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

January 8, 2012

2011: A year in pictures

If you’ve avoided keeping up to date on my roamings during 2011, you’re bang out of luck now. You’ve stumbled on my annual recap of this last year spent as a travelling professional photo chimp.. . a collation of images that I hope gives a kind of insight into the eclectic adventures that my dream job allows me to photograph in various corners of the world, and the reason that we photographer’s are *mysteriously moody/unbearably over confident/trembling nervous wrecks (*delete as appropriate).

(Hit the “more” tab below the second image caption to see the gallery in its entirety.)

Canon EOS 1D mkIII, 24-70 2.8, f5 1/1000.

(above) It’s all about the backside air. Nate Kern throws a backside air over old mining ruins near Telluride, Colorado, while two well-known but remaining anonymous female pro snowboarders couldn’t resist giving him cheek. The trip with Jenny Jones, Hana Beaman, Nate and Angus Leith was a reminder that snowboarding, a sport so many of us begun for fun, needn’t just be business.

Canon EOS 1DmkIII, 24-70/2.8, f7.1, 1/800.

(above) Kickers have never been my favourite thing to shoot in snowboarding, especially when there is powder to ride and shoot in the backcountry. It has something to do with how I ride. I’m not a kicker person and find shooting them a little dull and restrictive. A lot of standing around cheering other people on. Kickers, compared to freeride shots, seem more about the style of the rider than the art of the photography, at least normally. After ticking the rider’s boxes however this time I found time to satisfy my own art-urges. Nate Kern is in there somewhere, deep in the Telluride backcountry, Colorado.

Johno Verity. Chamonix. Nikon D3s. 70-200/2.8. f6.3, 1/1000th.

(above) After 15 years shooting snow stuff, I’ve got used to letting riders call the shots on what they want to do for a photo, especially when risk is involved. After all it’s their knees/head/teeth at risk. I’ll never tell them to do it, no matter how good the photo will be. But even after so much on-mountain time I am still never quite comfortable with shooting stuff that, from my angle at least, seems immersed in excessive risk. Maybe I’ve never had that amount of confidence in my own ability to simply “know” that it’s going to work, unlike so many pro-athletes. When, during the Animal shoot skier Webbo and snowboarder Johno Verity spotted this unforgiving rockslide into an unforgiving chute, I knew getting this shot was to be one of “those” moments.

Paddy Graham. Nikon D3s, 24-70/2.8, f 7.1, 1/1600th.

(above) With almost a whole winter without new snowfall, shooting action for Animal’s ad needs was a challenge. Creativity is key in these situations, and patience. Delving into a pro-athlete’s reserve of talent distinguishes these kind of shoots from the duff stuff that gets shot with paid models who know nothing about these kind of sports. The slushy spring-snow quarter pipe (at bottom left of frame) needed to air onto this natural rock wall ride/jib took 5 of us over an hour to build. It took Paddy two attempts to get his trick dialed and for us to get the shot.

Canon EOS 5D, 24-70/2.8. f6.3, 1/400th

(above) In a kind of loose homage to Helmut Newton’s infamous photo ‘They are coming (I)’ as part of the O’Neill snowboard shoot I asked three O’Neil athletes -Jess, Bibi and Celia- to stand, statue-like, atop these pillars while the sun set and the temperature plummeted. Okay, so it’s not B&W, the girls aren’t striding towards me and they aren’t nude, but what the hell, it was something about the proud, dominatrix, formidable, ‘don’t mess with us’ aesthetic that made my mind’s eye link it to Newton’s quasi-erotic work. I never got to shoot my own ‘They are coming (II)’ however.

Canon EOS 1DmkIII, 24-70/2.8, f9, 1/160th, 2 strobes.

(above) Celia Miller, fire hydrant rock-fakie. Again when the snow is low, you got to get colourful to keep your clients happy.  This fire hydrant cover has appeared in shots of mine on several occasions (check image 11 in the snow gallery here) when poor snow in the valley has prevented shooting on-mountain action. So often nowadays when shooting alongside filmers the onus is on more technical tricks or more committing lines, when the more simple tricks styled well usually make better stills.

