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

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.


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.


July 23, 2012

Chalk and cheese: The diet of champions.

Filed under: bike — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 12:30 pm

Two proud mag moments landed this month: the Singletrack issue 75 cover shot and a spread in the Bike mag photo issue. Nothing too out of the ordinary perhaps, but it occurred to me (okay was pointed out to me) that the two shots represent the opposite ends of the bike spectrum, or at least my own bike-photography spectrum.

And when we get home, you can eat all the sausages you want..” Mike and Diego get the wraparound cover. Leica M8, Voigtlander 15  4.5.

Take the Singletrack cover, featuring Mike and his dog Diego running alongside like a trusty-but-mute life-companion. “Something summery” is what Singletrack were after apparently, to offset the mind-damping deluge of rain that’s besieged the UK’s trails of late. In fact the shot was taken in Autumn, with typical late day sunlight filtering through the forest. It’s the kind of hour that makes us photographers tick and it’s the kind of shot that has my trademarks, well, perhaps a little more happy and sunny than many of my dark-tinged images. But its all there: the late sun, the aspirational feel, the singletrack trail riding.. the whole darn soulful feel. This is what I shoot.. stuff I hope makes people feel like riding their bikes again.

The Megavalanche slopestyle course was doomed as soon as the diggers misread the scale of the course designer’s 1:16 scale drawings.  Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8.

On the flipside, there’s the DPS image in Bikemag, shot at last summer’s Megavalanche in Alpe d’Huez, France. This shot is full summer, though the absence of sun might make you think otherwise. In fact, give or take a few hills (and a big hotel called “Bel Alp..”) it could as well be Rhyl in North Wales. What makes it so different from the ST cover above is the subject matter and the time of day (that’s race courses and midday light). I’m not a big fan of shooting events, never have been. I find them amusing to watch, for a short time, but less than inspirational for images, especially if you’re stuck alongside a hundred other photochimps shooting similar angles. And I’ve never been a big one for shooting DH riding. I lack a full face helmet of my own and basically don’t identify as well with this kind of riding as the backcountry-style, all-mountain singletrack quests that occupy so much of my time. But strolling the qualifier course this shot jumped out at me. The juxtaposition between the body-armored rider and the crazy golf course (Rhyl) is what caught my eye, making it my favourite shot from 3 days shooting at the Mega.

All I can hope is that both inspire people to stop writing blogs and go and ride their bikes….

June 11, 2011

Singletrack cover June 2011: Worth waiting for.

Filed under: bike — Tags: , — danmilner @ 8:47 am

Not quite home in time for tea, but what the hell. Leica M8, Voigtlander 15/4.5

So my office is still half full of filing cabinets. Filing cabinets rammed with sleeved photographic slides. Probably in excess of 20,000 of them, accrued from over a dozen years of photo trips around the world before I went digital a few years back. Now I have a stack of hard drives accrueing several thousand… OK, you get the idea. I need to edit my stock. But one of the beauties of having a stock of images is that you can pull from it from time to time when a client or mag needs a ‘stock’ shot. I’m not saying Singletrack magazine needed this shot for their cover this month (well, obviously they did I guess), but I came across it while rummaging through the hard drives for shots for another client (hmm,’client’ makes me sound like a high class private escort, which come to think of it I am in a way… we are all prostitutes [under capitalism] and all that).

But there was something about this shot that I knew was a tad special when I shot it. The shape of the trail, positioning of the rider, the beautiful low light and shards of glacier in the background and I can remember saying to Guillaume (the front rider) on the day, “that’s a cover, definately”.  It was only after the story I was shooting was filed with a mag and this shot didnt make their edit, that I was surprised (we photographers are always surprised when photo editors don’t select our favourites from a shoot). The shot was relegated to the stock files to gather pixel dust for a year or so. So as I browsed my drives, I saw this shot and instantly bunged it, alone and uncluttered, on an email to the Singletrack mag blokes. All it said in the email subject box was “cover?”. It worked it seems. Sometimes you have to wait for the moment to be right.

And what of the shot? Well it’s somewhere above St Gervais, French Alps, riding a 1100 m descent having “poached” the train ride up by smuggling our dismantled bikes in random bags to breeze the 600m climb (a climb we had pushed up a year prior to explore this trail so don’t go getting all high and mighty about earning your descents). It’s also nearly dark and still a long way from home and it’s shot on the flowy bit of trail immediately following a set of cliff-side ladders you have to climb down with your bikes. A lot of effort, but it’s made the cover. In the end. Worth waiting for.

Thanks Singletrack.

February 22, 2011

When the bets are each way: scoring bike mag covers in the snow

Filed under: bike — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 8:25 pm

Wonder no more. They may have forgotten to credit (something that after years in the business you’re used to, but still somehow really grates) the cover image on the new MBR Photo special out this month, but take it from me, it’s one of mine. I say “grates” as it’s probably my favourite shot from last year’s mountain bike sessions. And it started with a bet.

Mike and Jez revel in post bet-winning glow. Leica M8, Voigtlander 12/5.6

Simply, I bet Mike that we could reach the trail without having to put a foot down.

An hour of hiking through snow to reach this trail –one of my favourites in the Chamonix valley- in late October meant I lost the bet, but seeing the shot gracing MBR’s cover it seems to have paid off. Long after the lifts close, Chamonix locals get their trails back, free from the hoards of milling tourists and stupid, illogical and alarmingly proliferating  bike restrictions. Free from the temptations of chair lifts, all we have to do is be willing to ride or hike up to them again. But the race is on of course, trying to squeeze in as many “last rides” as possible before yielding our trails to the winter snows. This day was one such “last ride”, trying to reach the 1800m altitude start point of this descent only a few days after the hills became buried in 30 cm of snow, anxious that it might be our last decent big ride. I felt sure though that we could reach the start point of the descent, riding up a lung-busting climb without having to ever get off and push. All looked fine for most of the climb until we crept over the final brow to where the climb rolls into a col in the mountains. Bang! knee deep snow. So an hour later of pushing and carrying we rolled into the descent with sodden feet and tingling toes, heading for this corner that I’ve tried shooting before but never quite found the ‘right’ angle to do it justice. Helped by the energy that comes with 2 riders in the shot, and with light almost failing to October dusk, I knew I’d got the shot I always wanted.  Moody, gritty, this is one of those shots that to me at least , shouts real mountain biking.

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