Touring Scotland with M&M Photo tours by Neil Alexander

Edinburgh Castle in the mist

Me sporting my awesome new Pro Express backpack courtesy of Clik Elite

I first came across M&M photo tours back in 2008 or 2009 whilst researching gifts that my wife might like to get me for my 40th birthday. I’d never been to Asia with the sole intention of making photographs and their tour to Indochina sounded perfect. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam for 10 days with a bunch of like-minded folk - and it was fantastic. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy myself, get some stunning images, make some great new friends but I also learnt an absolute tonne of new photography tips and tricks and really honed my skills. 

The bridge at Sligachan, Skye

So imagine my delight when Mike from M&M approached me several years later to run a tour with them round the highlands and islands of Scotland - a part of the world very close to my heart.  
The itinerary was to consist of many places I knew well along with some that I’d never managed to make it to;  Edinburgh, Trossachs & Oban, Kerrera, Iona, Mull & Staffa. Glencoe, Skye, and then back to Edinburgh for a farewell feed. 

Warriston's Close, Edinburgh

One of the many upsides of leading a tour for me, is that I put little or no pressure on myself to come back with stunning photographs. The tours are not about me making great photographs but about showing the guests how to and getting them in the right spots so that they can. I find it really quite liberating. Don’t get me wrong, my cameras and tripod still go everywhere with me. it’s just that I place the emphasis on the others’ photographs rather than my own. There’s little more rewarding than watching someone have a lightbulb moment after you’ve taught them a particular way of doing something or explained a concept that was clearly troubling them.  

Group shot

Group shot

Sadly though, someone had clearly failed to alert the powers that be that we were coming. The light was on occasion promising, but more often than not it was crap. 

But we had a great time, the guests learnt loads, went home with some great photos and memories and we had an awful lot of fun sampling single malts.....

We'll be going again in June next year, so if you fancy joining us, then you can find out more details here.

Blog? What blog? by Neil Alexander

The Quiraing, Skye

A long exposure of the sun setting over Rhosneigr beach with rocks in the foreground

I am sitting in my new back garden with only the blackbirds’ song to disrupt my thoughts. I finally feel like I have space to think. In the six month break that I appear to have had from this blog, life has changed significantly. I shan’t lie to you; I got a bit blogged out and bogged down. I kinda felt as though I were surviving but not thriving if you know what I mean? And several months living out of cardboard boxes didn’t help my creativity flourish either.

 

Since we last met, I’ve moved house. It’s not even ¼ mile down the road but the change to our quality of life is phenomenal.

 

One of the selling points for me was a totally separate annexe in the back garden. It was a complete self contained apartment for a live-in carer, but now makes a perfect office / studio space for lil’ old yours truly. 

Neist Point Lighthouse at dawn

I now have a dedicated space at home from which to run my photography business. A place that I can head into in the morning after depositing the kids at school with a bucket of coffee and focus totally on my business.

 

It’s not particularly big by any stretch of the imagination. For some reason I had Dave Wall’s dream double garage conversion in mind after my initial viewing but it’s not quite that cavernous. Indeed by the time I’d filled it with all my shit, there is a lot less room than I’d anticipated. I had hoped to have sufficient space to create small sets and be able to leave them in situ for days at a time whilst I worked on them. I will but they’ll be smaller than planned and I may have to climb over lights to get in and out. But only I’ll have to do that. I won’t have to take it all down because guests need the spare bed and I know that the only clown that’s going to fall over the lighting cables I’ve strewn all over the place is me. No chance of the kids accidentally turning the power off or of me waking them whilst I work late into the night. It’s a dream come true.

 

Millau viaduct on a very overcast day

The biggest problem I have at the moment however is that there is so much work to do on this new house, that I’m finding my days on end swallowed up by DIY or directing tradesmen. I’ve even had to splash out on some proper grown up tools. Not being a master of any kind of “trade” and quite frankly a little scared of my own electric drill, “doing it myself” is not something that comes naturally. In the past, I’ve been a “get a man in” kinda guy but there comes a time in every bloke’s life where he has to grow up, go to B&Q for some raw plugs, come home and then swear a lot. That’s after drilling at least 3 or 4 holes in the wrong places and having to somehow cover them up…. Fortunately, decor is low down on the list at the moment….. and I’m learning fast.


