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

December 31, 2012

A lot of legwork: 2012 in pictures

Another 12 months. Another set of blinding adventure shoots, my busiest year yet.  One that included camping through -20C temps and shooting for a handful of new clients and one that squeezed in 100 days on the bike. Here’s a look at 2012 through my lens…

January kicked off with the Volkl ski shoot while most were still heavy headed from new Year revelries. Heavy storms meant most of the Chamonix valley was closed due to avalanche dangers and we had to get creative for the shots.

Nikon D3S, 70-200 2.8 @ 1/250, f5.6. 2x speedlites

Nikon D3S, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f5.6. 2x speedlites & Pocketwizards TT5.

I  had this statue jib (above) in mind for 3 years, waiting for conditions to shoot it. I finally managed to get the shot I had envisaged for so long.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f7.1

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f7.1

Meanwhile on the mountain, amazing low January light (above) delivered side-lighting that helps render any scene a beautiful aspirational image, while shooting from an elevated vantage point means you get to see the ski graphics. That always keeps a ski client happy. I start shooting for Volkl again next week.

February saw the coldest weather hit Europe for 50 years. It was the month I teamed up with Jeremy Jones and TGR for the Further project, meaning camping for a week through -20C temperatures in Austria, followed by a week in a remote refuge. Both backcountry forays involved 5 hour access approaches, dragging all our gear needed for surviving and filming/shooting, forcing decisions on what kit (which cameras? lenses?) was really essential. It was one of the harshest winter sessions I, or any of the TGR film team, have endured during the 4 years of filming Deeper and Further. The Further movie came out in the autumn. It’s a banger.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @ 1/1000, f8.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @ 1/1000, f8. This image has become O’Neill’s prime advert image for 2012/13 season.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f6.3. Our camp in the cold Karwendel range.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f6.3.  Our camp in the cold Karwendel range. The sun never reached camp and 2 of our athletes never changed out of the same set of their outerwear even in their sleeping bags.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/200, f4.  Shooting with Jones always means early starts. No time to warm boots; just get on with it.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/200, f4.  Time: 6.30am. Shooting with Jones always means early starts. No time to warm boots; just get on with it.

The cold continued during a shoot for Mens Fitness magazine on Biathlon (below). Shooting in -17C meant trying not to touch any of the bare metal of camera or lens while trying to dodge frostbite.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f4.5.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f4.5. Our MF journo chases his instructor into the icy wastelands of a very cold winter.

March delivered a return to winter tent life via a trip to Kyrgyzstan (below). If truth be told I didn’t want to go to Kyrgyzstan, having been misled by 3 previous trips to Russia as to how testing such trips to ex-Soviet countries can be. Sometimes even the ‘dream job’ can seem a nightmare. Camping in a traditional yurt at 2600m for a week and splitboarding the mountains around it had its scary moments but the whole trip proved to be enormously rewarding. A great country. Very friendly people. I am planning to go back, with the bike.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8 @1/1000 f8. Stentiford lays out before a stunning Kyrgyz backdrop, only a few miles from the China border.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8 @1/1000 f8. Stentiford lays out before a stunning Kyrgyz backdrop, only a few miles from the China border. Snow instabilities meant a lot of the steeper lines stayed out of reach.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40 1.4 @ 1/20, f2. The Leica always seems less intrusive when it comes to capturing local colour. We stayed with a Kyrgyz family for a night, and kept their little girls entertained with our western habits.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40 1.4 @ 1/20, f2. The Leica always seems less intrusive when it comes to capturing local colour. We stayed with a Kyrgyz family for a night, and kept their little girls entertained with our western habits.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/30, f10, tripod. Our home for a week. No TV, no cellphone. Perfect.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/30, f10, tripod. Our yurt home for a week. No TV, no cellphone. Perfect. People seem less willing to disconnect from the obtrusive technology  that seems to dominate our lives now. If they did they might appreciate being alive.

Hit the more button below for the rest of the gallery….


