Photo Tours

Join me in Scotland in June 2016 by Neil Alexander

In the middle of next year, I'm once again honoured to be heading back up to Scotland with the brilliant M&M Photo Tours to lead their fantastic photo tour of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Photo tours really are one of the highlights of my job. Essentially I get to share my passion for photography with a group of eager travellers hungry to soak up the aura of a foreign land, a stunningly beautiful one at that. Sharing my knowledge of photography and trying to assist the guests in not making some of the horrendous or ridiculously stupid mistakes I’ve made over the years are an equally rewarding part of the job. We eat and drink well, get to sleep in comfy beds and are chaperoned by extremely knowledgable local guides and drivers. Whilst the landscape on it’s own is stunning, add to that some background history of the battles between land owners, clans and foreign invaders, and you get immersed in a vivid image of how these parts once were and how man has learnt to adapt to the harsh environment.

Months, if not years, have gone into the planning of this trip and it’s been tweaked slightly from last year to allow us to spend a little more time around Glenshiel and Loch Ness.
You can find a full itinerary and details here. But please note, the cost listed on the site includes international air-fares and transfer fees etc.. If like me, it’s just a short train journey or car drive, and you don’t need air fares, then the cost is much less at $4500 which at the time of posting came in at just under £3000. Which is a pretty damn good deal. Places can be reserved with a small deposit and I'll be happy to try and answer any questions you'd like to ask. Hit me in the comments below, by email at neil@neilalexander.net or just pick up the phone - 07802 280660

"The photography locations were amazing!” Marsha - M&M Scotland 2015 guest.

Oh and before I sign off, all the images below were taken in the areas the tour covers and all are now available as prints and canvases in my Hills & Mountains gallery.

 Cottage in Glen Coe

Cottage in Glen Coe

 River Moriston on its way down from Loch Cluanie

River Moriston on its way down from Loch Cluanie

 Egol and the Cuillin Hills, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Egol and the Cuillin Hills, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

 Glen Coe

Glen Coe

 Gesto Bay, Loch Harport

Gesto Bay, Loch Harport

10 Top Christmas gift ideas for the photographer in the family by Neil Alexander

October is here, autumn is in full force, the clocks will be changing soon and incredibly, there’s only 11 weeks until that time when we eat too much, drink too much and spend much too much money on our loved ones. But it’s the giving of gifts that makes Christmas. There’s nothing quite like the look on your young son’s face when he opens a present containing yet more pairs of ridiculously themed socks from his great grandmother or the look on your partner’s face when you present them with the tickets for the photo tour to the long-lusted after destination that they never stop talking about. 

So I’ve put together a few ideas for the perpetually awkward person to buy Christmas gifts for, the photographer in the family. 

So starting with the cheapest first…..

1) On the occassions that we surf through our family photos on the Apple TV with friends and members of the extended family, it regularly comes up in conversation that we appear to be a one parent family. I'm hardly ever in them as it's always me taking the photo in the first place. That was until I snagged myself one of these super cheap and easy to use selfie sticks. I was scoffed at and ridiculed when it arrived through the post, but we've had some great laughs with it on our travels and my wife no longer looks like a single parent in most of our family snaps.


2) Another fun one. Simply set your phone to timelapse mode, wind the clockwork Muvi round to how long you want to shoot for (90° degree (15 minutes), 180° degree (30 minutes), 270° degree (45 minutes), 360° degree (60 minutes)), pop your phone into the cradle and start shooting. The results are fantastic and for so little cost, it's a great little toy. The smartphone cradle removes and reveals a standard tripod screw, and it's the same on the bottom. It'll only hold up to 750g but it's not really meant for anything serious!


3) The Landscape Photographer of the Year competition is one of the few that I make a point of entering every year. I even managed to get shortlisted one year and I love the work that is entered. It's always of such a high standard that the competition is really fierce. When the judges eventually get round to whittling down the thousands and thousands of entries, they put together a wee book of the winning entries.

Now in it's ninth year, the book to accompany Charlie Waite's brainchild is a stunning compilation of some of the best photography of the British Isles. 


4) Question: When does a photographer utter the most expletives?

Answer: When they've spent hours making some stunning images only to realise that they've got dust spots all over their images and now have to spend hours painstakingly removing all the bloomin' things.

From someone who really ought to look after their kit better, I can testify that one of these kits is an absolute essential.


