the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

September 1, 2014

I went mountain biking in Afghanistan and all you got was this lousy video

Filed under: bike, video — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 12:47 pm

Here’s my moving image take on the Bikemag trip I photographed.  For your enjoyment. Or maybe mine. Click on image to watch on EpicTV.

Screen shot 2014-09-01 at 1.43.39 PM

 

July 31, 2014

Grave Decisions on the Yeti Cycles shoot

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 3:52 pm

Chuffed to be now shooting for Yeti cycles and my artistically licensed ‘employment’ with them kicked off with a week-long session in La Grave, French Alps. It’s the latest layer of involvement with the brand since hauling their legendary 575 bike along various expeditions for the last 6 years and this year becoming an ambassador of Yeti.

Late light on a trail we didn't know. Sometimes the 2 hour wait in the wind at the top waiting for the clouds to part seems worth it.  Nikon D3s, 24-80 /2.8 @ 1/500, f5.6

Late light on a trail we didn’t know. Sometimes the 2 hour wait in the wind at the top waiting for the clouds to part seems worth it. Richie getting rude. Nikon D3s, 24-80 /2.8 @ 1/500, f5.6

Yeti is one of the early mountain bike brands. It is the name we all wanted emblazoned on our frames back at the end of the 80’s and early 90’s (and since), if we could get hold of/find/afford one in the UK. It’s the name that still turns heads, and summons forth coo’s of admiration on the trail. So to land the job of shooting their two top pro Enduro racers  -Jared Graves and Richie Rude-  for a week was kind of being given the keys to a wind-powered, fair-trade, organic chocolate shop and being told to ‘go make yourself sick’.

With 6 days on location and two top shelf riders to work with, you could think that this shoot was served to me on a plate, but that’s not the whole story. Mountain bike shoots, or at least those that intend to nail authentic riding shots rather than product-test shoots in the local woods, involve a lot of leg work. They mean serious climbs on and off the bike, getting up early and being out late. Try telling the race winning pro racer that his interval, sprint and turbo-trainer schedule needs to accommodate this kind of on-hill antics and see what you get as a reply. Its all about tact and working together.

There is nothing about La Grave that seems easy. Period. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/640, f6.3

There is nothing about La Grave that seems easy. Period. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/640, f6.3

With the lads aboard the new SB5c bike not yet released to the public, the choice of location was paramount. I took a gamble and chose La Grave. The impossibly steep resort isn’t hallowed as a mountain bike Mecca, and it threw us some issues, but it has trails, and incredible scenery, and just as importantly is away from the prying mountain bike masses with their iPhones and Instagram accounts. Take these bikes to nearby Les 2 Alpes or Alpe d’Huez and they’d be all over the social media in less time than it takes to pump up a tyre.

I have wanted to shoot up at this road pass for years and we scheduled the hour drive there into our shoot. When we got there  hoping for late sun, it rained. I actually think it turned out for the better. Jared and Richie riding fast and loose. Nikon D3s, 16-35/4 @ 1/800, f5.6

I have wanted to shoot up at this road pass for years and we scheduled the hour drive there into our shoot. When we got there hoping for late sun, it rained. I actually think it turned out for the better. Jared and Richie riding fast and loose and better than I ever can. Nikon D3s, 16-35/4 @ 1/800, f5.6

So to cut a long rambling story short, we did the shoot, planning early morning lift-accessed sessions (that are still too late for sunrise at this time of year) and late light rides into the encroaching night, while trying to juggle an impossibly changing weather forecast to our advantage, and allow an ongoing serious training program to happen. Decisions made, Locations found. Shots taken. Peace prevailed.

Watch out for a full online gallery from the shoot next week at Yeticycles.com and Pinbike.com

July 8, 2014

This Life Aquatic – hauling bikes on boats in Scotland

Filed under: bike, photography, video — Tags: , , , , , , , — danmilner @ 6:45 am

Sometimes ideas for features take a while to come to fruition; like my Argentina railway bike epic in March, and like this slightly out there adventure I shot in Scotland in May. The idea: take some sea-kayaks, pack with overnight camping gear and throw our bikes onto inflatable dinghies towed behind.

