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Hit me with your best shot

Posted by Hannah Tolley on

Throughout August Hannah and Alec did a photo competition. Each week they had a theme to follow and a week to get their best photo to represent the theme. These two love photography, but they love winning even more.

Week One ‘Three of a Kind’

For the first week’s theme we had to look for a photo which contained 3 elements of the same subject.  The competition began with a bit of a rocky start, the studio was busy and the pressure was on during the last 2 days (or in Hannah’s case, the last 7 hours) of the week to get ‘the shot’.

Photographer: Alec

“Three of a kind was a good challenge to kick the competition off with. I immediately started to see sets of 3 everywhere I went. The only problem was I couldn’t find many that I really liked until the days after the competition! But anyway, I decided to go to Croome Court with Harriet on the Saturday before the cutoff (midnight on Sunday) and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to get the shot I needed.

After a few options I decided this art installation in the main house would provide the elements I needed as it had three antique Georgian chairs as its centrepiece #3ofakind”

Photographer: Hannah

“I was planning on spending the whole of Sunday out and about getting my photo, but work got super busy and I ended up starting the challenge at 5pm on Sunday after being in the office all day.

My plan was to find 3 sheep because I’ve photographed cows before and loved the photos. However, I came across a slight problem… sheep are not good models, they just run away from you!

Plan B: Hay Bales. To be fair, everyone loves a hay bale photo in the summer, it’s iconic British countryside.

I had a few options for my submission, but I went for this one in the end because I loved the way the light hit the bale in the foreground – Golden hour came through for me in the end”


Hannah with 73%

Week Two ‘Untouched by Humans / Human Impact’

This week was trickier, with a 2 parter – We didn’t make this competition easy for ourselves! The idea was to show two contrasting images, one showing a natural ‘untouched’ landscape and a second photo showing the impact humans have had on their environment.  

Photographer: Alec

“Having lost the first round I was keen to get back on track. I already had a weekend in the Peak District booked in the diary to go climbing so thought this would boost my chances.

My first shot was of the untouched Moreland heading towards Sheffield from Leak. It was coming up to golden hour and the weather had picked up from the rain on the drive down so I saw a great shot and I pulled over in the camper to capture it.

Shooting into the sun can be tricky and with the competition in mind I decided to bracket the shot with multiple exposures to get all the detail I wanted in both foreground and still get that mega sun bursting through the clouds. I am very happy with the outcome.

My second shot was to show human impact on the environment and after lots of pics of damaged bits of countryside I decide to keep it simple with a close up of some barbed wire on the edge of a National Trust protected area. I did a bit of post production on this shot. While playing around in Adobe Lightroom I flattened the shadows and it gave the shot a matt look that I really liked. This made the purple and orange glow of the sky really stand out.”

Photographer: Hannah

“After completely ‘winging it’ in week 1, I went down the concept route this week. My idea was to have a starry sky as my ‘untouched by humans’ then to pan down the shot to city lights. Unfortunately for me the epic heat wave ended this week and the heavens opened in the UK, leading to a very cloudy week (typical!) so when the clouds cleared suddenly on Friday night I was out with my camera.

The spur of the moment trip meant I didn’t have my camera trigger with me, but I did have a tripod luckily. Without a trigger I couldn’t use bulb mode, so the only option was a 2 second timer + a 30 second exposure.

I feel like this week the concept was there, but I didn’t execute it very well – I’ve never done night photography before and I couldn’t get the stars to show up, I’m not sure if I needed a longer exposure or less light pollution. I think I managed to save it in lightroom though, but I don’t like having to rely on post production to get the shot.

I did have a version of this photo without the light in the bottom right, but I loved the irony that it was produced by a passer by walking into my shot with a torch – Actual human impact.”


Alec with 69%

Week Three ‘Black & White Urban Grit’

Week 3’s theme was a chance for us to get back to our roots and do some urban photography – we both used to love walking around cities while we were in college and uni getting photos of graffitied buildings. We added in the ‘black & white grit’ element to the theme to challenge ourselves with a style that we aren’t as used to these days. Photographing in black & white really forces you to look for shapes, textures, light and shadows instead of using colour to do the talking.

Photographer: Alec

“Coming from a win in the previous week had me on a high to smash this one. I love black and white photography and I love architecture so was happy to get stuck in. I packed my backpack with toys and decided the train to Birmingham would be the way to go.

This was the hardest week to decide on a shot for me as I loved so many of the photos I took and spent 24hrs deciding on the one I used in the end.

I was out looking for something special and had a concept of a reflection in the back of my mind the whole day and was happy when I found one looking down a road to a junction where buses were pulling out from. I did do a bit of post production on this shot with exposure gradients because I wanted to be drawn into the middle of the shot.

