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

July 29, 2016

Putting mouth where the money is – 100 pages & counting

Filed under: bike, outdoors, story telling — Tags: , , , , , — danmilner @ 9:10 am

The story I shot last year riding a nine day traverse of Ethiopia’s  Simien Mountains has now topped 100 pages in print (+ running on a dozen websites), which is handy because trip sponsors —in this case Giro— like to see some bang for their buck. It’s what helps keep the sponsorship wheel turning for future trips.

Sugar daddies aren’t always easy to find, and most of the trips I shoot are self-funded, based on the calculations that I have enough editorials lined up to make these kind of adventure stories pay the mortgage. But with our Ethiopia trip costing about $5000 per person it seemed like a good idea to take this to someone who might have the budget and vision to make this work. Knowing that ‘adventure” was something that Giro was keen to align themselves with, and that this trip would present some amazing opportunities to do so, I took the pitch to them and they bought it. The conversation went something like this: (me) “Hi Dain, I have this story in Ethiopia’s mountains..” (Dain, Giro Marketing Manager) “I’m coming.”  They sent six people including myself to join guiding company Secret Compass for a ride through the incredible Simien Mountains, camping en route and hauling our bikes to the top of their highest mountain, the 4552m Ras Deshan.

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This shot of Sarah Leishman and Kamil Tatarkovic sums up the riding in the Simians of me: tricky, tough and unforgiving but immensely rewarding I had no idea that Kamil would throw in the jump when we set this shot up. Nikon D600, 50mm/1.4 @ 1/1000, f71.

As the photographer on a trip like this it’s hard to shake off the feeling of responsibility, the sense that the whole budget sits on your shoulders. After all the images are what will drive the press coverage from the trip – the same coverage that convinces the sponsor that their money was well spent. I’ve had it before both for clients and editorial shoots — a $100k budget advertorial trip to Greenland, the expensive Svalbard Further trip for Transworld Snowboarding, and more. It’s the kind of pressure that only experience teaches you to deal with.

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You’re rarely alone in Ethiopia so it was no surprise to see this shepherd sitting at the last pass we reached before climbing to the summit off the country’s highest peak. The SD card loaded radio around his neck blasted out traditional music. The people here are some of the most welcoming I have ever met. Leica M9, Zeiss 50/1.5 @ 1/1000, f4.

 

So what of the trip? Ethiopia is hands down the most spectacular place I have shot. Its also one of the most friendly and welcoming places I have been. None of our team returned anything less than blown away by the experience, no matter how many previous adventures we’d done. And from the photo side, the trip presented a thousand and one unique opportunities to press the shutter. Here I’m sharing just three, as a snapshot of an epic experience.

You can see/read my feature from this trip in English on Mpora here, and in French here,French here, and Italian here.

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Our expedition’s success usually relies on the abilities of our support crew. Our chef nicknamed ‘Ramsey’ could turn any basic barn or corner of a mountainside into a kitchen, fuelling us to push our bikes to the 4500m high point of our ride. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18mm/3.5 @ 1/125, f3.5.

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

May 15, 2015

From Afghanistan to London without passing ‘Go’

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — danmilner @ 5:59 am

It’s a weird thing being an ‘adventurer’. Expeditions to remote, far-flung places can take months or more of planning but too often once I’m home again, washed my filthy clothes and (just about) got my digestive system back on track my attention turns to planning the next, without giving enough time to reflect on what we just achieved or on the experiences of what just happened. It’s like pulling a “Go straight to next adventure, and do not pass go, and certainly do not collect £200” card in Monopoly. Often I only revisit those experiences when I edit my images from a trip, or am invited to deliver a slideshow or talk on my adventures. This latter is one of the most enjoyable sides to my niche job – getting the chance to really share the experiences of pushing bikes over snowy 5000m passes or huddling in a tent through days of Alaskan blizzards, and doing it in the luxurious comfort of a warm auditorium.

Next week I’ll be one of the 4 adventurers sitting on a unique Q&A panel at a London screening of the mighty best of Kendal Mountain Film Festival. You can get tickets here, and the money goes to charity.

The kids of Robot settlement, Afghanistan try riding bikes, for the first time. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f3.5

The kids of Robot settlement, Afghanistan try riding bikes, for the first time. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f3.5

Last November I was back at the Kendal Mountain festival, to introduce Anthill’s new film edit from our Afghanistan MTB expedition at the festival’s dedicated Bike night, and then next day to do a 45 minute slideshow talk on the same trip at the KMFF Adventure and Exploration session. My talk balanced nicely with one from ‘micro-adventurer’ Al Humphreys, who will be chairing the Q&A next week.

New experiences are what drives me to head to new places. Adventure is just a tag to the experiences that arise. Of course I know that my kind of adventures sit off the radar for most people, but public speaking events like these are a real way to give people a vicarious taste of what is involved in hauling bikes through places that have never been touched by a bike tyre before, in that first person way that magazine articles and films can’t. Hearing about tough trips is compelling, but I also like to add a little ‘really, you could do this too’ empowerment and aspiration for the audience.

So come and ask awkward questions about photographing awkwardly ambitious bike trips in awkward places to travel and do it from a comfortable, warm seat with a low-fat soy chai latte in your hand. London May 21st.

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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.

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April 10, 2014

Crossing the Line – softening the definition of trail riding

How do you get the world’s most famous trials mountain biker and an ex-pro downhiller to go cycle touring? Disguise it as a ride along an old disused railway line in Northern Argentina, that’s how.

