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

June 29, 2016

Tales from the dark side -Bristol Bike Night

Head to Bristol (UK) this Friday to hear me question whether the bike is the ultimate tool for adventure, or just a passport to pain.

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This Friday’s event is the inaugural stop for the ‘on-tour’ version of Kendal Mountain Film Festival’s massively popular Bike Night — an evening of films, talks and banter. My show is a look at some of the incredible places, from my year long pedal around Argentina and Chile in ’96 to the last year’s Ethiopia expedition that the bike has taken me, and the painful episodes that sometimes go hand in hand with such adventures.

But don’t let that put you off. See you there.

Info and tickets: www.kendalmountaintour.com

 

May 15, 2015

From Afghanistan to London without passing ‘Go’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 5:59 am

It’s a weird thing being an ‘adventurer’. Expeditions to remote, far-flung places can take months or more of planning but too often once I’m home again, washed my filthy clothes and (just about) got my digestive system back on track my attention turns to planning the next, without giving enough time to reflect on what we just achieved or on the experiences of what just happened. It’s like pulling a “Go straight to next adventure, and do not pass go, and certainly do not collect £200” card in Monopoly. Often I only revisit those experiences when I edit my images from a trip, or am invited to deliver a slideshow or talk on my adventures. This latter is one of the most enjoyable sides to my niche job – getting the chance to really share the experiences of pushing bikes over snowy 5000m passes or huddling in a tent through days of Alaskan blizzards, and doing it in the luxurious comfort of a warm auditorium.

Next week I’ll be one of the 4 adventurers sitting on a unique Q&A panel at a London screening of the mighty best of Kendal Mountain Film Festival. You can get tickets here, and the money goes to charity.

The kids of Robot settlement, Afghanistan try riding bikes, for the first time. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f3.5

The kids of Robot settlement, Afghanistan try riding bikes, for the first time. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f3.5

Last November I was back at the Kendal Mountain festival, to introduce Anthill’s new film edit from our Afghanistan MTB expedition at the festival’s dedicated Bike night, and then next day to do a 45 minute slideshow talk on the same trip at the KMFF Adventure and Exploration session. My talk balanced nicely with one from ‘micro-adventurer’ Al Humphreys, who will be chairing the Q&A next week.

New experiences are what drives me to head to new places. Adventure is just a tag to the experiences that arise. Of course I know that my kind of adventures sit off the radar for most people, but public speaking events like these are a real way to give people a vicarious taste of what is involved in hauling bikes through places that have never been touched by a bike tyre before, in that first person way that magazine articles and films can’t. Hearing about tough trips is compelling, but I also like to add a little ‘really, you could do this too’ empowerment and aspiration for the audience.

So come and ask awkward questions about photographing awkwardly ambitious bike trips in awkward places to travel and do it from a comfortable, warm seat with a low-fat soy chai latte in your hand. London May 21st.

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September 1, 2014

I went mountain biking in Afghanistan and all you got was this lousy video

Filed under: bike, video — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 12:47 pm

Here’s my moving image take on the Bikemag trip I photographed.  For your enjoyment. Or maybe mine. Click on image to watch on EpicTV.

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January 3, 2014

Another 12 months of firsts – 2013 in pictures

Doing what I do, you’d think it’s easy to get blase about travelling to new places. You know,  “what a job… another month, another remote but beautiful location to shoot”. But in reality, it’s the unknowns of new places, their challenges and unexpected rewards that keep me doing what I do. And 2013 was one of those years –  a series of first time experiences, most unique, some incredible, some insane and some I’d rather not repeat. Whatever their lasting impression on me, whatever the pain, the scary-bits, the ‘too many hours in airport departure halls’, I’m glad I got the chance to go and shoot them all, from Arizona to Afghanistan.

So here’s a little look back at the places, people and things that through 2013 helped me continue becoming the worldly-wise, level headed pro-photographer I am today. Or maybe they just made me go a little more crazy. You decide. 2013 was also the year I started Twitter (follow: @danmilnerphoto) and got an iPhone, which can do most of the things photographers do. Apparently.

The year kicked off with the Voelkl team ski shoot. Epic snow always helps. Getitng the balance between aspirational, inspirational and just showing what the product can do is the photographer's challenge. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4.

The year kicked off with the Voelkl team ski shoot. Epic snow always helps. Getting the balance between aspirational, inspirational and just showing what the product you’re there to shoot can do is the photographer’s challenge. Is there an app for powder landings? Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4.

Tales from the dark side. Nothing beats working with light like this. It's a popular misconception that today's photography is all about computer work, processing and instagram-like filters. Who needs them? Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4, @ 1/1000th, f1/8.

Tales from the dark side. Nothing beats working with light like this. It’s a popular misconception that today’s photography is all about computer work, processing and instagram-like filters. Who needs them when you have January winter light? Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4, @ 1/1000th, f1/8.

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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.

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 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 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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