Putting new meaning to the word 'floater'. Shot with GoPro HD3+

Putting new meaning to the word ‘floater’. Shot with GoPro HD3+

Combining bikes and kayaks like this might seem a bit like mixing water with electricity, but there was an inner voice that nagged me over the last couple of years to try it (the same voice that leads me to places like Afghanistan to shoot bike features it seems). After all what can go wrong?

Sea kayaks are great for covering distance on water. Sleek, fast, efficient. Add a floating ‘trailer’ of an inflatable dinghy with the displacement dynamics of a barge, load it with bikes and the equation gets interesting. Especially if the wind is against you. And finding a suitable stretch of water to try this 2 day, 2 night escapade presented another challenge. So we teamed up with Go-Where Scotland to help with location logistics and Sea-Kayak Highlands to provide the boats and then we hit the deepest loch in Scotland, Loch Morar, a loch with its own legendary monster. Apparently.

Dont stray form the paths lads. Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4

Dont stray from the paths lads. Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4

So armed with the Pelican-case packable Leica M9 and a couple of GoPro HD3+ cameras our idea finally came to fruition. No it wasn’t quite the miles-from-anywhere-Alaskan-wrestle-bears-for-your-dinner insanity that many now come to expect from me, but it was an authentic little adventure, right there on our doorstep with its own set of challenges and rich rewards. It shows that sometimes you don’t need to travel too far to put the ‘escape’ into escapade. You just have to be willing to get out there, ride some bikes and paddle 20+ miles in whatever weather nature throws at you, and do it with a dinghy in tow.

The feature will rear its monster head in MBUK and other bike mags around the world in the next few months, but in the meantime, here’s the EpicTV episode from the trip. It’s a little… err, different. Click image below to watch.

Click to watch film episode

Click pic to watch film episode

 

June 24, 2014

Come to the dark side -shooting Trek bikes in North Carolina

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , — danmilner @ 8:02 am

I’ve never been to North Carolina. At least I hadn’t until last week when my annual session shooting for Trek bikes came through. Two years ago it was the Italian Dolomites, last year Arizona and in 2014, North Carolina the venue. All three couldn’t be more different, and all throw up challenges for the photographer (dodging hail storms in the Dolomites, 100F heat in Arizona, mosquitos and poison ivy in N. Carolina). My job: to shoot the launch of Trek’s new Fuel EX bike and in so doing, shoot the image needs of the assembled worldwide editors (and Trek’s) and well, just capture the feel of the bikes in this location.  Cue: high ISO.

Nikon D3S, 70-200/4 @ 1/640, F4.5, ISO 3200.

Nikon D3S, 70-200/4 @ 1/640, F4.5, ISO 3200.

I flew in expecting moss-bedragled trees and old dudes chewing tobacco sitting in rocking chairs on porches . But of course that’s the deep south. North Carolina just isn’t quite that far south (idiot). So no moss, but it still has the the kind of animals that kill you -copperhead snakes, big spiders, bears, and it has a lot of deep, dark woodland coating the flanks, summits and troughs of the Pisgah National Forest (Pisgah is one of those words that has always had resonance in mountain biking and at last I got to see what it was all about.) And Pisgah is one helluva dark forest to shoot in.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f2.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f2. You’re never far from a church in N. Carolina.

Shooting editors during a guided ride is all about leapfrogging ahead of them. No fuss, set up the shot, shoot and move on. It means moving fast without flashes, and so shooting natural light (which lets face it is my thang) however dark it is. But thanks to the current low-light able DSLRs this is possible. Shooting landscapes in the forest is one thing, but when you need a shutter speed of 1/1000th too, then even shooting f4 or wider, means ramping the ISO up to 4000 (or more). No the shots are not perfect (I’m not sure I agree that 12,500 ISO is quite as noise-less as they claim), but they work fine for a double page spread in the print mags (hey, remember print mags?) and would probably stand up to some billboard abuse, and they are more than good enough for that digital mag resolution.