Canon EOS 5D, Nikon 14-24 2.8 with adaptor.

(above) If you think client shoots are all about 5-star hotels and imagining you are shooting quasi-erotic Newton-esque art, then you’ve got it wrong. Often keeping clients happy means getting away from the norm, and taking your ‘models’ with you. I seem to have developed a reputation for being keen on winter camping (not entirely accurate, I add), and it seemed a March night in out in -10C under the stars would be a great addition to the O’Neill shoot, providing ample and unique lifestyle shots. This was one I shot for myself, the girls grabbing one final brew of the evening while a thousand melting fondues glow incandescently in the valley 900m below. While the tourists in Chamonix dreamt of cheese, we dreamt of warm beds.

Canon EOS 1DmkIII, 70-200 2.8, f5.6, 1/1000.

(above) Nate Kern was ill during this shoot for DC. In between each hike back up to hit this kicker, he’d stop by the side and throw up. He still hiked the jump without pressure and delivered the kind of set of tricks that made great shots. That’s what being pro is all about.  From the photographer’s perspective, when you’re on a day shoot like this, whether you get the job next year depends largely on the shots you come back with at the end of the day. Being able to work with and rely on your athletes is key. Just don’t watch as they throw their guts up.

Canon EOS 1DmkIII, 70-200/2.8, f3.5, 1/2500.

(above) Scotland has been gaining a warm place in my heart recently, not least for the sheer beauty of its landscapes that have dwarfed us on mountain bike shoots. I thought it time that I shot a snow story on scotland and with Transworld Snowboarding backing set out for 10 day’s shooting in this wild country. This local skier had not got the hang of drag lifts, embracing them with fear in his eyes. What the hell, he was smiling all the way back down.

Canon EOS 1DmkIII, Nikon 14-24 2.8, 1/1000.

(above) 80 cm of fresh snow overnight greeted us at Glen Coe resort, set in what I believe is one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. We rolled up at midday, headed up to this canyon visible from the chairlift, built a quick jump and set about shooting Markku Koski pulling wildcat airs over it. Meanwhile a Finnish ski-media crew looked on. They had been there for a week of bad weather and had failed to get a single shot for their story. Some days are like that. But not many.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8, f5, 1/640.

(above) Filmer Chris Edmunds arrives on the arctic island of Svalbard, 79 degrees North to find his baggage has been lost. He was left in flipflops, donned for the flight from North America. The sign in the background is the first warning to arriving foreigners of the very real threat of Polar bears on the island. Flipflops are not best for outrunning polar bears.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8, f10, 1/80.

(above) Over the 3 days of preparation needed on arrival in Svalbard we watched the sea pack ice break up, dissipate and flow out to sea only to return on the next tide. Bleak but exquisitely beautiful.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8, f8, 1/1000.

(above) Terje Haakenson drops down the shoulder of a face tagged ‘Cauliflower face’ so called due to its rime-coated rock outcrops resembling cauliflower florets from afar. Our Further film trip meant camping out in the Arctic for 15 days, and accessing the faces and couloirs we’d ride and shoot on foot. With 24/7 daylight to work with, we found ourselves atop peaks at 2 a.m. waiting to film some of the most incredible snowboarding I have ever shot in 15 years. Snow camp expeditions however represent a unique set of challenges to photographers, trying to keep batteries alive and lenses condensation free.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8, f5, 1/400.

(above) Out on the glacier, our camp is protected by an early-warning, trip-wire fence. Years ago I heard about a ski expedition location where you needed to erect a bear-fence around camp and thought it was one place I’d never go. Funny how things evolve.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8, f3.2, 1/6400.

(above) Jeremy Jones and Terje Haakenson hike out along the ridge to drop into another line. Accessing lines on foot gives you a better sense of snow stability than say, being dropped by a helicopter. But it also means fewer lines ridden and shot each day. This is where the concept of camping and ‘living’ in the zone becomes essential.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8, f9, 1/1000.

