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.


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 - 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 or for more info.

More next time.



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