Wednesday, April 21, 2010

getting the shot

2010 has been a great year so far. I've already made some fabulous memories and quite honestly, being at the Olympics was a lifetime dream come true. I'm really not that old, so I consider myself a very lucky girl. But amid all of the excitement and happiness that 2010 has brought, I've also been suffering from a lack of inspiration and confidence.

At work, I was offered a position that I felt I had earned, but after the informal offer from my manager, the job was given to someone else without so much as a word about it to me. In my fiction class, I feel like our professor is constantly looking down on all of us, which has made me pretty apathetic about writing—not good when this semester is one of six in a degree that's costing me thousands of dollars. I haven't felt much like writing anything, including but not limited to: working on my novel, writing short pieces in hopes of publication, revising essays I wrote last semester that I really liked at one point, blogging, and writing articles for IDC. It's been fairly glum as far as writing.

However, two things happened in the past month to really give me a boost, and one just happened last night, so look, I'm writing about something recent for a change!

Let's start with last night. I was in my Writing About Place class, which I've really enjoyed all semester. While the class has mainly functioned as lit-for-writers, we have also done a bit of writing in the form of "narrative exercises." Our third exercise was due 2 weeks ago, and the assignment was to write a one-page scene in which external and internal factors contribute to an irrevocable event. I chose to write a bit from my novel, which is a YA-ish book (but hopefully smarter than most of the crap YA) about an ice dancer. Surprise, surprise, right? Anyway, in the scene that I wrote, Jessie (my protagonist) bites it on footwork in her free dance at a major competition. My goal for the scene was to write the "action"—the skating, the ice, the arena—but to stay inside of her head and get at her emotions, too. All in a page. And well, I crept over to page two a bit. It's really tough for me to write short.

Last night, we workshopped half of the exercises, including mine. And guess what! People liked my scene! Only about half the class had read excerpts from my novel before, so there was a bit of confusion about the characters and background info from the rest of the class, but overall, I got some great feedback, good suggestions, and even a bit of praise. It's been a long time since I've felt that good about something that I've written. I'm having a really hard time balancing all of the projects in my life, but I've been wanting to work harder on the novel, so I'm going to try to set some goals and deadlines for myself so that I keep plugging away. I don't think that the scene I wrote will enter the novel without some revisions—I don't want it to actually be that short since it's going to be the focus of a chapter, but I'm looking forward to working with it and expanding it.

Okay, inspiring thing #2 actually happened a month ago today, so this is a bit late. As usual.

At Thin Ice (see my last few blog entries), I saw the second show four times—Saturday afternoon & evening and Sunday afternoon & evening. The first three shows were dress rehearsals, with the final show on Sunday night being a live TV broadcast. And at the last show, on Sunday night, I got this shot:

Probably one of the coolest photos I've taken in my short career as a skating photographer, right? It's not often that someone back flips over someone else in skating—I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've ever seen it, and definitely the first time I've ever photographed it.

People sometimes ask me how I get such great shots of skating. I'm not very confident in general (not just this semester) and I'm so awkward at taking compliments, so I usually just shrug it off and say that I was in the right place at the right time, or that I have great material to work with. Both of these things are true, but there's a lot that often goes into getting a great shot, and this one in particular is a good example of that.

I saw this show four times, and this shot is from the last show. So before I took this, I saw the program (and this move) done three other times. I photographed two of those three shows. At the first show, I wasn't at all ready for this, and my photo is a mess. The ice is more in focus than either Mike or Marie, and my shutter speed was way too slow to freeze the action in his flip. I decided not to shoot the second show, because I felt like the skaters were exhausted from doing two shows a day for the second day in a row (not a typical schedule for this group) and I was exhausted, too. At the third show, I was ready for the flip and adjusted my shutter speed, but I was at a different angle that was unflattering for Marie, to say the least, and I still didn't get Mike anywhere close to being in focus.

So for the last show, I was ready. I sat in the corner, where I knew I'd get Mike's face upside down, but I switched sides, so I'd get Marie's face as well. I adjusted my settings so I could get my shutter speed even faster, I closed the aperture a bit so my depth of field wasn't as narrow, and I decided to try a vertical photo with a one-point focus. From the angle where I was sitting, it wasn't too tough to follow him and keep the focus on him. And of course, since I'd seen the program three times before, I knew exactly where the move fell with the music and what the set-up looked like. After that, I just had to stay calm, take a deep breath, and not shake! And as soon as I snapped it, I flipped my camera around and checked it on the LCD screen, but I already knew that it was going to be a good one.

In the end, I still had to work with it in post-processing. It was a little less than 2 degrees from vertical, and since it happened so fast, it's not like I had a chance to center it. So when I rotated the photo, I cut off part of the background, and I had to spend some time working with the patterns and filling in some of the darkened crowd. The lighting also wasn't great at the shows—house lights were up a bit, so I had to work with the colours to get it to pop like it had in person. It was definitely worth the work, though! This is certainly a photo I'm proud of, and I've received more praise for this shot than for anything else I've ever taken.

