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

December 31, 2012

A lot of legwork: 2012 in pictures

Another 12 months. Another set of blinding adventure shoots, my busiest year yet.  One that included camping through -20C temps and shooting for a handful of new clients and one that squeezed in 100 days on the bike. Here’s a look at 2012 through my lens…

January kicked off with the Volkl ski shoot while most were still heavy headed from new Year revelries. Heavy storms meant most of the Chamonix valley was closed due to avalanche dangers and we had to get creative for the shots.

Nikon D3S, 70-200 2.8 @ 1/250, f5.6. 2x speedlites

Nikon D3S, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f5.6. 2x speedlites & Pocketwizards TT5.

I  had this statue jib (above) in mind for 3 years, waiting for conditions to shoot it. I finally managed to get the shot I had envisaged for so long.

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

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

Meanwhile on the mountain, amazing low January light (above) delivered side-lighting that helps render any scene a beautiful aspirational image, while shooting from an elevated vantage point means you get to see the ski graphics. That always keeps a ski client happy. I start shooting for Volkl again next week.

February saw the coldest weather hit Europe for 50 years. It was the month I teamed up with Jeremy Jones and TGR for the Further project, meaning camping for a week through -20C temperatures in Austria, followed by a week in a remote refuge. Both backcountry forays involved 5 hour access approaches, dragging all our gear needed for surviving and filming/shooting, forcing decisions on what kit (which cameras? lenses?) was really essential. It was one of the harshest winter sessions I, or any of the TGR film team, have endured during the 4 years of filming Deeper and Further. The Further movie came out in the autumn. It’s a banger.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @ 1/1000, f8.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @ 1/1000, f8. This image has become O’Neill’s prime advert image for 2012/13 season.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f6.3. Our camp in the cold Karwendel range.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/250, f6.3.  Our camp in the cold Karwendel range. The sun never reached camp and 2 of our athletes never changed out of the same set of their outerwear even in their sleeping bags.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/200, f4.  Shooting with Jones always means early starts. No time to warm boots; just get on with it.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/200, f4.  Time: 6.30am. Shooting with Jones always means early starts. No time to warm boots; just get on with it.

The cold continued during a shoot for Mens Fitness magazine on Biathlon (below). Shooting in -17C meant trying not to touch any of the bare metal of camera or lens while trying to dodge frostbite.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f4.5.

Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8 @1/1000, f4.5. Our MF journo chases his instructor into the icy wastelands of a very cold winter.

March delivered a return to winter tent life via a trip to Kyrgyzstan (below). If truth be told I didn’t want to go to Kyrgyzstan, having been misled by 3 previous trips to Russia as to how testing such trips to ex-Soviet countries can be. Sometimes even the ‘dream job’ can seem a nightmare. Camping in a traditional yurt at 2600m for a week and splitboarding the mountains around it had its scary moments but the whole trip proved to be enormously rewarding. A great country. Very friendly people. I am planning to go back, with the bike.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8 @1/1000 f8. Stentiford lays out before a stunning Kyrgyz backdrop, only a few miles from the China border.

Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8 @1/1000 f8. Stentiford lays out before a stunning Kyrgyz backdrop, only a few miles from the China border. Snow instabilities meant a lot of the steeper lines stayed out of reach.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40 1.4 @ 1/20, f2. The Leica always seems less intrusive when it comes to capturing local colour. We stayed with a Kyrgyz family for a night, and kept their little girls entertained with our western habits.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 40 1.4 @ 1/20, f2. The Leica always seems less intrusive when it comes to capturing local colour. We stayed with a Kyrgyz family for a night, and kept their little girls entertained with our western habits.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/30, f10, tripod. Our home for a week. No TV, no cellphone. Perfect.

Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @1/30, f10, tripod. Our yurt home for a week. No TV, no cellphone. Perfect. People seem less willing to disconnect from the obtrusive technology  that seems to dominate our lives now. If they did they might appreciate being alive.

Hit the more button below for the rest of the gallery….

