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What It Takes To Be a Winner – Canon Photomarathon XV: Judge, Champion, and Participant.

It’s probably the most anticipated photography event of the year for budding photographers – Canon’s annual PhotoMarathon started in Singapore fifteen years ago, and has now become a regional competition with PhotoMarathons now held in 12 countries: Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Brunei, Cambodia, China and Sri Lanka.

About 2000 photographers participated in this years Canon Photomarthon. Photo: Ian Ling

And after years of being unable to attend due to clashing commitments and poor timing of my mid-term examinations, I was finally able to attend the PhotoMarathon XV this year as a participant.

The Canon Photomarathon consists of three photographic themes that are revealed throughout the day, leaving participants about three hours per theme to interprete, plan, prepare for and execute their submissions. The themes are chosen at random after the participants assemble having returned from the submission stage of the previous theme. The themes this year were ‘Tilt’, ‘Celebration’ and ‘Mystery’. The three photographer friends I bumped into all expressed their mirth: these were all rather challenging themes.

Participants queue to complete their submissions for each theme. There were more than 7000 total submissions this year. Photo: Ian Ling


Participants submitting their images for judging. Photo: Canon Singapore

Unprepared and inexperienced, I stumbled out of the convention centre and clumsily framed the external bubble lifts of Pan Pacific Hotel with an ultra-wide angle lens at a canted angle for the theme ‘Tilt’. Not my best work. The next theme, ‘Celebration’, stumped me for at least half an hour. I then bumped into an old friend, and a stroke of inspiration found us at a nearby bowling alley where we sat snapping at the faces of triumph of bowlers returning from their strikes! The final theme, ‘Mystery’, was another tough one. We eventually arrived at Rochor Centre, now a dilapidated mess.

My submission for the theme “Tilt”. This photo was taken on the exterior of the Pan Pacific Hotel. Photo: Ian Ling
My submission for the theme “Mystery”. This photo was taken at the now-defunct Rochor Centre. Photo: Ian Ling

I struggled to keep up, to say the least. But I met and made friends, ticked off legs day, and most importantly, got to shoot.

Participants working on their submission concepts. Photo: Canon Singapore

Jirawat Saiwuttinon shared a few thoughts with me about his impressive accomplishment in the Canon Photomarathon. He clinched the title of Best of Show – Open Category, as well as the First Prize for theme, Tilt, in the Open Category. For winning the overall Best of Show – Open Category Jirawat took home a prize package worth over SGD8,313 that includes an all expense paid trip to the final Canon PhotoMarathon Asia Championship. Winning an Open Category Theme First Prize saw him walk away with over SGD10,000 worth of prizes including a brand new Canon EOS 5D Mk4 kit, Manfrotto camera tripod and lens accessories, Sandisk and Western Digital storage products and a pair of Beyerdynamic headphones.

Q: Tell us more about your photography: how you started, improved and what kinds of photos you usually take.

Jirawat: My photography journey started when I was young because it was my father’s hobby too. He took photos all the time and I followed in his footsteps. I improved until I was 13 years old, and I then decided to start taking part in photo contests, and I started winning prizes! I love photography because every picture conveys a story.

Q: Describe your Canon PhotoMarathon XV experience.

Jirawat: This is my first Canon PhotoMarathon, and actually my first time in Singapore! This is my first time taking part in the Open Category as I have always competed in the Youth Category. It was a lot of pressure for me, but I had practiced and prepared for this in other competitions and by bringing some props for use in this competition.

Q: Tell us more about how you took the winning set of photographs.

Jirawat: After each theme is announced, we only have three hours to set up the perfect shot and submit it. For the most of this time, I try to think of what to do for each shot.

For the first theme, Tilt, I immediately wrote the word down and all related words before choosing my favourite one. This gave me an idea about what I was going to shoot. I actually missed a shot of a dancer that looked like she was going to fall, so I set up a shot and got a friend to take the place of that subject! Photo: Jirawat Saiwuttinon


For the second theme, Celebration, the thought of throwing a graduation cap immediately came to mind. I did not have a graduation cap as a prop so I bought some black paper and cut them to mimic its shape when backlit. Photo: Jirawat Saiwuttinon


The final theme was Mysterious. I felt that the brain is busy, deep and mysterious, more so than anything else. I went back to my hotel room and used it as a studio, slicing paper into tiny strips and placing a model inside. Photo: Jirawat Saiwuttinon


I also spoke to one of this year’s PhotoMarathon judges Eddie Sung, an incredibly magnetic personality (especially given that I spoke to him right after his grueling experience in the judging room!) and established fine art music photographer. His works have been featured on album covers and artwork of legendary bands such as the Beach Boys, Blondie, Slipknot, and Kitaro. His work can be found at www.eddie-sung.com.

Q: How has the experience judging in the Canon PhotoMarathon been?

Eddie: This is my first time judging the Canon PhotoMarathon, and it has been exhilarating. I think we’ve been through about than 4,000 submissions and the judges were able to make quick decisions about the winners. In fact, we ended much earlier than previous years, mostly because the judges were in sync and in one mind. What I liked, they liked. In fact, we were always joking!

Q: I participated and found the themes to be pretty challenging. Could you see it through the submissions made?

Eddie: Yes, many submissions missed the theme, especially ‘Celebration’, which was pretty tough. Many similar submissions were made and we chose the ones that stood out the most. ‘Mysterious’ was my favourite theme. I shoot rock stars for a living, and mystery is something that influences many of my photographs.

Q: What was special about the winning photographs?

Eddie: They were unique. The pictures had feeling, and had different subject matters from the usual submissions.

Q: What advice would you give future participants of the Canon PhotoMarathon, or even other photography competitions?

Eddie: Think before running out, and think out of the box. Don’t over-edit the pictures. The pictures, to me, have to POP. Yes, capital P-O-P.

If you’re interested in taking part in the Canon PhotoMarathon series, you can find out more here!

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