When Bob Miller started out as a portrait photographer in 1982, he decided to keep track of the number of people he photographed. By 2000, he had counted a million different faces. He hasn’t slowed down in the intervening 14 years, but he did stop counting. Today, he’s photographed everyone from Alice Cooper (for the cover of Avid Golfer Magazine) to corporate CEOs to models and graduating seniors. He also does a good amount of commercial photography for hotel and resort websites. This past year, he shot several different properties in Arizona for Orbitz. All of that allows him to do the scenic photography that won him the people’s choice award in the Fall Rio Nuevo photo contest.
Miller now lives in Tempe, but he’s spent time in places around the world – St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Fresno; Boise; Southern California; Alaska – and photographed in all of them. His lifestyle has offered him opportunities for unique experiences. In Alaska, he worked for an Anchorage company that flew him to remote Inuit villages, from Ketchikan to Point Barrow, to photograph people who had never before had their pictures taken. He used a medium-format camera with hundred foot rolls of film, and would return with 600 to 700 hundred shots.
One of his mentors told him that the person who installs your carpet doesn’t weave it himself, so in those days, Miller sent out his film for developing. Today, however, he does his own digital processing most of the time, especially for his scenic work. “It’s a nice creative process,” he says. “I can give it my own take and get closest to the emotional impact of what I felt when I was taking the picture.”
Miller spends plenty of time in the outdoors, and when he heads out for a shoot, he carries a backpack of Nikon gear that includes two camera bodies and four lenses, from a 10mm wide-angle to a 300mm. Some are fixed; some are zoom. He also includes spare batteries and memory cards, as well as cleaning supplies. He appreciates the lightness of a carbon fiber tripod, but admits that a leg stuck in a tight rocky place has a tendency to split and crack. Aluminum tripods are a little bit weightier, but will bend instead of break, making them the sturdier choice. He also uses polarizer filters and a gradient neutral density filter to even the lighting in the scenes he shoots.
In addition to his scenic photography, Miller also enjoys travel and has visited Africa three times and spent a month in Northern India. This coming year he plans to document the Burning Man festival in Nevada. On his wish list is a trip to Cuba that he hopes to make “before McDonalds gets there.” He has a Cuban friend, an Orisha priest, who has offered to help him circumnavigate the island.
In addition to his commercial and fine art photography, Miller also moderates the Rocky Mountain forum on naturephotographers.net and offers personal instruction and workshops for fledgling photographers. He’s also done several presentations at the Scottsdale Public Library on the best places to see in Arizona in every season.
Miller offers tips for photographers who want to improve the quality of their photos:
- Take photos – lots. That will help you learn your camera so you can operate it with your eyes closed. Then when you’re out in the field, you won’t miss the perfect shot because you were fumbling around with the settings on your equipment.
- Start building your system by asking your close friends and family whether they use Nikon or Canon, and then offer to share. If you can test, trade, and share equipment, you’ll save money in the long run. Miller also advises buying used equipment whenever possible.
- Finally, get out and see what’s around you. “Here in Arizona we have things that people fly in from all over the world to see, like the Grand Canyon,” he says. “Get out and see it. Once you get out there, you won’t have to force yourself to go ever again because you’ll be drawn to it.”