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March 16, 2012

Kyrgyzstan: The yurt locker.

Filed under: snow — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 8:49 am

I have got to admit, until a month ago I wouldn’t have been able to place Kyrgyzstan on a map. It’s a different story now. Now I know where it is. I know what the people look like. I know how cold it gets there. I know what they speak there. I know what they eat (it’s not a very vegetarian-friendly place I can tell you). I know how bumpy their roads are.

I just spent the last 10 days in this ex-USSR central Asian country shooting a story on staying in a traditional yurt at 2650m and splitboarding the adjacent rugged mountains. Let’s face it, a comfy yurt with its wood stove to dry kit, is a way friendlier place to sit about in post-shred than the usual sub-zero tents that seem to have become my home-from-home on the TGR Deeper/Further trips of late, and with local villagers’ horses on hand to porter our kit up the initial 800m climb to our base, things were looking easy from the off.

How naive. After seeing a stable snowpack for all of february, seasonal weather effects on a continental snowpack began a heavy avalanche cycle just before our arrival, meaning with our guide (40tribesbackcountry.com), we had to tread lightly in this uncompromising terrain. This isn’t the place to have things go wrong. And then there was getting up there. Everything we rode meant 1000m of climbing from the yurt each day, with the usual huffing and puffing that goes hand-in-hand with altitudes of 3500m/11,500 ft. And then there were the local taxis. Kyrgyzstan is the place where VW Passats go to die it seems.

But that’s what adventure is all about: new experiences and acquaintances, hardships, bumpy hours in the backs of decaying vehicles, and the absence of tofu burgers. I now feel a little better acquainted with Kyrgyzstan. Now where on the map is Ulaanbaatr…?

Camera-wise, I headed there armed with the Nikon D3s & Nikon 2.8 glass for the action stuff and my quintissential, less invasive Leica M8 for the travel shots. the story will grace a number of snow-related titles next winter.

James Stentiford rides 'eggs and bacon', a safe, if mellow line at last light before another night in the yurt locker. Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8.

Our Russian taxi driver is called 'Schumacher'. His taxi is a 1985 ex-soviet army bus. He starts the engine by touching 2 bare wires together. Nikon D3s, 50 1.4.

Italian Tania Detomas skins the slow grind up to a line way above the valley floor, long before she has had her morning cappuccino. Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8.

This was the scary scene that greeted us on the mountain: Leeward NE faces that were self releasing and cleaning out. Time to take it easy. For scale, this face is about 900m vertical. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8.

Horses are more important than cars for a lot of Kyrgyz people. At a sunday market, young Kyrgyz lads encourage their horses to barge each other in training for local 'no rules' polo, called Kok-Boru, that uses a headless sheep carcass as the 'ball'. Leica M8, Zeiss 28 2.8.

The Yurt locker. Home from home for 5 tired nights in a land inhabited by wolves and bears.The seeds of a vegetarian diet have now been sown here. Nikon D3s, 14-24 2.8.

Sheep and Ladas and mobile phones. Rural Kyrgyz gather from 3am at the Karakol livestock market to buy or sell sheep, bundling their live purchases into the boots of Ladas. Leica M8, Voigtlander 15 4.5.

It took 4 hours to skin to this face at 3500m, only to find the snowpack stability less than friendly and we were forced to retreat. The real art of mountain riding is knowing when to back away. Nikon D3s, 70-200 2.8.

January 8, 2012

2011: A year in pictures

If you’ve avoided keeping up to date on my roamings during 2011, you’re bang out of luck now. You’ve stumbled on my annual recap of this last year spent as a travelling professional photo chimp.. . a collation of images that I hope gives a kind of insight into the eclectic adventures that my dream job allows me to photograph in various corners of the world, and the reason that we photographer’s are *mysteriously moody/unbearably over confident/trembling nervous wrecks (*delete as appropriate).

(Hit the “more” tab below the second image caption to see the gallery in its entirety.)

Canon EOS 1D mkIII, 24-70 2.8, f5 1/1000.

