Using nature to frame the subject by Neil Alexander

Stirling Castle, Scotland. Prints and canvases of this and other images of castles can be seen here.

A simple skill for any photographer to improve their compositional skills is to learn how to frame a subject. It can focus the viewer's eye on an area of the photograph where you’d like their eye to fall initially. But why bother? Because as photographers, we’re visual storytellers and in our photographs we have to be able to clearly demonstrate to the viewer what the subject is to draw them in to our work. Popping a frame of some description around it simplifies matters for the viewer and helps to focus (excuse the pun) the eye on what I intended to be the key element of the photograph. Clearly, the castle is the smallest element in the photograph but you see it first. It’s a very simple lesson and very easy to do.

Taken quite literally at the side of the road, the gaps in the trees either side of this spot were either too big (I couldn’t get enough of them in the frame) or they were too close together (and the castle become a much larger element in the image). By just taking my time to assess the scene before I planted my tripod gave me the opportunity to make a much better photograph than if I’d just jumped out the car and started shooting at the first scene I saw. 

Highlands and Islands of Scotland Workshop, April 2014 with Neil Alexander and M&M Photo Tours by Neil Alexander

In case you missed the details, I'm leading a group of photographers with M&M Photo Tours up into the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in April this year. If you're keen to photograph the inspirational landscapes and awe inspiring beauty of the region and get some tuition and guidance from yours truly, then you'd best get on it.  There are still a few places left but not for long!

Farm buildings, Achtriochtan, Pass of Glencoe looking up to the Three Sisters

The trip runs from 22nd April through to 30th April starting in Edinburgh. We then travel through the Trossachs, over to Mull, Iona and Staffa, back to the mainland for Glencoe, nip over to Skye and then return back to Edinburgh. The locations we'll be stopping at on the way have been carefully selected and I can guarantee that the scenery will not disappoint. The cost for those based in the UK, or not needing flights is $5500, which as of the time of posting equates to around £3,400. 

That may seem expensive to some, but when you factor in the accommodation, travelling, boat tickets, the amount of work that has gone into the preparation, and the professional instruction, it's actually a very well priced package. 

Check out the full SP here. If you've any questions whatsoever, feel free to drop me a line - or call me in the office on 0161 870 6181.

View of Loch Katrine from Ben A'an

Scotland - the best landscape photography in the world? by Neil Alexander

I made these images the other week up in my homeland, Scotland. We parted ways when I was a mere whippersnapper, but I always feel at home here and will always call myself a Scot even though I don't have the broad Glaswegian twang anymore and there are still plenty of places that I have yet to visit. In fact, I feel that the Highlands and Islands of Scotland have some of the most majestic scenery in the world to photograph and with the right conditions there is no other place on the globe like it.

On this trip, I wanted to get some night photographs of the city of Edinburgh and also some sunrise images of the Forth bridges amongst others.

Forth Road and Railway Bridges, Fife, Scotland

The climb to Ben A'an 

I am also scheduled to lead a trip for M&M Photo Tours in April of next year and there were a few spots on the proposed itinerary that I was unfamiliar with. I decided that I would try and kill 3 birds with one stone; get the images I wanted, scope out parts of M&M's proposed route, and see if there was anything that they had omitted that could be squeezed in and would be of value to their clients.

Weekdays are so hectic at the moment that this was going to have to be a weekend trip, so straight after devouring pizza with the kids on Friday evening I jumped in the car and headed North. As I approached the top end of the M6, the clouds parted and I could see tell-tale  pink and orange wisps beginning to form in the sky. Frustratingly though up this end of the motorway, the junctions are miles and miles apart. I came off at the very first opportunity and found myself at the smallest motorway roundabout I have ever seen. After frantically racing around trying to find a suitable foreground element to use in a photograph I stumbled across an old Land Rover in a field, but by this time there were only the remnants of the sunset in the sky and the photograph was not what I had hoped. Ho Hum. Back in the car and continue the schlep up North.

Now normally on a trip like this I'd either camp or kip in the car to keep costs down, but having spent quite a bit of the summer under canvas and stumbling across a rather nice hotel at a bargain price on, I thought I'd treat myself. I eventually arrived at my digs for the weekend around 10, knackered. I checked in, dumped my overnight bag and forced myself to head back out again to recce my plans for dawn.

View of Loch Katrine from Ben A'an

Yours truly atop Ben A'an

 Saturday began with a leisurely start at 5am heading down to a spot that I recce'd the previous evening by the waterside between the two Forth bridges for dawn which was great. Lovely colour in the sky just before dawn itself. Nailed it and back to the hotel for breakfast. I then jumped back in the car for the drive to the car park at the foot of Ben A'an, parked up, grabbed a lightweight pack and began the ascent. It was tough going for a grossly unfit specimen as myself, but the views at the top were stunning. There was a great deal of cloud in the sky, but here and there the sun was doing it's darndest to peek through and it was windy as hell. By the time I'd made my photographs of Loch Katrine and was set to do a 360 pano, there were hoards of people streaming up the hillside. I was astonished. Babies in backpacks, elderly couples, puppies and a coach load of school kids. The numbers very quickly put paid to my pano plans. I'd arrived around 30 minutes too late and the weather was very quickly on the turn. The wind picked up, the sun disappeared completely and the drizzle began. I figured I had enough time for a quick selfie and it was time to get back down the track before the coach parties and rain turned it into an hour long muddy slide. 

Derelict Garage, Lochearnhead

Loch Earn with Meall a' Mhadaidh in the background

 From there I took a rather circuitous route to Oban which is where we will be getting the ferry from over to the Isle of Kerrera and then onto Mull, Iona and Staffa. I found a few interesting bits and pieces on my travels though I'm afraid to say that Oban itself wasn't really one of them.

Next week, I'll be divulging the full details of next April's tour along with some more photographs, so don't forget to swing by next week. Alternatively, subscribe to the RSS feed here, or get posts as they happen in your inbox here