Would you like to join me in Scotland in April 2014? / by Neil Alexander

In April of next year, I've been invited to partner with M&M Photo Tours to provide expert guidance and tuition for their first Photo Tour of the Highlands and Island of Scotland.

Moonen Bay and Beinn na Coinnich

The trip will run from 22nd to the 30th April 2014, and will take in the delights of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, the jaw dropping beauty of the islands of Iona, Mull, Skye and Staffa and obviously the unique architecture and culture of the capital city, Edinburgh. 

Loch Scavaig in the Cuillin, Skye

So before I go any further, what exactly does a trip with M&M Photo Tours entail?


Trips with M&M are designed to get you the very best shots from dawn to dusk. There'll be none of this lounging around until 10 am, breakfasting and then trundling off for a few pics before long liquid lunches malarkey. The emphasis is solely based on getting you the best photographs possible. Once we're up and at 'em, if there's a shot you see by the side of the road, we'll me more than happy to pull over and let you shoot away - our plans are always flexible (aside from pre-booked ferry crossings obviously). The group will be limited in size to between 5 and 10 guests, so everyone will receive the maximum amount of attention possible.

I'll be providing daily hands on training, feedback, instruction and photo reviews. If you're comfortable with your own skills, then that's absolutely fine too.

As we arrive at each of our planned locations, I'll provide a quick briefing, if required, as to lenses, composition, settings etc.

I also strongly suggest, if you can, that you bring your laptop and card reader as I'll be on hand to provide Photoshop and Lightroom advice and guidance in the evenings too.


I'll also show you what I'm shooting too. I may be the first to a spot, but that's only so that I can show you what I feel to be a great composition and to encourage you to push yourself.


On arrival, and before we start shooting in earnest, we'll have some together to get to know each other and for you to show me some of your work so far. Bring a slideshow on an iPad, prints or however you'd like to show me - it's always handy for me to know what standards the guests are at and which, if any, specific areas they're looking for help with before we start. Please only bring a dozen or so of your best shots. Whilst it would be nice to go through your entire catalog, it wouldn't be fair on the other guests if one monopolises the time! 

She's seen better days - GirlBeth, Dornie, Loch Long

What's included

You are coming with us on a Photo Tour to enjoy your photography and we take care of everything else. Leave you worries at home. When you travel with M&M Photo Tours you can be at ease knowing that you are safe and everything from your International Airfare to your meals every day are already taken care of for you.


You can generally expect the following:


- Round Trip International Airfare from USA gateway city (there's a significant saving if you're coming from the UK or Europe - ask me for more details)

- Arrival & departure group airport transfers

- Ground transportation best suited to the tour

- All hotel accommodations based on double or single occupancy

- Services of native language speaking drivers/guides on location

- Drinks during included according to itinerary

- Park entrance fees for mentioned locations

- Boat ticket(s) according to itinerary

- Daily workshops and personalised professional instruction to improve your photography


Itinerary

Day 1 — Edinburgh, Scotland


Arrive in Edinburgh and transfer to our hotel. After time to relax, meet for our first photo shoot: an afternoon walk along the Royal Mile. As we wind our way from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Park, frame sharp church spires, cobbled alleyways, and the warmly lit windows of age-old pubs. A short hike brings us up the knoll of Arthur’s Seat, where we’ll capture the cityscape from an outstanding vantage point. Tonight, gather for an orientation and a welcome dinner at the hotel.

(D)


Day 2 — The Trossachs /Oban


Head west after breakfast, stopping for a warm-up hike in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park—Scotland’s first national park, established in 2002. Our trail takes us up to the pointed summit of Ben A’an to photograph sweeping views of Loch Katrine.  After lunch, continue to the port town of Oban, the gateway to the wild islands that stretch along Scotland’s west coast. Walk the lively harbour or pay a visit to the local whisky distillery for a guided tour. (B,L,D)


Day 3 — Kerrera: The Green Isle


Directly across from Oban lies the isle of Kerrera. Here, we’ll set off on an intriguing hike through history that's full of great photographic opportunities. Pass Horseshoe Bay, where King Alexander II of Scotland died in 1249 while preparing to drive the Norwegian army out of western Scotland. Shoot different perspectives of Gylen Castle, perched dramatically on the cliff’s edge. Built as a stronghold of the MacDougall clan in 1582, the castle was besieged and burned in 1647. Head up into the hills to photograph the Island of Mull in the distance. Return to Oban by ferry this afternoon. (B,L,D)