So as I've been thinking about this shot during the past month, an obvious realization I've had is the importance of doing your homework. For me as a skating photographer, this means that whenever it's possible, I try to see programs more than once. I try to go to practices at competitions, even when they're early, because I know that even just a slight familiarity with programs will translate into better shots. I watch skating online as much as I can, not just because I love it, but because I get ideas for shots that I want to get if I'm going to see that program live later in the season. I even like imagining what shots I would get if it's a team that I know I won't see. I relish every opportunity to "practice" shooting skating—whether that means shooting practices, local shows with terrible lighting, international events, club competitions with little kids doing single jumps, the Olympics, whatever! I love it all and I know that every shot I take is an important one.

More than all of that, though, I've been thinking about my role as a skating photographer and how it relates to, well, my life. Besides being curled up under my pink comforter on my bed in my jammies, I think that I'm more at home behind my camera in an ice rink than I am anywhere else. Skating photography is something that I know that I'm good at, it's something I love doing, and it's something that I always want to be better at. Freezing my tail off boardside at a club competition gives me such a feeling of satisfaction. When I'm there, I know it's where I'm supposed to be. I know that I'm doing something valuable. That's something I don't generally feel at my job, even though I can stock the nail polish faster than anyone else on the task team. I know that this is because I work in a beauty store for a job, but I shoot skating because it's life to me. I can't help but want to be there.

I know I've had some incredibly lucky breaks—one of the best skating photographers in the world sat me down and taught me how to use a camera, for example. That's how I got started. But I was in that situation because I went after it, because I felt something pulling me towards skating photography and I followed it. And I continue to go after it. I'm not delusional and I know that there isn't much of a chance at having a career as a skating photographer. Maybe skating photography will never be enough of a means of income to survive. Maybe it will, though. And if there's a chance at all (and I think there is), I have to keep hoping that someday I'll get out of retail and into doing what I love. Even if it's never a career, though, I think it will always be a part of my life. I just can't imagine ceasing to care about being in the rink to capture those moments. I feel responsible for them.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

thin ice: off the ice

This is a bit late, but I did have a most excellent time on part two of Spring Break 2010 (wooooooo!), which took place at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut. You may or may not recall that I had a trip planned to spend the weekend with two friends for the tapings of Thin Ice, which aired live on ABC on March 19 and 21.

For skating purists (like us), the show wasn't really the greatest show we've ever attended, but I do think that the skaters put on a great show for the local crowd, especially. They all really got into the spirit of the competition and went all-out, even given the demands that they faced. I don't know of any skaters that are used to do two shows a day, but they had seven shows (2 live shows, 5 dress rehearsals with full audiences) scheduled over 4 days. That's tough in any circumstances, but especially skating brand-new programs with brand-new partners. I thought everyone did an awesome job and I would have thrown everyone a vote if I could have. As it was, I couldn't throw anyone votes, since I was rolling with the VIPs, and we were labeled as suspicious and biased and not allowed to take voting keypads. Bah!

I have to post about meeting my childhood idol! I fell in love with skating during the 92 Olympics, which of course were the Games that Miss Kristi Yamaguchi won. I adored her. I wanted to be just like her. I begged my mom to buy me the Wheaties box that she was on, and my mom made me promise that I would actually eat the cereal, so for two weeks, I forced those awful Wheaties down. I finally saw her skate live in 2004, but couldn't get up the nerve to say anything to her when she walked past me after the show. Same thing happened again in 2007. But 2010 is my year.

Speaking of favourites, one of my favourite ice dance teams was a part of this competition, although with separate partners, of course. On Friday night, Marie-France had the most insane hair, and she was super proud of it, as you can see from the photo. There weren't any clips in it, they just made it stand up like that! Rad. She went on to win the competition (with Michael Weiss) on Sunday night.

My friends and I had a great time the whole weekend, and since we went to all the shows, we quickly met the other people who kept popping up from show to show. Like John Zimmerman's mom, who joined us for dinner after the show on Friday. She's a fantastic lady.

Chele, me, and Jen with Norma (John's mom) and John, taken on Sunday night at the afterparty.

On Sunday night, the whole cast & crew & everyone's guests descended upon Shrine (the aforementioned Asian lounge) for sushi, drinks, and dancing. The sushi & sashimi was fabulous. I wasn't expecting it to be so good at a casino, but it does have excellent proximity to major fishing grounds, and well, it is the MGM Grand. High rollers and all. I also thoroughly enjoyed the dancing, including the fact that someone must have slipped the DJ a list, because he kept playing music that had been used in the shows. Full marks to John and Shae for recreating their entire program to "Poker Face" while everyone stood around them and clapped like we were at an 8th grade dance.

With Chele and Jen at the afterparty, two of us looking super blue-eyed.

A-MAZING sashimi platter that they plopped down in front of me. When it was empty, they brought ANOTHER one. I wish things like this happened to me at home. Things like this never happen to me at home.

The sushi was so amazing that Chele even volunteered to try her first piece of maki ever! Awww!

