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|| News Item: Posted 2007-02-19

Getting Down with Peter Read Miller
The Sports Illustrated staff photographer shares his new technique for shooting football.

By Brad Mangin,

Photo by Peter Read Miller / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Peter Read Miller / Sports Illustrated

Chicago Bears Cedric Benson rushes vs the New Orleans Saints at the NFC Championship Game in Chicago in January of 2007.
Sports Illustrated staff photographer and member Peter Read Miller needs no introduction. Sports photographers and fans of great photography everywhere already know his name. Shooting for Sports Illustrated for over 20 years, Miller is best known for his football pictures.

Recently, Miller's pictures from NFL and NCAA sidelines have had a new look to them. The "Leading Off" section of Sports Illustrated has displayed many of these action pictures -- shot from ground level.

Miller has had many two-page spreads in Sports Illustrated lately using this technique from the NFL's biggest games, including the recent NFC Championship game in Chicago and the Super Bowl in Miami.

"I didn't invent this technique. I am not the first person to do this," said Miller. "Sports Illustrated staff photographers John Biever, Robert Beck and Bob Rosato also use this technique."

To achieve these ultra-low angle images, Miller attaches a Canon right Angle Finder C to his Canon EOS-1D MarkIIN camera body while shooting with a 70-200 2.8 zoom lens.

"I can recall in the 1970's seeing Sports Illustrated staffer Walter Iooss lying in the grass shooting football at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum from a low angle back in the days when you had to take the prism off of your old school Nikon or Canon film camera to look right down into the focusing screen to get the low angle," Miller said.

Miller says the main reason for shooting with this technique is that everyone looks more heroic from a lower angle. He says that you find more and more running backs these days coming in towards the goal line with their faces looking down and you cannot see their faces unless the camera is at a low angle.

"For example, when I shot the picture of USC running back Reggie Bush leaping in the air to score a touchdown during the 2005 game against UCLA at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum USC was on the five yard line and I was expecting them to run LenDale White up the middle. LenDale always ran with his head down- so when I saw that Reggie was taking off on the outside I swung my Canon Mark IIN with the 70-200 2.8 and followed him," Miller said.

Photo by Peter Read Miller / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Peter Read Miller / Sports Illustrated

USC tailback Reggie Bush scores a touchdown against UCLA at the Los Angeles Memorual Coliseum in 2005.
"It was not what I expected when he took off towards the right and I swung my camera while lying on the ground and he leaped over a UCLA defender on his way to a touchdown," Miller said. "A number of other photographers had the picture, but the low angle I had accentuated how high he jumped in the air."

This technique has worked well in the picture Miller shot of LaDainian Tomlinson going over the goal line for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in 2006 at Candlestick Park.

"I will put the camera on the ground when the team is close to the goal line and I know the team on offense has a running back that will come in low with his face down or make a dive over the line," said Miller. "I know this type of play will look better from that low angle and Tomlinson is known to get airborne to score a touchdown."

When using this technique Miller almost always uses the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 zoom lens. This allows him some room to follow the running back right into the end zone by pulling back on the zoom as the player comes over the goal line. Miller says that there is a downside to using this technique. If you are down on the ground and the play goes the other way you are lost.

"It is a do or die kind of thing," said Miller.

If you can't gain access to the sidelines to see Peter with his camera on the ground, all is not lost. This unique technique, and other industry secrets will be shared by Miller this coming April, during his very own workshop in Denver, Colorado entitled: INTENSE MOMENTS: Photographing Sports with Peter Read Miller.

Miller loves talking about shooting the game of football, which is something he has done since he was a classmate of O.J. Simpson at USC in the late 1960's.

"The other kind of play in football that looks good from a low angle is when the team on offense is going away from you and the defense is pressuring the quarterback," Miller said. "You want that wide angle of view that the 70-200 gives you because you want that defensive lineman jumping in the air as he pressures the quarterback."

Photo by Peter Read Miller / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Peter Read Miller / Sports Illustrated

Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson goes over the goal line for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in 2006 at Candlestick Park.
"I have shot football with the 300 2.8 on the ground to get a low angle with a longer lens but it is more difficult depending on the stadium. Some fields like the Rose Bowl have a big crown (a curve in the field to help drainage) that gives you too much grass in the foreground that can sometimes cover up the player's feet, said Miller. "You need a really flat field to make this work properly."

Miller started using this technique during the 2005 football season.

"You shoot so much football over the years you go through phases. At Sports Illustrated these days there is a tendency to run the wider shot (especially in the "Leading Off" section) that sets the scene and shows the whole event, so many of my pictures shot this way have been published," said Miller.

While Miller has used this low angle technique while photographing football the past few years he says that this technique can also be used while shooting other activities.

"I have always loved the low angle and it is something that can work well while shooting other sports," he said. "This is a classic picture in basketball that you see a lot by using the floor remote. This is also a technique you can use while shooting track and field to add more drama to your pictures."

Miller said that one of the keys to making this technique work is the need to be far enough away from the subject that you can use a longer lens like the 70-200. If you are too close and have to use a wide-angle lens you get a lot of distortion as people's legs get really big and their heads get really small.

Miller acknowledged that one problem can occur if you try to use this technique on a hot and sunny day, as you might get heat waves that can ruin your pictures by making them look soft. By using the 70-200 at football games in the fall and winter this is usually not a problem. The newer artificial turf fields that use the "Field Turf" technology are much easier to shoot on because they do not reflect the heat as much, thus you can shoot this way on the newer fake grass fields without getting the heat waves.

Although Miller has been using this technique a lot over the last two football seasons he still thinks it has a place in sports photography. It is especially useful while documenting an event from a historical perspective when you want to give the viewers a sense of place, like showing the snow at Soldier Field in Chicago during the NFC Championship game in January of 2007 between the Saints and Bears.

"I always carry the angle finder in my pouch," Miller said. "I never know when I might want to try this technique."

Peter Read Miller's 2007 "Working With Artists" workshop will run from Tuesday, April 17 through Sunday, April 22 in Denver, Colorado. Workshop participants will join WWA, Peter Read Miller, Max Morse and Grant Leighton for five intense days of photographing Colorado's top university, high school and pro sporting events. Each photographer will have the opportunity to work closely with Miller and take home hundreds of images shot with top of the line Canon equipment that will be on loan from Canon USA. Portfolio reviews will take place by appointment.

"We have expanded this years workshop into five days and that is going to give me more time to work with each of the students on an individual basis," says Miller.

Tuition is $975 for this workshop and spaces are filling up fast.

For more details please visit:
Official Workshop site: member comments:
Miller's member page:
Miller's personal site:

Related Links:
Official Workshop site member comments
Miller's member page
Miller's personal site

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