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

September 19, 2015

Behind the Scenes of Nikon’s Behind the Scenes..

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 11:53 am

Even in today’s selfie-saturated world, most photographers prefer to stay behind the lens. But last month Nikon turned their film cameras on me for 2 days to make a short #IamDifferent film about what goes into a real mountain bike shoot.

The film concept is less about Nikon gear and more about the process of capturing the kind of images that adorn the pages of magazines, decorate websites and shout from advertising spreads  -you know the kind of stuff that makes you go “ooooh”.

Photography is now more accessible than ever before, and I love that, at least as a concept. Only by taking pictures do people learn how to spot photo opportunities and how to take better pictures.

Of course I’m less excited by the inevitable consequence of the popularly blurred distinction between true photographic talent and mutton-dressed-as-lamb snaps. Understand that this has nothing to do with elitism, but is more a concern over the increasing failure of popular culture to recognise a truly good image among the tsunami of flotsam that is smothering peoples visual cortex (wow, that was a heavy sentence). Instagram filters can make pretty crap snaps look good, at least for a few seconds of someone’s attention (but isn’t a few seconds the attention span we’re encouraged to have nowadays?) but maybe if they are taking photos at all they can see the potential of more creative photography, where decisions about light and composition are taken at the moment you lift the camera?

But whatever. Despite the abundance of aspiring photographers out there, there is still a mystery to how action sports photo shoots happen, how they come to be, where the inspiration comes from. There is a mystery behind the process, the communication, the decisions, the choices that make that final shot rise above the immense Sea of Mediocrity.

If truth be told, this wasn’t the typical shoot for me. In fact I rarely go to one spot to nail one image I have in mind. More usually my shoots are either a full day of capturing a brand’s images, working several different spots as the light changes and we dip deeper into a bulging bag of product that needs to be shot, or it’s a day of facing unknowns during a remote, multi-day expedition, while trying to capture the physical and mental challenges of what we have ambitiously taken on. They are very different fish.

So when Nikon’s agency asked me for a location that would both be visually stunning and easy of their film crew to reach on foot, I racked my brain and came up with this spot – a vast, aggressive looking glacier that would make for a breathtaking backdrop to the action, about an hour’s walk from the top of a cable car. I’ve only shot here twice before in my 17 years as a pro, but knowing the trail in the foreground was loose, steep and exposed, it also meant finding a rider confident to make the shot work. I asked Benoit Lasson from the local bike shop.

I planned an early start that would backlight the glacier, adding a dream like ephemeral quality to the ice, that would bring out its blue tones, rather than the pure white that most people associate with great big lumps of ice. I took my D750 to lighten my F-stop bag of kit a little, and I mostly used my 70-200/2.8 lens to pull the glacier into the shot and flatten the image to add more drama and intimacy (I also had the 24-70/2.8 and 16-35/4 with me to cover any eventuality). And with my old Motorola radios failing we shouted a lot to communicate to get timing and angles right, and pinnacle the action at the right spot on the trail, where I could place Ben against the full majesty of the ice.

For me the film works great. It not only shows what goes into a shoot, but the thought processes behind the shot I’m aiming for, and how you can move photography away from Instagram filters and into the real attributes of photography -composition, light and timing. It also gives an idea of what goes on inside my head -but that’s a scarier place than perched on the side of a skinny trail 50m above a sharp, spikes of ice, believe me.  Enjoy the film.

You can see some of my favourite images from the last few years with my backstories to them in a supporting Mpora interview here.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 @ 1/1000, f5.6

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 @ 1/1000, f5.6

January 22, 2015

Behind The Scenes – my 2014 Year In Pictures

New places, new challenges, new clients, and a new website. That’s been my year in 2014. So, a little late I accept, here’s a snapshot of what goes into 12 months as a world-roaming, pro photographer.

Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ f2, 1/30.

Peanut kernels, Gran Canaria, Feb 2014. A lot of my time is taken up working out fresh story angles. In Feb I ticked off a couple of months of planning by riding and shooting a 3-day MTB traverse of the island of Gran Canaria. We climbed 5000m and descended the same, and we finished each day of riding in the dark. This was our end point, at dusk, pulling up on the west coast where, still sweaty, grimy and tired, we dived straight into a bar for beer. The peanuts came free. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ f2, 1/30.

Leica M9, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/500, f3.5.

The challenge of simultaneously being both adventure photographer and participant is finding the energy to keep shooting when you’re running on empty. 15 minutes before nightfall at the end of a long day 1 during our traverse of Gran Canaria, Feb 2014. Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4 @ 1/500, f3.5.

