangle formed by her body and direction of the gaze, amplified by the perceived, antici­pated direction of her hands. Controlled DOF (400/2.8 wide open) with fast enough shutter speed which produces a razor sharp image — yet leaves some life into the hem of her dress. Shot close enough so that the background ads get totally blurry.

(Disclaimer: I might be wrong. You might think the image sucks. We are talking opinions here…)

My point: it takes lot of experience in shooting before you start doing images like that. Before you not only have the skill, but dare to do this.

And the most important point: you have to know the rules before you break them, otherwise you produce just crap.

To get it published (as this image was) might be even harder- as you might have some inexpe­rienced twenty-something doing the layout — with the rule “skating images should have all the limbs intact” burned into his head from school or older colleagues…

I am lucky — no, I’m bloody spoiled… :-) — as e.g. on Sunday the person respon­sible for the layout did call me asking for an opinion on the use of my images. They tend to give an extra moment of thought to my images — thinking “now there must be a reason why he did this” — and I cannot be but pleased and honored with that.

Here is another example of even more extreme cropping in skating. Breaking all the rules again — yet the image works (imho) for two reasons: extremely controlled DOF to her face and very low angle to get the dark background.

Importance of Being Prepared

While I got into showing my skating images, let me show one more to illustrate the impor­tance of prepa­ration. This is shot from position I should not be in a compe­tition — i.e. a definite no-no to do.

But: I saw her practise on Friday (and I shot it with a 200mm) and I thought that when she does that in a compe­tition that would be a killer opening shot (if shot with a 400mm) . So come Sunday, I talked to the TV-guy respon­sible for the “Kiss&Cry”-camera before the ladies compe­tition and asked for his permission to sneak right behind him on the floor when Kiira starts her program, to get a really low angle and head on image. He was really cool and nice about it. So only for the opening couple of seconds I crawled into the opening on the floor… And the result is my favorite image of the whole weekend.

So I guess I can declare the summer over and the winter sports season has begun.

5 Replies to “The Default Skating Image”

  1. All fine images, as ever :) 

    Rules of compo­sition are there to be broken. Tell anyone that you have to compose in this proportion or that proportion and they could immediately pull up an image that does exactly the opposite. (Well, anyone who has some visual education behind them..). 

    As we’ve said before, different images fulfil different agendas at different times to different audiences (or clients). 

    I semi agree with having to know the rules… :) I once went to a show of photo­graphs made by homeless people with dispo­sable cameras. Maybe a few had some fine art training before sad turns in their lives sent them onto the street but most probably did not. There were photos in that show that were, quite simply, perfect. By luck or otherwise, as photogrpahs they succeeded. They told stories. They were funny (at times). Tragic. Visually great… 

    Now, perhaps the ‘knowing the rules’ went the other way. Perhaps to a non-art world person used to studio lit graduation day photos of their daughters, the photo­graphs would have looked horrid. Perhaps without a background of Nan Goldin, Corrine Day, Wolfgang Tillmans, Robert Mapplet­horpe etc to fall back upon and to register these images against, they would have seemed ugly, badly cropped, harshly lit at times, under exposed at others. But such ‘fallings’ as seen from one perspective are strengths when seen from another.

    1. God I love your commentary… no seriously, one of the best things about this blog has been the oppor­tunity to meet minds like yours; I sincerily appreciate the conver­sa­tions we have and have had in the past.

      Yes; I see your semi reluc­tance… the “learn the rules and then break some” is a cliche which I as a teacher all the time repeat to my students. As each year somebody comes with the great idea of having slightly out of focus, tilted horizon, typically B&W images… and present them as “different”…

      And to make a mother of all the oxymorons: All genera­liza­tions are false. 

      But: what you say about the “telling stories” is interesting. I had the honor of speaking in the annual PressP­ho­to­graphers meeting in Tallinn, Estonia last weekend and one of the points I was trying to get thru to my audience was: 

      Stop seeing yourself as a photo­grapher but focus on the storytelling.

      This is one of the major problems I think younger people have when they are starting in this profession. They focus on the aesthetic aspect of individual images and forget that images are a means to tell a story.

      Yes, they have a value of their own, but to be used as a essential — should I say core element of journalism — one has to see them as tools of story­telling first and foremost.

      Which does not naturally deny the aesthetic / artistic value of them… but if you want to be profes­sional (photo)journalist, you have to tell a story thru your images.

      1. Rules [of compo­sition] are foolish, arbitrary, mindless things that raise you quickly to a level of accep­table mediocrity, then prevent you from progressing further.” “If your compo­sition happens to adhere to rules, fine! If it happens to break rules, fine! Forget the rules: just make always stronger images.” — Bruce Barnbaum, The Art of Photography

  2. Full body pictures are quite rare. I certain web media at least… for this kind of picture!i=2043418095&k=W8BcsS9 they would just crop the foot and hoop off so that no-one knows what is happening anymore.

    Other thing: i have a friend who is developing sensors for human body that can send some kind of midi infor­mation and direct lights etc. If you need sometimes to do something interesting that has not been done before.

  3. kari, don‘t worry making images is like making music. Both of these mediums nests and develops in the same part of the brain: on the opposite side is verbal, rational and “engineer minded stuff”. You actually can‘t argue with these guys. Either you “dig it” or don‘t. It is that simple. If your image makes an impression then it is “mission accomplished”.

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