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

June 24, 2014

Come to the dark side -shooting Trek bikes in North Carolina

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , — danmilner @ 8:02 am

I’ve never been to North Carolina. At least I hadn’t until last week when my annual session shooting for Trek bikes came through. Two years ago it was the Italian Dolomites, last year Arizona and in 2014, North Carolina the venue. All three couldn’t be more different, and all throw up challenges for the photographer (dodging hail storms in the Dolomites, 100F heat in Arizona, mosquitos and poison ivy in N. Carolina). My job: to shoot the launch of Trek’s new Fuel EX bike and in so doing, shoot the image needs of the assembled worldwide editors (and Trek’s) and well, just capture the feel of the bikes in this location.  Cue: high ISO.

Nikon D3S, 70-200/4 @ 1/640, F4.5, ISO 3200.

Nikon D3S, 70-200/4 @ 1/640, F4.5, ISO 3200.

I flew in expecting moss-bedragled trees and old dudes chewing tobacco sitting in rocking chairs on porches . But of course that’s the deep south. North Carolina just isn’t quite that far south (idiot). So no moss, but it still has the the kind of animals that kill you -copperhead snakes, big spiders, bears, and it has a lot of deep, dark woodland coating the flanks, summits and troughs of the Pisgah National Forest (Pisgah is one of those words that has always had resonance in mountain biking and at last I got to see what it was all about.) And Pisgah is one helluva dark forest to shoot in.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f2.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f2. You’re never far from a church in N. Carolina.

Shooting editors during a guided ride is all about leapfrogging ahead of them. No fuss, set up the shot, shoot and move on. It means moving fast without flashes, and so shooting natural light (which lets face it is my thang) however dark it is. But thanks to the current low-light able DSLRs this is possible. Shooting landscapes in the forest is one thing, but when you need a shutter speed of 1/1000th too, then even shooting f4 or wider, means ramping the ISO up to 4000 (or more). No the shots are not perfect (I’m not sure I agree that 12,500 ISO is quite as noise-less as they claim), but they work fine for a double page spread in the print mags (hey, remember print mags?) and would probably stand up to some billboard abuse, and they are more than good enough for that digital mag resolution.

So thanks Trek for the chance to push my D3S’s ISO to meltdown, and the opportunity to ride, see and experience the Pisgah forest in all its darkness (it is really good riding BTW). And eat hot boiled peanuts. Now that’s something I never thought I’d say.

Nikon D3S, 16-35/4, 1/1000, f6.3. ISO 6400.

Nikon D3S, 16-35/4, 1/1000, f6.3. ISO 6400.

 

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February 2, 2014

Think you know snow? Treading lightly on the Voelkl ski shoot.

Filed under: photography, snow — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 4:16 pm
Working safe, mellow, north aspects is all about working the light. Freeride World Tour champ Nadine Wallner works some magic as the snow begins to heavy-up. Shots like this I use manual focus to give me more freedom of composition. Nikon D3s, 70-200/4, 1/1000, f11.

Working safe, mellow, north aspects is all about working the light. Freeride World Tour champ Nadine Wallner works some magic as the snow begins to heavy-up. For shots like this I use manual pre-focus to give me more freedom of composition. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000/f11.

Like kids and animals, I’d throw in snow as being one of the hardest things to work with (not that I’ve done an awful lot of work with kids or animals I add). This month saw our annual shoot for ski hardware-meisters Voelkl. With dates booked months in advance, and a whole team of 15 professional athletes descending on the location for a 4-day session, I’d be lying if I pretended that I don’t get anxious in the few days before the shoot. Snow is fickle. It comes, it goes, it crusts, it gets heavy.  But you have to work with what you’ve got, and make it work, and that’s the difference between being a pro photographer and a lucky enthusiast. Your images are the single end result of a lot of planning and the handing over of a significant shoot budget.  In 4 days, 4 photographers are to capture most of the companies vast image needs for both the ISPO product launch and the rest of the year’s marketing blurb. And its with this knowledge that you step out, camera in hand.

And that’s where the snow bit comes in.

Aspirational is only half the story on commercial shoots. Marketing people like to see what they are selling, and that's where Per Jonsson comes in. he's the kind of athlete you can trust to miss you when you get in close. Tracking fast approaching subjects is a great test for autofocus, and one of the only times I use it. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/2500, f5.6.

