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

December 15, 2015

A Tale of Two Covers

It’s like being stood at a Bristol bus stop waiting for the quarter-hourly no. 49 into the city centre: you wait half an hour and then two come at once. And so it is with magazine covers. Despite the apparent demise and “slow death” (I’m told) of print, the kudos of landing a front cover is still something we photographers kind of enjoy. After all it’s the one image that people have to look at for a whole month, unlike the ephemeral online photo-of-the-day. And I landed two last month – both on leading UK mountain bike mags. But the two cover images couldn’t be have two more different stories behind them.


Kamil Tatarkovic, Simien Mountains, Ethiopia. Nikon D600, Nikkor 50mm/1.4

Magazine covers are a political animal. There are rafts of self-justifying PR companies and media researchers responsible for ‘important’ ideas of how they should look to better sell a magazine – action left to right, subject positioning on the cover to allow cover line text, colours and vibrancy, size of the subject, coming towards or going away (when do you see covers of people riding away from the camera?), and sometimes (dare I say it) the make of bike and clothing the rider is wearing and its connection to potential advertising revenue.

Obviously the cover image is meant to first grab attention and then draw the reader in to want to splash some cash and take the mag home to read instead of racing family pressures to go and eat some junk food while trying to scan read as much of the mag as possible among WHS’ shelves. So while the editorial teams of both these mags thought these images ticked the appropriate cover boxes, these two photos come from very, very different backgrounds.

mbr dec15

James Brickell, Finale Ligure, Italy. Nikon D3s, Nikkor 70-200/f4.

MBR wanted a shot from the Italian riding Mecca of Finale Ligure, to link with an editorial inside the mag. Having just done a shoot there for my regular client Endura, and with Endura’s blessing, I passed over some of the shots that I thought might work for an MBR cover (it helps to know the style of the magazines you work for when you submit images). It’s shot on a trail I know well and this section has a little wall-ride kind of feel to it. OK its not a real wall ride, but it’s enough of an off camber rock slab to be able to throw some shape to the riding. Its surprising how much more ‘dynamics’ can be added to the shot by simply turning the bars instead of riding straight. And so cover number one is from a “catalogue” shoot. Ok, so bike catalogue shoots aren’t exactly a BHS knitwear shoot – we do actually have to go and ride bikes, which means getting to a trail, lugging in the camera gear and riding and re-riding, and usually riding again, sections of trail until the pedantic photographer has nailed the shot they want (i.e., showing the product in an authentic way). Job done. A colourful cover with solid action and a happy client to boot.

November’s MBUK cover is a different fish. Shot during an 8 day traverse of Ethiopia’s high, rugged Simien Mountains, this natural berm was just one corner among a hundred on our descent during day two. It’s refreshing to see MBUK run a ‘real riding’ cover like this -backpack and all- especially knowing where and when it was shot and the adventure side of just reaching that point in our journey. There was no shuttle to the trail, no “let’s just wait for the light to be right” and no “let’s session this a dozen times” kind of luxury for this cover shot. On a genuine point to point ride across some very unforgiving terrain, you have little time to stop and play or to re-shoot. On rides like this there are simply too many time-absorbing unknowns ahead to have that kind of freedom. You have to make assessments on the hoof, to decide if something is worthy of stopping and shooting, to set up quickly and get the shot and move on. It’s a set of pressures that are very unlike the catalogue shoot.

The one common denominator is working with riders that can ride and look good on a bike. It’s not something that comes naturally to most (believe me), but it sure helps make a cover easier to score.



August 10, 2015

hey, are road bike models supposed to get frostbite?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 4:15 pm

I’m guessing few people out there know what really goes into creating a photo for a bike company’s marketing needs. That’s understandable; I don’t really know what goes into a doing heart transplants (other than maybe cutting, swapping and err, stitching up?), or brewing fine micro-beers (although I’m hoping they dont share much, if any, of the same technologies or techniques).

KinesisUK ad, Cycling Plus August 015.

If they could fit refrigerated handlebars you’d get a feel for what James is feeling when you test trde this bike. KinesisUK ad, Cycling Plus August 015.

So my recent Alps shoot for KinesisUK road bikes and Reynolds wheels could be that magical eye opener for anyone wanting a true behind-the-scenes glimpse of it all, though I only realised this as we (rider James Brickell and myself) woke in the back of my VW Transporter camper-fied van for our planned sunrise shoot. instead of heavenly rays of golden light bursting through the windscreen, rain was lashing its windows and the mercury was still sitting at a very unappetising 4C.

Nikon D750, 16-35 f4 @ 1/1000 f5.6

I’m guessing James’ thoughts lie somewhere between “hot coffee, soon” and “would anyone notice if the photographer didn’t come back from this shoot?” Nikon D750, 16-35 f4 @ 1/1000 f5.6

Making images that “pop” with aspirational grandeur is what makes everyone happy. The client is happy and thinks you are a lens-god (which of course I am). The public thinks you are great for making the product they really, really want to buy seem even more irresistible and justified. And the model/rider thinks you are great… eventually (usually only long after the shoot when sensitivity has returned to their extremities and they get to see how ruddy good you have made them look on a bike.)

And to make images pop means invoking atmosphere to the scene. Usually by sacrificing something to the weather gods.

Nikon D750, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000, f6.3.

“Yes that hill climb, yes do it once more please. OK, and just once more again please..” “Nikon D750, 70-200/2.8 @ 1/1000, f6.3.

Considering we’re in the Alps surrounded by majestic mountains, this all sounds easy. So to inject a little realism and dispel some misconceptions, here is how the recent KinesisUK shoot panned out:

Drive an hour to pick up rider.  Drive another 45 minutes to location and scout a bit, looking at the aesthetics of every possible corner of a long twisty road over a remote mountain pass.  Shoot some summery looking, dreamy images as the sun dips (one box ticked).  Drive over pass into land of pizza and eat.  Drive back to pass and camp in van in lay-by so to be ‘ready” and on location for planned sunrise shoot. Wake up at 5am to p*ssing rain and freezing temperatures that weren’t  forecast.  Go for a wee.  Wait another 90 minutes to see if the weather will break in time to still get a pop at some good morning light.  Wonder about life and the meaning of it all.  Leap out of van at first sight of clouds breaking.  Persuade rider that he isn’t cold, really, and tell him to stop shivering and to try to make it look like he is enjoying himself on an aspirational, ‘out there’ finding yourself kind of ride (you know, the sort everyone thinks they want to do, but don’t).  Wait for clouds to part again.  And again.  Allow rider to don warm layers in between hustled shots.  Shoot as for as long as possible at least until either a) rider can still feel his hands to use the brake, or b) the light is still making those images pop.  Finish when either of these give up on you or you’re having to resort to Sellotaping down rider’s nipples flat and invisible through the jersey in an act to convey some kind of warmth to the shots.  Go grab some breakfast.

Reading that back I guess my job isn’t as glamorous as some would think. But I dont think I’d have it any other way.

Nikon D750, 24-70/2.8 @ 1/1000 f5.6

Somewhere at the end of this road is a warm cafe and breakfast. Possibly. Nikon D750, 24-70/2.8 @ 1/1000 f5.6

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