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 - http://prints.neilalexander.net. 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 neil@neilalexander.net or mikeg@mmphototours.com for more info.

More next time.



Win yourself a Lake District calendar by Neil Alexander

I know that I said last week that you wouldn't be hearing from me for another month or so here, but I've just found one remaining calendar tucked away in the office so rather than leave it sitting around, I'm going to give it away to one lucky reader.

Simple enough, all you have to do is tell me where I pitched my tent the last time I went wild camping in the Lakes.
I'll give you a clue: the answer is in this blog somewhere......

Simply send your answer in an email over to neil@neilalexander.net by midnight GMT on Monday 25th Jan and I’ll pick the winner at random on Tuesday morning so that you can have the calendar on your wall by the beginning of February.

To double your chances, share this post on social media with the hashtag #NeilsLakesCalendar

What does the year ahead have in store for you? by Neil Alexander

As it turns out, photographically 2015 was not a particularly productive year for me. Too many distractions and demands on my time from elsewhere (read more about that here) but my extended self-imposed break over the Christmas holidays has given me the time to do some soul searching and think about what I want the future to hold and where I aim to be this time next year.

I’m firmly of the opinion that without targets, goals and aims, that we just tend to coast along, like a piece of driftwood bobbing aimlessly around the ocean. Eventually it’ll end up on a beach somewhere, but it could be absolutely anywhere. Personally, I’d rather it be somewhere nice and toasty like the Maldives rather than with all the other excrement washed upon Blackpool shores but without any guidance it could even be somewhere near Pyongyang.
My other issue is time. Being the parent that does the school run, prepares the packed lunches, cooks dinner every night, and supervises homework for two lively primary school aged kids, my working hours are limited to around 4 or 5 hours a day. And when I try to fit too much in, I get overly stressed at my inability to accomplish the tasks that I set myself for that shortened working period. I’m the worst for trying to spread myself too thin and as a result, I never really get to focus on anything properly and feel like I only ever do a half-arsed job on most things.

I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks listening to Susannah Conway and decided to pursue her exercise to pick a word for 2016 to act as my guiding light and keep me focused. 
Whilst resolutions work for me for the first few weeks of a new year in general, more often than not by the time February rolls around, they're a dim and distant memory and my good intentions have often fallen by the wayside. A single word that I can fall back on, I feel will stand me in much better stead and will remind me of all my good intentions at the stroke of a hat.
So after an inexorable period of deliberation, I’ve chosen the word Revitalise for my word for 2016, which according to my dictionary means "to give new life to. to give new vitality or vigor to.”. I’ve created a folder full of desktop wallpapers for my Mac to rotate through, I’m in the process of creating a poster to go on my office wall with it on, and I’ve even had a mug made with the word on. This way, there’s far more chance of my abiding by my New Year’s plans.

Whilst I’m not a great believer in self-help books, I’ve recently stumbled upon Lewis Howes “School of Greatness” podcast and book and it’s really helped me with focusing on how I need to revitalise my life and business. As I write this, I’m on day 13 of “Dry January” - I’ve not had an alcoholic drink or a smoke since New Year and I’m forcing myself to find the time for daily exercise and even learning how to meditate using Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app.  And I don’t think I’ve ever felt better or more optimistic about the year ahead.

However, in the interests of focus and not spreading myself too thin (which I excel at doing - the old expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind), some things are going to have to give. If there’s one thing that takes up vast swathes of my time, it’s this blog. I estimate that on an average week, it probably takes me 3 or 4 hours to get a post out - writing, re-writing, re-writing again, adding images, releasing and then promoting. That’s about a fifth of my working week and for the next 2 to 3 months at least, I’m going to devote that time to revitalising myself. I shan’t be disappearing completely. I am going to aim for a post a month rather than one a week and already I feel relieved and less stressed about it. Quality rather than quantity right?

But in the meantime, you can always catch me on Twitter, Google+ or Instagram.

So what does the year ahead have lined up for you then? There’s a big comments box below for you to pen your thoughts - please make use of it 😃

Until next time.