The image above is the result of an ongoing evolution that finally came to fruition one snowy night in Minnesota. Over the past four years I have been covering Red Bull Crashed Ice in my home state. It’s an event deemed “The Fastest Sport on Skates,” in which four athletes race down a track made of ice with features similar to what you would see on a boarder cross track. It’s an intense week of shooting and one that I look forward to every year.
Besides shooting the event, part of my duties were to shoot the qualifiers leading up to the event. Since there aren’t existing tracks around the U.S., athletes qualify by racing on an obstacle course set on hockey rinks across the state.
The qualifiers are fun, but shooting so many of them over the years has allowed me to explore different ideas and techniques in order to keep it fresh and unique. I tend to shoot wide and tight, oftentimes low to the ground. I like to feel like I am part of the action, and I want my images to represent that as well.
With that idea in mind, I broke out my Nikkor 14-24mm and skates and got on the ice. I positioned myself on a hard 180-degree turn that I noticed skaters were having to take super sharp, almost coming to a stop at times. In my mind this was the highest point of action in the course.
In order to get the camera low to the ground I had to “shoot from the hip” if you would. Holding the camera by the vertical grip and upside down allowed me to get the lens lower to the ice. As an added bit of stability I would pull on the camera strap on my left hand in order to get the camera in the same position every time. After years of shooting like this, I have gained a bit of muscle memory that has allowed me to shoot confidently without the viewfinder at times.
As I tried to get closer and closer, the spray off the skates would hit the lens. For the most part I was cleaning it off, but there were times that I didn't have time or notice between heats. The addition of the water droplets created an extra layer to the image that I thought added an element of energy. I chose to amplify this energy, at times even dripping water off my fingers to add more in the areas that needed it. I also decided to intensify the drops by adding a speed light shot directly into the lens. The results were great, and I got a ton of great feedback from my editors at Red Bull.
As event day approached, I knew I wanted to do something different from the standard event coverage. I had requested access to the track for a private shoot with an athlete at sunset. Claudio Caluori, a veteran and ambassador to the sport, stepped up and agreed to take part in the shoot. Everything was set and scheduled, but as we got closer to the shoot a giant snowstorm rolled in causing long delays and many setbacks for the event. As I watched the snow fall I started coming to the realization that I might not get permission to do my on-track shoot.
Several hours after the scheduled shoot time, and as I was just about to give up completely, I was asked by one of the event organizers if I still wanted to go through with the shoot. At this point I didn't even know that it was still an option, but I knew that we had to do it.
By now it was dark and the snow was coming down like crazy. I had a feeling it was going to make for a better image than if I shot at sunset like we had planned. The temperature was hanging right around freezing which resulted in that heavy, wet snow that sticks to everything. The track had almost a foot of snow on it and the crew from Hangman Productions was hustling to remove the snow, even though it was accumulating just as fast as they could shovel.
I placed myself yet again on the outside of a sharp 180-degree turn that I had scoped out earlier in the week. Without much time, I dove right into the same concept I had been doing with all the qualifying rounds. I placed an SB800 directly in front of me with the expectation that Claudio would cover the strobe on the turn. Then I placed another SB800 directly to my right about 90 degrees to bring up his face and add a little edge. I didn’t do much for a fill light because I knew that the return from all the snow would brighten him up a bit, plus I wanted him a bit on the darker down side to add some intensity.
We got about half a dozen tries so we had to move fast. Everyone was exhausted from the day, and the crew wanted the track back so they could clear it for the event that night. It was safe to say that patience was a commodity at this point. After the first couple of tries, I noticed that Claudio really needed to hammer on the turn. He skated back up to the start and dropped in, this time really going tight on the turn causing a wall of snow to land in the lens. Based on what I had been doing in qualifiers, I decided not to clean the lens and sent him for another run. The results are what you see above. The droplets reflected on the lens added even more intensity. Everyone was stoked.
It’s definitely one of my favorite shots and shoots that I have had. And it’s proof that you should always go shoot during the storm. The results will be better than shooting in the expected, and the story is a memorable one.