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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

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Immediately after returning from Skye, I was scheduled to shoot a very rare Performance Blue customised Jaguar XK-R for Jaguar World magazine. The brief was fairly straight forward - get some wide images of the car from the front, rear and sides; the interior & under the bonnet; and if time permitted, some motion shots.  

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

I used a pair of Quadras for all my lighting. Where two lights weren't enough, then I shot multiple frames with the lights in different positions and composited them in Photoshop. The image below is a prime example. There are two lights, camera left and right but I also wanted a little separation at the back of the car. So I moved one of the lights to the rear of the car and made another frame with this light only. Then it was simply a case of layering and masking in post.  

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Over the last few months, I've been experimenting with various different car rig setups. Aluminium I've discovered is simply too heavy. Carbon Fibre is the only way to go. So I've borrowed my brother-in-law's 8 metre carbon fibre fishing pole. I don't need the whole length. In fact fully extended, it's far too springy but with just two or three of the thicker sections assembled I can get 2 or 3 metres from the car and with a degree of rigidity sufficient for a 1/4 sec exposure. I'm nowhere near the 6 second exposures that GF Williams can get with his Car Camera Rigs but my current set up has cost me significantly less (read £0) compared to the £2k for the cheapest that CCR do. The problem is bounce. Even with the lightest body and lens combo I own, the combined weight with the clamps and ballhead to hold the camera creates a significant amount of bounce. So a more rigid pole is definitely in order in the not too distant future.  

The other problem doing these shots is learning to use your camera upside down. In order to get a nice low angle, you have to hang it upside down from the end of the pole. No matter how many times I do this, I still find myself struggling to find dials and buttons, and then turn them the wrong way. Might just try sitting with the camera in front of the TV in the evenings and see if I can master it the wrong way round...... 

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander

Jaguar XK-R by Neil Alexander