Peter Read Miller Workshop in Review

Peter Read Miller holds his annual sports photography workshop in Denver, Colorado.  Through PDN (Photo District News), I came across the class and the timing and price-to-contact-time ratio were just right.  So, six days of 9am to 9pm shoot-edit-critique-learn and here I am: smarter – faster – stronger!  Just kidding, I’m probably a bit weaker from having no time for a little exercise this past week, but I am definitely smarter.  I was crawling through the web, and even my black belt google-fu couldn’t find a review from someone who had taken this workshop.  Maybe a comment in a forum here and there, but nothing in depth.  Alas, a review is in order.

Disclaimer on this review: I’m writing from the perspective of someone pursuing sports and active industry advertising work, not necessarily sports event coverage.  I’ve self taught and assisted here and there with lighting setups in the studio, many tutorials online, and have shot many events in the past.  However, I needed to tune up my action shooting, figure out how the editorial industry works, get some advice from people in the know regarding my work, improve my location lighting as well as the studio aspect, and learn insider tips on remote camera setups, to name a few tangible things.  A lot to ask for out of one workshop, but it wasn’t a cheap endeavor either.

A description of the workshop from Peter’s site:

This is the seventh year that Peter Read Miller has held his Sports Photography Workshop in Denver, CO. The workshop will run from the evening of Monday, April 4 through Sunday afternoon, April 10. The workshop will be in the centrally located studio of one of Denver’s top commercial photographers while shoots will take place all over the Denver area and the Front Range.
The workshop is limited to 20 to 25 students and they will have the opportunity to photograph a wide variety of sports and sporting events. In the past, these have included mountain biking, lacrosse, fencing, boxing, basketball (including setting up strobes to light a high school gym), baseball, college football (CU spring scrimmage) and track and field. A day is also spent shooting portraits of various athletes in the studio.
In addition to action photography, the workshop covers portrait lighting with strobes, both in the studio and on location, arena lighting and the set-up and use of remote cameras. Student work is reviewed and critiqued every morning and each student receives a one on one portfolio review with Peter.
Tuition for the week is 1495 and includes all instruction, a one-on-one portfolio review with Peter, and all location and model fees.

I signed up, paid my tuition (gulp) and started preparing (not really, I didn’t prepare anything other than charging batteries) for the workshop, after a trip to Telluride to shoot active images for my portfolio.  Home Sunday night from Telluride and off to the workshop the next day in late-afternoon to make it to Howard Sokol’s studio near Speer and I-25 by 6pm.

We had a class of 18, comprised of wide range of experience levels.  From a great guy named Craig who’d started shooting only 5 weeks ago and soon found himself in responsible for most of his son’s school’s sporting events (30 games in 5 weeks) and two other parents of athletes to full-time photographers ranging from the head of photography for Oracle to an architectural photographer based in Boston to a portrait photographer in northern California.  Everyone was amped for the week to start and Peter led off with a slideshow of his work.

The workshop staff: Peter Read Miller – Peter has been shooting since the camera was invented in 1745, literally.  He was capturing football images before the final design of the football was released by the founding fathers.  He shot the first Olympics and before that, the origin of the marathon.  Experience? Check.
Shawn Cullen – lighting expert for Sports Illustrated.  You know all those flashes that go off when LeBron dunks?  Yep, Shawn was there 7 hours ago setting up studio strobes in the attic of that stadium.
Max Morse – literally the glue that held all the logistical details together for the workshop.  Max shoots a wider range of subjects and also does motion work.  Great guy.
Grant Leighton – Portrait photographer based in Denver.  Very knowledgeable on lighting and working with subjects, just the balance I was hoping for in the staff.
Blu Harktop – Assistant extraordinaire.  Blu was the guy with all the answers to all the day-to-day questions and was key in making the gears turn on this thing.

Ready for the rundown of subjects our shooting consisted of?  Let me take a deep breath…Roller derby with the Denver Roller Dolls, Denver South vs. Denver East Baseball, Denver East Basketball, wheelchair basketball at the Auraria Campus in Denver, lacrosse images of Denver South vs. George Washington high school, mountain biking at Green Mountain, football coverage of the University of Colorado team scrimmage at Folsom Field, the CU Invitational track and field meet, studio portraits of a female trials motorcycle rider named Sarah, and boxing action shots and portraits at A1 Boxing (gotta love the owner’s marketing push, props to him).