So thanks Trek for the chance to push my D3S’s ISO to meltdown, and the opportunity to ride, see and experience the Pisgah forest in all its darkness (it is really good riding BTW). And eat hot boiled peanuts. Now that’s something I never thought I’d say.

Nikon D3S, 16-35/4, 1/1000, f6.3. ISO 6400.

Nikon D3S, 16-35/4, 1/1000, f6.3. ISO 6400.

 

June 7, 2014

Wednesday Morning 5am

Filed under: bike, photography — danmilner @ 7:39 pm
Nikon D3s, 16-35 f4.

Nikon D3s, 16-35 f4.

OK so it was a Tuesday not a Wednesday, and it was 5.30am, not 3 am, as per the iconic Simon and Garfunkel’s sixties album, but whatever, it’s the kind of hour that is not nice to see. But that’s what shooting photos is often about -blurry eyed, grumpy models and pre-breakfast morning breath. Being a pro photo monkey means you get to see a lot of places, and often you get to see them at the sort of time others don’t. It’s almost as if photography was just an excuse for insomnia. Thats what gives this job its edge, like capturing aspirational images on this bit of Italian road while shooting for bike clothing brand Endura a couple of weeks ago. Getting up at 5:30 meant catching this light on a section of tarmac I know heads straight east into the rising sun, and doing it knowing we had only an hour before the morning commuter traffic would close us down.

Next stop, Scarborough fair….

May 9, 2014

Me? Scared? Well, you can see my legs trembling 3 minutes in.

Filed under: bike, video — Tags: , , , , , , , — danmilner @ 12:57 pm

Want to see how our recent Argentina railroad epic with Hans and Tibor looks on video? Well, here it is.

Screen shot 2014-05-09 at 1.53.16 PM

April 10, 2014

Crossing the Line – softening the definition of trail riding

How do you get the world’s most famous trials mountain biker and an ex-pro downhiller to go cycle touring? Disguise it as a ride along an old disused railway line in Northern Argentina, that’s how.

Lost in translation - is this what my riders were expecting? Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f5

Lost in translation – is this what my riders were expecting from an MTB trip? Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f5

And so that’s how I found myself along with MTB legend Hans Rey, Canyon bikes pro-rider Tibor Simai and TV cameraman Rob Summers, pedaling along a 100-year old Argentinian railway at 3000+ meters last month. It was one of the most original stories I’ve ever shot, and it wasn’t without its own unique set of challenges (hey, would you expect anything less from me?)

 "C'mon Rob you can make it!" A warm up to the big bridges to come. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/1000, f4.


“C’mon Rob you can make it!” A warm up to the big bridges to come. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/1000, f4.

The idea to ride along this old railway came to me a few years ago when I saw it, admittedly from the comfort of a tiny rental car, during another MTB trip to the area. GoogleEarthing the line and researching its history (built by the Brits in 1903, abandoned in 1992) I thought how great it would be to try to ride the railway line south from the Bolivian border at La Quiaca all the way to Salta, a distance of about 400Km. I’d ride it solo, equipped with sleeping bag and bivi sac, eat wherever I came across a settlement, and photograph every person I met along the line.

But it didn’t turn out like that.

My concept swayed to the pressure of seeking financial rewards from my efforts, and evolved into more of an adventure story pitch. At one point it even included hauling a 3lb inflatable raft along to cross the many rivers wherever the bridges might be down (remember this railway hasn’t been maintained for 30 years). I pitched the story and re-pitched and this year, thought f*ck it, lets do it anyway. Finally after years of sitting on the backburner the idea came to fruition.

Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/2000, f4.

Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/2000, f4.

