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

July 26, 2010

When Saturday comes: 160,000 and counting

Filed under: bike, outdoors, photography — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 5:31 pm

It wasn’t meant to be like this, I promise. Landing the front cover shot and inside lead feature in this Saturday’s Independent Travel supplement was not on my original agenda. Not that I’m complaining of course.

The feature is on the Tour Mont Blanc bike adventure -a five day circumnavigation of Western Europe’s highest mountain, off road, by mountain bike. With 9500 m of climbing along its 166 Km route it’s no small undertaking, but being right on my doorstep it’s one that I have ridden, sweated along and shot 3 times previously on other assignments. So when I pitched this idea out to a journo mate, he rummaged around among his contacts and hooked commission interest from a couple of big titles including The Independent’s Saturday Traveller magazine, (yep, you guessed it, weekly circulation of 160,000). “Hmm,” I thought, “thats nice. So what they gonna pay then?” Mercenary is after all my middle name, and anyway I have a bird table to keep stocked up with seed; not a cheap acomplishmentI can assure you.

And then it got complicated, or sort of.

Thankful I wasn't burdened with flashes and radio slaves on the climb up meant some creative processing on the DNG Raw file later to bring out the shadow detail in faces and avoid burning out the snow in the background. The Leica bags another cover. Leica M8, Zeiss 28/2.8

Him coming out to my adopted home of Chamonix for to ride the TMB (with local guiding outfit armed with 2 assured wordsmith commissions is all well and good, but neither of his interested titles were, at that stage at least, willing to commit budget to a photographer (that’s me, BTW). “Odd” I think. What are they going to do, buy in another stock fisheye image of a cow licking its nose, in that oh-so-Alpine cliche?

So as a photographer whaddayado? OK, so if it was an assignment shooting a dive with blue whales  for some conservation society or other, I might have said, ‘hell yes let’s do it and worry about the image commissions afterwards.’ But as I say, I know everyone of the TMB’s pain-inducing metres first hand already and while it is one of the best bike adventures you’ll find and always sends me home with a heady buzz of endorphins, I could do without 5 days away with no guaranteed pay for the time and effort. Anyway as far as I remember Blue whales don’t feature on the trip anywhere.

So with 3 trips worth of admirable stock images from the TMB already on file all I need are some nipped in the bud kind of shots that I know the photo Ed’ can’t ignore. So I choose not to do the whole shebang and opt instead to head out early on the last day of their tour and meet them at the top of the last pass they cross: the Col du Joly above Les Contamines. Just jump on the ski lift and meet them at the col, shoot a few specifics of the journo gurning his way through the pain barrier… and job done!

Hmm maybe not. I arrive at the lift to find it closed, my riders and journo some 700 metres above me, somewhere nearing our planned rendezvous. It being late june meant I hadn’t foreseen the fact that the ski lift wasn’t yet open for summer business, unlike those in my home valley. Unperturbed and being a professional, reliable photo-monkey with principles, I start the long solo ride up a winding 700 m climb to meet the group: 700 m of loose, steep, wheel spinning gravel road under a midday 30-degree sun with a bag of camera gear on my back. I’m no stranger to arduous climbs on the bike, but this is not one I am in a hurry to repeat.

I get to the top, take a breather and we get started. We session a few bits of trail to make sure the editor has enough variety to make the feature work -ride a section, hike back up, ride it again kind of stuff- until I’m happy the job is finally in the bag, concentrating on getting the right balance of action and epic scenery without alienating the  mainstream readership with any hint of uber-gnarl. Uber gnarl I’m guessing doesn’t cut it with 160,000 Independent readers sitting down with their toast, marmelade and Saturday morning cups of tea before nipping out to Tesco’s.

OK, so harsh midday light and riders wearing ropey looking non-bikey gear isn’t the kind of imagery that has carved out the Milner name, but it seems to work for editorials like this. No I didn’t re-ride the whole 166Km loop, but thats not to say there wasn’t enough pain etched into the backstory of this photo. At least the front cover doesn’t have a cheesy fishey pic of a cow licking its lips.



  1. Congratulations! It’s a great shot!

    Comment by photographyfree4all — July 26, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  2. Nice one Dan.I think having the rider wear “non-bikey” clothing helps in the case of a non bike publication.More approachable to the average reader maybe ?
    Nice to hear the story behind the image.

    Comment by Richard Maude — August 5, 2010 @ 12:01 am

    • yeah its funny how much work goes into so many of the shoots I do, in terms of getting the rider to ‘look the part’. Certainly there are a lot of titles out there that wouldn’t run this kind of shot, so its kind of fun that I can run out and shoot for a “big” publication like this and get away with this kind of detail. The shot looks a bit like something you might have seen in a mountain bike mag 20 years ago, although not on full-suspension bikes of course. The most important thing really is that you get on a bike and ride it, let it take you where you want to go and explore, not what you are wearing. That said, I’d not recommend a p*ss-pot helmet and T-shirt for a 5 day ride around Mt Blanc myself.
      Yep, the story behind’ is key here…. there is so much more behind pictures than meets the eye.

      Comment by danmilner — August 9, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

  3. Great shot! I can’t promise there’ll be a photo budget on my next alpine assignment, but you can be my first choice! Nice to do the trip anyway, though I prefer the boots to the mountain bike. Cheers, Richard

    Comment by Richard Tulloch — August 24, 2010 @ 7:15 am

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