The same month saw an early start to my bike year too, with commission from Privateer magazine to capture “Spring riding” in Chamonix:

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40 1.4 @ 1/180, f11. Snow on the trail is just part of springtime in Chamonix. This was my favourite image from the couple of rides we shot, but wasn't the spread chosen by the ed.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40 1.4 @ 1/180, f11. Snow on the trail is just part of springtime in Chamonix. This was my favourite image from the couple of rides we shot, but wasn’t the spread chosen by the ed.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 15 @1/750, f11. the same trail 2 weeks later. Wintery light meant pushing the ISO to noisy limits with the idea of desaturating and letting it introduce grain we used to get on fast films like Kodak 3200 B&W.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 15 @1/750, f11. the same trail 2 weeks later. Wintery light meant deciding to up the ISO to noisy limits with the idea of desaturating the final image and letting the noise resemble the graininess we used to see on fast films like Kodak 3200 B&W. It reminds me of my hundreds of hours in the darkroom. This image made the final spread for the feature.

Back in the UK meant a shoot with ex-DH world champ Tracy Moseley (below), riding XC in her neighborhood around the Malverns, England. We scored some of the only sunshine of the year in the UK.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 90 2.8 @1/1000 f6.7. Having dodged the 'pro' circuit in mountain biking for so long, it seems inevitable that my work will be with more and more pro riders. It certainly makes life easier to get the shot.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 90 2.8 @1/1000 f6.7. Having dodged the ‘pro’ circuit in mountain biking for so long, it seems inevitable that my work will be with more and more pro riders. It certainly makes life easier to get the shot.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 50 1.4 @1/125, f2.4. It's shots like this -teh Moseley living room- that help paint a picture of the person behind the world champion title.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 50 1.4 @1/125, f2.4. It’s shots like this -the Moseley living room- that help paint a picture of the person behind the world champion title.

This was followed by the Handmade Bike show in Bristol for another What Mountain Bike magazine feature. There is nowhere that quite captures the love of bikes like the HMBS and the UK show demonstrated that the ‘art’ of bike frame building is far from dead. It’s a photographers dream.

UK HMBS

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40 1.4 @1/30, f2.8. Demon bikes, in the hand of its creator.. beautiful.

April provided a chance to recuperate and warm up, down on the Italian coast at Finale Ligure, one of my favourite riding spots:

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 12-24 f4 @1/1000, f8. A classic Finale trail let me try out a new lens. I hated it: way too soft at the edges. I replaced this with the Tokina 11-16, but dissatisified with that too, ditched the entire DX system and have gone to only full frame Nikons with the D3s and D600.

Nikon D300s, Nikkor 12-24 f4 @1/1000, f8. A classic Finale trail let me try out a new lens. I hated it: way too soft at the corners. I replaced this with the Tokina 11-16, but dissatisified with that too, I later ditched the entire DX system and have gone to only full frame Nikons with the D3s and D600.

May (below) meant hitting the USA armed with my new Leica M9 set up, to shoot a series of commissions. The first, for Privateer about the ‘illegal trail building scene in Marin county’  got closed down when I arrived to find that my contacts had been ‘leant on’ not to talk to me, despite having interviews and shoots lined up prior to booking my ticket. I was told that they couldn’t afford any exposure, even friendly features. I was happily shown rides along many of the trails in the middle of the day on a public holiday though. I decided to respect the trail builders wishes. Which left me  a lot of time to shoot the first two Lunchtime ride features on WTB and Easton, oh and a lot of time to just ride on the trails of Marin:

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.4 @1/250, f1.4.  I was instantly impressed by the M9's low light handling and made friend Patchen ride in almost darkness to prove it. I met Patchen during a 12 month bike tour of Arentina back in '96. We stayed in touch and ride together as often as people on opposite sides of the Atlantic can.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/250, f1.5. I was instantly impressed by the M9’s low light handling and made friend Patchen ride Tamarancho trail in almost darkness to prove it. I met Patchen during a 12 month bike tour of Argentina back in ’96. We stayed in touch and ride together as often as people on opposite sides of the Atlantic can.

Leica M9, Zeiss 28 2.8 @1/1000, f3.4.

Leica M9, Zeiss 28 2.8 @1/1000, f3.4. Post work ride for Patchen. Shooting when the light gets good usually means getting home in the dark.

May finished up with shooting a 4000-metre Alpine climbing boot launch for repeat clients The North Face. I’m comfortable working on mountain and on glaciers, but am no hardcore climber. That stuff scares me. To ensure I captured the images TNF needed to send home with the assembled editors testing the boot, they laid on my own separate guide to belay me down vertical faces, allowing me to shoot unencumbered by the anxieties of falling to my death. Always useful.

Nion D300s, Tokina 11-16 @ 1/640, f6.3. This was the initail test of a new Tokina wide zoom. Hanging form my own rope let me get close and personal with TNF's new boots in action.

