Photography

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

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