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

March 3, 2010

If it’s Tuesday it must be Canada: keeping it err… ‘real’.

Filed under: photography, snow — danmilner @ 9:10 pm

Ah the enviable life of a “travel photographer”.

I’ve got a bit of déjà vu and it’s not surprising really: As I write this post I’m on the Greyhound bus out of Vancouver towards Pemberton, Canada. 11 years ago I was on this same bus ride, heading to Whistler to hook up with some pro riders such as Jon Cartwright, shooting a story for Strength (US) and Snowboard UK magazines. This time it’s Jonaven Moore and Jeremy Jones in my viewfinder. Back then I was penning my notes on a crappy little Psion palm-held notepad thing that used dial-up email connections via a plug into a phone socket (now it’s a full-on Apple MacBookPro with all the wireless trimmings). So things have changed, right? Well, despite the exponential leap in tech to have taken place in handheld devices and the presence of a new 4-lane highway built to deliver the hoards to the recent Vancouver winter Olympics (it ended 2 days ago), it seems my déjà vue is understandable.

Travis Parker beats one out in Chamonix: EOS 5D & 70-200/f4L.


 Not only am I still listening to NoMeansNo (perhaps the finest punk band to emerge from the pacific Northwest, though now listened to on an i-pod, rather than a err.. Discman Conversation-Avoidance-Device), it seems that the lifestyle of a snowboard photographer is deemed never to evolve.

Everywhere I go people say I have the “dream job”. That may be. But it feels sometimes like it’s more of a lifestyle than a job, at least my bank manager seems to think so. It doesn’t seem to matter how many ‘glamorous’ destinations I visit, how many images I shoot, the bills mount up, helped in their sinister intentions by established magazines that won’t pay their contributors and untimely and expensive camera failures.

Yes it’s been a hectic last 4 weeks, a see-saw set of experiences really, with deposits in the happy-memory bank seemingly diametrically opposed to the actual deposits to my real bank account. During the last month I spent 10 days with the legendary creativity of Mike Basich, hiding out in his tiny cabin with him and the 2-times X Games winner, Jenny Jones, fresh from her most recent victory. Commissions for three magazines shot, I had just chance for 24 hours at home, enough for a bath (I pity the people sitting next to me on the 18 hours of flying back from Reno after ten days of bath-free cabin existence) and a swap of clothes and then it was out the door to Nice for a 3 day road-bike shoot. Bouncing back from that it was straight into a week of shooting with two US riders sent over from their homeland to shoot for a Transworld feature, filling the few days before I had to reboard a plane for Canada. And that’s when it happened. My mainstay, workhorse photo machine, the Canon EOS 1Dmk2N went and broke on me.

To be fair it’s been a great worker; the main reason I’ve been reluctatnt to “upgrade” to the newer mkIII or most recent mkIV.  Come rain (literally) or shine, or snow or weeks spent out under canvas in -15C, the MkIIN has shot and shot and shot frame after frame without complaint. So I guess after 4 years of abuse it had to tire at some point!

There’s never a good time for a camera to break when you’re a pro-photographer, especially when you only have 4 days until you head off for the next assignment. Sure, fashion guys would probably just pop around the corner on their singlespeeds to the pro rent-shop and lease a new body for their next day-shoot that is pending. Easy if you live in London, or Paris. It would cost you about £100. Job done, return it next day. Living in the mountainous sticks has its advantages of scenery and locations on your doorstep, but it grates when it comes to getting service like this. Renting is out of the question, at least when your job is 2 weeks long (like this Canada assignment). That would cost £1000 to rent a suitable camera body for the job. So what to do? I’m not keen to hand over big bucks on another pro body, and even if I do, the UK shops can’t get me the goods in time (something about fraud and needing to pay by bank transfer). I call CPS (Canon Pro Service), and arrange to get the body back to them for repair. That’s the easy bit (apart from it costing £70 to return to them). They do a 4-day turn around for CPS members. Not quick enough to get it back to me for Canada though and they cant offer loan equipment until they have assessed the repair and know how long it will take.

It’s a tough one: with contemporary pro cameras sitting in the £4k bracket, I don’t know too many that sport a second full pro body as their backup. So I push my own back up –the lightweight Canon EOS 5D- through its paces all week. It’s a great mover for certain jobs, with brilliant image rendition and a full-frame 35mm sensor (great for wide angle work). But at 3 frames per second it just doesn’t cut it in snowboard shoots. I try, and I try, framing each shot and going for a single frame approach –something that’s become almost second nature having used the Leica M8 for the last couple of years on bike trips.

Aside from the conservative 3 FPS, I’m aware with 2 weeks lined up in remote, power-less cabins that the pending shoot is probably a tough one for the 5D; the 5D’s battery isn’t really up to much in the cold (being useless in Alaska last year). The thing gets slow. The batteries die in half an hour if its minus 10C. Hmm. So this morning I called around several dealers in Vancouver and bought a used Canon EOS 1D MkIII, adding another £1800 to an already overflexed credit card.. It’s not what I need right now, not when I’ve just had another French magazine file for some kind of financial paperwork that effectively side-steps paying its contributors. So for the moment I’ll gaze out of the window and watch the amazing scenery pass by, rejoicing in the fact that even after 12 years in the game, at least somethings in my job that have remained constant are at welcome. 

Dream jobs after all are priceless. Aren’t they?


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