The office is pretty much set  up as I need it now. But the toilet door is coming off it’s hinges, I still haven’t secured the storage racks to the walls even though I’ve precariously balanced printers on top, my internet connection (at least for another week or two) is comprised of a 20m ethernet cable shoved through windows and suspended over the back yard and I’ve got too many drawers and cupboards with stuff thrown in just so as I could empty the boxes and clear space.

And so have I actually been making any photographs whilst all this has been going on?

Of course - the attached images are all from this year :-)

More next week, I promise..... 

Loch Restil from Rest and be Thankful

Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park by Neil Alexander

Mam Tor, meaning “mother hill” is according to Wikipedia, a "breast shaped hill in the northern half of the Peak District in Derbyshire offering one of the best views of the region" and on a good day, you can see as far as Edale Valley, Kinder Scout and the Derwent Moors. 

Sunrise over Brampton East Moor

A couple of weeks ago, with an early morning window in my diary, I decided it was time I chalked Mam Tor in the Peak District off my list and headed up in the dark to see what I could see. I had arrived in plenty time, about an hour before sunrise, and parked up as near to the summit as I could. I wouldn’t call myself particularly lazy, but with such a heavy kit bag and an ageing spine, my philosophy is to always try and lug it as little as possible. So when an opportunity to park just yards from the public footpath presents itself, I’m certainly not going to overlook it. The climb itself to the top only really takes about 10-15 minutes so with plenty time in hand, I sauntered up in the gloom. Already it was becoming apparent that a visible sunrise was going to be pretty much non-existent. It was dry, but cold and very grey. Having come all this way though, I wasn’t about to give up just yet. I found a spot that I thought would make a half-decent composition but would require the glory of the rising sun to complete it. I got out my wee stool, cracked the coffee flask open and prepared to wait.  
In the hour or so that I waited, I counted half a dozen other photographers also looking to capture the glory of the morning sunrise. 
In the end, I spent about an hour chatting to a very nice chap by the name of Nigel who, also with a tripod in hand, had come in search of some morning glory. 
Sadly, we pretty much left empty handed save for a few shots of trees in the mist on the way back down. 

So it was a few days later with significantly better weather predictions that I returned. However this time I’d overslept a little. Well by an hour to be precise. This was going to be tight. I quickly wolfed down some cereal, filled the flask and jumped in the car. It’s around an hours drive and I made it in good time. The parking space I had found last time was free and so I assembled my gear and set off on foot. By this time, the cloud on the horizon was already showing faint glimmers of pink and I had a hunch it was going to be a good ‘un.

Empty handed, it’s not a particularly challenging climb. Trying to rush up with a heavy camera bag, tripod, full flask of coffee etc desperate not to miss the sunrise is a different kettle of fish. 

Sunrise over Castleton, High Peaks UK from Mam Tor

When I’d visited a few days before on that grey and miserable morning, in addition to the half a dozen other photographers, I’d come across all manner of mountain bikers, runners, and even a couple from Australia sight-seeing…. in the dark…. in wholly inappropriate attire.  But on the second morning when the conditions were far more favourable and the forecast was significantly better, I barely saw a soul. None of the photographers I’d met the previous trip were back up there. Mine was the only tripod on the hill, and it was glorious. 

Crazy types going for a fell run

As the sun rose, the clouds raced in over my head from Kinder Scout and Edale Moor towards the rising sun on the horizon and created the dark foreboding sky. It was all really low level stuff and it was zipping along. I did contemplate a long exposure to try and blur it a little, but I've found from past experience that at the period of the day when the sun is rising or setting, it moves surprisingly quickly and a long exposure would have blurred it badly. 

Anyway, I made me some photos. They’re certainly not going to win any awards but for me, just getting out there and having that beautiful landscape all to myself is worth it’s weight in gold. I struggled with composition up there though as I really couldn’t find anything to use as a foreground anchor whilst the sun was producing all that magic in the sky. I did have a particular photograph in mind but having studied TPE since, it was entirely the wrong time of year. Which gives me a very good excuse to go back again :-)