Friday, December 13, 2013

REVIEW: Peter Read Miller on Sports Photography

Peter Read Miller on Sports Photography: A Sports Illustrated photographer's tips, tricks, and tales on shooting football, the Olympics, and portraits of athletes is book that I think most male photographers want to read because many of us dream of being on the sidelines shooting our favorite sports.  I loved shooting the Seahawks, Formula 1 Racing, and Motorsports, but I also learned that while it’s sexy it doesn’t pay well as people think when you go down that path. As a result, I moved on to other commercial work that paid better but I still lust for that sidelines fix and excitement I enjoyed at the Winter Olympics.

Peter Read Miller is a legend in sports photography who once was on my Favorite Photographers list. He’s no longer there simply because there’s so much talent out these days that it’s hard to limit that list to just 20 people – but I tried. He’s become popular in Scott Kelby’s world and has some videos on Kelby Training these days, so I suspect that his book was going to be awesome. I mean, this is a Sports Illustrated photographer who I admire because he’s lived my sports photography dream, so this book has to be awesome right?

If you’ve read this book already you probably know where this is going, but if you haven’t then I’m sad to say that I was very disappointed by this book. While it makes a nice coffee table book for its wealth of exciting sports images, am I the only one who thinks the images look like the best of his film days work? Yes, I know he has plenty of digital images taken with the 1D X and its predecessors, but most of those just feel like unprocessed RAW’s. By today’s rigorous standards in the age of digital photography images that are tack sharp with rich colors are the norm, so excellent photography is appreciated on top of that baseline. While the images had outstanding composition time and time again, I felt like I was reading the New York Times with images that went straight from the camera to print. That’s not what I’m looking for when I read a sports book in 2013 in a world where the set of ESPN sets the bar for what we expect from sports visualizations.

To be clear, I know Peter has amazing digital images – I’ve seen them, so that is what makes me more perplexed. Why aren’t they in the book? Perhaps it’s something contractual with Sports Illustrated or something, but as a reader I don’t care about the excuses – I want a book with great sports imagery that grabs me both visually as well as compositionally.

With that disclaimer, let’s put that aside. Let’s assume that these are the best images that are processed (or not) to perfection. Let’s assume I’m in awe at every page with my jaw dropping to the floor. Next comes the question, why do I buy a book like this? The web is filled with amazing images that I can view for free, so I buy a book like this to see fantastic images and learn how I can make great images like that myself. In short, I not only want to be visually satisfied, I want to be educated.

Where this book really falls flat is that it’s lacking of very much educational value. It’s mostly images with camera settings and gear lists, all of which I’d expect. However, when I look at the table of contents I think that I’m going to get some good tips from a seasoned expert and I’m hoping there will be discussions about how I can work my way up to the sidelines for some of these great events that Peter has covered. However, I quickly learned that wasn’t what this book was about. Instead, this is Peter Miller Read’s photo portfolio with some simple banter that you’d get if you were sitting next to him watching him flipping through his printed portfolio. There’s not much depth and halfway through it starts to feel more like bragging than anything else.

Fundamentally I think the problem with this book isn’t that Peter is a bad author, I think it boils down to trying to take too much on in one book. I think if this book was same thickness that focused on one or two sports with 30% of the photos replaced with text content, it would be incredibly helpful for aspiring sports photographers. Peter IS a great photographer with thousands of outstanding sports images with brilliant composition, but somewhere along the way someone let him just fill the book with photos instead of content that takes it beyond a photo portfolio.

I always dreamed of meeting Peter Read Miller one day and having the opportunity to talk to him about sports photography, but this review will probably put that dream to rest. However, I have the opportunity to do that vicariously through his Kelby Training videos (see my KelbyTraining.com discount) and other interview videos of his on the web. I still am in awe of his complete body of work (beyond what this book features) and I’m sure he’s an excellent guy. As a book author it pains me to not be able to write a glowing review about this book, but I’ve got to say that when I finished reading this book I felt that I had wasted my time reading the words. If you get this book, just skip the words and enjoy the photos – they are amazing compositions from every sport known to man.

Conclusion

Peter Read Miller is an amazing sports photography legend and he deserves the utmost respect, but I wish he would have had a better team guide him in a different direction for this book. It should have been named “Peter Read’s Portfolio” and if it was I’d highly recommend it, but instead the title suggests that it will be education and it simply isn’t. Sadly this is the second sports book I’ve read recently that left me disappointed. The first was Sports Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots which was equally bad, but in a different way.

My recommendation is that if you are looking for a photo book of sports images that you can flip through, then there’s lots of cool compositions to enjoy in this book. If you are looking for education, go take his workshop as that’s probably going to get you what you are really looking for when you buy something like this book.

Where to order

Click here to order at Amazon.

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