Win yourself a Lake District calendar by Neil Alexander

I know that I said last week that you wouldn't be hearing from me for another month or so here, but I've just found one remaining calendar tucked away in the office so rather than leave it sitting around, I'm going to give it away to one lucky reader.

Simple enough, all you have to do is tell me where I pitched my tent the last time I went wild camping in the Lakes.
I'll give you a clue: the answer is in this blog somewhere......

Simply send your answer in an email over to neil@neilalexander.net by midnight GMT on Monday 25th Jan and I’ll pick the winner at random on Tuesday morning so that you can have the calendar on your wall by the beginning of February.

To double your chances, share this post on social media with the hashtag #NeilsLakesCalendar

What does the year ahead have in store for you? by Neil Alexander

As it turns out, photographically 2015 was not a particularly productive year for me. Too many distractions and demands on my time from elsewhere (read more about that here) but my extended self-imposed break over the Christmas holidays has given me the time to do some soul searching and think about what I want the future to hold and where I aim to be this time next year.

I’m firmly of the opinion that without targets, goals and aims, that we just tend to coast along, like a piece of driftwood bobbing aimlessly around the ocean. Eventually it’ll end up on a beach somewhere, but it could be absolutely anywhere. Personally, I’d rather it be somewhere nice and toasty like the Maldives rather than with all the other excrement washed upon Blackpool shores but without any guidance it could even be somewhere near Pyongyang.
My other issue is time. Being the parent that does the school run, prepares the packed lunches, cooks dinner every night, and supervises homework for two lively primary school aged kids, my working hours are limited to around 4 or 5 hours a day. And when I try to fit too much in, I get overly stressed at my inability to accomplish the tasks that I set myself for that shortened working period. I’m the worst for trying to spread myself too thin and as a result, I never really get to focus on anything properly and feel like I only ever do a half-arsed job on most things.

I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks listening to Susannah Conway and decided to pursue her exercise to pick a word for 2016 to act as my guiding light and keep me focused. 
Whilst resolutions work for me for the first few weeks of a new year in general, more often than not by the time February rolls around, they're a dim and distant memory and my good intentions have often fallen by the wayside. A single word that I can fall back on, I feel will stand me in much better stead and will remind me of all my good intentions at the stroke of a hat.
So after an inexorable period of deliberation, I’ve chosen the word Revitalise for my word for 2016, which according to my dictionary means "to give new life to. to give new vitality or vigor to.”. I’ve created a folder full of desktop wallpapers for my Mac to rotate through, I’m in the process of creating a poster to go on my office wall with it on, and I’ve even had a mug made with the word on. This way, there’s far more chance of my abiding by my New Year’s plans.

Whilst I’m not a great believer in self-help books, I’ve recently stumbled upon Lewis Howes “School of Greatness” podcast and book and it’s really helped me with focusing on how I need to revitalise my life and business. As I write this, I’m on day 13 of “Dry January” - I’ve not had an alcoholic drink or a smoke since New Year and I’m forcing myself to find the time for daily exercise and even learning how to meditate using Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app.  And I don’t think I’ve ever felt better or more optimistic about the year ahead.

However, in the interests of focus and not spreading myself too thin (which I excel at doing - the old expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind), some things are going to have to give. If there’s one thing that takes up vast swathes of my time, it’s this blog. I estimate that on an average week, it probably takes me 3 or 4 hours to get a post out - writing, re-writing, re-writing again, adding images, releasing and then promoting. That’s about a fifth of my working week and for the next 2 to 3 months at least, I’m going to devote that time to revitalising myself. I shan’t be disappearing completely. I am going to aim for a post a month rather than one a week and already I feel relieved and less stressed about it. Quality rather than quantity right?

But in the meantime, you can always catch me on Twitter, Google+ or Instagram.

So what does the year ahead have lined up for you then? There’s a big comments box below for you to pen your thoughts - please make use of it 😃

Until next time.
Neil

Looking back at 2015 by Neil Alexander

Now that we’re back into the swing of things, it’s about time I reflected on how far I’ve come in the last 12 months and some of the photographs I've made. I know that many people, photographers that I follow in particular, tend to do this at the end of the year, but for me the Christmas holiday break is all about family and friends, lots of relaxing, drinking, eating and unfettered laziness. I much prefer to do my reflection on the previous year once the new one has just started, the little cherubs are back at school and normal service is resumed.