Leica M9, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/1000, f6.3

In a first for me, I went somewhere with the main reason to GoPro film a video episode in my regular EpicTV series. Of course I threw my Leica M9 camera in my bag too, and yes, at the end of the week the lure to shoot some still images was too hard to ignore. But this new turn of events made me think how the video is currently re-shaping my job. At the end of it all though, shooting stills is still my lifeblood, helped by the importance of creativity on location, at the moment you press the shutter. That’s when the story gets told, not later in the editing suite. Photo: James Richards and Lucy Martin, Sierra d’Espuna, Spain. Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4 @ 1/1000, f6.3

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

I’ve been shooting snowsports for 18 years and to be honest the safety issues involved have taken their toll on my eagerness to keep hitting the backcountry. Years spent shooting in some of the worlds most demanding places on some of winter sport’s most demanding expeditions have delivered me an increased awareness and knowledge of backcountry safety issues, but sometimes nature can have other plans outside of our control. Its the main reason my work has slowly been refocussing away from winter sports. After all, in ski and snowboard photography you don’t get published, or hired, shooting photos of people on pistes. I like to think that I am more cautious now than ever before, an approach that has kept us out of trouble and one that still lets you nail shots like this –end of day home run in Courmayeur, Italy as part of the Voelkl ski shoot. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000 f7.1

Nikon D3s, 70-200/4 @ 1/1000, f9

Backpack shoots like this one for regular client Osprey Packs is all about showing the backpack. Hide the pack and you might as well be shooting holiday snaps.  It means thinking about how your models orientate themselves while doing what they do. Making it work is helped by using people who understand this need while being able to make the action look authentic and effortless. Patagonia pro Dave Rosenbarger is one such athlete. Nikon D3s, 70-200/4 @ 1/1000, f9

Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/6, f3.5

It’s taken me 30 years riding bikes in remote places and adjusting to living out of a single bag to work out that actually 3 days is the perfect duration for a tough bike adventure. Yes a month lets you immerse yourself in the wilds, but three days means you can be ambitious and still get out alive. And so it was with our Argentina trip in March, shooting two unique and separate 3-day stories, that both involved some serious physical and mental commitment. Our second night during a three-day traverse of the high mountains to the jungle in Northern Argentina left us in this “hotel” – a family’s spare room crammed with slumping beds in a village of three houses that could only be reached by footpath. Here Hans Rey and Tibor Simai enjoy a hard-earned early night at the end of another long day. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/6, f3.5

Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @1/8 f3.5

When you’re tired and up against another tough day ahead, being served a breakfast composing only dry bread and black tea can leave you digging deep in resources that are already strained. It’s at times like this that you have to look on the moment as a unique learning experience, rather than a bitter challenge. Of course in the grand scheme of things this is no biggie, but it ain’t always easy. Here Hans ‘enjoys’ a quite moment of breakfast contemplation with our quiet host. Watch the film from this adventure here. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @1/8 f3.5

Nikon D600, Nikon 50/1.4 @ 1/1000 f4.

The second Argentina story was probably one of the most ‘out there’ ideas for a story I have ever had – to try to follow a disused, 100 year old railway line through the desert north of the country. While the concept sounds simple enough, the challenges on the ground -from 30C heat to battling headwinds at 3500m altitude- were diverse and made this 3-dayer as tough and as interesting as any others I have shot. Belgrano Norte railway, Argentina. Watch the film from this trip here. Nikon D600, Nikon 50/1.4 @ 1/1000 f4.

Nikon D600, 50/1.5 @1/1250 f3.5

Seeking shade from the 30 C heat in the only place available –a parked police truck in the mining village of Tres Cruces– we consider our options. Riding a decaying railway line means not only seeing a side of a country that escapes most visitors, but also gambling on accommodation options, and on this day we were unlucky. Riding lightweight and unequipped to rough the night in freezing temperatures we decided to jump a local bus back to our start point for the night and hire a local pick up truck to deliver us back to Tres Cruces next morning to continue our ride. It was a frustrating moment. Nikon D600, 50/1.5 @1/1250 f3.5

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/4000 f9.

Olympic snowboarder Dom Harington waits for the fog to clear to get a photo done as part of the Animal catalogue shoot in late March. Waiting is a big part of shooting snowsports. A very big part. You learn how to deal with cold, numb extremities. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/4000 f9.

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000, f10.

Patience finally pays off. Dom Harington and the flip side of waiting. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000, f10.