Photoing up with the lady who hooked up the whole weekend.

Overall, kind of a great weekend! It was quite different from what I expected, but I had an excellent time. Right now, my photos from the first show are available on, and I'm hoping to get through the rest of the photos in the next two days. I shot the 2nd show three times, so I'm trying to make sure I don't post the same shot from each of the 2 rehearsals and the live show. The process is taking a bit longer than usual, plus I have been really busy. As usual.

So if all goes well, expect another blog post in the next couple of days with a few highlights from the skating portion of the weekend!

Monday, April 5, 2010

lovely weekend with much food

I've dropped the ball with blogging a bit, mostly because I've been taking so many photos recently that I can't keep up with the selecting and editing. Fortunately (or sadly, I can't decide), I didn't take any photos last weekend, but I still have a bit to talk about, so here's a blog post in a timely manner.

Jules drove down to Chicago on Thursday night, since she didn't anticipate a busy work-from-home day on Good Friday, and we can't go more than a few weeks of not seeing each other without developing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. So on Friday, we sat on the couch and she worked when there was work to do, and I went through photos and tried to get caught up with emails (I failed), and then at 5, we jetted out the door and headed to Windy City Scrapbooking. It's on Clybourn, just south of Fullerton, so I'd never managed to get there on my own. I don't keep my car in the city, and I cannot bear the idea of taking two buses to get somewhere. I guess it's walkable from the brown line if the weather is nice, so I might try to head back a few times this summer.

It was quite a pleasant scrapbook store! I loved the loft vibe of the space and it had a great selection. It reminded me so much of the now-closed Photos to Scrapbooks in Michigan, where I worked for almost a year. I don't scrapbook as much as I used to, but I still much prefer to shop in smaller stores than in the big craft store chains, where they don't get in new stock very often and everything feels outdated like those tragic Pioneer albums with the gold trim.

Jules and I had a scrapbooking project planned for the weekend and it's still in progress, so I won't say anything about it now. Not that the recipients of this project read my fact, does anyone read my blog? Ha. But just in case. ;-) So we picked up an album and some thematic supplies and then walked a few blocks down to Wolf Camera to pick up the photos I'd sent in. I wasn't too thrilled with the quality of the photos—the colours felt oversaturated on most of them, but we were in a time crunch, so we made do.

Oh, and between Windy City and Wolf, we stopped at Vanille's main location. Vanille is a patisserie with a counter in the French market, but this location is a gorgeous space with comfy chairs and a few tables. They make all of their pastries at this location, then take them over to the market in the morning. I had a chocolate mousse with hazelnut and something else...I lost track, but it was incredible. Jules had a lemon meringue pastry and she loved hers as well. I'd tried a macaroon from the counter at the market with Christina a few weeks earlier, but I'd never had one of their pastries. I shouldn't eat there too often, but I will definitely have to treat myself from time to time. The girl who helped us there was fantastic, too—very knowledgeable and pleasant. We chatted a bit about the French market and exchanged stories about vendors to try.

From there, we headed to Whole Foods—the "mothership" as I call it—off of North & Sheffield for dinner. J picked some delights from the salad bar and I wish I'd done the same. I've never had food there that I didn't like, but my pasta bowl had way too much sauce and felt so heavy, even though I went vegetarian with it. I only managed to eat about half of it. The trip wasn't a waste, though, because we picked up some bars that were much cheaper than a typical grocery store (quelle surprise!!), some smoked cheddar, and a few other goodies.

On Saturday, I had to work, so Jules went to the Wolf Camera on Rush & Chicago to pick up batch #2 of our photos for the book. I thought that these printed much better and the Rush location is more convenient for me without a car anyway, so I think I'll stick to this location. Of course, nothing beats Adorama, but they've been closed for Passover, so I couldn't get the prints done in time for our weekend. I'll continue to use Wolf for snapshot-type photos and rush jobs.

We met up downtown after work and headed to the French Market for a late lunch. Of course, the French Market is one of my favourite spots for food in the city, and I was excited to finally take Jules for her first trip. We both decided to branch out—she tried the Raw counter and had a fantastic salmon pate sandwich, and I tried Zullo's, an Italian counter with local, organic ingredients. I got a prosciutto panini and it was like a slice of heaven. We also split some Belgian fries and dipped them in garlic mayo and wasabi mayo. I loved the garlic mayo, and we appreciated that they literally cut the fries fresh for us. Yum!

I won't mention the basketball game that we watched at my place after that while we scrapbooked. It's best forgotten.

Afterwards, we had our hearts set on dinner at De Colores, but we so weren't hungry. We went anyway, stuffed ourselves, and ended up only finishing about half of our meals, so I have a shrimp ceviche in my fridge to eat tomorrow for lunch!

Then we headed home, our cab driver actually offered me change, we did some more scrapbooking and finished the pages that we'd planned to finish this weekend, and the fun was over far too quickly. Sunday was Easter, so Jules had planned to head back in the morning so I could go out to my cousins' and spend time with the fam. More on that in another post, though, because I still need to get those photos off my camera.