Photo Epic: Reframing Adventure - Dan Milner's 2021 in Pictures

Jan 4, 2022 at 12:50
by Dan Milner  

It is estimated that there are now more photos taken in a single year than the collective total number of humans to ever walk the earth. I don't know about you, but I find that a pretty mind-blowing thought.

Whatever those photos’ ambitions or reason for existence, however deep or trivial the story they capture, no matter whether taken in selfless documentary or from the depths of narcissism, wherever, however and why-ever they were taken they all have one thing in common: that they were taken through a lens (pinhole camera obscura aficionados excused).

We pro photographers live our lives through a lens —quite literally. Our cameras pay the bills, but they also tick our creative boxes and chance us the excuse to travel and document life as it plays out around us, on bikes or off them. We live what we shoot, and vice-versa. But over the last two years, that lens has been distorted by… well, you know what. The once predictability of 1/1000th of a second to dictate my own timeline and movements replaced by viral variants and Plan-Bs.

The lessons of this pandemic are hard learnt for everyone. Having spent the last 3 decades manipulating dials, apertures and shutter speeds to the nth degree to finitely shape the story I want to tell, getting through the chaos of the pandemic as a photographer so far has re-taught me patience and to trust in what comes.

But despite the chaos and insecurities of trips shelved and shoots cancelled, I still consider myself lucky: I have my health and I still got to ride bikes and shoot pictures, albeit with my work schedule characterised by deluge and drought —the new normal in so many aspects of our lives.

So here are a few of the visual chapter markers of my year as a mountain bike photographer: just another handful of some 1200 billion photos snapped in 2021.

(Note: as with much of my work, many of the images I shoot in any one year are destined to be revealed months later by the brands or the media commissioning the shoot or story; stay tuned for the reveals in 2022)

Chamonix, January 2021

With a mix of passionate locals, powder-addicted trustafarians, excited seasonaires and dizzy tourists, ski resorts represent one of the more surreal demographics at the best of times; but close their lifts for a whole winter season and they take on an even more unique dynamic: one painted in a thousand hues of frustration. France closed its ski stations for the entire 2021 winter season, and while folk fidgeted with new-found time on their hands and donned ski and splitboard touring gear in search of sanity, I focussed on my bike instead, setting myself the challenge of trying to ride snowy descents through the whole winter, and all without a fat-bike.

I picked descents that could be accessed by south facing, warm, sunny road climbs to succeed in my challenge, and alone or with my friend Jez Wilson, rode every week, except two when conditions rendered the trails the preserve of the fatbike, with the impossible combination of too deep and too heavy for my 2.5” tyres.

Winter trails while the lifts stay closed.

Winter riding Chamonix style.

Chamonix riding in full winter
Winter trail fun doesn't come without challenges but attitude and a little luck can overcome. Jez Wilson helping spread the smiles in Chamonix.

Finale Ligure, Italy, February 2021

I’ve been shooting in Finale for more than 13 years, and for a place that so dreamily alluring to ride, it always strikes me how tricky a place to shoot it actually is —at least if you want to capture context and that dreamy alluring coastal feel, rather than close-ups of intense EWS style tracks hemmed in by tight brush; it’s why this undulating section of the ‘women’s DH’ is so well documented by almost every photographer, me included.

Shooting for local guiding outfit MTBguideXP meant being treated to trails that I’d never ridden before, despite having spent weeks in Finale over the years. Francesco’s treats included one trail that snaked through magnificently gnarled cork oak forest — a creative goldmine for a tree-hugging photographer like me.

Late ride on a classic Finale trail.

Francesco does the cork-oak wiggle.
I am a sucker for a majestic tree portrait, even if it means stopping the flow to get it. Francesco Gozio does the cork-oak slalom above Pietra Ligure.

Tarn Gorge, France, May 2021

They say ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and so it is for adventure-travel photographers whose wanderlust wings have been clipped. With travel curtailed I turned closer to home for the kind of bike adventure that is normally associated with far-flung wilds of Mongolia or the Yukon: packrafting.

Joined by the two Julbo/Mavic riders Jerome Clementz and Fred Horny, we descended the stunningly beautiful Tarn gorge in south-central France for three days, paddling each morning and putting to shore to ride trails along the gorge each afternoon. This simple endeavour, played out on ‘home soil’, without the long haul hassle of expeditions, proved to be one of the most entertaining and rewarding adventures any of us had done.

Bike-rafting the Tarn Gorge.
France's answer to the Grand Canyon; the Tarn Gorge. Having it to ourselves came courtesy of a huge storm just before arrival.

Chamonix, June 2021

Think global, act local: it’s a slogan that can easily be applied to finding a slice of adventure, and one we applied when Shimano rolled into town to film a piece about me and my perverted willingness to carry bikes under the excuse of adventure. But even with my own bed just a few Kilometres away, it seemed appropriate to have at least one pyjama party out under the stars, our bivvi bags unfurled in front of the biggest widescreen in Europe. The Shimano episode will be out this spring.

