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

September 9, 2009

Uber gnarl.. shooting the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc

Filed under: photography — danmilner @ 8:31 pm

I’m a little choked up right now: a mix of adrenaline buzz and sleeplessness wreaking havoc on my emotions. Today was day three of shooting a commission for Mens Fitness magazine on the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, a 166 Km, fell-running marathon around Mont Blanc that slams its participants with 9400 m of uphill along the way. Some undertaking indeed.

While I like to think that I develop some sort of rapport with my “models” during a shoot, this latest job has left me more respectful of my athletes’ achievements than I can remember from some other assignments, and that’s saying something from a photographer used to shooting some of the world’s biggest names in snowboarding riding burly lines deep in the backcountry. Maybe it’s the novelty value of shooting fell-runners (or ultra racers as they are called when fell-running reaches this magnitude), or perhaps I’ve been shooting mountain bikers and snowboarders for so long I’ve become complacent of their achievements, (though I’m sure I haven’t) that this one ‘out of the ordinary’ commission has wreaked such havoc on my emotions.

madness... you can see it in their eyes

madness... you can see it in their eyes

The truth is that while the UTMB has annually swamped Chamonix for 7 years now, I’ve never paid it a whole lot of attention… until now of course, when Mens Fitness needed a photo monkey willing to chase their team of runners around various sections of the course and capture the action, emotions and grittiness of what it’s like to participate in what is perhaps the World’s toughest running race. The shoot of course presented its own set of logistical dilemmas and problems to be solved, with the brief requiring the magazine’s runners to be shot at several different locations around the 166 Km course, much of which is remote and high-alpine. It also specified different lighting conditions of different times of day (and night) to capture the endurance flavour of a race that takes in two nights and one day of a runner’s life. Not easy logisics at the best of time especially when you have only an estimated time for your team at each location, estimates that could vary by hours rather than minutes. Throw in the fact that once you’ve hiked up to your calculated photo location, you only get one stab at -it’s not like you can ask your runner to ” just go back and run that bit again” to make sure you got the shot as you do with so many catalogue shoots- and you have the recipe for a real photographic challenge.

Shooting the Mens Fitness team on the UTMB is probably one of the more unique assignments I’ve had the pleasure (and anxieties) of covering over the years, but that’s not why I’m choked up right now. It’s not really due to lack of sleep or the buzz of adrenaline either. In all honesty, despite only snatching a few minutes of the runners’ time along the route during the last 48 hours, I’m brimming with pride and admiration for what they achieved, and it’s only through having the opportunity to follow the race and steal insights into what these racers put themselves through that I have actually learnt to fully appreciate their undertaking. 166 Kilometres and 9400 metres of climbing. .

the backstory: pain, pain and more pain

the backstory: pain, pain and more pain


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