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

Snowdonia Part 2 by Neil Alexander

I've finally managed to find a little time to wade through some of the landscape photographs I made during my little jaunt to Snowdonia a few weeks back (see part 1 here), and I thought I'd share a few more.

View down the valley to Ffestiniog with Trawsfynydd power station in the distance

You'll see from the photographs above and below that the weather was what could best be described as "inclement". But from a landscape photography point of view, it was great. The skies were really dark and moody. These were made a little later in the day, after my amazing sunrise over Llyn Celyn. By this time, the rain had begun to sweep in, but rather than turn blanket grey (landscape photographer's worst nightmare), there was plenty going on up in the sky. Taking full advantage here, I used a graduated neutral density filter to get the most definition out of the cloud I could.

Trawsfynydd disused Magnox nuclear power station

The processing of the top image was quite straight forward. The same cannot be said for this image of the disused nuclear power station at Trawsfyndd. It was quite breezy by this stage, but I wanted the lake in the foreground to be smooth and calm, so as not to detract from the two imposing towers. This required the use of my B+W Big Stopper giving me a 15 second exposure - plenty long enough to smooth out the waves. However, still to this day, I seem unable to shoot a long exposure without incurring a plethora of dust spots. To aid me in dust spotting, I created a custom tone-curve in Lightroom (I think it was a Scott Kelby tip originally) which highlights the mess I had to deal with.

Custom Lightroom Tone Curve for Dust Spotting

Custom Lightroom Tone Curve for Dust Spotting

Shot with Custom Tone Curve applied

Shot with Custom Tone Curve applied

And this is how a detailed section of the sky looks - messy right?

Dust spot detail

Dust spot detail

Fortunately, the dust spotting in Lightroom 4 seems much more accurate than the previous version which vastly reduces the time required to fix this mess. It took a few minutes to set up this custom tone curve in the first place, but I now use it all the time and it's saved me hours, literally.

And one final photograph to share. Cropped to a square purely because there was a rather unsightly telegraph pole just to the edge of frame right, the stream at the bottom was full of debris from a recent flood and to the left there was a particularly straggly looking tree that I felt just didn't sit right in the frame. Ideally, I'd have liked a little more space around the farmhouse, but I like it nonetheless.

Farmhouse at Llanelltyd, Gwynedd, Wales