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.

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