Travel

More from Scotland by Neil Alexander

In my previous post here, I shared with you my plans for a trek up to the Outer Hebrides for some photographic frolics.
Aside from it being a truly epic drive - I covered 1200 miles in 7 days, I encountered some absolutely stunning scenery and spent an entire week on my own devoted to filling my photographic boots.
I decided ahead of time, that I would make a point of recording an audio diary several times a day into Evernote for posterity and simple note taking.  On listening to it back, it’s a pleasant reminder of just how relaxed it was. There’s a term that I used regularly, “soul food”, and this is exactly what it was for me. Refreshing and revitalising.

Eigg
A delightful little place. According to the 2005 census, there were 87 inhabitants of the island and it only covers 12m2. There can be no more than 100 inhabitants now and there is one 3 mile asphalt road, though I saw no more than half a dozen cars on it the entire time I was there. With evidence of 8,000 years of a human presence, the island is steeped in history; aside from the effects of bronze and iron age farmers, Viking and Norse place-naming, and medieval massacres, the clearance of the crofters from the 1850s onwards has probably had the largest human influence on the island. Interesting though that is, the geology for me is far more impressive. In a somewhat topsy turvy manner, the oldest rock is at sea level and the highest point on the island, the Sgurr pichstone that you can see quite dramatically on arrival dominating the wee port, is the youngest - the remains of one of the last volcanic eruptions, the core of which now forms the stunning backdrop of the island of Rum. Sadly I didn’t make it up the Sgurr, nor did I manage to reach the north of the island - i just didn’t have time. But I did see the stunning Bay of Laig and the equally impressive Singing Sands, though were there any singing occurring, there’s absolutely no way I’d have heard it over the howling gale that accompanied me that day.

Waves crashing onto the short of the Singing Sands, Eigg. Click to view large.

Luskentyre beach, Harris. Click to view large. Prints here.

My digs for the couple of nights was the lovely Kildonnan House B&B, which incidentally I can highly recommend. The hostess, Marie, was absolutely lovely, the food terrific, the bedrooms clean and cozy, the views terrific and the peace and quiet quite beautiful.

Skye
On the 4th day, I jumped on the ferry back to the mainland in the afternoon, fired up a very cold and lonely looking motor and drove onto the ferry to Armadale on Skye where I was to meet a model for a sunset shoot. Always a bit unsure whether a pre-booked model is actually going to turn up or not, I was pleasantly surprised when not only was Liv waiting for me when I disembarked from the ferry, she also recommended a much better location than I’d planned and even arranged for a stunning sunset and calm enough conditions to get a small soft box up. In an hour from our arrival at the beach, we’d got through two costume changes, several lighting tweaks and had managed to nail an absolute bucketload of keepers. It’s a while now since I’ve had to dust of the ol’ SB900s, in fact I’ve never even done a model shoot with my Fuji X-T1, but with the benefit of my ageing PocketWizards, I was impressed at just how well the X-T1 performed, and more importantly how easily I managed to get everything working and dial it all in - there’s definitely something to be said for memory through repetition. I was absolutely over the moon at what we’d managed to achieve in such a short space of time and left to find my bed for the night on top of the world.

The lovely Liv at Ord, Skye with the Cuillins in the background. Click to view large.

I’ve passed the odd shaped creation that is the Old Man of Storr several times, yet I’ve rarely seen it in the flesh. Every time it has either been obscured by mist or low cloud, or the rain has been so intense that it required total focus on the road. This time I was keen to make a concerted effort. I know it’s been done a thousand times before but I wanted to try something a little different, hopefully. I’d picked out a spot on the map that looked like it would do as a suitable overnight halt for another Disco kip and would only be a short drive to my shoot in the morning, but on arrival, way after dark, it was positively eery. Turning off the headlights, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. There was no moonlight. There was no light of any description at all. It was marked on the OS map as a car park, though there can’t have been room for more than 3 or 4 cars and it was right next to what looked, in torchlight, like a metallic farm shed. Oh my God how that thing howled and clattered in the night. Several times I awoke in the night with a start convinced that the roof was going to blow off and squash poor little me underneath it. Fortunately, obviously, it didn’t and I awoke in the morning at the allotted alarm time in the cold half-light of the early pre-dawn, made a brew, did a little jig to try and warm up and headed off. True to form, not only was my planned location going to be completely impossible to reach, but nor were the heavens going to provide me with anything like ideal conditions. Still, I did the best I could and set off to catch the boat to Harris.

