Behind the Lens – Nepal: Steve Shannon

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When we commission photographers to produce the images to use in our magazine features we typically expect to receive anything up to 50 images from them. This large selection then gets filtered down to a final collection of maybe 12 or so to be laid out in the feature alongside the text. This is a process done in house and away from the eyes of the person behind the lens. The selection criteria is guided by the text, which may or may not be also produced by the photographer, and often the physical constraints of the design and the number of pages assigned to the feature. The end result is often a situation where the photographer will be convinced we’ve laid out the wrong images at the wrong size – it is the lot of the humble freelancer that their art is often ignored and those dreadful people driving the desks never pick the best images.

In Singletrack Issue 104 we were spoiled for choice with images, as there were two photographers on the trip. Here we bring you Steve Shannon’s pick and story behind the images.

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Words and pictures by Steve Shannon

About The Photographer

Steve has grown up in the mountains, and has been riding bikes pretty much all his life.  Most of his riding and shooting has been around his home in the interior of British Columbia, Canada.  When not mountain biking, he spends his time skiing, dirt biking and climbing.  His favourite rides are long excursions into the alpine, usually involving a lengthy hike-a-bike, some inclement weather and a good dose of adventure.  He’s a freelance photographer and writer, working for a variety of commercial and editorial clients, mostly in adventure sports.

About the trip

Nepal had been high on Steve’s list of places to visit for a while. When he heard about Kathryn and Miranda’s plans to bike-pack the Annapurna circuit and Mustang valley, he knew right away he wanted to join them. Luckily flights were cheap due to the recent earthquake, so after quickly coercing Todd (Weselake) to join him, flights were booked and the planning began. Riding 500 kilometres through the Himalayas was no small feat. During the three weeks on the bikes they climbed over 22,000 vertical metres at elevations up to 5400 metres so careful consideration was given to gear and packing – they’d have to carry everything they took.

1.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/640 sec @ f2.2, ISO 1600, 50mm

At the end of our third day we arrived in Chame.  The day had been incredible as we steadily gained elevation and had our first views of snowcapped Himalayan peaks.  After we settled into our night’s accommodation, the owners’ children came out to check out our bikes and gear.  Here Kathryn Whiteside and one of the girls play with our bike lock.

Location: Chame, Nepal

2.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/640 sec @ f2.8, ISO 800, 12.1mm (35mm equivalent: 27mm)

Himalayan dreaming. Over breakfast one morning in Manang, I noticed the peak of Gangapurna (7455m) reflecting in our eyes. Not having a macro lens with me, I resorted to using my little Panasonic LX100 and its macro mode. Most people travelling to Nepal dream of seeing the high peaks of the Himalayas, and that’s exactly what I wanted this image to capture.

Location: Manang, Nepal

3.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/640 sec @ f9.0, ISO 200, 72mm

From Manang we decided to take a side trip to Tilicho Lake in order to get some acclimatization in. The trail up to Tilicho Base camp was one of the highlights of the trip, especially the infamous landslide section seen here. Using a telephoto lens I was able to compress the scene to really give a sense of scale to where we were travelling.

Location: Khangsar, Nepal

4.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/2000 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400, 70mm

After spending a night at Tilicho Base Camp (el. 4150m) our plan was to get up at 3:00am and hike up to Tilicho Lake (el. 4919m) for sunrise. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate as it started raining when we woke up. So, we went back to sleep for a few hours and waited for the weather to improve. While we didn’t catch the sunrise at the lake, we were treated to dramatic views of Khangsar Kang (aka Roc Noir) revealing itself as we hike-a-biked up to the lake.

Location: Tilicho Lake, Nepal

5.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/160 sec @ f8.0, ISO 400, 17mm

Mountain biking at altitude is hard. Really, really hard. On the day we crossed Thorung La (el. 5416m) I wasn’t feeling too great. We had spent the previous night at Thorung High Camp (el. 4900m) and after a fitful night’s sleep, the combination of an early morning and high altitude kicked my ass. Luckily Todd gave me a hand getting up the pass (thanks buddy!) and eventually we made it. Feeling exhausted, I collapsed on a bench trying to catch my breath. Somehow I remembered it might be a good idea to document my current state, so I grabbed my camera and pointed it at myself. This is the result and I think it’s pretty telling of how I felt that day. Luckily after a cup of tea and some snacks I started feeling better. The 1700 metre singletrack descent that followed sure brightened my spirits!

