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

January 10, 2017

Turning heads 50 miles from Syria

My job as a story telling photographer is often about turning heads. Okay, it’s always about turning heads. Coming up with an original story, or a feature’s USP, is key to earning a living as a professional travel photographer. So last month I took my bike to ‘war-torn’ Lebanon and rode it 50 miles from the Syrian border.

Head turning enough for you?

It’s easy to be glib, to play to the lowest common denominator, especially in these bewildering political times. It would be easy to pretend that our trip was one of extreme danger in order to earn some perverted pub-chat credibility. But in reality visiting Lebanon is really not as scary as you might think. And we knew that before we went. Hey, I’m an adventure, not a war, photographer.

milner_lebanon016_096

Kamil entertains the locals – Nikon D750, 70-200/4.

Like most of my editorials, this one took a fair bit of research and planning. You can’t just reach for the ‘Guide to Mountain Biking Lebanon’ in the bookshop (mountain biking is still small in Lebanon, although on our last day we did hook up with, and get schooled by, a couple of local riders). In fact my trip was 2 years in the making, from initial idea (after seeing an alluring photo of a mountain and a cedar tree on a wall in a Lebanese restaurant) to booking a flight. And all the time I kept it under wraps in case another bike photographer caught wind and got a jump on us. As if they would. (Paranoia is part of this job I guess).

Accompanied by Tibor Simai and Kamil Tatarkovic, (who came on my recent Argentina and Ethiopia trips respectively) and supported by a Beirut local, Ziad, we followed sections of the Lebanon Mountain Trail (LMT) a 440 Km long hiking trail that runs the length of the country. We rode past Syrian refugee camps. We ate houmous with ISIS-fighting Lebanese military. We met only friendly people. We saw incredible scenery. We railed amazing trails. We rode with local mountain bikers who are better than me on a bike. We got lost. And we carried our bikes. A lot.

So the first of my features is now out, online here on Bikemag.com and a different story is starting to flush through the print magazines, already out in Spoke (New Zealand) and Velo (Czech republic). So if ‘print’s-not-dead’ is your thing, then look out for it in MBUK, Bike Germany, Solo Bici, Sidetracked and other titles around the globe. I hope it sheds some light on a country that deserves to have a light shone on it. And I hope it challenges our perception of former war-torn places. Only by challenging perceptions will change happen.

Thanks to Yeti Cycles, Shimano and Mavic for helping keep my adventure wheels rolling. Again.

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.

MBK_322_Ethiopiacover

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.

 

November 11, 2014

Come to the Dark side – the Kinesis bikes Peak shoot

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , , , — danmilner @ 9:05 am

I’ve been riding mountain bikes since 1985. My first story ran in MBUK in 1993 —a feature about riding in Majorca, complete with dodgy action selfies, taken by balancing my camera on a nearby rock, while I balanced a trackstand in between some boulders, again. Although happily published, it made me realise I needed to get better at taking photos (and do trips with other people). Mountain bikes are, and have always been a big part of my life. I don’t ride a road bike very often. But to me bikes are bikes. They are amazing things. They are tickets to adventure. They are mobility marvels. They are part of the only transport solution that sort out our cities properly.

On reflection - Scott Purchas and the T2. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8.

On reflection – Scott Purchas and the T2. Peak District. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8.

So when I get asked to shoot a road bike session, I have no problem with that, at all. Especially if it’s in one of the most beautiful, and one of my favourite, places of the UK —the Peak District National Park. Last month’s shoot for Kinesis UK was all about showing their latest T2 bike as the do-anything machine that today’s everyday rider needs: commuter / winter hack / mile-munching tourer / summer sportif. But mostly winter hack on this photo brief, which is where the Dark Peak in late October comes in.

Moody, brooding, up against the elements. Thats the Peak District I’ve always know, from childhood day trips to hike over Kinder Scout, to wet camping and mountain bike weekends riding hardtails with 35mm of elastomer suspension up front. And I’ve got to say, even after all the incredible places in the World I’ve shot, this one place in the middle of the UK is still right up there. I think it always will be, whatever bike I’m shooting.

Wet roads, dry stone walls.

Wet roads, dry stone walls.

July 8, 2014

This Life Aquatic – hauling bikes on boats in Scotland

Filed under: bike, photography, video — Tags: , , , , , , , — danmilner @ 6:45 am

Sometimes ideas for features take a while to come to fruition; like my Argentina railway bike epic in March, and like this slightly out there adventure I shot in Scotland in May. The idea: take some sea-kayaks, pack with overnight camping gear and throw our bikes onto inflatable dinghies towed behind.