(above) Jeremy Jones rides out of the cauliflower chutes and to safety. Looking down terrain like this yields a unique point of view, but also often represents a fun, if sometimes challenging time ahead for the photographer wielding a 20Kg pack of gear on his back.

Leica M8, Voitglander 90/2.8, f.11, 1/500.

(above) 2 weeks after the arctic I found myself back in the green and pleasant land that is England to tackle one of the hardest bike epics I’ve ever been assigned to shoot. James Richards’ brainchild, a 4-day off-road ride across the Lake District, Pennines and North Yorkshire moors only proved to be the entree to the remainder of my year’s bike shoots. Bring on the main course I thought, naievely.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 90/2.8, f8, 1/500.

(above) James Richards and James Brickell battle 60 mph headwinds above Ullswater. Our 4 dayer began in torrential rain and heinous headwinds.  Fortunately we had the beauty of the Lakes to take our minds off the challenge. Weather like this is a double edged sword, threatening the success of the story and the survival of expensive camera gear, while providing some of the most dramatic lighting situations and beautiful backdrops a photographer can wish for. You can keep your sunny days.

Leica M8, Zeiss 28, f6.7, 1/250.

(above) James’ idea of an adventure starts to become epic at the first gate. An ungainly but athletic dismount saved him from a soaking, but left the challenge of retrieving the bike. Fortunately riding in the UK isn’t all like this.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8, f6.3, 1/640.

(above) Mayhem, not mountains. I’m proud to say I picked up The North Face as a client in 2011, my work with them kicking off with covering the Mountain Mayhem 24-hour bike race. I’m not much of a night owl, but events like this do throw up some unique and rewarding shooting opportunities.

Leica M8, Zeiss 28, f2.8, 1/1000.

(above) Refreshingly during a time when so much of our sports are now dictated by fashion there is not dress code when riding the Passeporte du Soleil event, the opening weekend for the Portes du Soleil resorts. I shot this scene at a feed station while on assignment for MBUK magazine.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8, f5.6, 1/1000.

(above) Rui Goncalves airs a tabletop in a Belgian forest. MX is not among my typical assignments, but I drew on its parallels with certain aspects of mountain biking when commissioned to shoot two Honda world champ riders coaching a collation of press journos in Belgium. This shot, taken after the press camp had finished, was instantly my personal favourite of the 2 days.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8, f4.5, 1/1000.

(above) Shooting for Osprey packs, I wanted to bring that ‘early morning, out there, solo’ feel to the shoot. After 15 years shooting professionally its only relaitively recently that I have realised exactly how important it is to be comfortable with your own shooting style, no matter what the rhetoric and BS that gets spoken by peers. And being comfortable means shooting it your way. To me that means making sure the aspirational aspect is in there, somewhere.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8, f7.1, 1/1250.

(above) Ric McLaughlin rails the mid section of the Megavalanche.  Another day, another event it seems, but one that proved an eye-opener for me. Commissioned to capture the essence of the incredible Megavalanche bike race for MBUK mag, while 3 of its own staff raced it proved to be fun, if strenuous assignment. Forget the flashes, the Mega is gritty not glamorous.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8, f2.8, 1/1250.

(above) While lacking the gnarl factor of the glacier-start final, the Megavalanche qualifiers did throw up some unusual photo opportunities, not least this juxtaposition between full face helmeted riders and crazy-golfing tourists.

Nikon D3s, 50 1.4, f1.4, 1/125.

(above) Runner with race profile, pre-race. I’ll never quite understand Ultra Running, but assignments such as this, to shoot the Dolomites Lavaredo Ultra Trail event for client the North Face are allowing me to fully appreciate the commitment involved.

Nikon D3s, 50/1.4, f1.8, 1/80.

