Range Rover

My Best Photographs of 2013 by Neil Alexander

What a year that was eh? A new calendar is on the wall and there are my initials next to the date of every cheque I write for the next few weeks. So it's an ideal opportunity for a little reflection.

 Neist Point lighthouse on the Isle of Skye. One half decent morning of light if memory serves and that was it, but what an amazing place. My first trip proper here in 2013 and there's already a return trip in the diary for later this year. Blog post here.

I made around 20,000 images last year, although about a quarter of those were for timelapses. So it's nearer 15K of which a large proportion as always were filed under Trash. That makes it one of my lowest exposure counts to date. However, looking back over the last few years, an exercise I do every January, reinforced what I already felt to be my best year yet. Not necessarily from a business perspective (my financial year unfortunately ends in the middle of the summer) but certainly from a creative point of view. I feel that my work is of a better standard than ever before, which is extremely pleasing. Reflection over my previous years' work feels like I have the opportunity to take a baseball bat to the little demon that likes to pop up over my shoulder every now and then kindly shouting at me "You are crap and everything you're churning out is dirge". It's a very therapeutic exercise. It also provides me with the ability to see at the most elemental level how my direction as a photographer has changed. 

For your information, here are my previous years: 2012, 2011, 2010 & 2009

 

 Click on any of the images for a larger version.

 The Eiffel Tower, Paris. Seems ages ago I was there. It's only actually a couple of months ago. I went partly for the Paris Photo exhibition, which was a little disappointing, but the Parisienne streets and landmarks provided ample inspiration to more than make up for it.

 This was a really fun day out. These guys were headed up catch the ferry to the Isle of Man for a blokes weekend hurtling around the lanes. I joined them as they met up on the M6 and photographed them all the way culminating with this carefully choreographed rolling roadblock so that I could get a photograph of them all together. There's more here.

The finely manicured beach at Deauville in Northern France. This beach is so well maintained it is quite unbelievable. Every morning a team clear up all the debris left from previous day and then two tractors turn over the sand removing any previous sign of human presence whatsoever. Bizarre.

 

 Blea Tarn. A trip to the Lake District that provided a great deal of wind and rain, and very little else.

Boathouse on Wast Water. This image wasn't made in the best of circumstances. There were 2 Search and Rescue Sea Kings searching the lake going round and round in circles for over an hour whilst I was there. It later transpired that they were searching for a diver who didn't reappear after diving to a sunken wreck in England's deepest lake. 

 The Forth Road and Railway Bridges, Edinburgh. After scouting the shot the previous night, a spur of the moment decision saw me dashing to a different location in the hope of making this photograph. The light performed and it worked a treat. Blog post here.

 Technically, this photograph was actually made towards the end of 2012, but it took me some months to finish the composition that I'd initially had in my mind when making the original photograph. There's more details on the Photoshop work that went into this here.

 Spur of the moment decision one weekend to head up to Snowdonia and make some photographs of my wee car. It was cold, really cold. Blog post here.

Bamford edge in the high peeks at dawn. I've headed up here. I should still here in the half light of predawn hoping for some colour in the sky. When that didn't pan out I don't go out a couple of XP 900s and started playing with some of the camera flash. The full SP is here.

 

 Finally, many of these images are available as fine art prints from my print shop.

Automotive Photography in the Welsh hills by Neil Alexander

The other week, with the prospect of some decent weather I headed off to Snowdonia for a spot of car photography. This was a location that I had scouted previously and in fact isn't even on a map and was perfect for a 4x4 such as the Range Rover Sport. Sun up was due around 8 AM so I left the house about 5 AM to make sure I was there in plenty of time for civil twilight.

Range Rover Sport in the Welsh hills at dawn

It was cold, very cold and it was a long icy drive from the main road up towards a quarry in the middle of Snowdonia National Park. Even though I was there with 30 minutes plus to spare, the colour in the clouds still caught me by surprise. I made several bracketed ambient light exposures in a frantic dash whilst the sky turned a lovely orangey pink. Once I had a few frames in the bag and had time to compose my thoughts, I pulled out all the strobes and began lighting the car. Here's a behind-the-scenes iPhone shot.

For the top ambient lit shot, I used my fantastic new Singh Ray warming polariser and a Lee .9 Soft graduated ND filter, and then merged two exposures in LREnfuse inside Lightroom.

The bottom shot required quite a bit more effort. By this time, as you can see, the sun was well and truly up over the hills and very bright. I had to use two Elinchrom Quadras to the left of the car on full power and two SB900s strapped together to the front of the car also on full power in SU4 mode to overpower the bright light of the sun.

BTS Shot of an automotive shoot. Before the eagle-eyes point out that the lights are all wrong - the car had just been moved before taking this iPhone snap!

4x4 off road in the Snowdonia National Parkat dawn

Shooting cars in motion by Neil Alexander

I've been working a little more on my car photography lately and I wanted to try and get some motion shots to liven up my options. I've a series of car shoots (watch this space) coming up and in addition to some beautifully lit static detailed shots, I felt that it would be necessary to convey some motion too. I've done a raft of research and performed a little ad-hoc testing and ended up putting together the rig in the picture below. 

For it I used:

  • One Manfrotto AutoPole
  • Two Elinchrom vacuum grips
  • 3 Manfrotto Super clamps
  • Some spigots
  • One Manfrotto ballhead
  • A camera
  • Two PocketWizard Multimaxs
  • Sigma 10-20mm lens
  • Singh Ray Variable ND filter
  • And a car....

To reduce camera shake and get sharp images, ideally I'd have had several patient manly helpers (it's a big motor) and pushed it along, or simply rolled it slowly down a gentle slope but I was pushed for time and was short on help. I ended up doing this with the engine running and driving the car myself using the PocketWizards to trigger the camera. With a little trial and error I calculated that I'd need a shutter speed of around 1/4 to 1/2 second to get the motion blur that I was looking for. It was a bright day and even at F22 I wasn't close, which is where the Vari-ND came in useful. Obviously the problem was that at those shutter speeds with the camera dangling off the end of a rather bouncy pole, getting sharp images was going to be a bit hit and miss. I took a lot of frames in order to get a very few sharp ones. 

I only ever had the car going 2 or 3 mph and even on the smoothest parts of the road surface the camera went through a fair degree of pogo-ing up and down. Fortunately being up so high I could judge when the bouncing was at it's minimum and then hammered the PocketWizard.

Then it was back to the ranch for some heavy Photoshop action to remove not just the pole and the clamps but the reflections of them too and all the mud that the car had picked up en route to the test site.

Though it worked ok, the AutoPole (which is clearly designed for use vertically in a studio) isn't really built with this kind of thing in mind. I've since been looking at some extendable carbon fibre poles (read muchos poundos) but have also found a place over in Liverpool that sells used 10ft scaffolding poles for the almighty sum of £5.  

Next opportunity I get, I'll nip over there and rig up another test., and this time with a cleaner set of wheels.

Range Rover in motion - setup.jpg