Photographing (and competing in) a synchronized skating competition

A synchro team doing a wheel element with one skater in the middle
This team is doing a “wheel” element — note the three “spokes” — with one skater doing a really cool spin in the middle. Pretty!

Hi team, sorry it’s been forever and a year (pretty much, right?) since I wrote in here. I’ve really missed it, and you. Lots going on with me as usual, so I’m not making any promises that I’m going to be a regular poster again (though I have lots of cool photos to share). Today I want to write about synchronized ice skating. This is my second year on a synchronized ice skating team (and my second year as a figure skater in general). This year we skated to a Star Trek medley, which was super fun.

A GIF of Potassium's team doing an intersection
My coach made this GIF of our “intersection” element from a recent performance

Last weekend, we had our first competition as a team near Vancouver, Canada. It was a lot of firsts for me too. My first synchro competition, my first time skating on international ice, my first competition on international ice and (for you nerdy figure-skating people out there) my first competition getting GOE scores. Wow, tons of firsts.

In other news, I’ve been wanting to try to take pictures of figure skaters for a while. It seems challenging, right? The skaters are moving fast, so you need a high shutter speed to capture them. But also it’s not exactly bright in the rink, so you need to balance that fast shutter speed with some other camera settings to make it bright enough to see what’s going on. I was already dragging around my skating bag and a bag with makeup, clothes, skating stuffies (obviously) and other accessories, so I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to add my fat DSLR to the mix. Instead I rented a Fujifilm X100F from our local camera shop. Cobalt and I have been obsessed with this camera since we discovered its predecessor, the X100S, back in 2014. It’s a compact point and shoot that looks like a film camera, but it produces really nice high quality digital images. It also seems to be really good at taking pictures of people. So I put it (and my ability to learn how to use a completely new camera while also competing in a competition) to the test while we were in Canada.

A synchro team doing a block element
This team is doing a “pivoting block” element.

I have mixed feelings about the results. I wish I had had more time to learn how to use the camera. I got the basic settings (shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc.) down, but I wish I had known a little more about what I was doing. Oh yeah, also it was my first time photographing figure skating, so I had to learn that on the fly too. What did I want? Shots of teams doing cool things? Individual skaters’ fun facial expressions? What could I realistically get with this fixed-lens point and shoot when I am used to my giant telephoto lens on my DSLR? So many new things.

Team LMSSC Junior does a block element in their short program
The Lower Mainland “Junior” team showing off some fun footwork in their short program

So I thought I’d spend the rest of this post doing two things at once — sharing my takeaways from the competition interspersed with some of my favorite pictures of the other teams. Maybe it’s too much… I apologize in advance. :p

Let’s start with a brief intro to our overall organization, The Washington Ice Emeralds, which hosts multiple teams of all different skill and age levels. My team and one of our youth teams competed at the West Coast Challenge. Here are two pictures from their Pixar-themed program.

Washington Ice Emeralds Youth Team 2 doing an artistic line element
This element is called an “artistic line.” The team is skating backwards right now.
Washington Ice Emeralds Youth Team 2 doing a circle element
Getting into a circle element

Some neat photos from other youth teams below:

A youth synchro team doing an intersection
This team is about to do an intersection. I love their faces.
A synchro team doing an artistic line element
Nice lines from this team!

For our competition, we had to perform the program twice, and then our final score was a combination of our scores from both performances. It was definitely a good learning experience. Canada does levels by age instead of by skill, and my teammates are 19 to 50+ years old, so we had to skate at a higher skill level than we actually are. Since we had a harder program than many of the teams skating at our actual skill level, it put us in a weird place between the two levels. We got fourth place out of the four teams in our level, but we likely would have gotten second place (based on scores) if we had skated at our skill level. Anyway, it was still super inspiring to see all of the adult teams skate and see where we fit in.

Team Sakura skating
Team Sakura (we didn’t compete against them)

Some of my favorite things:

  • During lunch after our first skate, someone came up to us and told us how much they loved watching synchronized skating on television. I actually don’t remember what else they said because I was stuck on the fact that Canadians get to watch synchronized skating on TV!
  • After our second skate, we were walking back to the locker room and we ran into the next team (I think they took first place). Everyone started cheering really loudly for everyone else. I had my stuffed whale shark and my teammate had her stuffed bear — someone on their team had a stuffed chicken. It was a really awesome feeling.
  • Before we went out on the ice, volunteers went around and collected our skate guards in these boxes with convenient skate-guard shaped holes. That way no one accidentally went on the ice with their skate guards on (=a fall, but also embarrassment). The guards were laid out for us when we returned from the ice.
  • Being in awe of some of the amazing skating and talent! I have so many skating (and photo) goals now!
Team LMSSC Junior skating
The Lower Mainland “Junior” team had an “Us” themed long program that my whole team loved.
Team LMSSC Junior skating
So dramatic!
Team LMSSC Open skating
This is the Open team from the Lower Mainland Skating club. They had these crazy dresses…

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