(above) Pre race dinner. Behind the scenes glimpses often provide a balance to the pain of Ultra running. Here local chefs cook up a dozen large pans of pasta for the pre-race dinner, served in the town’s sports hall.

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8, f5.6, 1/800.

(above) One day, two cols. Midsummer brought minus temperatures and freezing fog on our arrival at the Col Petit St Bernard when trying to shoot images for Endura clothing and Alps cycle training outfit GPM10. Sub zero is not what you want when it’s a summer clothing catalogue. By the time we reached the Grand St Bernard pass we managed to find appropriate weather. This shot was part of the inspirational set shot for GPM10.

Nikon D300s, 70-200/2.8, f5, 1/500.

(above) Out of place tourists, sporting unlikely footwear look on as an UTMB runner nears the Bonatti refuge, 90 Km into the 166-Km UTMB race.

Nikon D300s, 70-200/2.8, f5, 1/500.

(above) Lone runner, Val Ferret, Italy. In races such as the UTMB the mental challenge of keeping going is I’m told almost as hard as the physical ones. For the photographer, logistical challenges of keeping ahead of the head of the race mean sleeping out, early starts and sweaty, speed ascents of mountainsides to shoot the action.

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8, f3.5, 1/1250, Pocketwizard miniTT1 & 2x FlexTT5 and strobes.

(above) Head to head, two cutting edge bikes exhibit the leading trends for 2012 mountain bikes at Eurobike show in Germany. Again assigned to cover the 3 day expo for MBUK and What Mountain Bike magazines, one of the biggest challenges was to arrive at a concept for the opening spread shot of the feature. Selecting two similar XC bikes that demonstrated significantly different design directions and pitching them head to head was the result. The next challenge was to persuade exhibitors to allow you to remove their showbikes from the stand, and take them outside into a wet muddy field to shoot them.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40/1.4, f5.7, 1/1500.

(above) Fraser McNeil and Mike Foster rail common ground. In between shoots even photographers get to ride trails for fun, including this one in Chamonix that is among my top 5. It’s rare though that we photographers ride without a camera somewhere about our person, and despite having shot on this trail several times previously, to shoot this section exactly how I wanted it, had eluded me.  Until now.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40/1.4, f11, 1/750.

(above) Seeing first hand the beauty of the Dolomites while shooting the Lavaredo Ultra Trail for The North Face earlier in the summer triggered a desire to try to ride the same 90-Km trail loop on mountain bikes in September. I failed to research it properly and the 2 -day epic turned out to be the toughest bike challenge to date, and the closes I have ever come to quitting a bike adventure in 25 years of mountain biking, a knobby-tyred journey that has included traverses of Patagonia, the 130-Km Cristalp MTB race and multi-day bike-expeditions across Nepalese mountains. I was accompanied by 2 British endurance racers, Josh Ibbet and Rob Dean.

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8, f5.6, 1/1000.

(above) Despite 2 hard days riding climbing 4500m, a dedicated shoot for The North Face following our Lavaredo mission meant being up before sunrise to grab those kind of aspirational shots I’m always banging on about and that let others ride vicariously from the comfort of their sofas.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 12/5.6, f9.5, 1/1000

(above) Using a boat to travel the caledonian canal between Inverness and Fort William allowed us to put ashore to ride bikes on trails we found on the map. The most beautiful was this trail on the north side of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. The week-long trip, shooting a story for MBUK, began in rain and a gale that threatened to keep us pinned down at the East/North end of Loch Ness for days. Over the next week the weather eased, but the boat as never without kit hanging out to dry.

Leica M8, Zeiss 28/2.8, 4 frames stitched in CS3.

(above) Heading back to Corsica in November, several years after an initial bike visit there, found ourselves pitched once more against the intensely technical challenges of the Mar-e-Mar Nord trail. But amongst the day’s riding and shooting we also found incredibly beautiful landscapes in the interior of the island. This panorama begged to be shot, capturing the contrast between stark pine plantation and colourful chestnut forest. It’s not just about the action.

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