5) Obviously the start to a new year wouldn't be the same without the ritual hanging of a new calendar on the wall, and what better way to get a spot of daily inspiration than with some beautiful photographs of the UK's most stunning national parks. There's about a 3 week lead time when ordering as they're printed on demand so get your order in soon. Prices start at £16.99 + delivery.


6) Photographers love to look at the work of others and there's no better way than with a framed print on the wall. I've moved all my prints over to the Fine Art America service because quite simply, it's fantastic. All UK orders are printed and fulfilled from this side of the pond and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. Prices start at £28 and there are a plethora of options available including having them framed and ready to hang when they arrive on your doorstep. Check them out here.


7) This little fella is a very handy gadget. Sick of your family photographer lugging a huge cumbersome tripod around everywhere, then this wee chap is just what you need. It's certainly not a tripod replacement by any stretch of the imagination but it's a fraction of the size and weight of most tripods and is small enough to fit inside a backpack.

Perfect for those who want to travel with minimal kit and it's so discrete that you can often get away with using it in places where a security guard would be all over you before your tripod's feet even touched the ground.


8) Finding the right camera backpack is rather like searching for the Holy Grail but I was recently sent one of these to try out by my good friends at M&M Photo Tours. This is the second Clik Elite bag that I have now and I love them. There's always a compromise between the amount of gear I want to take somewhere, the weight I can carry and accessibility to that gear. The Impulse Sling is an ingenious concept that allows me to fit a body or two, a couple of lenses, filters and gloves etc in a small compact pack that I don't actually have to take off in order to access my gear; I simply release a clip and it swings around my shoulder providing easy access to the camera compartment. No pudding it down on the street or in a muddy field to get a camera out.


9) My collection of tripods seems to be growing at a rather alarming rate lately. Another tester sent from the US, I originally saw one of these in use in Scotland earlier this year. Compared to most of my other three-legged monsters, this lightweight carbon fibre affair packs into an insanely small carry pack yet still provides a rock solid grounding for my camera when I'm traveling. My body isn't getting any younger and often my back cries out at me to be a little more considerate. Strapping a 4kg tripod and a full flask of coffee onto an already overweight rucksack isn't always the smartest thing for me to do. Obviously I can't dispense with the coffee, so replacing the RRS version with this wee Benro fella when I've distances to cover on foot has been a major spine saver!


10) And finally, no gift list would be complete without a spot of travel thrown in. Does the photographer in your life lust after visiting new destinations, to see new places, mix with other like-minded folk, and try out new tips and techniques? Well then, I'm leading a couple of photo tours next year to do exactly that. I'll be in Iceland in March for an 11 day tour and in the Highlands and islands of Scotland in June to photograph some of the most amazing scenery this planet of ours has to offer. A great opportunity to come back with some stunning photographs and great stories to tell, these trips are worth every penny and unlike general tourist tours, they are organised specifically for photographers.

Read more details on the Iceland trip in March here, and the Scotland trip in June here.

 

Who wants to come to Iceland? by Neil Alexander

Yours truly on the road to Landmannalaugar, Western Iceland

"They have two sayings in Iceland that became firmly implanted into my subconscious whilst I was there last year. The first is “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes” and the second is “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”. Icelandic weather can be unpredictable at best and downright bonkers at its worst and I can safely say that I experienced this first hand on more than one occasion.

In September of last year, i was lucky enough to travel to Iceland with Elia Locardi, Ken Kaminesky and Patrick Di Fruscia for a week long photo tour of some of the more common, and less travelled photo opportunities. While the weather was far from ideal (isn’t it always?), the photo opps abounded. Iceland has long been at the top of my bucket list to visit and I can safely say that it didn’t disappoint.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

While I’m happy to drive from Manchester to the Lakes, Skye or even Ibiza on my own, renting a 4x4 and getting lost on my lonesome half way up a glacier in a blizzard was not top of my list to do, at least not on my initial  visit to the place. I viewed this trip in two ways: first and foremost it was a fantastic opportunity to mix with some like-minded folk, see some amazing sh^t and make some photographs worth selling on my return. And secondly, in case the weather was not on our side, also as a scouting mission should I ever decide that I would like to go back again. That decision to return was made within minutes of my arrival in Reykjavik and spending a few minutes wandering round the city. Never have I felt less apprehensive walking round a strange land. In fact I felt more comfortable meandering around downtown Reykjavik than I do vast swathes of Manchester.

