DPP Home Profiles Peter Read Miller - At The Speed Of Light

Friday, June 8, 2007

Peter Read Miller - At The Speed Of Light

Longtime Sports Illustrated photographer Peter Read Miller is one of the best in the world. The magazine recently made the switch from film to all digital, and the reasons just may surprise you.

There were plenty of problems with that workflow—it was inconvenient for the photographers, it was tough for the assistants, and it was challenging for the editors who often were trying to edit straight from negatives. Those were only annoyances, though, for SI annoyances are irrelevant compared to image quality.

Says Miller, “The photographs are just better from the digital camera, particularly the night shots. There's just no comparison to the film.”

You could say that Miller is sold on digital.

Peter Read Miller fell into sports photography as a student at USC in the 1960s, shooting for the yearbook and school paper as a bit of a hobby. Working with the Daily Trojan, he got opportunities to photograph the Trojan football games. Throughout college, Miller honed his skills, but he still thought of photography as a pastime—or maybe it's more accurate to say that his parents thought of it that way. After graduating from USC, Miller attended The Wharton School of Business at Penn. He continued to photograph sports, among other things, and also found his desire to pursue an MBA faltering. In 1970, he left Penn and returned to Los Angeles. Within three years of leaving Wharton, Miller started working for NFL Properties as a photographer and his career began to take off.


Sports Illustrated
has always set the standard by which all other sports magazines are judged. As the name implies, SI doesn't simply write about the contests; they go to great lengths to get pictures that bring the reader right into the action. Miller did his first SI work in 1976, and in 1977 he went under contract. At the time, being a contractor for SI could be a competitive proposition in more ways than one. Because photographers were paid based on the use of their photographs and because there was a finite amount of space in any given issue of the magazine, rivalries for precious space could pop up. In 1998, that arrangement changed, and the photographers all became full-time employees with a steady salary. More than just bookkeeping, that change brought a new level of cooperation among the photographers. This isn't to say that the staff had been ruthless prior to 1998, but as Miller says, “It's been a lot less competitive and a lot more fun.”

Other than more fun, the spirit of cooperation among SI photographers brought them to experiment and share more. The timing was fortuitous. Many of the SI staff photographers had seen the writing on the wall regarding digital photography and had been experimenting with it long before the magazine made “The Switch.” Comparing notes with other SI photographers made the climb up the learning curve a relatively quick one. Miller's embrace of digital began long before August 2002.

Now he's shooting with a number of D-SLRs. Miller is a devoted Canon shooter. He uses the EOS 1D, the EOS 1Ds and the EOS 10D. He finds each camera works well for a particular purpose. Says Miller, “I like the 1D for most of my action shooting. The 1Ds is what I use for portraits. I also like the 10D a lot, but not for the really fast action. It's just not fast enough for me on the field. I haven't had a chance to use that one as much as the others, but it reminds me of the EOS 1 film camera.”

As you'd expect, Miller carries a full complement of lenses, or more accurately, he has an assistant to carry a full complement of lenses. The magnification factor of the EOS 1D is making him rethink that quiver these days. “Last season, I think I was ‘over-lensed' a fair amount of the time,” he says.

Because he's feeling “over-lensed” (due to the magnification factor), Miller is making a change at the most telephoto end. Instead of the 600mm ƒ/4, he's going with a 500mm ƒ/4 as his longest lens. He also has a 400mm ƒ/2.8, a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 and a 50mm or an 80mm. Each lens lives on its own body for the duration of a game. Adds Miller, “I don't waste time fumbling with lenses. I just grab a different camera.”


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