Location: Thorung La, Nepal

6.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/800 sec @ f4.0, ISO 100, 17mm

Sometimes the images captured require a lot of luck. This is one of them. Just before we headed down from Thorung La, I had the idea to capture a picture of my altimeter watch with a biker in the background. The others had already started to descend but luckily our guide Om was just getting ready. I scrambled to get my camera out and just managed to get this image before Om disappeared down the trail. Afterwards I quickly packed my camera away and headed off to catch up with the rest of the group.

Location: Thorung La, Nepal

7.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/1000 sec @ f4.5, ISO 640, 40mm

After descending from Thorung La to Muktinath, we started into the restricted Mustang region. The Mustang is quite different both culturally and geographically. After a wicked descent to Chhusang, the following day was a long one climbing thousands of metres over three high passes. Late in the day on our way to the final pass we were treated to gorgeous light and stunning views of the distant Annapurna range. While most of the day had been spent riding the dirt road, we saw a little short cut between some switchbacks that proved to be quite fun. I definitely prefer singletrack to road riding, so I enthusiastically blasted ahead enjoying the ride and hoping for a photo opportunity. A little ways ahead I looked back to this view and knew it was the spot. Miranda and Kathryn came up the trail a couple minutes later with perfect spacing and the shot was made.

Location: Syanboche, Mustang, Nepal

8.

 

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/1000 sec @ f4.0, ISO 400, 40mm

The Chortens and Gompas of the Mustang region are truly spectacular. This shot was taken just as we left Ghar Gompa, one of the oldest Tibetan gompas in the world. Using the leading lines of the prayer flags to frame the trail, I waited for some tourists to move along then Todd quickly pedalled up the trail.

Location: Ghar Gompa, Mustang, Nepal

9.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/800 sec @ f13, ISO 200, 252mm

Anyone who follows my photography will know that I love shooting silhouettes. I love the simplicity and anonymity of this type of image and think silhouettes can be very powerful when done correctly. On our second to last day in the Mustang region we were cresting a number of 4000 metre passes in very dusty conditions. On the second to last pass I was looked up and saw this scene unfolding ahead of me. I quickly dropped my bike and scrambled to get my camera out and telephoto lens attached. Using the telephoto lens let me compress the three bikers against Nilgiri Himal (7061m) in the background.

Location: Bhena, Mustang, Nepal

10.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/500 sec @ f4.5, ISO 1600, 50mm

A long day of riding had taken us over three passes as we journeyed out of the Mustang from Ghami to Chhusang.  The arid desert conditions had been challenging and we were absolutely filthy by the time we reached Chhusang.  It felt great to get out of our dusty socks and shoes, and the dust lines provided an amusing contrast.  The shower that followed felt nothing short of amazing!

Location: Chhusang, Mustang, Nepal

 

 

11.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/1250 sec @ f5.6, ISO 400, 10.9mm (35mm equivalent: 24mm)

During our time in Nepal, a fuel crisis had risen from a minor inconvenience into a crippling social and political problem across the nation.  Politics in Nepal are baffling at best, with bureaucrats in Kathmandu playing power games instead of working to rebuild the country after the earthquake in April.  By the end of our trip fuel was in extremely short supply resulting in a lack of public transportation, limited vehicle traffic, hot water and cooked food.  Tight rations meant people would line up for days to get a small amount of fuel.  On our ride to Pokhara I stopped to try and document the growing lineups at the gas stations.  

Location: Kusma, Nepal

12.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/30 sec @ f14, ISO 100, 17mm

Our final day was supposed to be a crusher: 100 kilometres in sweltering heat and humidity, mostly on a paved road. Instead, due to a mechanical failure on one of the bikes, and a general lack of interest in riding on the paved road, we caught a ride on the roof of the locals’ bus to Pokhara. Keeping an eye out for low hanging power lines, we were highly entertained by the guy collecting fares (pictured on the left). He would climb out of the bus and check for new passengers on the roof, all while the bus kept moving. For this shot I really wanted to convey a sense of motion and a bit of chaos, so I used a slow shutter speed to blur the shot, and shot with a wide angle to capture as much of the crazy scene as I could.