Nion D300s, Tokina 11-16 @ 1/640, f6.3. This was the initial test of a new Tokina wide zoom as part of a lightweight set up, I’ve now ditched. Hanging from my a separate belay let me get close and personal with TNF’s new boots in action.

Nikon D300s, 24-70 2.8 @1/640, f9. Scenes like this just beg to be shot.

Nikon D300s, 24-70 2.8 @1/640, f9. Abstract scenes like this just beg to be shot.

June (below) continued my set of ‘What Mountain bike mag Lunchtime rides” feature commissions onto Colorado where I hooked up with the guys behind Rockshox in Colorado Springs and Yeti near Denver.

Leica M9, Zeiss 18 f4 @1/1000, f 5.7. Nicolas Warn from SRAM takes time out from his chores to show me their local trail, or one of them.

Leica M9, Zeiss 18 f4 @1/1000, f 5.7. Nicolas Warn from SRAM takes time out from his chores to show me his local lunchtime trail, or one of them.

Leica M9, Zeiss 28 2.8 @1/30, f4.8. Another Yeti is born. Getting an insider peak at what goes on behind the scenes at companies like Yeti Cycles is a real perk for me.

Leica M9, Zeiss 28 2.8 @1/30, f4.8. Another Yeti is born. An insider’s peek at what goes on behind the scenes at companies like Yeti Cycles is a real perk for me, though welding torches can play havoc with the white balance.

June also gave me the chance to check out Fruita, a mecca for the mountain biking community that now rivals Moab.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.4 @1/3000, f1.7. Standing in the desert near our bivi spot at '18-road' trails is a row of old bikes. Could be an hommage to the machine itself or just a cheap way of fencing a yard. Whatever, it makes for beautiful images.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/3000, f1.7. Standing in the desert near our bivi spot at ’18-road’ trails is a row of old bikes. Could be an hommage to the machine itself or just a cheap way of fencing a yard. Whatever, it makes for beautiful images.

Mid-summer was seen in half way along a three-day epic, shooting a story on a trail I found out about but seems to have slipped below the bike radar: The Alta Via in Liguria, Italy. I was accompanied on this tough, but rewarding adventure by Scott riders Holger Meyer and Karen Eller. Mid summer is never my favourite time to shoot, with hot light all day. Combined that with having to be out during the worst times of the day for photos and you have a challenge, on top of the riding needed. The crux of the feature was nailed on this part of the trail: an old ledge chiseled out of the rockface in between the World Wars by the Italian military.

Leica M9, Zeiss 21 2.8 @1/750, f3.4. Holger threads his way through a tricky section.

Leica M9, Zeiss 21 2.8 @1/750, f3.4. Holger threads his way through a tricky section. I often get more nervous shooting riders on this kind of trail as I do riding such trails.

A shoot for long-term client Endura clothing got pushed earlier in the year than normal, demanding a new road bike location to be found than the usual high alpine passes I use, one that wasn’t still buried under snow. I found one, but access to it afforded some other unique location opportunities too:

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/800, f5.6, +2x speedlites.

Nikon D3s, 14-24  2.8 @1/800, f5.6.

‘Road’ continued with a shoot for new bike title Cyclist covering the Ardechoise sportif event. My brief was to work with journalist, Pete Stuart, as he attempted the 220 Km course. On the first descent calamity struck when a crash resulted in snapping the frame of the £6000 carbon bike loaned to him by an Italian company. With no replacement to hand, Pete borrowed the hybrid bike of one of the 60-year old organisers to finish the remaining 190 Km, a bike that was too small for his 6 ft+ height.

Nikon D3s, 50 1.4 @ 1/320, f2.8. Pete and the borrowed bike.

Nikon D3s, 50 1.4 @ 1/320, f2.8. Pete and the borrowed bike. Having had to leave Pete after the crash to continue photographing the event, this is the next time I saw, or photographed him, at the finish line, bike leant against a parked truck, and rider demolished. His story is possibly the best advert for the Ardechoise ever.

June finished in a shoot for new clients Voodoo bikes, incorporating a day capturing two riders exploring the lesser known part of the Portes du Soleil trails for MBUK magazine, and a second day covering the needs of assembled mainstream journo’s brought out to ride the Passeporte event on Voodoo bikes.

Nikon D300s, Tokina 11-16 f4 @ 1/1000, f5.6. The Passeporte du Soleil event has been shot to death. To make it work you have to be creative.