The outcome is one of the most unique stories I have ever shot, combining real mountain biking with a photographic record of how this once mighty transport lifeline has been left to decay (there is now a highway to La Quiaca) and slowly be consumed by the environment  – bushes grow from the tracks, sand buries the sleepers, 100-year old railway stations have become ghost-town buildings.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f1.8

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f1.8

No the railway isn’t the most remote, or the highest altitude, or the most challenging ride in the world (I’ll leave that accolade to our Afghanistan trip). But it threw up its own challenges: skin-blistering sun with no shade, steady hillclimbs at 3000m+, an absence of potable water sources and many crumbling iron bridges to cross, some suspended 20m high above gaping canyons.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/4000, f2.2

Early start in La Quiaca. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/4000, f2.2

With the pressures of needing to work two features from the same 2-week trip we rode only 100Km of the line, over 3 days -a mere teaser of what the entire railway could offer, but it was a tough 100 Km through the region’s most incredible scenery, and 100 Km of railway that I’m pretty sure no-one has mountain biked before.

Weaver birds re-claim the line's telegraph poles. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f2.2

Weaver birds re-claim the line’s telegraph poles. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f2.2

Sometimes ideas have to evolve. And luckily this one did, or it may never have found light of day. And anyway the book I would have produced from my original idea would have been slim -we never passed another person on the line. Read the feature from this crazy idea in MBUK mag and others in a couple of months time and the EpicTV video episode here in a couple of weeks.

Local canine shows no appreciation of what the team has achieved at our finish point in Humahuaca. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/40, f13.

Local canine shows no appreciation of what the team has achieved at our finish point in Humahuaca. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/40, f13.

For the photo geeks, I used my Nikon D600, Nikkor 70-200 f4, Zeiss 18 3.5 and a Nikkor 50 1.4, and the new F-Stop Loka Ultralight backpack.

 

April 6, 2014

Putting the “Rad” back into … err, daily life.

Filed under: photography, snow — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 11:04 am

Yep, I know you’ve been waiting for this to happen. I’ve teamed up with the good people at Radshot.com to offer you the chance to easily keep your snow-obsessed habits topped up with a daily does of rad-ness, by way of incredibly beautiful snowboard photography that we photographers work ruddy hard and take enormous selfless risks to shoot.

I’ve rummaged in my somewhat bulging drawers  -swollen to bursting point with well-over 15 years of snowboard imagery shot in places such as Greenland, Alaska, Russia and Pakistan and capturing the snowy antics of riders like Travis Rice and Jeremy Jones-  to hand Radshot.com a big wad of my belters to offer as a daily FREE photo of the day. Just head over to their site and subscribe to get your daily photo fix, or do that social media thing (whatever that is) to connect with them @RadShotPics.

My images will start gracing their site at random intervals from today. And when you’re done gawping too long and realise that you have forgotten your loved one’s birthday/Xmas/anniversary you can order a photo or canvas print of any of the images you see, easy, at the click of a button apparently, delivered direct to your door for a very, very reasonable price.

Oh and there are some other photographers on the site too. So be warned….

Rice wishes he'd taken his kayak instead of his splitboard. Going over the rapids, AK style.

T-Rice wishes he’d taken his kayak instead of his splitboard. Going over the rapids, AK style.

March 22, 2014

A little yellow bird told me – shooting Canaries

Filed under: bike, video — Tags: , , , , , , , — danmilner @ 3:08 pm

Yeah I know, it’s been a while, I’ve been busy. And one of the busy moments recently was shooting an MTB traverse of the magnificent island of Gran Canaria, following the advanced route of the TNF Trans Gran Canaria. It’s an idea I have had for a while, and finally it came to be. Three days, 4500m of up and downhill, and 95% on trails carrying our own gear (I used my F-Stop Kenti pack) this trip was a blinder -and the island’s incredible landscapes was a bonus. One of the best MTB adventures I’ve done & shot in over 30 years of MTB adventures (some would call them moments of madness). So here’s the photo for the month of February..