This schedule of locations and subjects brings me to my first critique – logistics.  In years past, this workshop was run through an entity called ‘Working with Artists’.  I don’t know the details with their involvement, but I can imagine it was primarily organization and scheduling.  This year, it seemed that the artists’ took on those tasks, well 85% of them.  A little confusion here and there, some thumb twiddling, and some last minute schedule changes – for 6 full days of instruction and shooting, it really wasn’t too bad but it was noticed.  I’m sure that next year they’ll have all the details squared away, just as anyone does doing something for the first time compared to the next.  Yes, they’ve had the workshop for 7 years, but new challenges in the logistics department running it on their own.  Major kudos to Max, Blu, Derrick and Shawn for scrambling when necessary.

Ok, so instead of going day by day in text, we’ll just stick to images and brief summaries.

Day 1: Mountain biking (home field advantage?)

Scene setting shot, Sarah Rawley
Attempted to get a frozen rider at end of the trails with rear curtain flash sync - needed about 10x the power in this bright sun but still an interesting image. Bryan Alders
Climbing - this one worked out

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2: Roller Dolls in Studio – dramatic portraits

The class swaps out the pocketwizard for control of the studio lights and practices working with the roller girls

Day 2 part 2:  Roller derby practice – real life scenario of live action in bad lighting conditions, what do you do?

Terrible lighting conditions in a warehouse = challenge. On camera SB800 and SB-26 far camera left via Elinchrom Skyport trigger

 

 

Day 3:  High school lacrosse

Shot with a monster Canon lens - 600mm from top of the stands.
Peter Read Miller and posse, see: Canon Gear Loan
Pre-game handshake, really like this one.

Day 4: Basketball and Baseball, Denver East

Going up. 2x Elinchrom StyleRX 600 monolights in the top corners of the gym complements of Shawn Cullen

 

Portrait of starting freshman Rodney from Denver East
Throwing it down, Junior Demetrius from Denver East

 

The pickle. Captured with Canon 600mm f/4 from behind the home run fence.
Diving for the out, same lens, same position. Tough to hold that thing steady in the wind.

Day 5: CU Invitational Track Meet and CU Football Scrimmage

Many, many frames went into getting a good one here. Canon 500mm, shot through people walking by, good times.
Steeple Chase - this guy crushed it. Nikon D700 on monopod held up by moi, fired remotely with pocketwizard
Panning through a fence, only way to get the angle.
Love the expression here, I can feel the pain. Shot on monopod with remote

Day 6: Boxing at A1 Boxing

A boxer and his trainer, overhead softbox, reflector against my knees for fill.
boxer portrait

 

Alright, after all that, you have an idea of what we shot.  I left out final versions of the studio roller dolls and motorcycle trials rider – I didn’t have anything to do with those lighting setups (other than watching and asking many questions) so I can’t really call the images ‘mine.’

Looking back, I would have liked more time spent on lighting setups and the explanation of them.  Mostly, Shawn Cullen would setup the lighting while the students (most of them, myself and a couple others stuck around the studio) were at lunch, and then everyone would come back with the lights ready to go and we’d shoot (for the boxing images, I put together the trainer and boxer lighting but the the portrait was the breakout group setup).  For me, the learning there was in the setup.  So I asked Shawn lots of questions, learned some tricks of the trade with syncing strobes in arenas, remote camera setup with magic arms on backboards, etc.

Workshop overall…

Pro’s: Top, top expert opinion, advice and instruction from sports guys like Peter Read Miller, Steve Fine (Sports Illustrated Director of Photography), and Shawn Cullen.  One on one portfolio reviews geared towards what you’re looking to get out of it.  For me that consisted of a website portfolio review with Peter, a site design review with Max and hopefully a portfolio review with Grant also down the road as well.  Ability to borrow any of Canon’s top of the line equipment, also see cons.  Wide range of subjects and material.

Con’s: Only relevant for this year, but better organization throughout would have helped as well as a clear course itinerary in terms of what would be taught/learned each day and/or objectives for students each day.  Ability to borrow any canon equipment – if everyone is borrowing 400mm lenses to shoot sports, you’ll have a tough time creating equal images on your 70-200 Nikon lens you brought.  So I checked out some canon gear.  I won’t be switching over but they do make nice products.  Maybe if everything gets stolen one day and I get an insurance check in the mail to acquire new gear.  It’s nice for the Canon folks but the Nikon people are left out in the access to gear and questions for the Canon rep who was at the workshop for 2 days.

Who would I recommend this workshop to?  There is definitely a focus on sports event coverage, as that’s Peter Read Miller’s bread and butter.  The class touches on studio lighting but doesn’t discuss it in detail, as it’d be difficult to teach a wide range of experience levels everything from foundation to practice in 6 days.  If you want to shoot sports for magazines, newspapers or wires – this is for you.  You may have to go elsewhere for an in depth lighting education but it’s impossible to learn every aspect of photography in 6 days if you aren’t bringing existing know-how with you.  Hopefully this helps if you’re looking into the workshop, feel free to email me with any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer.  For now, it’s time to get back to shooting…