Location: Bus ride to Pokhara, Nepal

13.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/800 sec @ f5.6, ISO 800, 17mm

After arriving in our final destination of Pokhara, we went for a quick overnight mission up to Sarangkot to catch the sunrise over the Annapurna region. My rear derailleur exploded on the ride up and unfortunately I had left the spare in Pokhara, so I detoured from the rest of the group and hiked up this staircase. The following morning after watching the sunrise we began our descent back to Pokhara and after having to push along the flat portions of the road, I said screw it and Todd and I headed for the fun way down. Nothing in Nepal is built consistently, including these stairs. You never knew who big of a drop each stair would be, and some were definitely more than we bargained for. The locals gave us crazy looks but it was some of the most fun we had. Part way down the stairs I saw this cool scene and had to stop to get a photo of Todd blasting down.

Location: Sarangkot, Nepal

14.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/50 sec @ f2.8, ISO 3200, 15mm Fisheye

After arriving in Pokhara it was time to clean up the bikes before heading back to Kathmandu. While most of us were using the hose outside, Kathryn opted for the bidet in our bathroom. Scrubbing her bike in her underwear and a headlamp, I couldn’t help but laugh as I grabbed my camera and snapped a shot.

Location: Pokhara, Nepal

15.

Steve Shannon Nepal
1/40 sec @ f2.7, ISO 200, 22mm (35mm equivalent: 49mm)

By the time we reached Pokhara at the end of our biking route, the fuel crisis had gone from a minor inconvenience to affecting everyday life.  From desolate streets to no hot water and limited restaurant menus, the fuel situation was front and centre for both locals and tourists alike.  While browsing some shops on our last evening, I spotted this note and figured it summed up the current situation perfectly.

Location: Pokhara, Nepal

 

 

Kit List

Carrying all of our gear for a month over 500 kilometres through the Himalayas including climbing up to 5400m above sea level meant we needed to pack light and efficient. Both Todd and myself shoot with Canon equipment so we were able to share lenses during the trip, lightening our loads while having a full range of focal lengths. For a camera body I use the Canon 5D Mark III. I’ve been using this body for years and it is a true workhorse for professionals. I prefer it to the larger 1D series bodies as it is smaller and lighter while still having enough speed and features to capture my creative vision. For lenses I sacrificed speed for weight, bringing the Canon EF17-40 f4L, EF70-300 f4-5.6L and EF 50 f1.8 II. This gave me a broad range of focal lengths while not weighing too much. It also complimented Todd’s 24-70 f2.8 and 15 f2.8 fisheye lenses. Together we had the full range of focal lengths covered. I also brought three batteries, 200GB worth of memory cards, a solar charging setup and a Western Digital MyPassport Wireless hard drive for backing everything up. This hard drive has a built in SD card slot and can be controlled via wifi by my iPhone so I didn’t need to bring a laptop.

In addition I brought my Panasonic LX100, a small point and shoot camera with a large micro 4/3 sensor. This camera is great for candid moments, low light and video. It’s also small enough to fit in a camera pouch attached to the shoulder strap of my backpack. Speaking of backpacks, to carry the gear I used the Lowepro Photosport BP300 AWII. I’m a big fan of side access packs for my camera gear and this pack fit the bill perfectly for carrying some camera gear alongside everything else.

Comments (2)

    Great article and pictures – brought back memories of a recent bike trip to Tilicho lake, although we didn’t quite make it to the lake itself; far too much hike a bike! Stunning scenery and some great trails but equally, some very hard riding especially the scree slope of death! Unfortunate choice of words about ‘luckily flights being cheap’ but I know what you are saying…

    Great article – also reminds me of my trip. I can’t imagine biking at that altitude – I had trouble putting one foot in front of another on level ground. Also I cry foul over the bathroom shot – I never saw a bathroom much more elaborate than a hole in the floor!!! 😉

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