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Canon PhotoMarathon Asia Championship Report: Battle for Top Spot in Final Showdown in Japan!

Just like every year, photographers from 12 different areas in Asia who had won the Canon PhotoMarathon in their various regions found themselves in Japan for the final round of the contest. For 10 days, the participants toured the country’s sights and scenes and got to know and understand each other’s cultures as well as that of Japan, even as they competed to take the best photos. Instructor GOTO AKI gives us his first-hand account of the group’s memorable journey. (Reported by: GOTO AKI)


Winners of local Canon PhotoMarathons take on the sights and scenes of Japan

On the morning of 16 May 2017, a group of photographers who had won the Canon PhotoMarathon held in their respective countries and regions in Asia touched down in Tokyo.

The photography tour previously known as the Canon Photo Clinic was rechristened the Canon PhotoMarathon Asia Championship this year, signifying its new start as a championship tour for the Canon PhotoMarathon. Spanning 10 days, it took participants to Ibaraki, Yokohama, Kawasaki and Tokyo, during which participants had to take on two challenges before the champion was selected: The Event Challenge, which had no time limit and required participants to submit their works shot at each photography event location, and the Theme Challenge, where the theme was revealed only directly before the shoot.

For last year’s report, check out:
Photo Clinic 2016: Photographers From 12 Countries United by Photography

During the first half of the PhotoMarathon, the participants visited Ibaraki, where they explored and photographed at shooting locations that gave a sense of traditional Japanese culture, such as temples and shrines, kendo gymnasiums and traditional Japanese gardens, as well as subjects that fell under the theme of ‘natural landscapes’.


Early mornings and chilly seaside—no dampener for passionate photographers!

I still remember how, at 3am on the second day after their arrival, I arrived at the lobby of the hotel to be met with a sea of weary faces exhausted by the long hours of travel and lack of sleep. As we headed towards the torii gates of the Oaraiisosaki Shrine by bus, the sky was cloudy and there was wind. It must have been quite cold for the participants, all of whom came from warm countries.

In our photo review session the night before, I had told them to try to take variations of their photos using different angles. The photoshoot in the morning took place by the chilly seaside, and I had thought that they would give up after a few shots. However, everyone was very enthusiastic, climbing onto rocks and sprawling belly down onto the beach, even while soaking wet, all in order to get their ideal shots. I instructed them to try different styles of shooting—handheld, with a tripod, with a filter—and we ended up shooting for about 2 hours. Just as what you would expect from winners of the closely-contested local PhotoMarathons, their enthusiasm for photography was amazing. That was my first taste of just how deep their passion ran within their hearts.

To encourage the participants to shoot freely, I took care to refrain from asserting my ideas too much. I stepped in with tips for using tripods or for camera settings only if I thought they would help the participant take even better images.


Lessons in lighting, with the aid of models in kimono

After lunch, we headed to the Mito Kairaku-en, a Japanese-style garden, where we were greeted by three ladies in kimono who were to be our models. There were many female photographers among this year’s tour participants, so I expected the response to be relatively quiet compared to last year, where we had an all-male group. But I was proven spectacularly wrong—the entire group of participants immediately became very excited, especially Thi Tang and Hong, two female photographers from Vietnam, who flashed smiles at the ladies in kimono. A little envious at how it seemed that not just men, but also women, found Japanese women charming, I started on the photoshoot.

It was at this location that I shared with the participants how to turn the sunlight that shone through the gaps between the trees into spotlights, how there was ‘bright’ shade and ‘dark’ shade, and how it was important to check the direction of light when doing a shoot instead of paying attention to just the subject. At their reactions of “It’s true! The lighting here really is better”, I was simply delighted, glad that my advice had helped them.

As it was a group tour, one of the important rules was to observe strict punctuality. Every night, our group leader Evan, a staff of Canon Singapore, would call out to everyone to “Be on time”. But on the morning of the third day of the tour, of all things to happen, I, the instructor, ended up oversleeping (or rather, falling back asleep). In a panic, with part of the trousers I had packed still sticking out of my suitcase, I boarded the bus and was the last person to do so.

As I gave my straightforward apology: “I overslept! Sorry”, I saw that everyone was looking back at me with delighted faces. Malaysian photographer Asmady laughed as he told me, “We’ll forgive you because you said sorry and didn’t try to make excuses!” By then, we had all somewhat opened up to each other, but that little failure of mine seemed to help draw us even closer. This was yet another moment that was like a balm to my spirits.