Photographer: Hannah

“When I thought of this weeks theme I knew exactly which building I wanted to photograph. Crown House in Kidderminster, just down the road from where I live. It was in a BBC Midlands poll of the region’s ugliest structures and is well known in the area as it has sparked a lot of controversy over the years as it awaits demolition.

As a photographer who is often commissioned to photograph properties and told to make them look desirable on glossy sales brochures, it was a real challenge to follow the theme of ‘urban grit’ and not photograph it in a way to make the building more attractive. I got a low down perspective of the building and created leading lines into the photo with the hand rail.

This week I decided to use my FujiFilm X-A2 instead of my Canon 5DSR because the 50 megapixel resolution on the 5D was going to make it look too polished. Also, with the mirrorless approach I could set the camera to black & white and see what the photo was actually going to look like in the display before I took it. You’ll see in my before/after post production photo below that because I took the photo in RAW and put it into Lightroom the photo still showed up in colour, but as I took it in camera I only saw the black & white result. I love that there is that ability with RAW photos to recover the colour.”   


Alec with 62%

Week Four ‘Insta Food’

We wanted to make the themes of this competition as varied as possible to give us a chance to explore all kinds of subjects and photography styles. So for week 4 we focused on food photography, which is possibly one of the hardest types of photography to do well. Professional food photography is often staged and often not even edible afterwards, with things like vegetable oil painted over the food to make is shine.

Photographer: Alec

“I do love a food insta story shot so with this in mind I wanted to do one of my favourite foods – Pizza 🍕. So a quick call to Papa Johns and it was on. Harriet was also happy with this decision as she also enjoys pizza and didn’t want to waste any. However she wasn’t massively happy when I spent the best part of an hour takings pictures and not letting her tuck in.

I decided on a shot of one slice that I had set up in font of the fire in my lounge. I took this with my 20mm fixed lens as I wanted some serious depth of field.

I thought I was onto a winner with pizza + fire”

Photographer: Hannah

“This week I tried to think about the types of food which photograph well and we often see on our Instagram feed with lots of likes. After much browsing through #foodporn on instagram I headed to the supermarket for something Instagrammable and came away with several boxes of pretty pastel iced donuts!

I love the Pantone inspired shot above, but I did something similar last year with pumpkins so I thought I’d try something different. I tried a few different things with the donuts but went with this low down shot in the end trying to make the stack of donuts in the background look taller.

It did take some work in post production this week – I stupidly had my flash lights at home from a job I’d been on at the end of the week and I realised the trigger for the flash lights were at the studio and as usual I left it to the last minute and didn’t have time to gather all my kit in one place. Without the flash lights I just used the lighting available in the kitchen which left me with a very yellow image – not what you want for food photography.

I think the detail the 5D picked up on front donut was really good and I added sugar sprinkles to it to catch the light. I was going to paint some oil on them to make them glossy but I actually didn’t need to in the end, having the donuts under the lights whilst I set up the shot made the icing melt just enough to give them a glossy shine.”


Hannah with 89%

Week Five ‘A Kodak Moment’

“A phrase used when taking a picture of someone at a particular moment that will never be forgotten”

Photographer: Alec

“A “Kodak moment” is what every photographer strives for but is also incredibly hard to get, especially when you need it to be natural. I had already planned on going out on a big day on the bike with the boys and knew the adrenaline would be high!

I do a lot of Sports Photography and love an action shot but this was not what I was looking for so decided on risking it all and didn’t take one of my big cameras out with me during the ride. I threw the iPhone in my pocket and decided the shot I wanted needed to be captured in a matter of seconds as I needed the convenience and speed this could offer. “Grabbing the shot when no one saw it coming.”

To get to one of the trails it involved a short section of “hike a bike.” So when I looked up from my own grind of carrying my bike up a steep section of loam and saw the others lined up earning the descent that was to come, I knew this was the moment in which to get the shot. Click. Done. Memory in the bank.”

Photographer: Hannah

“This week’s theme was the one I was dreading the most – It’s taken me a long time to feel comfortable whipping my camera out in public, but that’s why I do these photography challenges from time to time, to encourage me to take more photos and not care what other people think. It’s so much different to when I’m ‘on the job’ with ‘official photographer’ on my back – I feel like I’m meant to be there and I’m doing what I’ve been employed to do.

My 5D is not subtle in the slightest, it’s massive and it makes everyone stare at you which makes a candid photo near impossible. So I opted for my Fuji X-A2 again this week. I was thinking of ‘shooting from the hip’ which I remember one of the speakers at the photography show talking about, but I think I need a bit more practice with that before I can take a photo without cutting everyone’s heads off!

After a few failed attempts around Birmingham on Saturday night, I found the perfect shot on Sunday when I went up to Severn Valley Railway’s Engine House in Highley to deliver some printing. Just after dropping the printing off, I grabbed my camera out the car to head onto the platform. As I was walking over to the platform I heard a train coming in, so I thought this could be a perfect opportunity for someone getting on/off the train (Hopefully in some kind of romantic embrace) but of course that didn’t happen, that would have been too perfect!

