Action Sports: How to photograph a Roller Derby player

You may be forgiven for not knowing what Roller Derby is.
I might sound a clever clogs, but because of my involvement with action sports photography, it’s something I came to know a lot about.
It is quite a niche sport, the kind of thing you would expect to find in Obscure Sports Quarterly, as featured in the film Dodgeball.
Except it’s not – obscure that is, it’s just not mainstream.
Originating in the USA in the 1930’s, on banked tracks, it’s popularity rose, then waned until a grassroots revival in the early 2000’s, where it became a women only flat track version.
As the popularity of Roller Derby increased, so did the reach, spreading from The USA into and throughout Europe.
Today, most areas in the UK have a local League, and though the pseudonyms the skaters chose to use remain, Roller Derby is very much an organised and professionally run sport, with companies like Taut® specifically manufacturing and supplying uniform.

The Derby Skater

Sue Perman checking the scoreboard as she leaves the track

Jeanette Has been skating for over 5 years now.
Being a big Marvel/DC fan, her chosen skate name is Sue Perman.
A high standard skater, her favoured position on a team would be Jammer.
This is the glamour role, and is akin to the ‘Striker’ on a football team.
They score the points, and skate out on their own, facing the opposition pack alone.
Sue has skated for a number of the top northern leagues.
The last league she skated for was Furness Firecrackers, from Barrow in Furness.
She spent years skating for, and head coach of the Bruising Banditas from Halifax.


Sue and Micky at a bout

Sue is a close personal friend both on and off the track.
I met her through Roller Derby and have Shot her a number of times when covering Roller Derby bouts.
Certain skaters are very photogenic, and Sue is one of these.
Different athletes, whatever their sport, have their own particular ways of applying themselves to their chosen discipline.
Sue has a very strong and dynamic stance, and unlike a lot of people, suits a helmet with her big hazel eyes.
Knowing the sport so well, I had a certain move in mind – and Sue was the perfect candidate to put it together.

Sue in the penalty box


Shoot day arrived, and I don’t know who was most excited.
Me to create the shoot, or Sue to perform it.
The idea I had was initially to perform a hockey stop, which is also used in skiing and – obviously – hockey.
After some discussion we decided to do a power slide, which although very similar, is probably more dramatic as it was lower.
We took shot after shot, perfecting all the angles, and finally were happy we had created a dramatic enough base shot to work with.
Many hours later, and probably over the course of a week, again leaving it and returning with fresh eyes to tweak details, we created this:

Roller Derby Power slide

This incredible image was posted in a number of places, and had an amazing reception.
One facebook page alone it received 18,000 views, hundreds of likes and around 40 shares.
On another site, a photography site (general – not for action sports), it won an award for best sports image.
Although the power slide was the main event, we also took a few more shots, including this one of Sue jumping.

Apex jump

Known as an apex jump, this is where the skater jumps over the opposition to gain an advantage.
To actually catch a sharp apex jump is the holy grail of action sports photography when covering roller derby.
The other skaters will block the track to stop the jammer passing, and she will try to pass by jumping across the apex of the track, literally out of bounds and back in again.
Another differently processed, but just as spectacular as the power slide, the apex jump is packed full of a feeling of powerful dynamic movement and flight.
One thing we were also asked to do, was to put together some moody product shots for a new vest top Taut® had developed for roller derby.
As it was reversible, we thought the best way to represent it would be to have all four images, two backs and two fronts, displayed in one collage.

Reversible vest by Taut®

Finally, we put together a montage for Sue, which is always a nice reminder of how the day went.

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Please visit our dedicated site, Enigma Images.

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