North Coast 500 Adventure

Did you know that Scotland has it's own 'Route 66'? It's a fairly recent creation called the North Coast 500 and it even has it's own website. This is the Scottish tourist board's latest attempt to get more people up to the Highlands, where few tourists often tread. The route itself starts in Inverness, fires across to Fort William and then up to Ullapool, then Durness and across the north coast to John O'Groats and Wick, before heading down the north east coast back to Inverness.

We decided to put our own twist on the journey and did it in reverse, also starting in Wick, which would allow us time to visit the Orkney Islands on Day 1 and take in the Highland Park Whiskey Distillery tour. This meant a brutal 13 hour schlep up to Wick on Day 0 with most of us starting in the Home Counties around London. This also gave us chance on Day 1 to visit a second distillery on the route. Dunnet Bay Distillers specialise in high end Gin and Vodka, and the owner was more than happy to throw on a free tour with some samples for us. 

In our party we had the following cars: Porsche Cayman GT4, VW Golf R Estate, BMW M5 (E39), Porsche 911 (997), Porsche Cayman S (987), Subaru Impreza WRX, & a Honda Civic Type R (Wakita Jap import).

The Golf and Civic representing hot hatchery were going to struggle with the genuine sports cars on paper, despite being very quick cars, however front engines, front wheel drive, four wheel drive and committed driving meant they punched well above their weight throughout. Especially when the roads got slippery and the Porsches had to back off slightly. As the Golf R Estate owner, I couldn't have been prouder of the way the car kept up with the pack and when driven at 10 tenths, could stay on the tail of anything except the GT4 in the dry. In the wet though it would just grip and grip and grip. The Subaru was also scary quick and didn't even break down! But the Hero Award surely went to Simon in his Civic. Packing approx 100bhp less than most other cars at 240bhp, he was the most committed driver by far, and the sight of him nibbling at the rear of the £75k GT4 constantly was amusing to all. If you backed off for a second he'd be past you. Ten tenths all the time.

Comedy moments were provided by the biggest, heaviest and oldest car in the fleet, Nick's 16 year old M5. With a monster 4.9 litre V8 engine hauling almost two tons of steel and leather around on well used suspension, it was never going to be dynamically dominant. However the straight line power of it, meant it stayed in touch with everyone despite carrying some interesting angles through bends. At least it sounded great doing so with the (almost) straight through exhaust system. Unless of course if the Rick Astley cassette was playing, which it was. Most of the time.

But enough about the cars. The scenery was stunning. Absolutely beautiful. My biggest regret was (as Snapper Elect) not having more time to pose cars and shoot the landscapes. Such was the demands on us to get to hotels before kitchens closed (try finding alternatives in the villages we stayed in!). The light and weather comes and goes so quickly in Scotland during April. You have to just grab the light when you can.

The hotels and people were amazing too. Hotel owners calling the chef back to work just for us when we arrived late (Bettyhill Hotel). Opening up lounges just for us to drink in (Summer Isles Hotel). Letting us park in their personal car park spaces (Mackays Hotel in Wick). Such is the vastness of the region and lack of people, that we often met the same people twice, including a fellow petrolhead who we passed in a frenetically driven Mitsubishi truck with a sheep trailer on the back. That evening we praised his reluctance to let us pass easily, and the next day met him about 60 miles further west in his supercharged Audi RS4 and chatted to him for half an hour.

Fuel stops became highly strategic. All cars required Super Unleaded, although most (like my Golf) would happily run without fault on 95 RON fuel. Not so the Impreza. It's tuned state and potentially marshmallow engine internals required the highest grade possible. This wasn't helped by it's tiny fuel tank and sub 150 mile range when driven hard. Ullapool had the only Super Unleaded pump west of Thurso, so we stopped their twice to brim the tanks. Applecross had a Community Filling Station run by villagers for non-profit, such was it's remoteness.

For us the trip concluded at the wonderful Clachaig Inn in Glencoe. Sandwiched between the mountains, it looked more like a ski lodge, and we walked in to a traditional Scottish acoustic band playing and many locals singing. It was a wonderful atmosphere and a perfect place to sink a few whiskeys, laugh at the previous few days experiences and mentally prepare for the long slog home the next day. Here are some images to take you there.

For the full gallery of images from the trip - CLICK HERE

Florida Wildlife Shoot with Outdoor Photo Workshops

While my blog post below focusses on the family element to our recent 2 week trip to Florida, for me it was lovely to escape the crowds for a day and go and experience a type of photography I rarely find time to practice! I first came across Outdoor Photo Workshops 3 years ago during our first Florida family holiday in 2013 and I spent a fantastic day with legendary US wildlife photographer, Jason Hahn at two sites in the state. So it was a no-brainer for me to contact these guys again for this trip!

Unfortunately Jason wasn't well at the time of my holiday but luckily they had another exceptional wildlife photographer on their books by the name of Jim Caldwell, who met me one Friday morning at 6am at the Circle B Nature Reserve near Lakeland in central Florida. The plan was to capture some sunrise shots and milk the light while it was good, and rest during the middle of the day before grabbing some more shots as the sun dipped later in the afternoon.

Jim was kind enough to let me have a play with his ENORMOUS Canon f4 500mm prime lens, which was pin sharp and enabled me to get great shots without the need for cropping in too much. Interestingly we were the first ones there, and the other photographers that showed up later with their equally large kit missed the amazing mist across the lake at first light. 

So among the usual suspects of American Alligators, Blue Herons, Great Egrets, White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Anhingas and Tricolour Herons, we were also lucky to see some rarer critters such as a family of nesting Great Horned Owls (the second largest owl in the Americas), Ospreys, Pileated Woodpecker, Armadillo, a flock of Roseate Spoonbills, and a Northern Cardinal. An amazing day and many thanks to Jim for his help and guidance throughout!

What Do Photographers Do In the Off-Season? Shoot Models in Brussels. That's What!

When we're not frantically running around for 12 hours documenting your wedding days, we wedding photographers like to hang around in small clusters, fuel ourselves with strong beer and hire stunning models to hone our skills in exciting cities.

A recent trip to Brussels with friends didn't see us receive the best weather. Ok, let's cut to the chase. It p***ed it down for the entire day we booked Rubia! Luckily we had rented a stunning city centre apartment via Air B'n'B which had surprisingly strong window light, so we decamped there and got the following images.

We then celebrated with several strong beers and spent most of the next day in recovery. Good times. Thank you to my good friends and highly talented photographers Neil Redfern, Toni Darcy, Phil Smith, Kelly Clarke and of course Steffi Rubia for being great company and doing your thang.