‘Aspirational’ is only half the story on commercial shoots. After all marketing people like to see what they are selling, and that’s where Per Jonsson comes in. He’s the kind of pro athlete you can trust to miss you when you get in close. Tracking fast approaching subjects is a great test for autofocus and one of the only times I use it. Nikon D3s, 24-70 2.8 @ 1/2500, f5.6.

Early snow in the Alps can make people complacent. Shouts of “its gonna be a huge winter” echo around the valleys. But in reality, the early snow and cold spell just left a dangerous hoar-frost layer and weak snowpack for any off-piste skiing. This is the kind of consideration that adds a certain pressure to real ski shoots -you know the kind of shoots that really capture the aspirational, the kind of stuff that’s put my name on the map for the last decade and a half.

And then it changed. Kind of.

Fresh snow before the shoot is always a relief. It puts pay to all that head scratching, wondering what the heck we’re going to shoot and where we’re going to do it. But it also buries that weak, avalanche-prone layer. So it’s within these criteria that we set out on the Voelkl shoot, keeping to safe areas and watching as the heat wave reduced most south facing slopes to heavy, lifeless mush. Pro ski photography is all about reading signs. It’s about reading warning signs in the weather, it’s about seeing which way the wind has blown, which way the light is angled, about reading signs in your athletes faces and body language that say “Well Dan, I’ve kind of had enough hiking today.”

Pro ski photography is about knowing snow.

Last run of the day and the camera's still out. Occasionally we take a free run, but when the terrain looks liek this and the light is reflected off the biggest peak in Europe, you've just got to keep shjooting. Nadine Wallner heading home. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000, f 7.1

Last run of the day and the camera’s still out. Occasionally we might grab a no photos, free run, but when the terrain looks like this and the dying light is reflected off the biggest peak in Europe, you’ve just got to keep shooting. Nadine Wallner heading home. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4 @ 1/1000, f 7.1

June 29, 2013

If it’s Friday it’s 100F out there: Shooting the new Trek Remedy 29-er

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , — danmilner @ 6:05 pm

Arizona has dodged my riding and shooting radar to date. At least it had until May this year, when I landed in Phoenix for a 4 day shoot for Trek bikes. The shoot, to capture the image needs of various assembled global mountain bike magazine editors, sounds like child’s play, but is in fact a tough call. Think: sunrise-to-sunset days, trying to juggle the artistic needs of both a company launching 2 new bikes and various magazine styles alike while attempting to stay hydrated in 100F desert heat, and you have an idea of what’s entailed. Something has to give. This time it was the hydration.

AMB cover designed and original shot, for your perusal. Nikon D3S, 70-200 f4, 2 speedlites & Pocketwizards, 1/1250 sync.

AMB cover designed and original shot, for your perusal. Nikon D3S, 70-200 f4, 2 speedlites & Pocketwizards, 1/1250 sync.

Great trails, great guiding and great catering back-up (thanks Skratch!) helped, but for myself and photographer Stirling Lorence the workload is heavy -joining breakfast after a sunrise shoot, then leapfrogging the group editors’ ride to try to capture the bulk of editor’s action needs before heading back out on a sunset shoot to nail the last of a specific cover shot hit list means packing in more hours than even the Arizona sunshine will allow in a day. But whatever.

So my first editorial from the job to land in print is this, the cover of Australia Mountain Bike mag, shot while on a planned 7pm sunset shoot. The shoot involved hiking/riding up a trail for an hour to capture the legendary Arizona golden hour of light. And whaddayaknow? As soon as the sun got low, the clouds moved in. My faved natural light approach had to be replaced by 2 speedlights, to add drama to a drifty corner, backlighting the rooster of dust and adding some sidelight to the subject. So the art guy at AMB has tweaked the light & contrast a little to suit their style, but my employees on this job, Trek, landed the cover. And none of us, me included are gonna complain about that. Now where’s my water….?

January 15, 2013

Getting Vocal with Voelkl -a picture is worth a thousand words….

