Isle of Skye

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

 

Looking back at 2015 by Neil Alexander

Now that we’re back into the swing of things, it’s about time I reflected on how far I’ve come in the last 12 months and some of the photographs I've made. I know that many people, photographers that I follow in particular, tend to do this at the end of the year, but for me the Christmas holiday break is all about family and friends, lots of relaxing, drinking, eating and unfettered laziness. I much prefer to do my reflection on the previous year once the new one has just started, the little cherubs are back at school and normal service is resumed.

There were a couple of key changes to my circumstances last year which, looking at Lightroom’s stats, resulted in a drastically reduced image count. The first and by far the biggest disruption was moving house. This happened in May which resulted in a near zero count for a couple of months and as the place we’ve moved to has required a significant amount of work, some of which I’ve done myself and the rest I’ve had to co-ordinate with plumbers, builders, decorators, carpet fitters etc etc, the opportunities to head out and shoot were drastically reduced. Evenings and weekends, which are my key times to make photographs consisted of more DIY in a few months than I think I’ve done in my entire life! And there’s still a veritable shedload to do. But it’s been equally rewarding as much as it’s been frustrating. The new house is a dream and in the few short months that we’ve been here, it’s become a bit of a party haven. As an added bonus, I now have a dedicated man cave office cum studio. It took a while to get it fitted out and set up as I wanted it but I now have a roll of white seamless suspended from the ceiling. I have enough room to leave lights and small sets out and shoot simple portraits or still life’s to my heart’s content. I only managed to finish this off just before Christmas and it really came into it’s own shooting group shots of the kids and all their cousins on Christmas day.

The Cuillins and Loch Scavaig

The A683

Winnats Pass at dawn


I’ve even had storage built for most of my vinyl and got the ol’ 1s and 2s set up again, though I’ve had very little chance to use them and I’ve hours ahead trying to sort all those 12”s out into some kind of order.

The second and equally relevant change was my shift to Fuji. Whilst I really love my Nikons they’re starting to get a little dated, and as I become more dated, I’m noticing the weight more and more, the lenses in particular. Sporting a fully laden backpack with two bodies, five lenses, and all the other assorted trinkets really begins to take its toll on my ageing spine if I walk any particular distance. So one of the main reasons I chose to jump into the Fuji brand was because of the size and weight. I’m not getting any younger and nor is my back. One thing that became very quickly apparent was that I seem to take far fewer frames with the Fuji gear compared to the Nikon. When I sit down and try and figure out why this is I think that the reason is twofold; the first is the clarity on the LCD screen on the back of the camera - it’s just so much easier to read and use than it was on my Nikons and I can tell very quickly whether I have tack sharp images or not. This could be partially to do with my failing eyesight but I’ve also found that one of the main limitations of the Fujis has forced me to think more when I shoot. With the Nikons at the single press of a button I could get them to shoot and nine bracket sequence. However the Fuji only allows a maximum of three in one go. I could dial the exposure compensation to +3 and -3 stops and still get the nine frames that I was looking for but I tend not to do this now. If it is a seriously contrasty scene that requires extremes of exposure, then I tend to dial in the brackets manually, probably shooting +3, 0 and -3. In other words only a third of the number of images. I do this quite a bit.

Hell Gill Pike.

"Such as spend their lives in cities, and their time in crouds (sic) will here meet with objects that will enlarge the mind, by contemplation, and raise it from nature to nature’s first cause. Whoever takes a walk into these scenes must return penetrated with a sense of the creator’s power in heaping mountains upon mountains, and enthroning rocks upon rocks. And such exhibitions of sublime and beautiful objects cannot but excite at once both rapture and reverence." Thomas West, 1778

The beach at Rhosneigr

Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle

The Cuillin Hills in the mist from the shores of Loch Scavaig, Elgol, Skye

Another contributing factor to my reduced frame count was that I did very few timelapse sequences last year compared to 2014, partly due to the afore mentioned time constraints but it also took me quite a while to figure out how to do this with my X-T1.

However a far bigger contributing factor than any of the above is that I’ve been in a bit of funk for a few months. With all the disruption and stuff, I really began to feel like I was losing my mojo in a big way. In fact it got to the point just before Christmas that I got so concerned about my creative state of mind that I started to invest a great deal of time working out how I get myself out of this hole. Having given myself a right good talking to, happily, I finally feel like I’m beginning to come out the other side, but more on that next week.

How's your year been? Are you in a better place than you were this time last year? Feel free to comment below

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