The Old Man of Storr, Skye. Click to view large. Prints here.

Luskentyre beach, Harris. Click to view large. Prints here.

Harris
The island of Harris is an altogether different kettle of fish. In fact, it’s technically not even an island at all as it is actually joined to the Isle of Lewis by a strip of land less than ½ mile across. The North-West side of the island is home to some of the most spectacular beaches in Britain with vast golden sandy beaches stretching into the distance abounded by dunes and tall grasses. This contrasts with the South-East which contains some of the oldest rocks on the planet weighing in at 3 thousand million years old and has a lunar-esque feel to it. One thing it isn’t is short of photographic opportunities. Another is horizontal driving rain. And cloud. Definitely got more than their fare share of that too. But inclement weather aside, it’s definitely a place I’d go back too, and there aren’t many - the world’s too small and I haven't seen enough of it yet.

Luskentyre beach, Harris. Click to view large. Prints here.

And so other than make photographs, did I conclude anything else of note? Well yes, a couple of things. The first is that the Discovery is great for turning into a bed for the night. There's acres of space in the back and it saves the time and effort of having to find a suitable pitch and then try and erect a tent. Obviously it wouldn't really work up Scafell, but for a run 'n' gun trip, it's ideal. 

And the second is that Sugru is a marvel. I've long felt that buttons on the X-T1 are simply too small for cold or gloved hands, in fact they're too small for just about anyone with bigger fingers than a toddler. Until I stumbled across Matt Brandon's post and now my world is much much better! 

Until next time.

N

A wee jolly up to the Outer Hebrides by Neil Alexander

Home is where the heart is but your heart had to roam. Drifting over bridges never to return.
Luskentyre beach, Harris. Click here for prints.

I know I've been quiet for a while, but there's been a lot going on, not enough of which has been photography related! The first couple of weeks of March were cleared in the diary for the Photo Guild's  10 day trip to Iceland which I was to assist in leading. Sadly, it became quite apparent early on that the shorter 6 day tour was going to sell out quickly, whilst the longer tour that I would be helping with wasn't going to hit the minimum sign-ups.
So, as the diary had been deliberately cleared and child care arrangements made, I decided to make good use of the time and began to make plans to head up to the Highlands of Scotland again, this time venturing a little further afield.
I spent weeks and weeks carefully researching locales and making detailed plans, booking transport and accommodation. There were a couple of photographs that I hadn't been able to get on previous trips, the Old Man of Storr in particular, but I also wanted to venture further afield. 

My goals were threefold - shoot some more prints and general landscape loveliness, hook up with a model or two and shoot some book cover ideas on a beach somewhere for Arcangel and generally try and not to cram too much in so that I can be more in the moment, rather than constantly chasing the next one.

I want to tell you a story. The only way that I can. I am just replacing a man that came before me. One day the world is going to see another man replacing me. Thats just the way its got to be.
The Old Man of Storr, Skye. Click here for prints.

