Ginna Hoptman and Pavel Filchenkov during the senior pairs free dance of the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Nationals at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. A slow shutter speed of 1/10th of a second was used to create this ghostly image.
I’m not sure many other photographers raised outside cold weather climates could have successfully walked across fifty yards of glassy, slick ice without falling on their behinds. Heck, I’m not sure many would have even attempted it! Alas, there I was, on the wrong side of the rink at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Nationals in Omaha with only minutes to spare until the on-ice awards ceremony that I wanted to photograph began. With no time to walk back through the bowels of the arena to the correct (and carpeted) entrance onto the rink, I stepped over the wall and began my trepidatious walk towards the other photographers gathered near the center of the rink.
I’d later learn that my colleague Dave Weaver had his telephoto lens trained on me the entire time, ready to capture what could have been my embarrassingly swift collapse in front of several thousand fans. As I gingerly shuffled across the rink, I awkwardly held my cameras in front of me so that, if I did slip backwards, I wouldn’t fall on them and snap a lens in two. Yes, you’re correct – I was more concerned about protecting my gear in the event of a fall than my body. Luckily, a lifetime of walking across iced-over sidewalks paid off, and I was able to reach the on-ice photo position unscathed for the awards ceremony.
Spending four days creating images of professional skaters, a sport I haven’t shot since the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, gave me a great appreciation for the skill level these athletes possess, and also allowed me to become more discerning of the differences in skill level between the competitors. Moves that, on day one, looked all the same to my untrained eyes, became noticeably better-executed by certain competitors by day three. Certain skaters, such as Jeremy Abbott and ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, have a theatrical flair that separates them from the other competitors, and makes them a lot more fun to photograph.
Max Aaron competes during the senior mens short program of the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals.
As with most sports, the reactions from the skaters following their runs made for images that were just as compelling as the action-shots made during their routines. One thing I always share with students or new photographers is to shoot “through the moment”, that is, to keep your lens trained on the subject even when you think nothing else is going to happen.
Just because a song has ended or the audience has started to applaud doesn’t mean that the photo-worthy moments are over too. In fact, they’ve likely reached their peak! The true personalities of these larger-than-life athletes often shine through, albeit very briefly, at the end of their routines, and these reactions shaped up to be some of my favorite moments captured on this assignment.
Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig during the senior pairs free skate.
Courtney Hicks appears to soar above the ice like Superman during the senior ladies short program.
Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay at the tail-end of their routine during the senior pairs free skate.
Alissandra Aronow and Collin Brunaker during the senior pairs free dance.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir during the senior pairs short program.
Despite the cluttered backgrounds, shooting at ice level gives you a nice perspective of the skaters’ jumps. Here, Samantha Cesario goes airborne during the senior ladies free skate.
Gracie Gold reacts following her routine in the senior ladies free skate.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White during the senior pairs free dance. The pair would go on to clinch their fifth consecutive championship title in the event.
The “kiss and cry” is the slang term for the area where skaters and their coaches sit while awaiting their scores as they are tallied up. If you have access to it, it’s a great place to create close-up images with some honest emotions, that is, when the skaters aren’t hamming it up for the TV camera. Here, coach Oleg Epstein (left) looks to the scoreboard with Meryl Davis and Charlie White along with fellow coach Marina Zoueva during the senior pairs free dance.
Despite falling twice, Ashley Wagner works through the routine that would eventually secure her gold medal during the senior ladies free skate.
Swirls etched into the ice following the senior ladies free skate.