(above) It’s all about the backside air. Nate Kern throws a backside air over old mining ruins near Telluride, Colorado, while two well-known but remaining anonymous female pro snowboarders couldn’t resist giving him cheek. The trip with Jenny Jones, Hana Beaman, Nate and Angus Leith was a reminder that snowboarding, a sport so many of us begun for fun, needn’t just be business.

Canon EOS 1DmkIII, 24-70/2.8, f7.1, 1/800.

(above) Kickers have never been my favourite thing to shoot in snowboarding, especially when there is powder to ride and shoot in the backcountry. It has something to do with how I ride. I’m not a kicker person and find shooting them a little dull and restrictive. A lot of standing around cheering other people on. Kickers, compared to freeride shots, seem more about the style of the rider than the art of the photography, at least normally. After ticking the rider’s boxes however this time I found time to satisfy my own art-urges. Nate Kern is in there somewhere, deep in the Telluride backcountry, Colorado.

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December 21, 2011

P.O.M: Nov ‘011

Filed under: bike — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 12:40 pm

Photo Of the Month: Revisiting the Mar-e-mar north trail, Corsica.

Leica M8, Voigtlander 12/5.6

Seven years ago I rode this trail on my Titanium hardtail. Back then having 110mm of fork suspension was almost a luxury for us XC-riders and the four day point-to-point we attempted along this trail dealt us out a drubbing. Seven years later it was time to go back armed with our “everyday” rides -150mm travel Yeti 575 bikes. The trail, a long distance, rugged hiking path between coastal Porto and mountainous Corte, was as technical as I remember and more, but a whole lot more fun on these bikes, and dare I say it with hindsight and planning, especially when approached in the opposite direction to give us the net benefit of gravity. Deep in the beautiful forests of this Mediterranean island, we found ourselves alone with our bikes, riding trails that thread along some of the most spectacular gorges of Europe. This shot is deep in the Tavignano gorge, reached via a 700m climb and 300m tech descent. It runs via some 20Km of ancient paved mule track to Corte. The story is running in MBUK (UK) and Bike mag Germany in February.

November 4, 2011

P.O.M: October ‘011.

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , — danmilner @ 11:52 am

Photo Of the Month: Nikole and Patchen homeward bound, Annadel State Park, California.

Not a lot beats the contrast of golden grass against stormy skies and California in October delivers. One of the perks of my job is that I get to ride different trails all over the world as part of some photo assignment. Usually it means some expletive-laden epic up some impossibly steep mountainside, but sometimes, just sometimes, it means great XC style riding with friends with no magazine commission to worry about. I met Patchen while cycle-touring in Argentina back in 1996. The bike and similar sense of humour (hey, we were cycle-touring) connection meant we kept in touch and although not as frequently as we'd like, we do still get to ride together on occasions. Annadel was one 25 mile loop that my two Marin-based friends insisted we go and ride. It's a blast. 22 miles in, this scene opened up and I couldn't resist reaching for the camera. Adventure photographer's it seems are never totally 'on holiday' (contrary to the popular misconception that every assignment is a 'holiday'). Annadel, along with the Butcher trail at Downieville that Patchen and Nikole also introduced me to, will go down as two of my top 10 trails, anywhere. Leica M8, Voigtlander 75/3.5.

September 9, 2011

Resolution and pixel counts: whatever. When billboards rule the roost.

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , — danmilner @ 8:21 pm

So it’s recovery time again, recovery that is from 3 full-tilt days shooting the shiniest-of-shiny things at the World’s largest collation of new bike products: Eurobike. it’s a long way from my usual expedition-esque exploits, but shooting 2012 bike gear for both MBUK and What Mountain Bike magazines still proves a challenge, notably by way of persuading some guy on a trade stand to bend his Germanic tendencies and let you wheel away their one-and-only 2012 dream machine to shoot it off-stand how you want to, and of course make it all look good in the process.

That much I was expecting.

