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

December 8, 2013

Putting Something Back. Again.

Filed under: bike, photography, story telling — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 11:51 am

Last night I spent a generous hour spewing forth anecdotes and showing images from our June MTB trip to Afghanistan at one of my public slideshows, this one in Chamonix, France. This morning, nursing a booze-induced heavy head, I donated $175 to the charity Central Asia Institute.

A local boy experiences the gyroscopic affect of a spinning wheel and not a Professor Brian Cox in sight. Chitattack village, Big Pamir, Wakhan. Nikon D600, 50/1.4, 1/1000th, f4.5

A local boy experiences the gyroscopic affect of a spinning wheel and not a Professor Brian Cox in sight. Chitattack village, Big Pamir, Wakhan. Nikon D600, 50/1.4, 1/1000th, f4.5

Our pioneering mountain bike trip has, in some corners, been labelled ‘eg0-tourism’, due mostly to the idea of us riding (expensive) mountain bikes through a poor area. I’ve had these kind of debates before. Of course essentially the trip we undertook was an adventure editorial and the reasons I and the other 5 westerners signed up for the expedition are multifold. There is the lure of remote, untamed challenges, the desire to pitch your own personal ability against harsh environments. There is the beauty of meeting, and sharing cultural exchanges with, people who otherwise don’t get to see far outside their immediate surroundings. And there is the concept that for everyone on the trip -myself as photographer, the filmers, the pro rider , the guide, the magazine editor- this kind of stuff is work. Yes, we’re privileged in so many ways. But egos don’t come into it.

What we, and I’m certain most of the locals we shared time with, emerge with is a better understanding of the world, of people. And that’s why I love to do such slideshows -to try to share this kind of experience, to allow a glimpse through my lens of a world westerners rarely see or understand. They give a taste of what being a pro photographer is all about too. And lastly, they give me an opportunity to raise some cash for a charity.

During our 2-day drive through the north of Afghanistan en route to our trailhead, we passed numerous schools built by the charity Central Asia Institute. The charity launched by Greg Mortensen (author of Three Cups of Tea) has had its ups and downs over the last few years, but the schools they build in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a view on Peace through Education, are there to see. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen kids stream from the doors to get a glimpse at a half dozen foreigners hauling strange mountain bikes along a tortuous mountain road. And that’s why last night’s slideshow’s collection was for the CAI.

No ego. No guilt. Just plain giving something back.

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December 5, 2013

Story behind – Afghanistan #4

Filed under: bike, photography, story telling — Tags: , , , , — danmilner @ 7:15 am
Nikon D600, 50mm 1.4, 1/800, f5.6

Nikon D600, 50mm 1.4, 1/800, f5.6

 

Altitude sickness, fatigue, cold and sunburn are the kind of things we calculated for on our recent pioneering Wakhan mountain bike expedition. But the many river crossings passed us by. Not for a minute did we think these would be so formidable. It’s arid Afghanistan after all right?However, the thundering torrents of brown meltwater became the great leveler among our group, with their distant sound causing the hairs to stand up on the backs of all our necks as we rode our trail towards another inevitable shoe-dunking. June is full meltwater season, and the many glaciers and snow-covered peaks around us teamed up with the steep, ravine-streaked terrain to remind us of this this at every opportunity.

Dark, churning icy waters gave no indication of depth and the roar of meltwater was kept in rhythm by a metronome clatter of rocks being rolled along the riverbed. Wading became a game of human 10-pin bowling, carrying our bikes across a very real game of chance. Some were steep and narrow, others a good 50m wide, but all were swift and cold. One slip from numb feet and a bike could be lost, or worse. Add the shouts and wild gesturing of our anxious Afghan support team to which we tried to pass bikes and you have a recipe for chaos. The above shot was our third river crossing on day one. We would have more than a dozen more during our 12 day expedition. Only two of them would have bridges.

Catch my full feature in MBUK, Bike Germany, Revolution Australia, Friflyt Scandinavia and online on Italy’s MTB-forum.com later this month.

