travel

Did I mention that I'd been to Iceland? by Neil Alexander

Voices Inside My Head. Jökulsárlón, Iceland.

You may have read that I was planning on going to Iceland. I may have mentioned it once or twice. I was very excited just prior to the trip to say the least, and I'm glad I can report that it far exceeded my expectations.


First of all, I did not go alone. While I’m happy to drive from Manchester to the Lakes, Skye or even Ibiza on my own, renting a 4x4 and getting lost on my lonesome half way up a glacier was not top of my list to do. So when I saw that Ken Kaminesky was leading a photo tour round the joint, I jumped at the chance. There was Ken, Patrick di Fruscia and Elia & Naomi Locardi leading the tour, all of whom are awesome photographers, along with myself and nine other photographers from all over the globe hungry for some Icelandic action. Poor Rochelle had even flown for 48 hours from Australia! 


So I viewed this trip in two ways: first and foremost it was a fantastic opportunity to mix with some like-minded folk, see some amazing shit and make some photographs worth selling on my return. And secondly, in case the weather was not on our side, also as a scouting mission should I ever decide that I would like to go back again. That decision was made within minutes of checking into my hotel in Reykjavik and spending a few minutes wandering round the city. Never have I felt less apprehensive walking round a strange land. In fact I felt more comfortable meandering around downtown Reykjavik than I do vast swathes of Manchester. Lovely place. Bet it’s great for a city break weekend. The flight from Manchester is only 2 ½ hours you know.

Driven To Tears.

Hrauneyjafoss, Iceland.

Anyway, I digress. The trip. I really ought to have taken more notes, or even some notes but I relied primarily on GPS to allow me to search place names and background information on my return but in spite of this, there’s some I really can’t caption. The mapping software places the coordinates on the middle of a nameless hill. We had an extremely knowledgeable local guide, Sig from Iceland Is Hot with us the whole time so it was stupid not to have made notes of some kind. That’s me told off.

The scenery around the island is absolutely spectacular and there are more waterfalls than you can shake a stick at. As a famous photographer once said (I forget who. It might’ve been Jim Richardson) “If you want to take better pictures, stand in front of better stuff”. So here I was in front of some jaw-droppingly beautiful stuff and snapping away to my heart’s content. Happy as a pig in shit.

And then I think it must have been the fifth night, the first time I really took a minute to look at the images I'd shot so far. The days had been so action packed that the end of each day had been a case of arrive at hotel after dark, quickly put batteries on to charge, start memory cards downloading and dash off to dinner. On returning from dinner were all so knackered and had such early starts ahead of us that we just crashed. Now bearing in mind that for the previous five days we hadn’t really seen anything other than grey and overcast skies. When I went through my photographs in Lightroom that night I was somewhat disappointed with what I’d amassed. I’ve been at this photography malarkey long enough to know that in spite of the poor light, it is possible to make great images. But I hadn’t. Not even close. To make matters worse I had the opportunity to see what some of the other guys had managed to capture. Several of them had managed to make really great photographs at exactly the same locations I had been,  under the same crap light. I felt low. I had a real “Crap man, I suck!” moment. I felt lower than low. 

Giant Steps Are What You Take....

On the road to Landmannalaugar, Western Iceland.

So I took the plunge. I decided to seek help. I felt like I was drowning under my own negativity, and rather fortunately the very amiable Patrick di Fruscia threw me a life jacket and hauled me back on board. Myself, Jim and Patrick then talked shop until far too late and I crashed into my pit feeling rather more positive, though that may partly have been a result of a few extra Icelandic pale ales (They’re very nice but at £5 a pop, not cheap).

"The afternoon has gently passed me by
The evening spreads its sail against the sky
Waiting for tomorrow
Just another day
God bid yesterday goodbye."

Jökulsárlón, Iceland

Highlights:
The highlights for me were definitely the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón and the waterfalls at Hrauneyjafoss. That’s primarily because they’re where I feel I made the best photographs. But to be honest there were so many highlights. We had such a blast. I made friends with people from all over the place and whilst they say that relationships that are formed under extreme circumstances are doomed to failure, I do hope I manage to stay in touch with them all. 

Lowlights:

The bloody rain and wind. I don’t mind rain. Nor do I mind wind either. Together, they don’t make it easy to produce good photographs. The first problem is keeping the tripod with camera on top from blowing over. Then there’s the rain. The first time out for my newly acquired (specifically for this trip )  AquaTech SS-200 Sport Shield performed admirably though the clear plastic that’s supposed to sit over the LCD has separated from the cover already. I hoped it would be better made than that but with some carefully applied duct tape, the gap was temporarily repaired. Which was just as well because at Seljalandsfoss  & Skógafoss in particular, I got absolutely soaked to the skin. You just try keeping the front element of your lens dry and make a photograph without splodges of water all over it. It was nigh on impossible.  
And then there was the endless fogging. I found out very quickly that the hotel rooms were so hot that the transition between hot indoors and cold outdoors was a major problem. On early mornings, I often found that my wide-angle lens and the displays on one of my bodies would be completely fogged up no matter what I did. The only solution was to remove the memory cards and batteries on arrival at a hotel and leave the camera bag on the bus where it would stay relatively cool overnight. 

"The young man agreed
He would satisfy their need
So they danced for his pleasure
With a joy you could not measure.
They would wait for him here
The same place every year.
Beneath the sheltering sky
Across the desert he would fly."

Brunnhorn & Vesturhorn, Iceland.

