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.

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.

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.

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.


Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park by Neil Alexander

Mam Tor, meaning “mother hill” is according to Wikipedia, a "breast shaped hill in the northern half of the Peak District in Derbyshire offering one of the best views of the region" and on a good day, you can see as far as Edale Valley, Kinder Scout and the Derwent Moors. 

Sunrise over Brampton East Moor

A couple of weeks ago, with an early morning window in my diary, I decided it was time I chalked Mam Tor in the Peak District off my list and headed up in the dark to see what I could see. I had arrived in plenty time, about an hour before sunrise, and parked up as near to the summit as I could. I wouldn’t call myself particularly lazy, but with such a heavy kit bag and an ageing spine, my philosophy is to always try and lug it as little as possible. So when an opportunity to park just yards from the public footpath presents itself, I’m certainly not going to overlook it. The climb itself to the top only really takes about 10-15 minutes so with plenty time in hand, I sauntered up in the gloom. Already it was becoming apparent that a visible sunrise was going to be pretty much non-existent. It was dry, but cold and very grey. Having come all this way though, I wasn’t about to give up just yet. I found a spot that I thought would make a half-decent composition but would require the glory of the rising sun to complete it. I got out my wee stool, cracked the coffee flask open and prepared to wait.  
In the hour or so that I waited, I counted half a dozen other photographers also looking to capture the glory of the morning sunrise. 
In the end, I spent about an hour chatting to a very nice chap by the name of Nigel who, also with a tripod in hand, had come in search of some morning glory. 
Sadly, we pretty much left empty handed save for a few shots of trees in the mist on the way back down. 

So it was a few days later with significantly better weather predictions that I returned. However this time I’d overslept a little. Well by an hour to be precise. This was going to be tight. I quickly wolfed down some cereal, filled the flask and jumped in the car. It’s around an hours drive and I made it in good time. The parking space I had found last time was free and so I assembled my gear and set off on foot. By this time, the cloud on the horizon was already showing faint glimmers of pink and I had a hunch it was going to be a good ‘un.

Empty handed, it’s not a particularly challenging climb. Trying to rush up with a heavy camera bag, tripod, full flask of coffee etc desperate not to miss the sunrise is a different kettle of fish. 

Sunrise over Castleton, High Peaks UK from Mam Tor

When I’d visited a few days before on that grey and miserable morning, in addition to the half a dozen other photographers, I’d come across all manner of mountain bikers, runners, and even a couple from Australia sight-seeing…. in the dark…. in wholly inappropriate attire.  But on the second morning when the conditions were far more favourable and the forecast was significantly better, I barely saw a soul. None of the photographers I’d met the previous trip were back up there. Mine was the only tripod on the hill, and it was glorious. 

Crazy types going for a fell run

As the sun rose, the clouds raced in over my head from Kinder Scout and Edale Moor towards the rising sun on the horizon and created the dark foreboding sky. It was all really low level stuff and it was zipping along. I did contemplate a long exposure to try and blur it a little, but I've found from past experience that at the period of the day when the sun is rising or setting, it moves surprisingly quickly and a long exposure would have blurred it badly. 

Anyway, I made me some photos. They’re certainly not going to win any awards but for me, just getting out there and having that beautiful landscape all to myself is worth it’s weight in gold. I struggled with composition up there though as I really couldn’t find anything to use as a foreground anchor whilst the sun was producing all that magic in the sky. I did have a particular photograph in mind but having studied TPE since, it was entirely the wrong time of year. Which gives me a very good excuse to go back again :-)

The Icelandic prints are now on sale. by Neil Alexander

I have finally finished the pushing and pulling of sliders, the captioning and keywording for the IPTC Photo Metadata and am very proud to say that they're up online now ready for you to purchase here.

I'll shortly be releasing some of these as signed small limited edition batches too but as it's half-term and I'm overrun with boisterous children with far too much energy and a Halloween party for about 30 people to prepare for, I'm afraid this is all I have time for this week. 

Don't get spooked.