 

November 28, 2013

Afghanistan by bike – from the horses mouth

Filed under: bike, photography, story telling — Tags: , — danmilner @ 6:30 pm

If you’re anywhere near Chamonix on Sat 7th December and want to appreciate the pain of our June Afghanistan bike trip first hand, then drop by the Vert Hotel bar at 8.30 pm for the next of the now-legendary (and free) Milner slide/film shows. Expect the usual abuse and heckling (from me) while being bombarded with plenty of pics that will instigate “ooohs” (from you) and a couple of pics that will make you glad you weren’t on the trip.

afghan poster

November 20, 2013

F-Stop Gear sponsors Milner

Filed under: outdoors, photography — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 11:54 am

There are two ways to avoid a bad back as a mountain photographer: Twice weekly yoga sessions, or getting a decent camera backpack. The latter seems a lot easier than the first, but that’s not always the case. So welcome onboard the good ship Milner to F-Stop photo packs, my new sponsors for camera-hauling luggage for photo-chimps like me.

Might as well give up my yoga.

Might as well give up my yoga.

In over 15 years as a pro-photographer I’ve tried and ditched a fair few different camera backpacks. Some have accompanied me to the furthest corners of the Earth, from 79-degree North Arctic wilds, to the snowy  flanks of Russia’s Elbrus and ice-fringed corners of Alaska and Greenland, and its fair to say I developed favouritism to certain packs among the many I got to share quality on-mountain time with. But none of them ever scored 100% with me, not because I am a fussy bugger or whinging pom, but because none of them did everything I needed of them in the real outdoors.

With some (nature) photo focussed companies, their packs can lack real-mountain suitability (usability), lacking attachment points or straps for splitboards, snowshovels, crampons, or my sandwiches. For other more sport-orientated companies that ticked these boxes, their packs often lack the tech performance of decent internal dividers or they show fundamental design flaws, like not being long enough to accommodate a 70-200 f2.8 lens with hood. It’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t seem like a problem until you’re out on a three week snow camp expedition a long way from the next FedEx delivery point. Then, what was a niggle soon becomes a major hassle, and with camera packs, it has been a lottery. Until now.

I’ve been keeping a beady eye on F-Stop for the last couple of years, watching their packs develop into the full-grown beasts of outdoor capability that they are today, and can only say I’m pretty chuffed to be hooking up with them, beginning recently with a ski shoot for Nevica up at 3000m+ on the glacier at SaasFee, Switzerland. Who knows where I’ll be snuggling down in a snowy tent with my new packs next? If they could only make them edible too, just in case we get hit by another 10-day AK blizzard and run out of food, I think they will have through of everything, Until then they will score 99%.

I’m kicking off this autumn/winter armed with the Tilopa BC and Kenti packs, along with a set of different sized internals to suit the different shoots ahead.

Saas Fee in all its snowy autumn finery. Luckily there is a restaurant 100m away so I didnt have to eat my pack.

Saas Fee in all its snowy autumn finery. Luckily there is a restaurant 100m away so I didnt have to eat my pack.

MBR cover this month – it’s more than it seems

Filed under: bike — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 11:10 am

Landed the MBR cover this month, with a shot from this time last year riding from the Emmosson dam in Switzerland with friends Lucy and Phil from Bike Verbier. This was a week after we returned from our India Pindari trip.

mbr december

Leica M9, Zeiss 21 2.8.

The call-in for coveresque images came in from the mags ed’ wanting ‘Alpine possibilities’ to fit in with a big feature on the Savoie Enduro race. What makes this a fresh take for me, is that it’s actually a landscape shot that I’ve cropped to fit the portrait cover format. It’s not something I do regularly (or colour-swap a rider’s jersey colour, I leave that to the art ed’s of the mags) but every now and then, it’s hard to lose out on the credibility (and cash) of a cover shot because I’m clinging doggedly to some on-location perception of art or composition.