Nikon D300s, Tokina 11-16 f4 @ 1/1000, f5.6. The Passeporte du Soleil event has been shot to death. To make it work you have to be creative.

July’s work load came like an adrenaline shot, capturing the diametric opposite of the Ardechoise road event: Crankworx and the Mountain Of Hell events at Les 2 Alpes. Mixed communication meant not landing the slopeside photography pass I was assured, but whatever, these are the kind of problems you have to work around. I’ve shot the MOH before, so had an idea of locations to shoot from for Mens Fitness magazine, but the French Crankworx slopestyle was a new phenomenon for all. in the end, it has to be said that it wasn’t the best organised event with confusing changes to schedules that meant smaller crowds seeing the incredible displays of riding talent on show. Luckily photographers were there to capture it. Perhaps ‘online’ is the new ‘LIVE’?

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f3.5.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f3.5. No on-course access at Crankworx means getting creative from the boundaries. Sometimes that works better than yet another fisheye shot.

July topped off with 4 days shooting for Trek bikes, covering their press launch in Italy. Getting images on a launch like this is key to a brand’s subsequent representation in the media and means working closely with assembled editors. Luckily some of them can ride, and ride well.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8 @1/640, f6.3.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8 @1/640, f6.3. Steve Jones from Dirt Magazine rails the Dolomites just before darkness falls and the cliffs are re-occupied by goblins from the deep.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/500, f2. My last task wfor Trek that week was shooting them a new set of current images of legend Gary Fisher. We headed up to the nearest mountain pass hoping to get sunset light. It p!ssed with rain instead. I had a 5 minute window to nail the portraits in between showers.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/500, f2. My last task for Trek that week was shooting a new set of images of legend Gary Fisher. We headed up to the nearest mountain pass hoping to get sunset light. It p!ssed with rain instead. I had a 5 minute window to nail the portraits in between showers. Gary’s suit couldn’t have been better selected for the conditions we encountered.

August presented a clash of work with the moving forward of Eurobike occupying the same time slot as the TNF Ultra Trail shoot. I ended up at Eurobike (below).

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/1250, f5.6. 2x Speedlites and Pocketwizard Flex TT5.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/1250, f5.6. 2x Speedlites and Pocketwizard Flex TT5. Four days at a bike trade show can sap a photographer of inspiration. Luckily Europe, unlike the USA Vegas-based trade show,  is always reliable for a bit of rain, allowing us to haul bikes outside where we can lie in puddles to get creative with reflections. This was my shot to capture the new “big thing”: 650b wheels, as on this Scott Genius.

September saw an enduro bike test shoot for What Mountain Bike magazine scheduled in Yorkshire, with Joe and Alex Raffety. The weather had other ideas, meaning our arrival at the location was greeted with lashing rain.

Nikon D3s 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f6.3, 2x speedlites. After hudling in a van for 2 hours in p!ssing rain, we finally nailed the shots we wanted. Thats Yorkshire for you.

Nikon D300s 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f6.3, 2x speedlites. After huddling in a van for 2 hours in p!ssing rain, we finally nailed the shots we wanted. Thats Yorkshire for you.

September also meant finishing off the last of the Lunchtime ride features with a visit to Orange Bikes in Halifax.  Seeing these bikes get made is one of the highlights of my 30 years of mountain biking.

Nikon D300s, 50 1.4 @1/500, f1.4

Nikon D300s, 50 1.4 @1/500, f1.4. Handmade in Halifax, England.

Riding their local trails was a blast too…

nikon D300s, Tokina 11-16 f4 @1/1250 f5.6. There are few places as beautiful as the UK when the weather works for you.

Nikon D300s, Tokina 11-16 f4 @1/1250 f5.6. There are few places as beautiful as the UK when the weather works for you.

October delivered snow and India. I find myself still embedded in bike mode when the annual Nevica ski shoot comes round. Always a risk, especially this early, high on a glacier where bad weather would essentially make almost all action images very difficult to acheive without hauling a battery of studio flash.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f11. The weather gods looked on us favourably, again. backgrounds liek this might not scream "British ski holiday" but when you see them you can't resist setting up the shot. raham Bell rails a bit of New Zealand, somewhere not far from Geneva.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f11. The weather gods looked on us favourably, again. Backgrounds like this might not scream “British skiers on holiday” but when you see them you can’t resist setting up the shot, even for a mainstream brand like Nevica. Here Graham Bell rails a bit of New Zealand, somewhere not far from Geneva.