There were a couple of key changes to my circumstances last year which, looking at Lightroom’s stats, resulted in a drastically reduced image count. The first and by far the biggest disruption was moving house. This happened in May which resulted in a near zero count for a couple of months and as the place we’ve moved to has required a significant amount of work, some of which I’ve done myself and the rest I’ve had to co-ordinate with plumbers, builders, decorators, carpet fitters etc etc, the opportunities to head out and shoot were drastically reduced. Evenings and weekends, which are my key times to make photographs consisted of more DIY in a few months than I think I’ve done in my entire life! And there’s still a veritable shedload to do. But it’s been equally rewarding as much as it’s been frustrating. The new house is a dream and in the few short months that we’ve been here, it’s become a bit of a party haven. As an added bonus, I now have a dedicated man cave office cum studio. It took a while to get it fitted out and set up as I wanted it but I now have a roll of white seamless suspended from the ceiling. I have enough room to leave lights and small sets out and shoot simple portraits or still life’s to my heart’s content. I only managed to finish this off just before Christmas and it really came into it’s own shooting group shots of the kids and all their cousins on Christmas day.

The Cuillins and Loch Scavaig

The A683

Winnats Pass at dawn


I’ve even had storage built for most of my vinyl and got the ol’ 1s and 2s set up again, though I’ve had very little chance to use them and I’ve hours ahead trying to sort all those 12”s out into some kind of order.

The second and equally relevant change was my shift to Fuji. Whilst I really love my Nikons they’re starting to get a little dated, and as I become more dated, I’m noticing the weight more and more, the lenses in particular. Sporting a fully laden backpack with two bodies, five lenses, and all the other assorted trinkets really begins to take its toll on my ageing spine if I walk any particular distance. So one of the main reasons I chose to jump into the Fuji brand was because of the size and weight. I’m not getting any younger and nor is my back. One thing that became very quickly apparent was that I seem to take far fewer frames with the Fuji gear compared to the Nikon. When I sit down and try and figure out why this is I think that the reason is twofold; the first is the clarity on the LCD screen on the back of the camera - it’s just so much easier to read and use than it was on my Nikons and I can tell very quickly whether I have tack sharp images or not. This could be partially to do with my failing eyesight but I’ve also found that one of the main limitations of the Fujis has forced me to think more when I shoot. With the Nikons at the single press of a button I could get them to shoot and nine bracket sequence. However the Fuji only allows a maximum of three in one go. I could dial the exposure compensation to +3 and -3 stops and still get the nine frames that I was looking for but I tend not to do this now. If it is a seriously contrasty scene that requires extremes of exposure, then I tend to dial in the brackets manually, probably shooting +3, 0 and -3. In other words only a third of the number of images. I do this quite a bit.

Hell Gill Pike.

"Such as spend their lives in cities, and their time in crouds (sic) will here meet with objects that will enlarge the mind, by contemplation, and raise it from nature to nature’s first cause. Whoever takes a walk into these scenes must return penetrated with a sense of the creator’s power in heaping mountains upon mountains, and enthroning rocks upon rocks. And such exhibitions of sublime and beautiful objects cannot but excite at once both rapture and reverence." Thomas West, 1778

The beach at Rhosneigr

Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle

The Cuillin Hills in the mist from the shores of Loch Scavaig, Elgol, Skye

Another contributing factor to my reduced frame count was that I did very few timelapse sequences last year compared to 2014, partly due to the afore mentioned time constraints but it also took me quite a while to figure out how to do this with my X-T1.

However a far bigger contributing factor than any of the above is that I’ve been in a bit of funk for a few months. With all the disruption and stuff, I really began to feel like I was losing my mojo in a big way. In fact it got to the point just before Christmas that I got so concerned about my creative state of mind that I started to invest a great deal of time working out how I get myself out of this hole. Having given myself a right good talking to, happily, I finally feel like I’m beginning to come out the other side, but more on that next week.

How's your year been? Are you in a better place than you were this time last year? Feel free to comment below