A bivvi out among the giants above Chamonix.
Better than Netflix? You betcha!

Dolomites, Italy, July 2021

The pandemic manifested in myriad ways, but the one thing we all share from it is an absence of socialising, pre, during, or post ride. Sharing laughs on the trail and anecdotes afterwards is all part of our amazing sport —usually. Come July, restrictions on crossing borders finally eased to allow several of us to spend a week together in the spiky Italian Dolomites. The mini-gathering came under the guise of a Pro bike gear testing session and photo and video shoot, taking place on some of the most challenging trails you can imagine —but we all knew it was really just about ‘getting the band back together’ and rekindling friendships, and for that we were thankful.

Finding the steeps high above our overnight refuge during the Shimano Pro gathering.
Scotty Laughland and Albi Valeruz finding steeps high above our overnight refuge.

Late ride Shimano Pro gathering Val di Fassa Italy 2021
Scotty Laughland and Dave Speilman share some quality trail time.

Scotty Laughland finding fun late in the day.
End of day fun for Scotty Laughland high on Marmolada.

Slab rock fun on Marmolada during the Shimano Pro gathering.
Slick rock, Dolomites style.

What goes up must come down. Bog roll delivery to the refuge.
What goes up must come down, especially after 3 espressos. Essential refuge supplies arrive.

Engelberg, Switzerland, August 2021

Originally organised in 2019, a small project to explore the curious farm lifts around the Swiss town of Engelberg finally came to fruition in 2021. After 18 months of waiting, followed by a three hour train ride, our patience was rewarded; five days spent mixing valley loops with overnight mini adventures that reached way back into the beyond, all on amazing trails. Keep an eye out for the full story this spring in the mags.

An overnight up the mountain comes with its own morning glory.
An overnight in a mountain hut comes with its own (morning) glories. Sanna and Michi sample Engelberg's best breakfast buffet.

Pila, Italy, September 2021

I’ve been shooting for Endura clothing for over a decade, documenting the green hues of Scotland to the trail dust of Mallorca, but with movements hard to predict in 2021, I opted to keep the shoot local and headed to Pila, Italy, an hour from my Alps base. Of course, the bluebird days that led up to the shoot faded to Scottish-like murk on our arrival, with cloud billowing across the mountainsides and smothering our trails in mist (and repeat for the road shoot a few days later) —but this is a familiar challenge at least, unlike the uncertainty of the pandemic. Patience, bants, lots of espressos and opportunistic dramatic silhouettes tied us over until the hallowed light finally, and luckily, re-emerged to do the spring-summer catalogue justice.

Silhouettes help keep secrets when it comes to as yet un-released products.

Rwanda, Africa, September 2021

Legacies can be hard to shake off, especially in a place that few people visit to help change their view. The small central African country of Rwanda has a troubled history culminating in genocide in 1994, but the country today is a different place. It still has political problems, but being safe and welcoming, Rwanda's stability has seen the return of tourism, mostly to indulge wildlife safaris; in contrast, mountain bike tourism is still a fledgling operation —which puts this kind of place firmly on my map to explore: I jumped on the only flights I've taken in over 22 months.

Accompanied by Mitas riders Ludo May and Fed Horny, and helped by local MTB guide Tyisenge and ex-pat Bhutanese guide Pelden (it’s a long story), we spent 9 days exploring Rwanda’s incredible, but little ridden singletrack, as well as enjoying some of the most enthusiastic welcomes we’ve ever had on bikes. Full story in the mags from March onwards.

Last descent before the storm rolls in.
Ludo chasing refuge in the sights of an incoming storm. Rwanda's dramatic skies cry out for silhouettes!

The hotel slippers that keep on giving even in camp.
Ludo's arrival quarantine hotel slippers get put through an extensive testing regime at our rainy camps in Rwanda.

Thanks to Yeti Cycles, Shimano, Fox, Mavic, Maxxis, WTB, Crank Brothers, DMR, Giro, Alpkit, Lumix UK and F-stop packs for their ongoing support in keeping me rolling —and shooting— out there.