Once we left the relatively urbanised city and roamed further into the countryside, I found my jaw consistently wide open in disbelief at the views.
The scenery around the island is absolutely spectacular and there are more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at. As a famous photographer once said (I forget who. It might’ve been Jim Richardson) “If you want to take better pictures, stand in front of better stuff”. So here I was in front of some jaw-droppingly beautiful stuff and snapping away to my heart’s content.

Hrauneyjafoss, Iceland

Having participated in and led a few trips over the years, I can safely say that a good photo tour is like no other kind of trip. Many a tour guide or bus driver has been completely astonished at just how long us photographers can spend at one given location. The better guides quickly learn that we can’t be rushed. The sun will rise or set in it’s own good time and we’re done when we’re done.  The best guides are the ones that know which waterfalls will be in the shadows during the day, where the best spots are for the dramatic glacial sunrise shots and are more than happy to drag themselves from their bed at daft o’clock in the morning, feed us endless coffee and transport us to some remote location, all in high spirits and in plenty of time for the sun to rise. Siggi, who will be our driver and guide for both the Iceland tours, were there an award for the guide with the nicest manners, best yarns, outstanding local knowledge, understanding of photographers’ needs and generally all round thoroughly entertaining fellow, would take first prize hands down. 

The Sun Voyager scultpure at sunrise in Rekyavik

For me, the other great selling point of dedicated photo tours is the ability to spend hours and hours discussing the minutiae of ball heads, chromatic aberration and the finer points of the Wacom tablet range with others who are genuinely interested. Most of us photographers work away in our own little bubble with few if any opportunities just to chew the photographic cud and slate Adobe for their latest DNG conversion problems. One of the worst aspects of grafting away in your own little world is when the wheels come off. The life of an artist is such that we are seldom entirely happy with our output. It’s not often that everything turns out as good as we’d hoped. In fact, often, everything we do sucks and I’ve had more than one of my own “What on earth ever possessed me to think I could be a good photographer anyway?” moments. My last real “crash” was whilst in Iceland. 

It was late one evening after dinner in a hotel not far from Jökulsárlón. Dinner had been cleared away and the aurora was to be a non-starter that night, so the laptops came out and the group most dutifully got  stuck into some editing and I did likewise. I did a quick cull and then picked a couple that I was going to work on further. I could only really find two images from several days shooting that I felt were even remotely worth the effort. I went back through my images in Lightroom thinking that surely I must have better images than this. But I couldn’t find any. It was at this point that my mind started to crash. Unable to comprehend just how crap my images were, I went wandering round the other guys’ screens in the vain hope that they were having the same crisis I was. It wasn’t to be. One guy in particular that I’d been stood right next to at sunset had images that blew my mind, and I had, well nothing. We’d practically been shoulder to shoulder, yet his images were a million times better than mine. I could practically feel myself deflating right there. Sinking deep into a gloom, I poured myself another glass of wine, and then another. It was at this low low point, that I decided I needed some help. 

Shooting icebergs on Jokulsarlon beach

Fortunately the organisers were there for me. Patrick spent a few minutes pouring over my images and then ran a couple through Lightroom’s develop module and presented me with the results. My mood lifted, a little as he helped me see what I’d missed. Astutely realising that his work was not quite over, Patrick suggested we ditch the laptops and just chat. Which we did, for hours. About vision, process, business, the whole 9. Save to say that I went to bed much later than planned but feeling a whole lot better about my work and with a renewed determination to make the most of the rest of the trip and get the images I wanted to come home with. It wasn’t quite a life changing moment but it certainly saved me from myself and the rest of the trip was met with considerably more enthusiasm and I’m pleased to say, better results! 

And now here I am preparing to return. And this time in a position to impart my own knowledge and wisdom and help others with their own wobbles. The trip starts in Reykjavik on the 29th February 2016 and for the meagre price of around £3,000 you get to spend 11 days photographing one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet, the opportunity to chew the photographic fat with like minds and hone your own photographic skills. It’s going to be incredible! But hurry, seats are filling fast. You can find more details here - http://issuu.com/guildphototours/docs/iceland_11_day_guildphototour

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Oh, and the trip is not limited to just Guild members. If you’re not a member, don’t worry. You can come too. 

If you've any questions, then please don't hesitate to contact me either in the comments below or by email at neil@neilalexander.net. To secure your place, contact lesley@guildphototours.com.