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

Somewhere near the Ligurian coast, Italy, became the location for the Endura road shoot. With clients like Endura wanting images earlier and earlier in the year, the classic cols of the Alps are no longer a possibility for a road bike shoot as early as April. Getting client pics is a mix of showing the product and capturing ‘aspirational’ images that can make billboard size images for trade stands. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000 f7.1

Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/125 f2

Loch Morar, Scotland. May 2014. It seemed like a good idea, or at least an original one: to use sea kayaks to haul ourselves, bivvi gear and our bikes across the water in search of mountain bike trails. Needless to say, adventure was guaranteed, even if it was only for 3 days. While I’ve been ticking off exotic locations for the last 30 years, this trip and story (to come out in MBUK mag very soon) showed that adventure is not about going exotic. It can be just as good on your doorstep, if you’re willing to think differently. It’s something I was reminded of by micro-adventurer Alistair Humphries, the other speaker at my November Kendal Mountain Festival speaking engagement. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/125 f2

Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4 @ 1/740 f5.7

This trip was a definite leap of faith. Towing inflatable dinghies loaded with gear is no easy going, at least if the wind picks up. It was only half an hour into our 3 days paddle, that my 2 co-adventurers admitted that they had very little kayak experience. I quickly racked my brains for my own kayak rescue technique know how. Luckily we didn’t need it. Watch the film from this trip here. Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4 @ 1/740 f5.7

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000 f5

Back in Chamonix, France for a Keela trail running shoot meant working hard to preclude the normal, and over-shot, classic Chamonix background of Mont Blanc. This is one of my favourite “different” backdrops, that makes me think of Peru for some reason. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000 f5

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 16-35/4 @ 1/320 f4

2014 was the year I started shooting for Yeti cycles. I’ve ridden their bikes for 6 years now, and they made me an ambassador early in the year. My job was to shoot with their 2 top pro racers Jared Graves and the incredibly named Richie Rude. Their brief needed an Alps location that we could shoot pre-launch bikes without inviting the attention and iPhone pics of a busy mountain bike resort. I took a punt on La Grave, a little ridden, hard core village, where  we could get on with what we needed to do without being noticed. The shoot sat immediately after the Valloire race, and early starts on the gondola to get up the mountain at 7 am for a sunrise session didn’t always go down best with Richie. Nikon D3s, Nikkor 16-35/4 @ 1/320 f4

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 16-35/4 @ 1/1250 f6.3

La Grave resort is a tough place to ride and shoot, with narrow, steep, loose technical trails proving hard to get much flow on for the riders. After one or two sessions up the mountain we turned our attention to neighbouring valleys. While the riders trained during the day, I recon’d the area and by late afternoon, we could set out on an afternon-evening shoot, on what proved to trails that leant themselves better to aesthetics. Nikon D3s, Nikkor 16-35/4 @ 1/1250 f6.3

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 50/1.4 @ 1/400 f2.2

A garage courtesy car in La Grave. Says it all about this little village. Nikon D3s, Nikkor 50/1.4 @ 1/400 f2.2

Nikon D3s, Nikkor 16-35/4 @ 1/1000 f6.3

Summer was a wet one in the Alps in 2014. Our shoot in La Grave was a tough one, dodging bad weather and rain. We climbed to this spot with the idea of a sunset shoot on the mountainside. We were greeted by cloud and a strong cold wind. We cowered in the grass for over an hour, hiding from a bitter, biting wind, before the clouds began to move and we could grab the shots we needed. The photo feature from this shoot is currently up on Pinkbike here.  Nikon D3s, Nikkor 16-35/4 @ 1/1000 f6.3

Nikon D3s, 50/1.4 @ 1/250 f2

Abandoned Merc, North Carolina, June. Trek bikes took me to North Carolina for the annual shoot of the launch of a new bike for two. It’s a unique place and one that is turning its attention towards mountain biking tourism as relief from its post-coal mining recession. Nikon D3s, 50/1.4 @ 1/250 f2

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/125 f1.6

Hard to believe, but one of the tastiest things I have tried for a long time. I spotted this sign from a quiet roadside and needed to investigate. Its too easy to just keep on driving and remain ignorant – and miss a shot. To get the lowdown meant talking to the peanut vendor, something that not only means learning something new, but also breaks down the barriers to getting the shot. Too many “travel photos” are just sniped with a long lens. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/125 f1.6

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000 f3.2

Mens Fitness magazine took me to Zurich to shoot their editor, Nick Hutchings, competing in the Ironman event. During a 12 hour event that involves a 2.5 mile swim, a 116 mile bike ride and a full marathon run to finish, needless to say opportunities to capture Nick in action were rare. But my brief included capturing the event, from pro-athletes to Ironman virgins suffering. Here a Brit competitor enjoys support form family during the climb up ‘Heartbreak Hill’. Ironman, Zurich. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000 f3.2

