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

January 3, 2010

Lateral thinking: photo opportunities on the hoof

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , — danmilner @ 10:42 am

Four weeks in Nepal wasn’t enough.

When you’re out and about in some far-flung foreign country armed with a camera and a magazine commission some of the best things that come up are the unexpected and unforeseen opportunities that present themselves to nail other photos. And of course, come up they will.

There’s the odd shot, the random travel image that tells a story, but what’s always more meaty than these often spontaneous-snaps is a chance for a little photo study: a set of shots of a subject that gets behind the scenes, and gets the photographer all hot and excited in an orgy of creativity. For the pro-photographer experience helps in spotting potential photo stories on location, and while we pro photographers like to think we’re on holiday, it’s rare for us to actually disengage from seeing potential image sales; often a call or email to an editor will find a home for the holiday-disrupting commission.. damn this digital, speed of light planet). Hmm, maybe that makes us sound a little mercenary, when if truth be told, the potential commission just gives us the excuse to get stuck in with the subject in hand, to try to capture the subject in its true light. And we just love that.

A few years back in Alaska, while bad weather raged,  I saw the potential of a B&W feature on the “real heroes” of the AK big mountain ski scene. the people without whom the whole extreme media thing couldn’t happen. A call to The Snowboard Journal found the feature a home so I arranged portrait sessions with a skiplane pilot, a boss of the heli ski operation and a ski guide, and shot each of them in their “office environments” (in this case a plane hanger, a diner’s payphone, and in front of a beaten old pick up truck waiting, respectively). You’ll see these portraits on my website in the people gallery ( More recently I shot a series of  images capturing street scenes in various towns in Argentina after nightfall (a time when the real Argentina usually comes alive). Of course, the Nepal trip I did last month to shoot a feature for MBUK mountain bike mag was no different. 

Travelling with a bike usually breaks down a lot of barriers; Kids want to ride with you, old men want you to pull wheelies. Everyone wants to pull on your brakes and squeeze your tyres. Stopping to chat with people opens up scores of opportunities, not just in being able to photograph the essential elements of what makes a country tick, but also, more importantly, in starting to understand a country and its people, to open up an exhange of information and experiences. Somehow you manage it, despite only having a few words of a common language.

So, on our way through Pokhara, a city whose tourist area is festooned with trigger-happy camera wielding tourists, we passed by a half dozen bike-repair shops, where grimy-handed men wrestle ageing bikes in an attempt to return them to the road. As a bikey person, these are fascinating places -a million miles from the colourful bike shops of Europe that are piled high with expensive state of the art kit. Stopping by one to see what the owner/mechanic, a man named Shree dal Subedi was doing and to try to understand a small slice of life in Nepal. I said hello, watched as he rubbed down a frame for repainting and asked if it was OK to capture it all in images. He looked over our bikes and showed me how the Nepalese fix punctures. He spoke only a couple of words of English and me the same in Nepali, but we exchanged smiles and an appreciation of the bike as a means of travel.

Puncture repair Nepal-style. Leica M8, Voigtlander 40/1.4 and 12/5.6


For me it’s moments like this that are the most rewarding. Of course riding epic trails is a blinding buzz as is photographing them, and travelling to fabulous places makes me rarely want to swap my job for anything else, but these are the photos that end up being the most satisfying. They’re just small photo studies, shot on the hoof, that may one day find themselves a home in a mag.. or not as the case may be. But sometimes it isn’t only about paying the mortgage.

Shree dal Subedi's workshop... making bikes feel like bikes again


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