Author Info:
DanMilner avatar

Member since Feb 11, 2011
55 articles

  • 10 0
 that there is some really beautiful scenery. I wonder how difficult it is to decide which photos to bin when you're almost guaranteed to have a perfect photo no matter wherer you point and click. On a side note, I'm glad Dan didnt decide to follow his grandfather James and go down the professional football route.
  • 13 0
 Thanks for the props. You are so right that we get to work in some amazing places (though that's down to a lot of planning, and a bit of luck). It's not so much about which pics to bin afterwards (though of course there are always some meh! B-rolls), and more about how to decide what you want to frame and how best to do it while on location. For sure we photographers can find ourselves in an Aladdins cave of possibilities, but sometimes that actually makes it harder (yeah tough job eh! LOL). Deciding on composition, how/where to frame and what context and contributing factors or distractions you want to include or exclude, what focal length (ie lens choice - how wide or tight -both bring different things), depth of field, and if the drama will come from a silhouette or a fully lit close up —these are all decisions to be made right when you press that shutter, as there's no going back for them after.
Yeah football was never going to be my thing!
  • 2 0
 @DanMilner: oops! I’ve just realised that my “point and click” comment could sound like that’s literally all you do. I apologise if that’s how it came across, it wasn’t how it was intended. I’ve a couple of pals who fall into the gifted amateur photographer group and I know all the work that goes into a shot.
  • 2 0
 @ODubhslaine: Dont worry... if after all this time, we can't seek any excuse to explain the intricacies of making photo work into.. err, a "craft" (I think thats the most recent term for it) then I'm not worth my weight in SD cards..
  • 6 0
 Nothing but bangers, it was a pleasure getting to shoot and share the trails with you last year!
  • 3 0
 looking forward to some more in 2022 with ya!
  • 3 0
 Excellent shots. Really capture the feel of those places.
The Euro Alps are just such a breathtaking place in this world. Can’t wait to get back there.
  • 1 0
 @DanMilner I’m always blown away by your work, on screen and especially in print. For me, context is everything in a shot and your work embodies that. Photographs like yours have inspired me to travel and ride in some amazing places, and it is massively appreciated. Thanks for sharing your awesome images.
  • 2 0
 So nice to hear that. I sometimes wonder what my job contributes to the world, so its nice to hear that my photos do inspire people. Thanks.
  • 4 0
 Stunning shots as always dan!
  • 4 0
 Class, Dan is the man.
  • 3 0
 Would have been better if they all had their tops off.
  • 2 0
 Strangely I am drawn to agree with you.
  • 2 0
 whooaaa this makes me want to leave everything unimportant behind and go on a random adventure!
  • 2 0
 Surely everything is unimportant compared to random adventure!
  • 1 0
 Already gave you my vote for photo of the year 2022 with the two riders on the sleeping bags... it makes me want to go and have the same kind of adventure!
  • 1 0
 I love that idea, but imagine the torrent of protest! WhatNoRoost? Anyway, it appear that that pic has achieved exactly what I set out to do when I go shoot: viewers go do their own thing. Nice one.
  • 1 0
 Not a bad year Dan, did more than most do in a life time. Some bangers in their mate. Tidy stuff.
  • 1 0
 @DanMilner @ScottyLaughland Is the first Dolomites pic up above Rifugio Antermoia!? Looks familiar to me.
  • 1 0
 you're bang on there! Do you you work for Google Earth or something? Amazing place - and a fantastic refuge to stay in..!
  • 1 0
 @DanMilner: Nope, just been on that exact trail and stayed at the rifugio!
  • 1 0
 @wilsonians: incredible place and a gnarly trail! The trail down from the Rifugio to the valley floor was my personal favourite of the trip...
  • 1 0
 @ScottyLaughland: Which way did you go down? We were hiking and came up from the W/SW past Vajolet and Passo Principe then headed east from Antermoia over the shoulder took that first right which went STRAIGHT down that wash to get out.
  • 1 0
 @ScottyLaughland: My guess is you went down the way we went up. So past Principe and down the valley past Vajolet? Which would be incredible on a bike im sure.
  • 1 0
 @ScottyLaughland: for me as well. Even though we were being chased by a storm and everything got a bit slippery.
  • 1 0
 Class there Dan, thanks for the shots to look at. Do you take a full size camera with you for these shots?
  • 3 0
 thanks! Most of my work is on a Lumix G9 - its small and light with great image quality and amazing lenses (I usually carry 3 lenses, covering from 16mm to 200 mm in focal length). This small set up lets me get to the places I want to, and ride how I want to, and TBH is only compromised at all in dark environments (eg deep forests) if you still need fast shutter speed and need to push the ISO hard. I'm also now using the Lumix full frame S series for the catalogue/commercial shoots when I dont have to carry it all so far and/or know I need to use the ISO really hard. The mirrorless deal is so much lighter than the old full frame DSLR's I used to use.. a blessing for our backs!
  • 1 0
 Outstanding art! Thanks for the feels these photos deliver. You sir are doing life correct.
  • 1 0
 Thanks. I have spent a lot of years refining my idea of how to give context and how to frame action in a bigger setting. I just love being humbled by our natural world. Glad they ticked your box.
  • 1 0
 I want to go to Europe to ride, but then I remember I can’t afford it hahahaha.
  • 1 0
 Always a high quality comforting photos from you mate, cheers..
  • 1 0
 Nice, Dolomites looks mega for a trip
  • 1 0
 heck yeah, just pack a tyre repair kit!
  • 2 0
 #cham for the win

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