Read the print story in MBUK and Bike Magazin Germany any time now.

Railing one of the best, and little ridden trails on the island. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/1000, f8

Railing one of the best, and little ridden trails on the island. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/1000, f8

And the unique GoPro video episode that goes with it (video opens in new window).

Screen shot 2014-03-22 at 14.59.02

February 2, 2014

Think you know snow? Treading lightly on the Voelkl ski shoot.

Filed under: photography, snow — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 4:16 pm
Working safe, mellow, north aspects is all about working the light. Freeride World Tour champ Nadine Wallner works some magic as the snow begins to heavy-up. Shots like this I use manual focus to give me more freedom of composition. Nikon D3s, 70-200/4, 1/1000, f11.

Working safe, mellow, north aspects is all about working the light. Freeride World Tour champ Nadine Wallner works some magic as the snow begins to heavy-up. For shots like this I use manual pre-focus to give me more freedom of composition. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000/f11.

Like kids and animals, I’d throw in snow as being one of the hardest things to work with (not that I’ve done an awful lot of work with kids or animals I add). This month saw our annual shoot for ski hardware-meisters Voelkl. With dates booked months in advance, and a whole team of 15 professional athletes descending on the location for a 4-day session, I’d be lying if I pretended that I don’t get anxious in the few days before the shoot. Snow is fickle. It comes, it goes, it crusts, it gets heavy.  But you have to work with what you’ve got, and make it work, and that’s the difference between being a pro photographer and a lucky enthusiast. Your images are the single end result of a lot of planning and the handing over of a significant shoot budget.  In 4 days, 4 photographers are to capture most of the companies vast image needs for both the ISPO product launch and the rest of the year’s marketing blurb. And its with this knowledge that you step out, camera in hand.

And that’s where the snow bit comes in.

Aspirational is only half the story on commercial shoots. Marketing people like to see what they are selling, and that's where Per Jonsson comes in. he's the kind of athlete you can trust to miss you when you get in close. Tracking fast approaching subjects is a great test for autofocus, and one of the only times I use it. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/2500, f5.6.

‘Aspirational’ is only half the story on commercial shoots. After all marketing people like to see what they are selling, and that’s where Per Jonsson comes in. He’s the kind of pro athlete you can trust to miss you when you get in close. Tracking fast approaching subjects is a great test for autofocus and one of the only times I use it. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/2500, f5.6.

Early snow in the Alps can make people complacent. Shouts of “its gonna be a huge winter” echo around the valleys. But in reality, the early snow and cold spell just left a dangerous hoar-frost layer and weak snowpack for any off-piste skiing. This is the kind of consideration that adds a certain pressure to real ski shoots -you know the kind of shoots that really capture the aspirational, the kind of stuff that’s put my name on the map for the last decade and a half.

And then it changed. Kind of.

Fresh snow before the shoot is always a relief. It puts pay to all that head scratching, wondering what the heck we’re going to shoot and where we’re going to do it. But it also buries that weak, avalanche-prone layer. So it’s within these criteria that we set out on the Voelkl shoot, keeping to safe areas and watching as the heat wave reduced most south facing slopes to heavy, lifeless mush. Pro ski photography is all about reading signs. It’s about reading warning signs in the weather, it’s about seeing which way the wind has blown, which way the light is angled, about reading signs in your athletes faces and body language that say “Well Dan, I’ve kind of had enough hiking today.”

Pro ski photography is about knowing snow.

Last run of the day and the camera's still out. Occasionally we take a free run, but when the terrain looks liek this and the light is reflected off the biggest peak in Europe, you've just got to keep shjooting. Nadine Wallner heading home. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000, f 7.1

Last run of the day and the camera’s still out. Occasionally we might grab a no photos, free run, but when the terrain looks like this and the dying light is reflected off the biggest peak in Europe, you’ve just got to keep shooting. Nadine Wallner heading home. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000, f 7.1

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