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.
The SI workflow is unique. The image of the intrepid photographer plugging a memory card into a laptop at half time and sending the pictures over a modem is out the window. Miller carries a bunch of 1 GB memory cards to an event. He fills them up, drops the cards into an envelope and ships them to SI in New York. The editors at the magazine download the cards, burn the images to DVDs and ship the cards and a copy of the DVDs back to Miller. He keeps about 30 of the fastest Lexar Media 1 GB cards on hand.
The Canon EOS 1D has a unique capability—it can shoot RAW and JPEG simultaneously. The SI photo editors and art department want to have the RAW file for maximum flexibility throughout the process of putting photographs into the magazine, but they also like to have the speed and convenience of the JPEG images for making selections—like having a proof sheet. The SI art department has become adept at working with the RAW files when they need to make adjustments.
Says Miller, “I don't take the flexibility of the RAW files for granted, though. Because the editors make their selections based upon the look of the JPEGs, it's good to have proper exposures on every frame.”
Switching to digital full time hasn't made much of an impact on Miller's general shooting style. Other than rethinking his lens selection at the extreme telephoto, he pretty much works as he has for the last 30 years. Although his style hasn't changed, his results definitely have. The flexibility of the RAW files combined with the exposure latitude of his digital image sensors are giving Miller a lot more “keepers” at the end of a game. “I'll take more forgiveness any day,” says Miller. “That flexibility of the RAW files gives me one fewer thing to worry about on the field.”
Because RAW files have been minimally processed by the camera, it's often much easier to make adjustments to white balance, exposure and color balance than it would be with a JPEG. When these adjustments are made to a RAW file, no image data is lost, whereas making adjustments to a JPEG or TIFF file can have some adverse effects to various aspects of the image. Essentially, you don't lose any data when you adjust a RAW file, but you can lose data adjusting a JPEG or TIFF. Sports photography, with all of its fast action, low light, mixed light sources and other photographic challenges, is an ideal genre for RAW files—assuming your camera is fast enough at writing the files to the card. Miller is outfitted with very fast (32x) Lexar CompactFlash cards and his Canon D-SLRs are built to take advantage of that write speed.
“The Switch” yielded another positive result for Miller, and one that has greatly benefited all the SI photographers. When he was shooting film, Miller only got the outtakes back; he never really got to see his best pictures. He'd see the shots when the issue came out, but if SI didn't use everything they had, Miller might never see the pictures that didn't make the final edit. The DVDs he gets today have everything on them—for the first time he gets to see his best work from the games.
Miller covers much more than just football. He has photographed several Olympic Games, specializing in track and field events, and he has become one of Sports Illustrated's more prominent features photographers. For the features, Miller often does studio portraits of the athletes, where he uses the Canon EOS 1Ds for its very high resolution and full-frame image sensor. The studio photographs frequently are run larger than full page, so the more resolution, the better. A lack of wide angle isn't a problem when you're rarely closer than 20 or 30 feet from the action, but in a studio environment, where Miller needs maximum versatility and options, a camera that doesn't have a magnification factor is important.
There has been one major adjustment that Miller has been forced to make as a result of going all digital. “I get these DVDs with gigabytes of image files,” he says. “They're everywhere. One of these days, I'll figure out how to get them all organized. After 30 years of slides and negatives, now I'll have to figure out the best way to keep track of these [digital files].”
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