Scotland

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

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

Touring Scotland with M&M Photo tours by Neil Alexander

Edinburgh Castle in the mist

Me sporting my awesome new Pro Express backpack courtesy of Clik Elite

I first came across M&M photo tours back in 2008 or 2009 whilst researching gifts that my wife might like to get me for my 40th birthday. I’d never been to Asia with the sole intention of making photographs and their tour to Indochina sounded perfect. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam for 10 days with a bunch of like-minded folk - and it was fantastic. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy myself, get some stunning images, make some great new friends but I also learnt an absolute tonne of new photography tips and tricks and really honed my skills. 

The bridge at Sligachan, Skye

So imagine my delight when Mike from M&M approached me several years later to run a tour with them round the highlands and islands of Scotland - a part of the world very close to my heart.  
The itinerary was to consist of many places I knew well along with some that I’d never managed to make it to;  Edinburgh, Trossachs & Oban, Kerrera, Iona, Mull & Staffa. Glencoe, Skye, and then back to Edinburgh for a farewell feed. 

Warriston's Close, Edinburgh

One of the many upsides of leading a tour for me, is that I put little or no pressure on myself to come back with stunning photographs. The tours are not about me making great photographs but about showing the guests how to and getting them in the right spots so that they can. I find it really quite liberating. Don’t get me wrong, my cameras and tripod still go everywhere with me. it’s just that I place the emphasis on the others’ photographs rather than my own. There’s little more rewarding than watching someone have a lightbulb moment after you’ve taught them a particular way of doing something or explained a concept that was clearly troubling them.  

Group shot

Group shot

Sadly though, someone had clearly failed to alert the powers that be that we were coming. The light was on occasion promising, but more often than not it was crap. 

But we had a great time, the guests learnt loads, went home with some great photos and memories and we had an awful lot of fun sampling single malts.....

We'll be going again in June next year, so if you fancy joining us, then you can find out more details here.