Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Peter Read Miller - Let The Games Begin...
The 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens saw the Games return to Greece and marked the first time digital cameras captured the bulk of the action
Since 2000, however, there has been a very real revolution in photography. The intervening four-year period has seen the rise of the digital SLR not only as a competent tool for pro sports shooters, but as the preferred tool. This sea-change can be seen most clearly in the lineup of digital SLRs available in 2004 versus 2000.
When the Games were held in Sydney, Australia, a pro shooting digital would have had just a few choices. The Nikon D1 had been unveiled in late 1999. It carried a hefty $5,000-plus price tag, featured a 2.75-megapixel image sensor and could only fire at 4.5 frames per second. Compare that with the camera Miller used in Athens, the Canon EOS-1D Mark II, which fires 8 fps and has an immediate start-up time, along with 8-megapixel resolution.
In discussing the switch to digital, Miller described the photo press corps of 1,500 or so as having about 40 or 50 who were shooting film. Says Miller, “By contract, Kodak provides a full state-of-the-art film lab for the press at the Olympics. It used to be a place where there was always a lot of activity. In Athens, the lab was still there, but it was a pretty quiet place.”
As the 800-pound gorilla of sports journalism, Sports Illustrated had an impressive setup in Athens. The Main Press Center, which was about the size of a convention center, had an SI office complete with a host of computer gear needed to get the images and stories into print on deadline. Instead of using a film lab, Miller and the other nine SI staff photographers in Athens had a downloading tech staff at their disposal. Basically, the flow of images went like this: Miller would shoot at the venue, using 2 GB CompactFlash cards in his Canon EOS-1D Mark II. Every hour or at the end of the event (depending upon the event), the Olympic organizers had a press courier set to run the cards back to the Main Press Center. Cards were processed and downloaded by SI staff and fresh cards were couriered back to the photographer.
Once the images had been downloaded, the hard work of tracking the images was in the hands of the SI staff in the office. Says Miller, “Those guys did an amazing job of staying on top of things. You really have to stay on top of everything at the Olympics. It's not like a football game where you shoot, download the cards and you're done. These events go on for days. You have to track which events have coverage in progress, which ones are done, who's doing well in the event. It's a daunting task and we had a staff that really did a fantastic job making it all go smoothly.”Miller is a seasoned Olympic shooter. In Athens, he found that the venues were all very well lit compared to previous games. Having good illumination made his work easier, but that combined with the digital cameras made a huge difference and enabled Miller to get shots he never could have with film.