Having tried to research a trip to the source of the sacred Ganges river but failed to really establish whether it would be rideable or a frustrating haul through overgrown undergrowth, I joined Tracy Moseley and co, for a regular guided trip to the Pindari Glacier in India to shoot a story. Guided or not, the 12-day ride delivers some hefty challenges along with real adventure and the benefit of someone else taking charge of the organising side.

Leica M9, Zeiss 28 2.8 @ 1/1000, f4.8.

Leica M9, Zeiss 28 2.8 @ 1/1000, f4.8. Moseley and appreciative audience.

Joining a regular ‘fare-paying’ group on their holidays is a fair way off the normal adventures I undertake, and presents its own challenges to shooting: chiefly not interfering with the flow of the trip and annoying the hell out of people who have paid a lot to be there. As photographer, faced with never knowing what the trail/landscape will yield as photo op’s later on, you are continuously forced to make decisions on whether to halt the group and work photos or not. Diplomacy is key. Or leave it three days until everyone is so tired they appreciate another rest stop.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.4 @1/740, f4.8. The trail to the PIndari Glacier is one of the most unusual trails I have ever ridden and shot. teh technical nature means appreciating the smaller, lighter pack you can ride with armed with a rangefinder.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/740, f4.8. The trail to the Pindari Glacier is one of the most unusual trails I have ever ridden and shot. Its technical nature means appreciating the smaller, lighter pack you can ride with armed with a rangefinder.

The story when it comes out in MBUK and Bike Germany will be titled 1003 Cups Of Tea. There were a lot of tea stops along the way…

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.4 @1/30, f3.4. This guy has lived here for 32 years, he insists his cows have been taken by tigers. he runs one of the tea shops we stopped at on the trail.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/30, f3.4. This chap has lived here for 32 years, and insists his cows have been taken by tigers. He runs one of the tea shops we stopped at on the trail and provides an insight into local life in the mountains.

November is later than I had in mind for a revisit to Morocco, but thats the way it lies if you want to get the story done. One thing I’ve learnt is to shoot the picture, or do the trip, when you see the opportunity. If not then it will pass you by. Last time we rode in Morocco (2006) it was a week-long backpack tour of the High Atlas mountains, village to village. Proper adventure with a lot of unknowns, but a trip that lacked the decent singletrack riding that Morocco offers. The story this time was to stay in one place and just ride whatever we saw. Too late for riding the original planned trails near Oukaimeden ski resort, we stayed down valley instead, in touristy Ourika valley. Bikes again prove to be perfect tickets to adventure and enable easy escape from the normal boundaries of the tourist circuit. In places like this the unobtrusive Leica M9 comes into its own.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/250, f4.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50 1.5 @1/250, f4. Mud in Morocco? Who’d have thought it. Now who’s gonna clean it?

December’s trailquest escape again let me push the high ISO possibilities of the Leica M9, during a trip to Elba. No commissions, just riding and shooting a few pictures.. well, because they are there to be shot.

Leica M9, Zeiss 18 f4 @1/45 f3.4. Trees always make me stop and shoot. the M9 is not on par with the Nikon for low light capabilities, but it's very usable at 1000ISO or more.

Leica M9, Zeiss 18 f4 @1/45 f3.4. Trees always make me stop and shoot and the island of Elba had beautiful tangles of them. The M9 is not on par with the Nikon D3s for low light capabilities, but it’s very usable at 1250ISO or more.

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2 Comments »

  1. Really nice work. Whats the best way to making work pay like this? finding it so so hard

    Comment by tomakass — January 5, 2013 @ 5:23 am

    • Hmm good question. I’ll post a “how to make it work” in a couple of months.. my take on the weird world of pro photography,but i the meantime all I can say is “you gotta find a slant, tell a story”. I started out by pitching whole pics+words packages to niche magazines (mountain bike, snowboard), using original ideas to pre-sell the destination. Where do you want to go shoot? Then think/research a way of doing something others havent done, that you think will be of interest to readers. Aside from that, get to know how the industry works.. dont think every handshake at a trade show will result in a contract for starters! Perservere. Get noticed. And dont get put off when you get snubbed. Its hard, but you learn your style of work isnt for everyone. And learn the commercial side of it. That took me a long time!

      Comment by danmilner — January 22, 2013 @ 7:20 pm


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