Photographing popular spots in and around Tokyo

The second half of the tour was to Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohama, where we took on the challenge of capturing new subjects such as Asakusa’s Sanja Festival, a factory district at night, the Yokohama Chinatown and Tsukiji Market among others.


Drawn closer by a common language of photos and smiles

In each photo review session, I would share with the participants some theoretical concepts of photography. Photography is a form of expression where the three-dimensional world that you see with the naked eye is transposed onto a flat surface such as print. When you turn something into a photo, it is important to depict it so that it has even more charm that what you see with the naked eye, and that was what I explained to the participants in my capacity as a professional photographer.

After each review, many of them would bombard me with questions such as “What do you think of this image?” “Could you teach us about where to focus for landscapes?” and so on. Frankly speaking, all of us must have been tired from being constantly on the go, and I was really happy that they had been listening to me. It was a precious experience, to have everyone sharing questions and learning from them together.

I am sure that some of you reading this article struggle with English, and you are not alone. English is a foreign language to me, and it was the same for many of the participants on the tour. But language barriers did not stand in the way of our communication. I still remember Vietnamese photographer Quang in this year’s group. English was a little hard for him, too, but with our shared language consisting of photos and smiles, as well as the warm-hearted help of other participants, we managed to communicate very smoothly. Whenever it was hard to communicate with words, we would carry out a conversation with our eyes, and Quang would do so in such a humorous manner that it left a deep impression on me.



Time to say goodbye

On our last night in Tokyo, we conducted the final judging of the images, with sports photographer Shugo Takemi joining us on the panel. Contestants were scored for relation to the theme, originality, photography technique and impact, and the competition came to a close after we crowned our champion, Indonesian photographer Areza, who had consistently achieved high scores for every photo challenge. On the last day of the tour, we all had a fun time at Disneyland before heading to the airport at night.

All too soon, it was time to part—my least favourite time of the entire tour. Everyone was all smiles, but I was on the verge of tears. I thought about how the participants would probably now perceive the sights and scenes of their home countries in a slightly different way, now that they had been to the foreign country that was Japan. I looked forward to seeing any new images they took. That day, we said goodbye, but I hoped that they would come again.


Works from participants

EOS 6D/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM/ FL: 145mm/ Aperture-priority AE(f/18, 25 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
Photo by Areza
Observing the mini “waterfalls” that were created whenever the waves lapped over the rocks and withdrew, photographer Areza captured the scene using a tripod and slow shutter speed. This shot gave me a sense of his observation and technical skills—skills that were required in photography.

You might be interested in: Photographing Waterfalls: To Freeze or to Blur?


EOS 7D Mark II/ EF50mm f/1.8 STM/ FL: 50mm/ f/4.5/ 1/1600sec/ ISO 100
Photo by Tan
This was a tricky shot which involved the skilful use of the viewer’s perception that there was the sky above the trees, together with bokeh circles of light in the foreground. It shows a calm, observant eye as well as creativity. The tree in the picture is actually a reflection on the water surface. Look at the image upside down—now can you tell?


EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 35mm/f/22/ 181 sec/ ISO 100 
Photo by Stuti
This surreal-looking shot captures the light from a bus that was driving through the cold, mechanical factory district. Composed of lines from both the factory building and the light trails, the entire image is an example of the beauty of photos that capture sights beyond that possible with the naked eye, and also piques the viewer’s curiosity.


EOS 5D Mark III/ EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 89mm/ Program AE (f/5.6, 1/200sec, EV±0) /ISO 100/ WB: Auto
Photo by Thi Tang
Shot at Yokohama’s Chinatown, a popular spot filled with tourists, this image captured the curiosity of the little girl as well as her adorable actions, all in one frame. It is a lovely work that is the product of the photographer’s initiative and calm, observant eye.

For more works from participants, check out the following article: 
Photography Challenge: Canon PhotoMarathon Asia Champion 2017


Your turn to join the Canon PhotoMarathon!

If you are reading this article and wish you could join, here’s your chance. The Canon PhotoMarathon for 2017 will soon be held in the various countries in Asia. Join them and win, and you, too, could take part in the Canon PhotoMarathon tour in 2018. All the best!

Canon PhotoMarathon XV 2017




Challenge 1


Challenge 2


Challenge 3


Challenge 4


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Born in 1972 in Kanagawa Prefecture and graduated from Sophia University and Tokyo College of Photography. Goto published a photo collection work titled "LAND ESCAPES" and is also actively engaged in works such as “water silence” an installation that merges photographs with videos.