Canon Photomarathon Singapore 2015 - Event Review

Yesterday Canon held their Photomarathon 2015 in Singapore. Hosted in Marina Bay Sands, it pulled together nearly 3,000 photographers in a celebration of photography and all things Canon! Proceedings started early, VERY early, with registration at 7am yet even at this time in the morning the venue was busy and by 8am it was packed. 

As well as the Photomarathon itself, Canon brought along a ton of sponsors and - most impressively - some of their biggest guns. Getting a chance to use the legendary 1200mm lens was one of the genuine highlights of my day!

That isn't me using it in this photo of course :)

The reach was phenomenal, Canon had set it up to view the full length along the hallway leading into the Expo centre, easily several hundred metres long, and you could comfortably make out detail at the far end.  Astonishing lens.

This years free event shirt. Not exactly the best for my complexion but certainly distinctive!

As well as their lens vault, Canon also had a dedicated booth setup showcasing printers & paper - their Lustre paper looks pretty exciting - and also their photobooks & printing services. I was quite impressed with the photobooks and will probably do a review of them at some stage.

As well as a slew of other sponsors and partner stands, too many to name, Canon also had two more dedicated areas setup. Easily the most popular was the free lens & sensor cleaning station and this had the longest queue in the entire hall. It was a nice touch, letting people queue to have their camera & lenses cleaned by the pros, but personally I was a little reluctant - as well as waiting for hours in the queue (missing out on shooting time), I wasn't convinced that cleaning a camera sensor in a busy, dusty hall was the best idea... especially when the guys doing it were under so much pressure they needed to do it fast! 

The final Canon showcase area was for a free print of any image taken on the day. As with the cleaning station, Canon had assembled a huge team of printers & assistants to cope with the demand and it worked smoothly throughout the day. I think this was a winning idea, printing images is so often forgotten these days and people seemed genuinely thrilled to see their work printed out. I'm betting Canon will be selling a few of their Pixma Pro series printers off the back of this event :)

The competition is why everyone attended though, it's the main event. The idea behind this side of the photomarathon is simple. The competition, split into Student & Open categories, has three themes, revealed in turn at 9am, 12 noon and 3pm. Photographers are given three hours per theme to shoot their interpretation of the keyword/phrase then haul it back to MBS to get their photos uploaded and reviewed by the judges. No processing is allowed, except what is possible in camera, so getting it right in the moment is critical.

Theme 1 was Street and seemed wildly popular with the crowd. Below is my first entry into the competition.

My entry into the Street theme. I think it was a mistake and some of my other shots below are probably stronger overall.  It was a street shot but didn't really embrace the theme at all.

Theme 2 was a lot harder and elicted a number of groans from the audience when it was announced! It was "50:50", a tough theme. Very difficult to produce a result that met the theme and was still a decent image; I failed miserably! Looking at the winning images I think everyone perhaps struggled and none of the winning images fitted the theme any better than the others I saw! Finding good themes for photographs can be very tricky so I don't really blame the organises but this wasn't a great idea.

My effort for 50:50 - very bland and minimalist but a desperate last ditch attempt. I shot the entry with the 50 cent piece, shown below, but figured it would be quite a common interpretation and ditched it for this option.

With much fanfare, theme 3 was revealed.... "Defy Your Imagination". Another groan, another awful theme! Easily the worst/most annoying thgeme of the day to try to interpret in my opinion.

Having looked at the previous winning images from other years I decided that the best way to interpret this was something unusual & abstract, albeit with recognisable elements... I didn't want to go TOO abstract :)

This was it. I opted to go for a three-image in camera multiple exposure. I shot a range of different elements, from ceiling strip lights, part of an advertising poster and even a huge illuminated DIVA sign. Not a great result but finding elements to create the image entirely in camera was fun and took me across a huge area of the city to look for elements.  Technically it's my first ever deliberate multiple exposure shot too.

I've decided to split the winning images out into their own blog post to make it easier/clearer to view them. The overall Best In Show prize goes to the photographer with the best set of three images who was placed 3rd, 2nd or 1st in any of the three themes. The awards are split into both Student & Open categories.

Check out the award winning images here.

I shot almost the entire day on my Canon 5DS review unit and a range of lenses. All told, I took the following gear to the photomarathon - and this is the stripped down version after I changed my mind at the last minute!

  • Canon 5DS
  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 35mm f/2
  • Canon 50mm f/1.8
  • Tamron 24-70 f/2.8
  • Canon 11-24mm f/4
  • Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro
  • Tripod
  • Filters, including a 10 stop ND filter to some ND grads
  • YN-560II flash & ring light adaptor
  • Various photo props, all unused

In the end, I used the 5DS with only the 100mm macro, 24-70 and 11-24. Luckily I was able to ditch the tripod during theme 1 but as you can see I grossly overpacked gear. My advice for next year? Take one camera & a couple of lenses maximum - you won't need a tripod, all your shooting is done during the day and it's a long, hot day. Pack light, stay agile and you'll have a better chance of getting decent shots that stand out from the crowd.

It was a huge challenge shooting something and getting ir right in camera. The idea was cool & interesting at the very start of the day & I completely understand the reasons behind it but I quickly wished I had the ability to tweak my images. I know purists will say that in-camera is the "correct" way to do things but honestly, I missed the ability to tweak images to suit my vision! Never thought I'd say this but "I WANT MY PHOTOSHOP!" :) 

I'm pretty sure this girl was another participant in the photomarathon and she was intently focusing on photographing the white paper origami. I waited until she was facing away to make sure her camera wasn't in the shot and to add a little mystery.  Opted not to use it as it didn't fit any of the themes.

I'd hope to sneak up on this guy, laying face down in the grass motionless, but as I got closer he suddenly burst into life and started limbering up. Not a great shot, I think I should have got down lower for a better perspective but it wouldn't fit the themes

Shot at the same location as the one above, this time going for a candid pose. I think the shot is OK, not dreadful, but theme wise I think it's poor.

I probably should have gone with this for the Street theme entry I think. This has been tweaked in lightroom to convert to a more appealing contrasty monochrome, in camera the colours of the street and the clothes were all very similar and it didn't feel like it worked. Looking back, it was one of the better shots.  Still, it's a photographers image - very much a "camera club" style of photography and far from brilliant.

I also hate street photographs of people from behind.

So all-in-all a successful & enjoyable day. I had a lot of fun and it was refreshing trying to be creative & shoot to a theme.

What I Liked

  • Very slick, professional event. Clearly a lot of time & thought went into it and it paid off.
  • The atmosphere & spirit of the day - definitely a buzz getting so many photographers together
  • The challenge of shooting to a theme & a time-limit
  • Great to see how people interpreted each theme differently & what they managed to achieve in camera
  • Getting a chance to use the 1200mm lens, albeit very briefly...
  • The photo printing. I love printing my pictures and seeing people's faces as they handled a hard copy of their photo was great to see
  • Seeing the "redshirts" wandering around town and feeling like part of a bigger community

What I Would Change

  • Themes 2 & 3. I know, it's a minor grumble, but "50:50" and "Defy Your Imagination" are terrible themes. Themes should be simple and hugely open to interpretation, not just unusual concepts. The theme should make it easy to be creative rather than narrow focus too much.
  • I wish I had known about the Corporate challenge earlier - I'd have pulled in a group of colleagues from work to make shooting more social and fun! As it was, I mostly spent the day on my own. I'll know for next time!