Lost in translation - is this what my riders were expecting? Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f5

Lost in translation – is this what my riders were expecting from an MTB trip? Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f5

And so that’s how I found myself along with MTB legend Hans Rey, Canyon bikes pro-rider Tibor Simai and TV cameraman Rob Summers, pedaling along a 100-year old Argentinian railway at 3000+ meters last month. It was one of the most original stories I’ve ever shot, and it wasn’t without its own unique set of challenges (hey, would you expect anything less from me?)

 "C'mon Rob you can make it!" A warm up to the big bridges to come. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/1000, f4.


“C’mon Rob you can make it!” A warm up to the big bridges to come. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/1000, f4.

The idea to ride along this old railway came to me a few years ago when I saw it, admittedly from the comfort of a tiny rental car, during another MTB trip to the area. GoogleEarthing the line and researching its history (built by the Brits in 1903, abandoned in 1992) I thought how great it would be to try to ride the railway line south from the Bolivian border at La Quiaca all the way to Salta, a distance of about 400Km. I’d ride it solo, equipped with sleeping bag and bivi sac, eat wherever I came across a settlement, and photograph every person I met along the line.

But it didn’t turn out like that.

My concept swayed to the pressure of seeking financial rewards from my efforts, and evolved into more of an adventure story pitch. At one point it even included hauling a 3lb inflatable raft along to cross the many rivers wherever the bridges might be down (remember this railway hasn’t been maintained for 30 years). I pitched the story and re-pitched and this year, thought f*ck it, lets do it anyway. Finally after years of sitting on the backburner the idea came to fruition.

Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/2000, f4.

Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/2000, f4.

The outcome is one of the most unique stories I have ever shot, combining real mountain biking with a photographic record of how this once mighty transport lifeline has been left to decay (there is now a highway to La Quiaca) and slowly be consumed by the environment  – bushes grow from the tracks, sand buries the sleepers, 100-year old railway stations have become ghost-town buildings.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f1.8

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/3200, f1.8

No the railway isn’t the most remote, or the highest altitude, or the most challenging ride in the world (I’ll leave that accolade to our Afghanistan trip). But it threw up its own challenges: skin-blistering sun with no shade, steady hillclimbs at 3000m+, an absence of potable water sources and many crumbling iron bridges to cross, some suspended 20m high above gaping canyons.

Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/4000, f2.2

Early start in La Quiaca. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/4000, f2.2

With the pressures of needing to work two features from the same 2-week trip we rode only 100Km of the line, over 3 days -a mere teaser of what the entire railway could offer, but it was a tough 100 Km through the region’s most incredible scenery, and 100 Km of railway that I’m pretty sure no-one has mountain biked before.

Weaver birds re-claim the line's telegraph poles. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f2.2

Weaver birds re-claim the line’s telegraph poles. Nikon D600, 50/1.4 @ 1/2500, f2.2

Sometimes ideas have to evolve. And luckily this one did, or it may never have found light of day. And anyway the book I would have produced from my original idea would have been slim -we never passed another person on the line. Read the feature from this crazy idea in MBUK mag and others in a couple of months time and the EpicTV video episode here in a couple of weeks.

Local canine shows no appreciation of what the team has achieved at our finish point in Humahuaca. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/40, f13.

Local canine shows no appreciation of what the team has achieved at our finish point in Humahuaca. Nikon D600, Zeiss 18/3.5 @ 1/40, f13.

For the photo geeks, I used my Nikon D600, Nikkor 70-200 f4, Zeiss 18 3.5 and a Nikkor 50 1.4, and the new F-Stop Loka Ultralight backpack.

 

November 11, 2013

Final countdown – making the cut at TPOTY 2013

Filed under: bike, photography — Tags: , , , , , , — danmilner @ 8:59 am

I just heard that I made the finalist shortlist in the 2013 Travel Photographer of the Year contest. With 15 years of pro photography behind me, should I be surprised? Well, the truth is that I am, I guess.

Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan, June 2013. Nikon D600/50mm 1.4 @ f4.5, 1/1600th.

1 of my 4 shortlisted portfolio images. Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan. Nikon D600/50mm 1.4 @ f4.5, 1/1600th.

I’ve never been one to bother entering photo comps. Too busy being out there shooting pics and earning a crust to deal with the paraphernalia of filling in on-line submission forms and adding metadata to images. At least that’s what I tell myself. The truth is that the real time consuming part is the self edit needed to decide on the images you want to submit. It’s not a confidence thing, but merely the requirement to detach yourself from any personal emotions that may be embedded in an image  -the feelings you had when you took the shot, the story behind the subject etc-  and see your image in an objective way, as the judges would do, that is the challenge. Does the photo really convey the feeling of what made you shoot it? Does it technically deliver?

Many people think that shooting a ‘winning’ image is about being in the ‘right place at the right time’, that is to say “luck”. While there’s an element of truth in this (although you have to make the effort to be in that place), images that turn heads, whether catching the attention of a magazine photo editor to land an opening spread or the eyes and imagination of professional judges generally need a little more to them than luck. And to prove it, in the case of making the finalist list in the TPOTY the “wild stories” category, the submission needed to be a small portfolio of 4 images, that when combined ‘tell a story’ of the adventure, with a “beginning, middle and end”. Hmm, in only 4 images?! Thats no easy edit among say the 2000 images I shot on the Afghanistan trip in June.

Having previously photo edited for a UK snowboard magazine, you’d think I’d know what works and what doesn’t, and I do. But that doesn’t make it any easier to edit your own work of course, especially when TPOTY is built around the monumentally wide subject matter that is “travel photography”.

I guess I just have to wait until the winning images are declared in December to really know if my self edits were appropriate. The finalists will be exhibited at the Royal Geographical Society, London in 2014. But until then I’ll just go back to shooting and earning a crust.

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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