If this is a taste of the year ahead, I’ll be needing more memory cards. A 4-day shoot for Voelkl skis kicked off my 2013, in conditions that were about as perfect as we were going to get in the Alps. Quite a contrast from last years avalanche dodging and jib-tastic escapade. I was given the services of international backcountry freestylers Dylan Hood and Dash Longe from the USA and Flo Wieser (austria) and PA Chedal (France) to try to nail all the images needed by Voelkl to launch a brand new flagship backcountry ski at next month’s ISPO trade fair. Hmm, not that there was any pressure or anything.

The nerdy bit: It also gave me the chance to try out my new Nikon 70-200 f4G lens.. the new lighter (850g), but one stop slower counterpart to the usual 70-200 f2.8 I lug about. And when I say “lug” I mean. Lug. The f2.8 is a back-straining 1500g. Add that to a D3s body (1240g), a 24-70 f2.8 (900g), a 14-24 f2.8 (970g), a 50 f1.4 (290g) and a few accessories, and you have some heft. I’ve been waiting for Nikon to emerge with the f4 since I first heard rumours of its development a year ago. It was one of the lenses in Canon’s amoury that I missed when I switched to Nikon from Canon 2 years ago, especially when hiking the backcountry. (I’ll be seeing how the D600 and 16-35 f4, 70-200 f4 combo goes down when Jeremy Jones/TGR start calling for the next expedition..).

So here’s a peek at what pleased Voelkl….

This spot rarely fails to deliver... nor does Flo's 720. Backlighting is my way, and while the new 70-200 f4 is sharp and no doubt autofocuses without hesitation, I actually manually focussed on the take off to allow a more relaxed composition.

This spot rarely fails to deliver… nor does Flo’s 720. Backlighting is my way, and while the new 70-200 f4 is sharp and no doubt autofocuses without hesitation, I actually manually focussed on the take off to allow a more relaxed composition. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4, 1/1600, f.7.1.

I thik this was the 10th shot I have taken with the new 70-200 f4. yeah I'm happy. Dylan Hood sends a rooster tail that you normally see in snowboarding. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4. 1/100, f/8.

I think this was the 10th shot I have taken with the new 70-200 f4. Happy? Yeah I’m happy! Dylan Hood sends a ski rooster tail that you normally see in snowboarding. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4. 1/1000, f/8.

 

Seeing the skis can be a problem when shooting marketing shots in powder. Unless you have Dylan along for the ride. The base shot. Nikon D3s, 14-24 f2.8. 1/1250, f6.3.

Seeing the skis can be a problem when shooting marketing shots in powder. Unless you have Dylan along for the ride. The base shot. Nikon D3s, 14-24 f2.8. 1/1250, f6.3.

 

The evolution of skiing. Flo lays out a surf turn and gets barrelled. This was the last shot of the day, last shot of the shoot. I didnt know quite where he was going to lay out this turn on the bank, so kept the composition loose, the depth of field reasonable at f7.1, and tracked him in, adjusting my composition as he began the turn. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4,@ 1/2000, f7.1, ISO 200.

The evolution of skiing. Flo lays out a surf turn and gets barrelled. This was the last shot of the day, last shot of the shoot. I didnt know quite where he was going to lay out this turn on the bank, so kept the composition loose, the depth of field reasonable at f7.1, and tracked him in, adjusting my composition as he began the turn. Nikon D3s, 70-200 f4,@ 1/2000, f7.1, ISO 200.

All work and no play make Dan a dull(er) boy. Not strictly part of the shoot, but a "free run" down the Rectaline couloir on day 4 allowed the skiers to get the new skis dialled, and me to try the new Nikon D600 body. You know "free runs" are going to be a little different whren the guide (stian) says  " take it easy at the pinch, its not a place to fall" and " and at the bottom of the coulir there is a 1m ice shelf to drop off so don't go charging through..". Nikon D600, 14-24 f2.8 @1/1000, f5.6. ISO 100.

All work and no play make Dan a dull(er) boy. Not strictly part of the shoot, but a “free run” down the Rectaline couloir on day 4 allowed the skiers to get the new skis dialled, and me to try my new Nikon D600 body. You know “free runs” are going to be a little “different” when the guide (Stian Hagen) says “..take it easy at the pinch, its not a place to fall… oh, and at the bottom of the couloir there is a 1m ice shelf to drop off so don’t go charging through..”. Nikon D600, 14-24 f2.8 @1/1000, f5.6. ISO 100.

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