To conclude, Iceland is quite simply a spectacular country and it’s inhabitants a very friendly bunch indeed. I will most certainly be returning in the not too distant future to make those photographs I missed now that I’m a little more knowledgeable as to what I should expect and where I can go. And I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the guys over at Blame The Monkey if you were thinking of joining them for a photo tour. There wasn’t a dull moment! They have trips planned for next year to visit Italy in May, Bolivia & Chile in August, and possibly a return to Iceland too I heard on the QT.

Note: Some of these images and possibly a few more from the trip will be appearing in my print store pretty soon. Sign up for my newsletter and be the first to know.

The Algarve - the slideshow by Neil Alexander

I've been doing some work lately with a local branding and marketing business who were horrified to learn that I wasn't creating any video as part of my output strategy. My principal argument for not doing any video has been that it's just too time consuming. It was made clear to me in no uncertain manner that from a marketing perspective, video is an absolute must.

So, rather than jump straight in at the deep end, which is my normal manner, I decided I would start by adding some voice and music to a slideshow. No point biting off more than I can chew just yet. In any case whatever I did, it was going to be a learning curve. Simply recording and sequencing audio took far too long - but you got to start somewhere right?

So there's my output. It's a short slideshow.

Feel free to share and comment. And I'd love to know your thoughts. Would you prefer seeing my photographs in a slide show like this, or would you prefer to see them in an online gallery?

 

The beautiful Algarve by Neil Alexander

At the beginning of August the family and I, along with some friends all jetted off to the Algarve in Portugal, and I've finally manage to make time to edit all the images and drop them into a book using Lightroom 4's new Blurb integration. You can also now convert to an eBook for downloading to an iPad with a couple of clicks, and I'm giving this one away free! The links are down at the bottom....

But first, a little about Luz.

Luz is located down in the South of Portugal in an area knows as the Algarve (from the Arabic for "The West"). Tourism makes up the bulk of the Algarve's economy and it's easy to see why. The climate is warm Mediterranean often accompanied by a nice cooling sea breeze, the vibe of the place is really relaxed and unlike many of the other Mediterranean places I've visited, there is an emphasis on good food. And I mean more than a fancy olive and feta cheese salad. Unfortunately to many Praia de Luz will only ever be associated with poor little Madeleine McCann, but only those that have never visited the area. The landscape itself isn't up to much - it's predominantly dusty scrub, but the little towns and villages are really what caught my eye, and obviously the whole area is steeped in history.

Then the gear

As usual, I couldn't bring myself not to take a bunch of gear, but after some careful deliberation, I decided to travel as light as was possible. Rather than my modus operandi, in which I pack my Think Tank roller until it's bursting at the seams and hugely overweight for a carry-on, I decided I was only going to take two cameras, two lenses, a strobe, a few filters and a tripod all tucked neatly and with space to spare in my Billingham 550.

My ultimate aim was to travel as lightly as possible and only with gear that I would definitely use. So rather than take the 70-200 2.8, the 17-55 2.8, the tilt-shift and the kitchen sink (I have a collapsible one…. honest), I simply took my new go-to street camera, the Fuji X-Pro1 with 35mm F1.4 and a trusty D300 (without grip) with even trustier 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS lens. Oh, and two polarisers, some ND grads & Big Stopper, an SB900, LumiQuest Promax Softbox III, gorilla pod, Giotto carbon-fibre tripod, cable release, bubble level, laptop & usb hard drive. I didn't even take a card-reader! I know. How could I? I often hear photographers beat on about using a card readers as they're much faster, don't drain the camera's battery etc etc, but I thought I'd throw caution to the wind, and just for one week I'd go direct. I convert everything to DNG on import. Quite why, I'm not really sure any more. It's just a decision I took some years ago when the format came out and have just stuck to it ever since. The downside is that there's a whole load of crunching goes on in Lightroom when I import and convert, so I've just got it into my workflow that I go off and make a brew, or in this case plonk myself by the pool with a VAT and just let it run. So I really didn't notice whether it was much slower, but it felt good leaving just one more gadget behind.

I didn't push that shutter enough.

I only shot around 100 shots a day total, including multiple frames shot for HDR and Panos, which is really rather low for me when I'm doing travel work. My main goal this trip, was to spend as much quality time with my wife and kids as possible. Anything photography related was a bonus. And it worked for me. On occasion there were times when I should have made photographs (food in particular springs to mind), but to be honest, we were too busy enjoying ourselves and generally soaking it up that I didn't really beat myself up about it.

I had done the usual research, using Evernote to collate locations worth shooting, sun times, weather predictions etc etc and I did manage with a few solo excursions, to manage to tick most of the boxes. The one place I didnt manage to get to, that I would really have liked was the lighthouse at the "Edge of the World" at Cape St Vincent near Sagres.

The Book

Over the years I've put several different books together of my own photographs over the years, but having played around the new Blurb integration with Lightroom a little, and then discovering that you can now create an epub book which you can open in iBooks on the iPad, it was time to do another one. The fact that you can now send as an eBook, (and incidentally you can also charge for it) means it gives me a beautifully easy way to share it with friends and family simply by emailing a link to their iPads (I think almost everyone I know has one these days). I then decided to swap out the family pictures and put more of a travel book together. The images in this post are a sample of what I've put together over on Blurb - why don't you grab a copy for your coffee table, or your iPad? In fact with the first 5 print book orders, I'm giving away a free A3 signed print. How's about that for an incentive? Get the printed options here, and the eBook for free here.