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Fast-moving skaters, particularly speed skaters, are a challenge to photograph. As with many sports, location is important. Arrive early and scout the possible positions from which photography is possible. At top-level events there may be no choice available to those without press passes. Even the press photographers may be allocated a fixed position.

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By Ralf Roletschek (talk) - Fahrradtechnik auf fahrradmonteur.de (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-at (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/at/deed.en) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When the skaters are warming up, try a few shots as they pass through the area on which you have chosen to concentrate - perhaps a corner where the skaters lean over and the background is acceptable. Set your camera and telephoto lens to follow focus mode, and lock on to a particular skater as he or she approaches the selected area. Then squeeze the shutter release as smoothly as possible. Using a wide aperture helps to drop the background out of focus and makes high shutter speeds possible. Much will depend upon the intensity of the lighting. Don't overlook the problems of white balance. Lighting sources may be mixed, so auto white balance might be the safest option although some adjustment may be necessary at a later stage.

The direction of movement of the skaters relative to the camera is significant when selecting a shutter speed. The movement of competitors travelling towards the camera may be frozen with a shutter speed slower that that required when they are moving across the frame. Experiment with various speeds during warm up if there is any doubt.

Another approach is to try panning the camera as the skater moves, and using a much slower shutter speed. With practice, this technique can produce very dynamic images with beautifully motion-blurred backgrounds. The skater's limbs may also blur but that just adds to the feeling of movement. Shutter speeds as low as 1/4 second can be used successfully, and when several skaters appear in an image the technique renders the unfocused skaters as vague and blurred coloured shapes just recognizable as skaters.

Blurring techniques can be taken to one final stage, where everything in the image is blurred to some extent. This technique can be overused but nevertheless has the potential to produce stunning dynamic images. Use a very low shutter speed and a wide aperture, and pan the camera as the skaters pass through a chosen area. With a shutter speed longer than half a second, or one second, all the skaters will be rendered unsharp. With good composition and colour the result may be amazing.

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