Day 4 — Isles of Mull, Iona, and Staffa


Board the morning ferry to the Island of Mull, the second largest of the Inner Hebrides. Cross to the west coast and take a boat to the uninhabited isle of Staffa to visit Fingal’s Cave. Spend time capturing images of the wild geology and geometry of the cave and its sea-splashed hexagonal basalt shafts. End the day on Iona, a tiny island off the tip of Mull that has drawn pilgrims since St. Columba established a monastery here in the sixth century. In the late afternoon light, take a photo hike past pristine beaches, an ancient nunnery, and a stunning medieval abbey. (B,L,D)


Day 5 — Glen Coe and Glen Nevis/Isle of Skye


Travel north, tracing the eastern shores of Loch Linnhe into a mystical landscape of sweeping slopes and rocky peaks, and stopping for photo shoots along the way. Pass the western end of Glen Coe, scene of a historic massacre of the MacDonald clan in 1692, before continuing to Fort William. Hike beneath the hulking summit of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the United Kingdom. Later this afternoon, follow the “road to the isles” and get your first images of the Isle of Skye as we cross to its shores. (B,L,D)


Day 6 — Northern Skye


The spectacular landscapes of northern Skye rise in soft, grassy slopes that drop off in sheer cliffs, and rock formations that spike and curl. The setting is perfect for a lesson in landscape photography. Set off on foot into this magical place, rich with legend and intrigue. Hike beneath the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr, photographing different angles on these unusual rock formations as we learn a fascinating story of geologic turmoil. Later, venture into Dunvegan Castle, the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, and the stronghold of the MacLeod chiefs for some 800 years. Listen to the colourful history of the clan as we explore elegant staterooms and the dungeon, and photograph the beautiful gardens. (B,L,D)


Day 7 — Cuillin Hills


Along Skye’s southern edge, the Cuillin Mountains, often called the Black Cuillin, rise abruptly in rocky crests formed from dark volcanic gabbro. We’ll take the less-traveled route into the Cuillins, approaching from the South by boat via narrow Loch Coruisk, which offers a dramatic perspective for photographers. Circumnavigate the loch, taking in magnificent views of the peaks that tower over its shores. Then enjoy an incredible photo hike among these fabled slopes. (B,L,D)


Day 8 — Skye/Edinburgh


After breakfast, start our journey back to Edinburgh, stopping along the way for lunch and a short hike to photograph the beautiful Falls of the Bruar in Cairngorms National Park. Arrive in Edinburgh in the late afternoon and transfer to the city centre or to the airport for your flight home. (B,L) 

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh 

And how can I vouch for M&M's tours so strongly?

Well that's simple. In 2010, as part of a training programme I set for myself, I went as a paying guest to IndoChina with M&M and one of their guest pros at the time, Adam Barker.  It was one of the most enlightening trips I have ever been on and I probably learnt more in those two weeks from a photographic standpoint than I did in the entire year. In fact, many of the images I made there are still in my portfolio today, several have won awards, and I have even managed to recoup a significant proportion of the costs in print sales and image licensing since.

Mike Gulbraa is a real diamond, extremely considerate of his clients, and our arrangements,  accommodations and guides were all of exceptional quality. The fact that we never dined at sunset, impromptu photographic stops were a given, and the camaraderie developed along the way made this an experience that I shall never forget. 


What should you expect to get out of it?

As much or as little as you'd like. If you simply want to make great photographs of one of the most beautiful places in the world, or you're keen to be immersed in tutoring, local culture and make some new friends then this is the trip for you.


As M&M's strap line states: "You don't just take a photograph, you experience it!" and this will be an experience to remember!

 

"Neil brings a wealth of knowledge of location, season, and, custom to our Scotland trip.  As a seasoned travel photographer Neil possesses the eye of creativity and the attention to detail that we like our guests to be exposed to.  His easy-going nature and simple and clean approach to his photography make him easy to relate to and understand - critical for those guests of ours yearning for instruction and self-improvement.  We are honored to have Neil - a native Scot - with us and know everyone will come home a better photographer having captured the essence of Scotland using Neil's feedback and instruction."

Mike G, M&M Photo Tours