But in case you’re at all wondering what the original landscape looks like, here it is. And yes of course I prefer the landscape shot, inversion cloud and all. That’s how I shot it. God, what a sell out.

Leica M9, Zeiss 21/2.8, @ 1/100th, f4.8

Leica M9, Zeiss 21/2.8, @ 1/1000th, f4.8

November 11, 2013

Final countdown – making the cut at TPOTY 2013

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , , , — danmilner @ 8:59 am

I just heard that I made the finalist shortlist in the 2013 Travel Photographer of the Year contest. With 15 years of pro photography behind me, should I be surprised? Well, the truth is that I am, I guess.

Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan, June 2013. Nikon D600/50mm 1.4 @ f4.5, 1/1600th.

1 of my 4 shortlisted portfolio images. Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan. Nikon D600/50mm 1.4 @ f4.5, 1/1600th.

I’ve never been one to bother entering photo comps. Too busy being out there shooting pics and earning a crust to deal with the paraphernalia of filling in on-line submission forms and adding metadata to images. At least that’s what I tell myself. The truth is that the real time consuming part is the self edit needed to decide on the images you want to submit. It’s not a confidence thing, but merely the requirement to detach yourself from any personal emotions that may be embedded in an image  -the feelings you had when you took the shot, the story behind the subject etc-  and see your image in an objective way, as the judges would do, that is the challenge. Does the photo really convey the feeling of what made you shoot it? Does it technically deliver?

Many people think that shooting a ‘winning’ image is about being in the ‘right place at the right time’, that is to say “luck”. While there’s an element of truth in this (although you have to make the effort to be in that place), images that turn heads, whether catching the attention of a magazine photo editor to land an opening spread or the eyes and imagination of professional judges generally need a little more to them than luck. And to prove it, in the case of making the finalist list in the TPOTY the “wild stories” category, the submission needed to be a small portfolio of 4 images, that when combined ‘tell a story’ of the adventure, with a “beginning, middle and end”. Hmm, in only 4 images?! Thats no easy edit among say the 2000 images I shot on the Afghanistan trip in June.

Having previously photo edited for a UK snowboard magazine, you’d think I’d know what works and what doesn’t, and I do. But that doesn’t make it any easier to edit your own work of course, especially when TPOTY is built around the monumentally wide subject matter that is “travel photography”.

I guess I just have to wait until the winning images are declared in December to really know if my self edits were appropriate. The finalists will be exhibited at the Royal Geographical Society, London in 2014. But until then I’ll just go back to shooting and earning a crust.

October 14, 2013

Santa Cruz -whatever!

Filed under: video — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 5:35 pm

Occasionally I venture out without a conventional stills camera. The results are , err, a little different. Here’s the latest in my EpicTV GoPro series that sees Santa Cruz, California get a shoe’ing. A new episode coming out in a week… so watch this while you can.

October 5, 2013

Story behind – The Bikemag Afghanistan cover shot

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 2:05 pm

Matt Hunter, Afghanistan

If you haven’t caught it yet, the Nov issue of Bike is out now, with the full 16 page Afghanistan story and cover shot. Here’s the backstory behind my image that graces the cover.

Nov

14 hours is a long time to cover a mere 150Km, especially in an old Toyota Hiace with 4 bald tyres. But that’s what it took to travel the last day along a rough Afghan road to our ride starting point, Sarhad. And that came after 3 other days on the road. So you can imagine how good it felt to finally be out on the bikes. A lot of people think that as a photographer you’ll come back from expeditions with hundreds of cover-possibilites, after all the opportunities must arise each and every half hour. But the truth is that on trips like this, with distances to cover, rivers to ford, passes to climb each day, making the call on whether to stop and set up a shot is a gamble. It interrupts the flow, and sucks up time. Stop every time a possible shot comes up, and you don’t make it to camp and end up sleeping with the goats on a remote hillside with no supper (but at least you have a sheep to keep you warm). With absolutely no idea what scenery or what kind of trail or action potential you’re going to happen on later in the trip, you start out eyeing every corner, every backdrop, every rock as a possible shot. But inevitably, you have to (begrudgingly) pass some by.

