My journey to winning the British Institute of Professional Photography Student Open Award.

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2018 AOP Student Award Finalist image.

Winning a competition is always nice, but something I’m not too used to. Winning a National competition is even nicer. Winning a National competition and being a finalist in another national competition doesn’t happen to people like me. Well that’s what I thought and so sitting writing this blog about being the winner of the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography) Student Open Awards, a finalist in the AOP (Association of Photographers) Student Awards and receiving a First Class BA(Hons) Degree in Photography from Wilshire College Salisbury/Bournemouth University (with commendation), is feeling very surreal! How did I get here?

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1 of 5 in a series of images which won the BIPP Student Open Awards 2018

I bought my first DSLR in 2007, a Canon 400D. This was for a trip to Southern Sudan. It stayed on Auto for the whole trip. I had some okay images but knew I could get more from the camera and so joined an evening course at Salisbury College, a beginner’s course in digital photography. The first thing I learnt was to read the manual that came with the camera, something that has stuck with each new bit of kit I buy.

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Juba, Southern Sudan 2007.

Some friends and I started a very informal camera club at our local church and we helped each other with ideas, techniques and technical problems. It was a great place to learn and develop an eye for a good photograph.
The following year I attended another evening course, again at Salisbury College. This time it was in creative photography and portfolio development. Here I began to look at other well known, and not so well known, photographers.
I was beginning to see the benefit of better equipment and replaced my kit lens with a better second-hand one from Castle Cameras, my first purchase from the Salisbury store. I was now on their email list and had a notification of field trip to Lulworth with a Canon Ambassador and a chance to try out some Canon kit. That did it! I wanted a 5D Mkiii. A very understanding wife organised a surprise purchase from Castle Cameras and I was the proud owner of the camera I wanted. At this point I was looking for some recognition that my photography was improving and of a standard that other photographers rated, so in the same year I applied for membership of the RPS (Royal Photographic Society). After a nerve-racking assessment panel, where I was asked to reprint one of my 10 images because of a lack of detail in the shadows, I was awarded a Licentiateship. That was all in 2013, since then my kit bag has expanded and includes an EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, a 50mm F1.4, an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS, a 1D Mkiii body, two speedlites and various other paraphernalia. I would say that 90% of my kit is from Castle Cameras and I always find the team helpful and knowledgeable.

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So that’s where I was for three more years. I did a couple of friend’s weddings and took my camera on holidays and a pilgrimage in Israel. Move forward to the summer of 2016, I was at my nephew’s wedding (which I was videoing on my 5D) and got talking to their official photographer asking how he had got into the business. He had done a degree in photography – the seed was sown. A few days later I bumped into a tutor from Salisbury College who had taught me on one of the evening courses and I found myself enquiring about doing a BA(Hons) Degree in Photography. By that September I was signed up, had my student loan in place and back at Salisbury College aged 52.
I’ve learnt so much more about photography in the last two years. I probably hadn’t appreciated quite how much academic research and writing there would be in a photography degree, but it all helped towards a realisation about my own work. Prior to this I would look at the photography magazines, books about photographers and exhibitions such as Sebastiao Salgaldo’s Genesis. This was all very useful and I tried to emulate images that I liked. My dissertation, concept development and final graduate project were rooted in ‘mindful photography’ and I developed the idea that I needed to revisit my photography at an elemental level. I kick started the project with a trip to Iceland in February. Before going I got in touch with the photographer Tom Oldham, he had been a guest speaker on the degree course. His advice was: ‘consider a different way of shooting or nailing it outside your comfort zone as so much of it has been shot so well and is really familiar, it’s easy to overlap on work you’ve just seen before – that’s the danger I think’.

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Breaking down my photography to an elemental level and being out in the elements in Iceland, and again in the UK in March, I entitled my graduate project ‘Elemental’. It was images from this project that got me into the finals, winning the BIPP Student Open Award and helped me graduate with a First Class Honours Degree.

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To see more of my work please visit my website and follow me on Instagram @stuartbridewell. If you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you: stuart.bridewell@gmail.com

Castle Cameras would like to say congratulations to Stuart on his degree and winning the BIPP student award and a big thank you to him for his first guest blog post.  We look forward to the next chapter of his journey, we think the future is going to be very bright for him.

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