by Joe Gosen)
PETER READ MILLER
Nearly every sports photographer dreams of being on the field covering marquee events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics. Veteran photographer Peter Read Miller has been living that dream for longer than many of his colleagues have been alive, and he wants to teach the kids everything he knows.
Miller, a Sports Illustrated photographer for more than 30 years, has covered 36 Super Bowls, 14 NBA finals, nine Olympiads and a slew of Stanley Cup finals, World Series games, the Kentucky Derby, the Final Four, and the World Cup soccer finals. His pictures have made the cover more than 100 times.
Through his new book, On Sports Photography, and a recurring series of workshops, Miller hopes to pass on his wealth of tips and tricks. Even if you’re not covering the big game, he can show you how to shoot as if you are.
“The book is about pictures, my stories, and instructional stuff,” he says. “There is some technical stuff in there but it’s more about how the lifestyle was.”
Miller, who remains at the top of his game and is still actively shooting, uses the word “was” mainly in reference to a time of big travel budgets and generous expense accounts, which allowed photographers to bring back “something special” for their editors and readers.
Miller’s tips for covering a NFL game or college bowl game could easily apply to any Pop Warner or high school game. He provides strategies for positioning yourself on the field, when to be in front or behind the line of scrimmage, what to look for off the field and how to best photograph players in every position. His tips, such as shooting from a low angle to make players look more heroic or shooting into the sun to eliminate shadows on players’ faces, just might help make your good pictures look great.
Photographs from Miller’s Olympic coverage are as inspiring as the athletes’ achievements. His tips could be a blueprint for success to anyone covering track and field, swimming or gymnastics, from seasoned shooters with pro gear to enthusiastic parents with point-and-shoots.
In addition to action photography, Miller has created entertaining and conceptual portraits of athletes over the years. What becomes apparent in his portraiture work is the level of research he does before meeting his subjects.
“A lot of the time you have so little time, you’re not going to get to know them in the moment,” he says. “I research them on the internet and also call other photographers who have worked with them to see what their experiences have been.”
Sometimes the research simply helps him choose which music to have on in the studio or what kind of food to cater for the shoot. “People appreciate you made an effort and that you tried to accommodate them,” he says. “Maybe they give a little extra for the shoot.”
Magic Johnson is just one example of an athlete he has created memorable photographs of both on and off the court.
“During his rookie season with the Lakers in ‘79 I went out and got a top hat, a cape and a white rabbit for a photo shoot,” Miller says. “I’ve shot him over and over ever since and he’s always been great.”
As one of the Canon Explorers of Light, nearly every page of Miller’s book is filled with pictures he has shot using the Canon systems. Every camera, lens and exposure settings are duly noted, allowing readers to see exactly what gear he used to capture the moment. That said, when people ask him what gear to buy, he suggests investing in a good body.
“It used to be you put all of your money into the glass, and the camera was just a box for the film,” he says. “Now camera bodies can shoot in low light with really high ISOs and render great images. So people can now capture great images in low light without having to invest in the big glass.”
Miller has definitely invested in big glass to do his job. When covering a football game it’s not uncommon for him to have the following gear:
Canon EOS 1DX (4 bodies)
600mm f/4 lens
400mm f/2:8 lens
70-200mm f/2.8 lens
24-70mm f/2.8 lens
16-35mm f/2.8 lens.
Not everyone has nearly $60,000 worth of gear on hand to go cover a game, but Miller offers three price points for getting started in sports photography (based on his familiarity with Canon systems).
Good: Approximately $1,500
A Canon Rebel and a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 or 70-200 f/4
Better: Approximately $4,000
Canon EOS 7D and 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 L lens
Best: Approximately $8,000
Canon EOS 1DX and 70-200 f/2.8 and a 1.4 teleconverter
As a photographer based in Los Angeles, Miller gets many opportunities to photograph at his alma mater, USC, where he was a four-year letterman on the crew team. But his career has taken him all over the world shooting countless sporting events throughout the years. When he was approached about writing a book, he decided to narrow his focus down to three areas that have defined his career as a sports photographer and brought him the greatest satisfaction – shooting football, the Olympics and portraits of athletes.
“It’s for anyone who wants to make their sports photography better,” Miller says. “It’s for people who have reached a point with their photography where they do okay but want to do better,” he says, also pointing out that participants of his workshops can expect plenty of hands-on shooting opportunities, daily critiques, and individual portfolio reviews. This is the twelfth year Miller is offering his workshop in Denver, and he is planning another in Atlanta this fall.
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Joe Gosen is a photographer and visual journalism educator in southern California.
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