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Legendary Photos: The Stories Behind 7 of Peter Read Miller’s Iconic Sports Images

Lights, cameras, action!
Photo of Allyson Felix

Have you ever wondered about the stories behind some of the world’s most iconic images? Our series “Legendary Photos,” features photographers from Canon’s Explorer’s of Light program, past and present, giving us behind-the-scenes insight on how they captured these unforgettable moments.

For this edition of Legendary Photos, sports photographer Peter Read Miller shares the stories behind nine of his classic images.

(Editor’s note: You can see previous installments of Legendary Photos on Sam Abell here, Gregory Heisler here,  Ryszard Horowitz here, on Art Wolfe here, on Walter Iooss Jr. here, and on David Hume Kennerly here.)

Allyson Felix (Above)

I shot this image of Allyson Felix when she was a freshman at the University of Southern California. Since then, Allyson has medaled in five Olympics and competed in numerous World and National Championships winning 13 medals and surpassing Usain Bolt for the highest total number of gold medals in the World Championships.

This photo was shot in the studio. We built a 32-foot-long ramp out of 4×8 plywood sheets on top of apple boxes-including one piece that had actual track surface ($5000, if you want one for your home). At the end of the ramp, we added padding from a high jump landing pit to help her stop.

The background is hand painted and, except for touch-ups, there was no Photoshop involved in creating this image. If you look at the right side of the frame you can just see the seam.

I lit the shot with monoblock strobes, which have a very short flash duration, enabling me to freeze Allyson in action even though the camera shutter was 1/250 of a second. This was the shortest shutter speed that would allow synchronization with the strobes.

Allyson was extremely charming and very cooperative, repeating the stride many times. All in all, she probably ran two miles that day, 32 feet at a time.

Camera: Canon EOS-1Ds

Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS III USM @115mm

Exposure: F9 @ 1/250, ISO 50

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