The itinerary consisted of a drive up to Mallaig, overnighting somewhere nearby grabbing a sunset along the way. Dawn would find me on the banks of Loch Morar and then I'd secure the wheels for a couple of days and then jump on the ferry to Eigg where I'd spend two days and nights exploring on foot and getting tons of keepers. From there, I'd sail back to Mallaig, fire up the wheels and jump on the boat to Armadale on Skye. Hooking up with a local model, we'd grab sunset (though time would be tight) on a beach somewhere and then I'd overnight near the Old Man of Storr ready to shoot it at first light. Storr bagged, finally, it'd be up to Uig to catch the ferry to Tarbert on Harris. Kip there for a couple of nights getting some first class imagery on Luskentyre and Seilebost beaches amongst others, hop on the boat back to Uig, drive to a suitable sunrise location near Glencoe and park up for the night. The next morning, it'd be pink fluffy clouds, gorgeous early light, shoot, shoot, shoot and nail the remaining 300 miles home in time for tea.
I'd decided that the stars would align, the weather would be perfect and I'd have stunning conditions; a bucketload of optimism is often very helpful when planning photography trips I find. At night, chances were, it was gonna be a wee bit windy and a tad parky out, so rather than cart the tent too, I opted for slumming it in the back of the Disco where it gets nothing like as cold and just took a sleeping mat and my awesome Rab sleeping bag.

In preparation, I made sure that all the research and ticketing information I'd spent weeks putting together in Evernote and the invaluable Ordnance Survey maps in GB Outdoors were all synced and available offline. Even though I was taking the car, I didn't want to load it up with all manner of lighting, props, kitchen sink etc. for two reasons; the first being that this car is so cavernous that if I fill it, I can never find anything without emptying the damn thing (not convenient at the side of a mountain track in the dark) and having too much gear creates indecision and missed opportunities whilst deliberating. So, photography-wise, I had my Clik Elite backpack stuffed to bursting with my Fuji ensemble, a couple of tripods, couple of SB900's and pocket wizards, a small Lastolite soft box and some home-made grids and stuff. Almost bare minimum......almost. That and a small bag of props for book cover shots, Jetboil, and some clean underwear and I was off.

Fear is dark but my love is a lantern shining up like coins in a fountain
The island of Rùm from the Singing Sands on Eigg. Click here for prints.

The scenery up there is incredibly beautiful. And I'm so blessed that these stunning landscapes are all within the boundaries of my home country. That being said, it's a right effing slog! Even factoring in queues at security, check-ins, bag checks, waiting for luggage on carousels and slow traffic, I reckon I could have been waiting for sunset on Jökulsárlón in about half the time.....

Oh, and by the way. All these prints and more are up on my print gallery site available as prints, framed prints or even metallic prints here - http://prints.neilalexander.net. I'm still wading through them and I've a few more to post over the coming weeks.

And finally, my tour of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland with M&M Photo Tours in June is filling nicely. If you'd like to see and shoot some of this delightful scenery for yourself, then check out the itinerary here. Note that for UK based participants (ie those not needing flights), the price is significantly reduced but you'll have to email myself or Mike at M&M for more details. Use either neil@neilalexander.net or mikeg@mmphototours.com for more info.

More next time.

N

 

HOW TO USE EVERNOTE FOR LOCATION SCOUTING by Neil Alexander

 Egol, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Egol, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Saving location information, for me, is one of the keys to successful landscape and travel photography. The ability to dive right into a possible spot on a map and instantly pull up saved images and location information can be a huge time saver and save a great deal of frustration trying to find relevant information in amongst an illegible and unintelligible notebook, which is where I used to save this info. For many years I have extolled the virtues of Evernote to anyone that would listen but after a major change to the software some years ago, it has been pretty useless for pulling up relevant information based on a map view. Yes, you can geo-tag notes, add photos and thoughts but using the Atlas view has long been a complete waste of time because some genius at Evernote decided that being able to only view specific notes on a map was an irrelevant feature.