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/2000 f.3.2

I’ve raced some of the toughest mountain bike races in Europe including the 135Km one day Cristalp and the 6-day Trans Alp, and I’m happy to say I’m glad racing is behind me. I know though that the support of locals and spectators is often key to keeping going at times during these endurance races. Encouragement, whether it be from a family member or in this case, an unknown enthusiast imbibed with beer, is always appreciated. Anywhere. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/2000 f.3.2

Nikon D600, 16-35/4 @ 1/1000 f4

Zurich Ironman competitors and elephants. Nikon D600, 16-35/4 @ 1/1000 f4

Nikon D3s, 16-35/4 @ 1/125 f8

With only 1 bike-friendly lift still open in Chamonix in late October, I knew doing a 2-day shoot for DMR was going to be a challenge. But if a brand wants to move its focus from dirt jumping to all-mountain riding, then carrying the bikes up a chimney like this is all part of the game, at least Milner-style. Only half an hour later Ollie Wilkins, one of the world’s most recognised dirt jump riders admitted this was the first time he’d carried his bike. I laughed, but he shot me down with the quite understandable “.. why the hell would I ever carry my bike?”  Nikon D3s, 16-35/4 @ 1/125 f8

Nikon D3s, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500 f2

I love the Peak district, UK, and need little excuse to go there, for a shoot or not. This was a shoot for Kinesis bikes to capture winter riding and commuting. Rain made some of the traffic-jammed locations in Sheffield we had in mind dangerously unsuitable, but added realism to the shots elsewhere in the town.  Nikon D3s, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500 f2

Nikon D3s, 24-70/2.8 @ 1/800 f3.5

The Peak in all its autumn glory. Worth numb fingers for? Definitiely. Nikon D3s, 24-70/2.8 @ 1/800 f3.5

Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/250 f2.8

With a late afternoon shoot planned we set out onto the moors unaware that we’d be treated to a full moon. Staying on, despite the cold and wind of a late October evening, meant adding a few opportunistic lighting product shots to the folder, and pushing the ISO capabilities of the Nikon D3s to the max. People rate the low noise, high ISO capabilities of this camera, but I’m not 100 convinced. Nikon D3s, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/250 f2.8

Nikon D3s, 50/1.4 @ 1/400 f1.8

Shooting my annual 3 days at Eurobike, the worlds largest bike trade show, for Future Publishing’s MBUK and What Mountain Bike mags, usually includes grabbing a portrait or two. Stuck inside the same sprawling but packed show hall every year means turning to props to get an original portrait. Fox suspension’s Mark Jordan enjoys a little ‘me-time’. Nikon D3s, 50/1.4 @ 1/400 f1.8

Packed in between the many shoots and trips my existence has been punctuated by producing regular bike film episodes for Epictv. To get an idea of the last 2 years of insanity involved in making this work, and get an idea of what drives me to some of these places, here is the latest, a “Best of ” Episode – the falls, fails, scary bits and expletives, that somehow all combine to make quite a solid ‘feel-good’ film.  Click on the image below to redirect to the film.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 14.57.00

May 9, 2014

Me? Scared? Well, you can see my legs trembling 3 minutes in.

Filed under: bike, video — Tags: , , , , , , , — danmilner @ 12:57 pm

Want to see how our recent Argentina railroad epic with Hans and Tibor looks on video? Well, here it is.

Screen shot 2014-05-09 at 1.53.16 PM

March 22, 2014

A little yellow bird told me – shooting Canaries

Filed under: bike, video — Tags: , , , , , , , — danmilner @ 3:08 pm

Yeah I know, it’s been a while, I’ve been busy. And one of the busy moments recently was shooting an MTB traverse of the magnificent island of Gran Canaria, following the advanced route of the TNF Trans Gran Canaria. It’s an idea I have had for a while, and finally it came to be. Three days, 4500m of up and downhill, and 95% on trails carrying our own gear (I used my F-Stop Kenti pack) this trip was a blinder -and the island’s incredible landscapes was a bonus. One of the best MTB adventures I’ve done & shot in over 30 years of MTB adventures (some would call them moments of madness). So here’s the photo for the month of February..

Read the print story in MBUK and Bike Magazin Germany any time now.

Railing one of the best, and little ridden trails on the island. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/1000, f8

Railing one of the best, and little ridden trails on the island. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/1000, f8

And the unique GoPro video episode that goes with it (video opens in new window).

Screen shot 2014-03-22 at 14.59.02

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