So it’s kind of funny that the shot that is gracing Bikemag’s cover this month was the first action shot of our whole 3 week, 12 day ride trip to Afghanistan. Riding out of Sarhad village (down on the valley floor in the background) we climbed 600m/2000ft straight up to this first pass, wheezing in the thin air, and knowing this was just a taste of what lay ahead. And in this one scene, with its braided river and snowy peaks, its dusty trail and steep rocky pass, summed up the landscape we were to live in for 12 days. And not an AK47 to be seen.

September 28, 2013

Story Behind -Afghanistan #2

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 8:52 am

No.2 Hey, Nobody said it would be easy.

Image

Matt Hunter starts the long walk into the unknown. Again. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5

Yaks are the ultimate 4×4 in a place like Afghanistan. They go through anything. Unfortunately we had horses and donkeys instead to carry our expedition camping gear for our 12 day haul. And after 3 days of alternating blizzards and sunny spells, they just couldn’t make it over second 16,000 ft pass we climbed on day 6, the snow was too deep. Our choice was either to try to swap our horses for yaks and re-attempt the pass next day, or go the long way round, a 30 mile down valley and up the next route that was too exposed and technical for horses. At least that’s what we’d been told by the local Afghan horsemen not wishing to lose their earnings to yak-herders, as the reason why we attempted the pass.

Beaten back by deep snow, we took the alternative route, one that proved just as hard as the 16,000ft pass we’d retreated from the day before. A morning of flowing, fun riding ended at this deep canyon, and along with it any resemblance of ridable trail. Steep, loose and bottoming out in a raging snow-melt  river we had no option but to descend into the abyss, wade the river and shoulder our bikes, again. It took us another 7 hours of soaking wet, freezing cold bike pushing through more blizzards to reach our final destination that day, a camp spot at 14,000 ft perched beneath a mighty glacier. Arriving a mere half hour before nightfall, no-one had the energy left to appreciate our surroundings, but we’d found a way round. And still had the horses in tow. Afghans are a resourceful people.

August 22, 2013

The Story Behind- Afghanistan #1

A photo is worth a thousand words. Apparently. But sometimes there’s more behind an image than can be seen. An image conveys its own story, conjures up a feeling, stirs an emotion. But what of the story behind shooting it?  Over the next couple of months I’ll endeavour to bring you a few of the images that are currently showcased on bikemag.com from the recent Afghanistan mountain bike trip I shot in June with Anthill films and pro rider Matt Hunter. It’ll tied you over until the print stories come out in the mags through October and November.

No. 1: Nearly missing dinner.

Milner_Afgn013_0979

The story: Half way through our 12 day loop and we still hadn’t a clue what to expect. It’s hard to know how much energy and time to exert shooting when you have no idea what’s coming up later, what scenes will offer themselves up, or how far it is still to go before catching up with our horsemen and overnight gear. An  early start and a long day in the saddle didn’t stop us working a dusty ridge top until the sun was low, giving us the golden hour of perfect light to shoot. After all, the Kyrgyz herders’ yurt village was in view, or almost, just over the ridge, down towards the river. We shot, and shot, and shot more, Hunter doing his thing and delivering  A-roll material without fail.

And then we began the descent and realised we hadn’t a clue where we were heading. In the distance was not one, but several different plumes of fire smoke, each representing a different Kyrgyz yurt settlement. Our Afghan support and our gear could have been at any. We had no idea and darkness was 20 minutes away, and with it freezing temperatures.  I rode off towards the river valley, towards one smoke plume, the others veered left towards another distant settlement, each of us scouring the landscape for any evidence of our support team. And that’s when this pic happened., Matt and Brice silhouetted against the glow of the mountains we’d just descended. Chance favours a prepared mind. All I had to do was work out if stopping for the shot would mean getting left behind, to bivi out the night alone clad only in my riding gear. I took the risk. Nikon D600. 40-200 f4.

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