We are delighted to announce the winner of the People’s Prize in the Surrey Open Photography Exhibition is Alex Freeman. The voting was held over a period of a few weeks while the exhibition has been open in our Upper Gallery. There is still time to see the exhibition – it closes on the 12 April 2015. We had a chat with Alex to find out more about her and what inspired her winning photograph.

Tell us a little about yourself and your photography career

I’m local - born and brought up in Hook Heath, Woking.  

I studied a music degree at Southampton University, travelled abroad, lived and worked in London for a few years, married a ‘local Australian’ in 2001, and have been based in the village of Pirbright since.

I came to photography in November 2009 having previously worked in the community arts sector - enabling participation in the arts for deaf, disabled, and disadvantaged individuals.  

It all begin with a two day workshop in London with EYE Photographic Workshops in which I was introduced to the workings of a 35mm digital SLR camera . . .

I have since been blessed with wonderful contacts/clients, amazing work opportunities (including being an accredited supplier at The Natural History Museum) and now have creative work space (a photographic studio) of my own in Pirbright.

I specialise in event photography, portraiture, and creative corporate photography.  

For me it’s about finding the extraordinary in the ‘everyday ordinary’, capturing individuals in their most natural guise, and celebrating what goes on behind the scenes as well as front of house.

What made you enter the Surrey Open?

Last year I determined to do two things (among others):

To take a handful of images and have them professionally printed, mounted and framed (the smallest of which is ’The Cannon', the largest of which hang on my studio walls)

To enter a photography competition - this being the first competition I have entered

I’m a great supporter of The Lightbox - as were my parents, as are my parents in law - so when I read about the competition I decided that this was the one.  A local springboard . . .  

If none of the three of images I entered had been selected, I would have still benefited from having been through the process of printing/mounting/framing each image to professional standard and submitting work into a competition.  I never expected this - to receive the People’s Prize! Thank you to everyone who voted on my behalf.

What inspired your photograph for the Surrey Open?

There’s something about the Isle of Wight that breathes life into me and my family - the air, pace and relative simplicity of life on the island by comparison with all things beetling on the mainland.  We visit regularly.   One of our trips coincided with the Round the Island Race in June so I headed off to Cowes at the crack of dawn - with camera and lenses in tow - to see what I could find.  

It’s a spectacular event, with competitors coming from all over the UK, as well as other parts of Europe (some as far away as the USA) to follow the 50 nautical mile course around the Isle of Wight.  The boats cross the start line in eleven separate groups.  The cannon is fired every ten minutes (from 0630 to 0810) to usher them into play. This image is not a ‘one shot wonder’ - it took a few attempts.

How did you manage to capture the beautiful red smoke coming from the cannon? What camera/lens did you use?
I soon realised that the plume of smoke is "here one minute, gone the next" but in reality it all happens within a fraction of a second.  In this instance, the shutter speed was set to one thousandth of a second.

With a little trial and error (and once I’d acclimatized to the sound of the cannon fire which made me and camera jump) I eventually captured this using a Canon 5D mark ii camera, a 28-300mm f3.5/5.6 lens, set to an exposure of 1/1000 sec at f5.6 (i.e. with the foreground in focus, the background intentionally blurred).

Congratulations to Alex and thank you to everyone who voted. If you haven't seen the exhibition yet - then make sure you do make time for a visit!

Find out more about Alex on her website.

Image credit: Starting Cannon Round The Island Race, Isle of Wight © ALEXFREEMANPHOTOGRAPHY

Find out more about the Surrey Open Photography Exhibition