An event like no other in the world, Canon PhotoMarathon has turned photography into a sport – and now it’s back!

Every year Canon hosts the ultimate photography competition throughout Asia – the Canon PhotoMarathon  (CPM). In each city, thousands of photographers meet at one location where throughout the course a day they are given 3 themes and only a couple hours to shoot.

EOS 5D Mark II | F/4 | ISO 1600 | 1/200s

They are only allowed to submit one picture per category. The grand prize winner wins a top of the line camera and the ultimate prize of them all: an all-expense-paid trip to Japan for a Canon Photo Clinic. This year, I’m going as a special guest so I hope to see you there.

It’s no surprise that the event has gained so much popularity. Photography is the most popular hobby in the entire world. The event is so big that History® channel even created a reality TV show based on the concept of Canon PhotoMarathon: it’s called Photo Face-Off.

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So how do you win PhotoMarathon and who am I to give any advice? 

Well, that show I talked about earlier, I am the resident pro photographer on it. I have also judged 4 CPM’s and attended 12 of them in total throughout all of Asia. 

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EOS Professional Justin Mott

I have judged and competed in a similar format, and now I want to give participants some advice on how to win. I can’t guarantee victory, but these tips will help your chances.

Know your judges

I’m not saying stalk them or anything like that but get to know their style and their specialty. If the judges in your country all have a background in landscape photography then that should clue you into what they like. I’ve found judges gravitate towards images that they like to take. When I judge I have an open mind but my background is in photojournalism so I tend to like images with people in them.

EOS 5DS R | F/2.8 | ISO 125 | 1/640s

Push yourself

Don’t take the photos you’ve taken before, you need to push your creativity and get outside your comfort zone on marathon day. In Ho Chi Minh City, one of the topics was Saigon Food and hundreds of people just photographed a straight picture of Pho (Vietnamese soup). The winner however decided to shoot a person eating Pho and captured a drop of broth falling from the spoon. The photographer took an ordinary scene and brought it to the next level.

Follow this motto

Show the judges something they’ve never seen before or show them something they’ve seen but in a way they’ve seen it before.

Leave the competition area

I see so many people just stay at the location of the contest or nearby. Don’t be lazy, typically the event area isn’t the most visual place so use your time strategically but go explore.

Stop and think

After they release the topic don’t just wander aimlessly. Think about the topic and where is the best location for you to go to get the subjects, light, backgrounds etc.

Use all of your time

My photography teacher told me the best piece of advice I ever received: start first and leave last.

Too many times I see the participants go out for 30 minutes and then come back and hang out. Use all your time up to the last few minutes you never know what’s going to happen and you never know when creativity is going to strike.

Don’t cheat

I have seen people submit photoshopped pictures or even shots taken another day and they get disqualified. You are only cheating yourself not following the rules and it’s just plain wrong.

Shoot alone

The Photomarathon is all about the community and sharing so go with friends to the event and hang out in-between shooting, but when it comes time to go shoot, go alone. When you travel in groups, you can overwhelm your subjects and it will be hard to get natural moments. Think about a pack of photographers all shooting the same street vendor. First, you won’t get a natural moment and second, you will most likely get the same shots as everyone else.

Don’t be so literal

You don’t have to be so literal with your images. Be creative with the theme. If the theme is love, don’t just take a picture of a person making a heart shape with their hands, go beyond that. Look deeper like a mother holding her child’s hand, or a dad reading his daughter a book.

Don’t photograph words 

I see many contestants photograph signs to interpret the theme. You are a photographer not a writer so use pictures to tell your story. I rarely see pictures of words win any categories.

Have fun

Okay this tip doesn’t help you win but don’t get discouraged if you don’t win. Make sure you have fun and remember photography is subjective so losing doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t have the best shot.

Interested to participate in this year’s Canon PhotoMarathon XIV Singapore 2016?

Register here:       

This article was authored by EOS Professional and TV personality, Justin Mott. Check out more photography tips from him and look for #AskMott across social channels to ask him any questions you have about being a better photographer.