But one thing I wasn’t expecting was the sight of an enormous billboard above the cafe (and a string of smaller boards around the 5 football pitch expo) advertising the SRAM stand, all using one of my images, shot on my very portable Leica M8. Considering the veritable size of the billboard, it’s funny the fuss people make over pixels and megapixels and resolutions.

10.5 megapixles and billboards...

At 10.5 Megapixels, the Leica M8 rangefinder is far from cutting edge by today’s digital imaging standards (its sister M9 boasts 18MP), but when used right it seems to pack more than its weight in punches. Yes it has its limitations: it is impossibly noisy at anything above its 320 ISO speed and its manual-focus and single shot frame rate mean it is perhaps the least likely camera to be wielded by bike photographers, but for me it works, mostly because it is portable and allows me the control I need to shoot. Simply put, I can ride a week through the middle of nowhere with an M8 and four lenses plus a change of clothes without wilting.

You can almost taste the suffering: the shot and the ad. Leica M8, Zeiss 28/2.8

I won’t pretend that it would replace my Nikon SLR gear for many of the shoots I do, but my niche in adventure photography means I have plenty of reasons to pack the M8 instead. In fact this image that is dominating SRAM’s main European and US ads right now was shot at 3500m/12,000 ft up on the Colorado Trail, somewhere between Copper Mountain and Leadville, about ten minutes after we’d emerged from a two-hour hike a bike up to our knees in snow, something that would have nigh on killed me with a big SLR and 2.8 lenses onboard.

So when you’re scouting the reviews for the highest resolution camera you can find, bear in mind photography isn’t only about the camera thats in your hands, its about the hands it’s in as well.

At the other end of the spectrum perhaps, Eurobike also gave me the opportunity to wade in to trying my new Pocketwizard TTL5 set up, that having spent a too long geeking over and setting up, allows me to shoot my flashes at a sync of 1/1250th second (they claim up to 1/8000th). In this case, allowing me to shoot the new Ragley bike in full daylight outdoors .. something that looks like this when it all comes together.

Beam me up Ragley. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8, 2x Pocktewizard TTL5 & MiniTTL, Nikon 900 & 800 strobes. 1/1250, f5. Outdoors, under covered walkway, 11 am.

September 6, 2011

The other side of the lens: photographer in glory hunt shocker.

Filed under: bike, outdoors, photography — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 3:46 pm

It’s rare that I end up on the other side of the lens, and if you’ve seen me you’ll understand why I began a career as a photographer rather than a swimtrunk model, but every now and then it does happen. And thanks to the good people over at Bikemag,com you can share my glory by downloading a current wallpaper that features the veritable dan milner in action, astride his Yeti 575, railing a Nepalese alleyway.

Mind the yaks. Leica M8, Voigtlander 15/5.6. Photo: Angie Wardle.

The shot ran a while back in Bike mag (in printed form) as a double page spread in their gallery section. Taken by my long suffering and many time bike-model (and Bike mag cover star) Angie, the opportunity to poke my nose into the shot arose as we followed the Kali Gandaki river down through the Lower Mustang region, rummaging among the supersized hills (read: 4000-7000 metres) each side of the river for great singletrack trails. This village, Thini, the oldest in the region, is a little off the tourist route and its cobbled alleyways haven’t changed much in centuries. Kids scurried away before returning inquisitively as we passed through the village and came across this S-bend in the alleyway, prime for a shot. To get a little lean without scrubbing out on the polished flagstones, I had to to pitch the front wheel against a rock to the side of the cobbles, using it as a little berm, and first pass I nearly ploughed headfirst into a couple of yaks wandering up the path. My how we laughed.

Think of it as a mere sniff at the swimtrunks of a super model.

But in case you think it’s all fun and games travelling to exotic places and shooting photos… here’s another shot of the same dan milner, getting a good shoe’ing at the hands of a Nepalese river during a 3-day descent. He’ll be the one halfway through a roll back up, but about to be eaten by the hole that’s looming ahead then…

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.