Putting new meaning to the word 'floater'. Shot with GoPro HD3+

Putting new meaning to the word ‘floater’. Shot with GoPro HD3+

Combining bikes and kayaks like this might seem a bit like mixing water with electricity, but there was an inner voice that nagged me over the last couple of years to try it (the same voice that leads me to places like Afghanistan to shoot bike features it seems). After all what can go wrong?

Sea kayaks are great for covering distance on water. Sleek, fast, efficient. Add a floating ‘trailer’ of an inflatable dinghy with the displacement dynamics of a barge, load it with bikes and the equation gets interesting. Especially if the wind is against you. And finding a suitable stretch of water to try this 2 day, 2 night escapade presented another challenge. So we teamed up with Go-Where Scotland to help with location logistics and Sea-Kayak Highlands to provide the boats and then we hit the deepest loch in Scotland, Loch Morar, a loch with its own legendary monster. Apparently.

Dont stray form the paths lads. Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4

Dont stray from the paths lads. Leica M9, Zeiss 18/4

So armed with the Pelican-case packable Leica M9 and a couple of GoPro HD3+ cameras our idea finally came to fruition. No it wasn’t quite the miles-from-anywhere-Alaskan-wrestle-bears-for-your-dinner insanity that many now come to expect from me, but it was an authentic little adventure, right there on our doorstep with its own set of challenges and rich rewards. It shows that sometimes you don’t need to travel too far to put the ‘escape’ into escapade. You just have to be willing to get out there, ride some bikes and paddle 20+ miles in whatever weather nature throws at you, and do it with a dinghy in tow.

The feature will rear its monster head in MBUK and other bike mags around the world in the next few months, but in the meantime, here’s the EpicTV episode from the trip. It’s a little… err, different. Click image below to watch.

Click to watch film episode

Click pic to watch film episode

 

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 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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November 24, 2012

The Mangina Chronicles: Riding India with Tracy Moseley

Well, as you’ll see from the last POM, India was on the agenda in October. For me this was a totally different experience from the normal DIY masochism that now seems to be the norm for my photographic excursions. This time I joined mountainbikekerala for their guided 12 day odyssey into the Indian Himalayas, something I was worried might be a tad tame. No need to worry there. In fact my biggest concern on the first day was how the hell I keep up with world champ Trek/Endura pro Tracy Moseley, James Richards and Phil and Lucy who run bikeverbier, out on a busman’s holiday.

The trip, although guided, included enough gnar’ to make you feel you earned every foot of descent (of which there was a lot), riding what seemed (although cliched) endless singletrack through steep, forested foothills into the high mountains up to 3800m at Zero Point. Technical, flowy, paved, steep, hike-a-bikes… the trail delivered everything, including monkeys swinging above our heads. Go there. Ride it.

And so while I was there to shoot on my trusty Leica M9, rather than film (we had an ace Indian rider/filmer/pinch-flat master, Vinay, with us for that purpose) I managed to squeeze in a a day of Go Pro’ing to make this little (tongue in cheek) glimpse at the upper end of the trail.  The story will appear in print in MBUK and Bike Germany in the spring. But until then.. enjoy this little taste of India.

Riding the Pindari Glacier Trail, India from danmilner on Vimeo.

September 4, 2012

MBUK in Milner cover shocker

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , — danmilner @ 4:40 pm

It’s been a while in the making, 19 years in fact. MBUK was the first mountain bike mag I started working with some 19 years ago (with a self-shot riding feature on Mallorca called “Sizzle”), and this month I landed my first front cover on the mag. I’ve had other covers -on Bike, on Singletrack, MBR, Privateer and What Mountain Bike- but MBUK has always eluded me. Until now.

A lot of this has to do with style. As you’ll no doubt know, I’m not one for using flashes unless I have to (odd as I spent all last week at Eurobike burning my flashes into meltdown), preferring to work with natural light, and to cut a long boring story short, for years MBUK’s covers have always been about flash. They’ve also been about bikes, specific bikes and politics and wanting a certain bike, a certain colour clothing on the cover, all to do with relating to inside content (and dare I say it, keeping advertisers happy). But last year they had a redesign one that opened up their cover look to, well more Milner-like flash-free photography.

Shoot covers quicker

This shot of Mark Scott was taken during a very long day shooting a technique feature in the Portes du Soleil area. “Just see if you can get us a cover while you’re shooting the feature,” had said the art director. Hmm, yeah we’ll see about that I thought, knowing full well most covers are shot on dedicated cover shoots. In the end we came across two cover-suitable bits of trail that fitted the “Fast and Loose” brief, one we sessioned for the above shot and just making the last lift to reach the second location before the lifts closed for the day. I’d expected the mag to use the shot below, part of the session at the end of the day, when the light started to ping, but it was the morning shot taken en route to the technique feature that made the cut instead.

Maybe in 19 years time I’ll shoot flashed covers. We’ll see.

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.

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