So as the train went past I snapped away with my camera pointing at the windows. I love staring out the windows when I’m on a train, watching the world go by and I was hoping I would capture a little moment someone was having.

Which is exactly what I managed to capture in this shot. With street photography you often just have to quickly pick your moment and snap away – I didn’t have time to set my camera up as I heard the train pull in so I quickly flicked onto auto (I know, I know, cheating but sometimes it has to be done to capture the moment).

Funny story – I hadn’t changed my camera settings on my Fuji since week 3, so yes you guessed it, it was still set to black & white. I thought at the time this would be fine as RAW still captures the colour, but I learnt something new about my Fuji this week – In auto it only takes JPEGs or at least it did this time!

I was really gutted that I was stuck with another B&W photo and no time to get another shot, but to be fair I actually really like this shot in B&W, I’m just so intrigued to know what it would have looked like in colour.

I think with street photography, you’ll always analyse the photo and wish you’d framed the shot slightly differently or wish the persons expression was different but of course that defeats the purpose of a candid shot – you are capturing a raw moment in time that you can’t control or re-shoot.

This week definitely made me want to push myself out of my comfort zone and do more candid street photography.”


Draw 50/50

THE DECIDER ‘1 photo. 24 hours. No theme. Best photo wins’

After 5 challenges, 2 wins to Hannah and 2 wins to Alec we couldn’t believe the final week ended with a 50/50 draw – We couldn’t just leave it there! We took it to Instagram again and posted a poll to see if people wanted us to do a ‘sudden death’ round to decide the winner.

The poll ended with 88% of the votes to ‘Yes, we need a winner!’ so we gave the people what they wanted, one final photo…

Photographer: Alec

“The competition was over and ended in a draw. Personally, I thought that this was perfect outcome overall… or not. Hannah was not happy with this, so for a bit of fun we thought – a final round of “sudden death” – anything goes.

We gave ourselves a 24hr window to compete in so I didn’t have the luxury of time like before. I decided on a night shot which I hadn’t done yet. This brought on a new set of challenges for me and not having much experience with long exposure I was keen to try it out.

So after a long day in which I didn’t get home until 8:30pm, I cooked some late dinner for Harrie and I, then threw my stuff in the backpack and headed in to my home town of Bewdley. At the very least I thought I might get some cool shots. One of my life goals is to get on the front cover of the local town newsletter “The Bridge” but I need some practice.

I tried a few different shots and even sent the Mavic drone up for some night shots but settled on a shot of the bridge with the river and mist rolling in with some stars included for good measure.”


Photographer: Hannah

“The gloves were off this week – I wanted to win! Having no theme is really hard, when you have the option of photographing absolutely anything your mind goes off with the possibilities. So I thought about what would get the votes and ofcourse I thought animals…

I knew someone who had just got a 9 week old puppy and thought, perfect! Who wouldn’t vote for a photo of a puppy?!

I also wanted to use my resources to their fullest. I knew that Alec was out of the studio that day so I wanted to use the photography studio this week. I was pulling it out the bag for this final photo.

Professional photography studio + a puppy =  It had to win!

Unfortunately, I was wrong. I really thought I’d pulled out all the stops for this photo and was going to win but hats off to Alec, he brought a really nice shot to the table and the people of Instagram chose his photo as the winning shot.”


Alec with 72%

Congratulations to Alec for winning the competition!

“I really enjoyed this bit of in-house fun and if you want to get more from taking photographs I would recommend doing something like this with your friends or family as it helps you get out there and get it done, while always thinking of the quality you want to produce in the end.” – Alec

“I’m really impressed with the photos we both produced over the weeks, it’s so interesting to see how we both interpreted each week’s theme and came out with completely different photos to each other. Hats off to Alec, he was a great competitor and worthy winner” – Hannah

Thanks to everyone who got involved with the voting.

The ones that didn’t make the cut…

Alec: Black & White Urban Grit

Alec: Black & White Urban Grit

Alec: 3 of a kind

Alec: Black & White Urban Grit

Hannah: The Decider

Hannah: Insta Food

Hannah: Kodak Moment

Behind the Scenes

If you want to keep up to date with life at Studio B61 follow us on Instagram. Hannah, Alec and Hannah T also have their own profile where you can see what they are working on. Follow @StudioB61_Hannah, @StudioB61_Hann@StudioB61_Alec for updates.

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Studio B61 is a creative agency in Kidderminster. We provide graphic design, photography and print services. We are also approved by the CAA for commercial drone photography and videography (CAA ID: 6431).


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Kidderminster, Worcestershire, DY10 1QG

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