February 20, 2011

Retrospective no.1: Cant see the wood for the trees

Filed under: outdoors, photography — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 8:15 pm

One of the best things about having had a dream job (thats ‘photographer’ to you by the way) for a while is that I get to slowly build on timeless personal photo projects, adding to them as and when I come across a scene that fits the bill. Sometimes they are scenes that you I looking for, grabbing a set of images to make a single study in a single trip, and others, well, they just happen, with opportunities presenting themselves in a kind of street photography manner.

One of my personal loves is trees, in all their forms. (Okay, get ready for the hippy stuff) I marvel at their beauty and never cease to be amazed at their stubborn reluctance to give up in the face of (usually human induced) adversity. Anyway, so to launch a set of retrospectives on my blog I’m starting with a set of images I’ve shot of trees -beautiful trees- in various places around the world. Without them we’d be nothing.

(hit the more tag below the first image for the whole gallery)

Luma apiculata, or the Chilean Myrtle. I came across the magnificent tree in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina. Leica M8, Zeiss 28/2.8

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October 18, 2010

Nepal rematch: Hardened bike adventurers 1 : Bed bugs 2

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 2:58 pm

“In all my time hiking in the Himalayas, I have never seen people riding bikes,” says the surprised looking Indian trekker, through a broad smile. I’m about to say that I’ve not seen too many 60 year old Indian trekkers either, but I decide to save my breath. Halfway up our final 4230-metre (13,877 ft) pass on our way to the northern Nepalese town of Lo Manthang, I need to save as much breath as I can.

If you’ve noticed a gap in my blog lately, Nepal is the reason. I just got back from 3 weeks there, where accompanied by US journalist legend Rob Story  and Chamonix local Swede biker Seb Liljeberg we scratched an itch that I have had for the last year: to traverse the remote northern ‘forbidden kingdom’ of Upper Mustang by singletrack trails all the way to the Tibetan border.

Right from the off when last year I gazed forlornly into the Upper Mustang from outside its restricted border and my over ambitious mind began its craving for the tsunami of endorphins this kind of physical challenge seems to unleash I  knew the assignment wasn’t going to be an easy one. And it wasn’t. 13 days riding shoehorned some 15,000 metres of climbing into the equation, most of it above 3500 m/11,500 ft. In fact, combined with basic tea house accommodation in villages en route, an incessant afternoon wind that at times tried to knock us clean off the suspension bridges that hang precipitously above churning Himalayan rivers, several huge passes and five days and nights hovering around 4000m, I can safely say that I think this was the most challenging bike adventure I’ve shot to date. And thats not mentioning the bed bugs. Or the fact that I was nursing a cracked sacrum delivered by a fall only two weeks earlier. Ouch.

My excuse to try to ride and shoot this challenge came in learning that the Chinese have begun to construct a road through the region development that normally spells not only a change to the local way of life but the disappearance of mile upon mile of singletrack trail. The price of progress. ‘Best ride it before it disappears’ I decided. Mountain Bike magazine in the US picked up the commission and duly assigned and permits applied for, we headed for the Upper Mustang, an area of Nepal that has only been open to foreigners since 1992.  Twenty hours of journeying from Europe, a day picking up permits in the smog and chaos filled Kathmandu, an 8 hour bus ride to Pokhara and a half hour ridge-hopping flight in an aging propellor plane got us to the small town of Jomsom, nestled at the foot of the 7000 m Annapurna range: adventure enough for any sane person, but merely the start of our riding. Ahead lay 3-hour long climbs, rocky staircases both up and down, regular goat gridlock, endless swooping descents, and vertical 700 m bike shouldering escapades. By the time we reached Lo Manthang the Tibetan Lhasa beers were well earnt.

The story will appear in Mountain Bike magazine in the spring, and I’ll be presenting a slideshow of the ordeal at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival’s bike night on Nov 19th.

Thanks for help with this trip go to Mountain Bike magazine, The North Face, Helly Hansen, powertraveller.com, Osprey packs, Mavic, Giro, Bell and Gore.

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