I use Evernote as a surrogate memory and filing system. I run a totally paperless office and home. Everything is scanned into Evernote and then shredded so I have notebooks for everything from school clothing receipts, boiler repair information, client invoices, business expenses, saved tech tips, the list is endless. And whilst going on for 8,000 notes are all carefully filed and tagged, they all appear in the Atlas view making searching for notes from a specific notebook only very difficult. I have a notebook, imaginatively titled “Locations” and in here are around 1000 geo-tagged notes with ideas from all over the world. The majority are dreadful iPhone snapshots - I’ve been somewhere, the conditions have been pants but I’ve seen something that could, emphasis on the could, make a decent photo at some point in the future or I’ve worked a composition until I’ve exhausted ideas but still not come away with what I was looking for and felt that it needed a re-visit. Or maybe it’s a place I’ve hurtled by in the car or on a train and decided that further investigation at a later date could be efficacious. They’re an assortment of personal memory joggers, selfies, street scenes and landscapes. Most are untitled. I’m also a prolific reader of newspapers and magazines, online and offline and have saved many many details of places that I’d love to visit and shoot, carefully adding GPS data to them all.
So I’ve been diligently storing this information but without a reliable way to retrieve it. Even using some advanced search criteria (for example: notebook:"Locations" resource:image/* latitude:53 -latitude:54 longitude:-3 -longitude:-2 ) proves to be decidedly unreliable. That was until I discovered an iOS only app titled “IdeaPlaces”.  http://www.ideaplaces.com/
It's essentially the missing link between Evernote and mapping but where it comes into it’s own is that you can set it to display only one Evernote notebook, associated content can be saved for offline use, you can set location based reminders, share data, update data and have it sync back to Evernote and much much more. There’s Dropbox integration too if you prefer to work that way.
Using the app, I can travel to any place and see only the data I’ve saved that’s relevant to the area I’m in and I can also plan routes much more easily.

So now that I’ve had this revelation, what is my workflow for getting my images out of Lightroom and into IdeaPlaces? Well it’s slightly convoluted initially but now that I’ve caught up with the backlog the process should be significantly streamlined.

 

The first step is to create a published service in Lightroom that, on publish, will dump a bunch of relatively low res images into a folder. (640px. Low res. Maintain exif)

1 - The first step is to create a published service in Lightroom that, on publish, will dump a bunch of relatively low res images into a folder. (640px. Low res. Maintain exif)
2 - Next, I trawled through around 38K images that had GPS data in the Exif and added them to this service.
3 - Hit Publish

Quick check - Open couple of sample images in preview, then show inspector > More Info > GPS - check has data

4 - Quick check - Open couple of sample images in preview, then show inspector > More Info > GPS - check has data
5 - Find images in finder, select all and right click > open in > Evernote.
6 - Wait until all new notes have synced.
7 - Delete images from folder
8 - In Evernote, move all new notes into Locations notebook
9 - Open up the IdeaPlaces app and wait for the data to sync.
10 - Boom! Completely searchable map view with stacks of data.

 

One of the biggest problems I have now, is that it transpires quite a chunk of the GPS data is inaccurate. I guess this is because either the phone hasn’t updated it’s location quickly enough when I’ve been snapping or because I’ve edited it in another app a few miles down the road and it’s been tagged at this new location, so I’ve a bit of pain to go through and manually update those locations I feel are incorrect. But going forward as a resource, it’s absolutely brilliant.

And even better, I can share all my lovely data with you too dear reader. As I continue to add to this data stream with new gems, I’ll keep my notebook updated. All you need is an Evernote account and the IdeaPlaces app, you can then subscribe to my Locations notebook here and use this data for yourselves. Obviously I can’t share third party copyrighted data in this folder, so sadly I’ll have to create another notebook specifically for my own use, but I’ll keep adding my own images on those I find on the internet that I can use under Creative Commons to share with you. 

Use this link to view the Evernote notebook - https://www.evernote.com/pub/neilalexanderd/locations

Caveat: Whilst I have been through the majority of the 850 locations I’ve already saved, I’m not guaranteeing complete accuracy. So please double check first and don’t blindly walk off the edge of a cliff or into a boggy swamp and then try and blame me!

If there's any particular places you'd like me to add or if you want to reciprocate then please comment below or drop me an email - neil@neilalexander.net