My Photographic Journey with ‘The Big Shot’ Season 3

Written by Cheryl Tay on . Posted in Cheryl Tay Blog | Blog Post of Cheryl Tay 1 Comment

I’m not sure how many of you are aware that I took part in a photography reality show last year. Called ‘The Big Shot’, it  is sponsored by Nikon and produced by MediaCorp. This time is its third season and it is a bit different as it was held overseas. They surprised us by bringing us to Jogjakarta, increasing the difficulty of the challenge.

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Basically the eight contestants have to go through photo challenges and one contestant will be eliminated per challenge as it goes along. We don’t have information of the location or the task until we get there, hence having to shoot on demand while remembering to keep the relevance to the theme of the task and the caption that was given with each task.

The previous two seasons were done in Singapore so there might be some advantage for certain photographers if they are familiar with some of the locations. However, being overseas in a place where none of us eight contestants have shot at before, it puts us on a fairly equal competing ground.

Also, because we were overseas, we got to complete all the challenges and only have the judging and elimination when we returned to Singapore. This helped to take off some of the pressure, but at the same time it also kept us worried because we weren’t getting any feedback on our shots. We did have to submit our shot after every challenge though, so we couldn’t wait till we get back then submit.

I stuck to two sets of rules – 1) See, Think, Conceptualise, Shoot and 2) Keep It Simple & Sweet (K.I.S.S.). For some of the challenges we were only given 10 minutes and this time frame includes having to survey the location and props, as well as think of how you want to shoot it.

There was stress from the waiting time as we had to take turns and wait for each contestant to complete their tasks and also stress from handling the circumstances of the situation, such as tourist crowds, language barrier etc. We also had to watch our own time and penalties were given for exceeding of the time limit. The penalties were shortened time for the next challenge, super punishing! All of us, with the exception of one, managed the time limit well.

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The eight-episode series was aired on MediaCorp Channel 5 from  5 September – 24 October, every Wednesday night at 9.00 pm. If you had followed it, you would have already known that I was eliminated after the third challenge, a total fall from the top after winning Judges’ Pick of the Week for the second challenge.

Needless to say, I was really disappointed because I didn’t think that photo would cause my downfall. I actually had a stronger photo and was deciding between the two, but I decided to be different after seeing everyone’s photo. Yes, everyone was in a holiday mood of some sort and we actually showed each other our photos before we submitted it. It was more like a boot camp with a friendly atmosphere.

To be honest, I have already put this behind me, along with the heartache, but I just thought I would share my experience for those who want to know.

Here’s how it all happened…

I happened to chance upon the application for The Big Shot and on the spur of the moment, I filled up the form and sent it in to MediaCorp through an online submission. Forgetting that I signed up for it, I suddenly received a call one night from one of the producers of the show, telling me to go down for an audition at MediaCorp.

What I had to do was fold origami and then go around MediaCorp and take a photo of it. Here’s what I did:

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After that there was an interview with the producers where we had to show them our best photos and then speak a bit about ourselves on camera. Thereafter I got selected and was told to take complete leave for two whole weeks as we will not be able to leave at all unless it’s an absolute absolute emergency.

So here are the eight of us: There were only two ladies, Janna and myself.

(L-R) Attilio, Joshua, Vicknesh, Janna, Caleb, myself, Fauzi and Morven

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Each challenge had a theme “I AM…”, just like Nikon’s campaign. As I mentioned earlier, we went through all the challenges (except the final challenge between the last two that was held in India). Upon returning to Singapore, we had the judging over two days and one by one we would go home after we got eliminated. It got rather heartbreaking to be eliminated early when you know that you have stronger shots in later rounds. The judges for each rounds are different, with the exception of Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

Challenge #1: I AM ALIVE

(Equipment: Nikon D7000 with 18-105mm VR AF-S kit lens)

We were brought to  a random bus stop along one of the busy streets of Jogjakarta. There was a row of puppets sitting on the bus stop bench and we were given 10 minutes to shoot the puppets in the style of toy photography with the caption ‘I AM ALIVE’. I only chose to use two and my caption for this photo is “Love keeps us alive”, to show an elderly couple having a picnic on a Sunday morning outside their house. Mistakes make us human, failures make us stronger, hope keeps us going and love keeps us alive. Just like The Eagles’ song “Love will keep  us alive”, I wanted to portray growing old together.

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I received pretty good comments for this shot and I was safe to the next round.

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Challenge #2: I AM UNSEEN

(Equipment: Nikon D7000 with 18-105mm VR AF-S kit lens)

We were taken to the even busier streets of Malioboro and we were to shoot photojournalism style according to the caption ‘I AM UNSEEN’.

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We had 30 minutes to complete this task and we could roam the streets wherever we liked as long as we come back to the starting point within the stipulated time. I was timing myself but the clock stopped and I lost track of time. Thankfully I didn’t exceed the time limit! I spent 15 minutes working on the first idea I had and when it didn’t work, I started to panic a little, but I just ran around and looked for something that I thought would fit ‘unseen’. That’s how this shot came about! Totally impromptu…

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I was very worried about this shot because I felt that it didn’t really portray ‘I AM UNSEEN’ the way the other contestants did. Besides, I imposed a time challenge on myself when my first idea didn’t work and I wasted half of the stipulated time given. The other contestants had their subjects as ‘unseen’, whereas mine was more of me the photographer being unseen. I captioned this as “Behind his back”, as he wasn’t aware when I took this shot of him. Much to my surprise, the judges loooooooooooved the shot and I won Judges’ Pick of the Week!

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Challenge #3: I AM YOU

(Equipment: Nikon D7000 with 18-105mm VR AF-S kit lens, AF-S 50mm f1.8, and AF-S 85mm f1.8 lens)

The task here was to shoot portraiture of Djoko Pekik, a famous artist who was locked up in political prison for 20 years, hence is living his life to the fullest after getting back his freedom. The task card particularly said “Djoko Pekik is a fascinating man and the task was to get to know him and bring out his character in my portraiture of him”. Despite the hardship he has been through, Djoko maintains an upbeat attitude and I saw the youthfulness in him. Like him, I’m a happy-go-lucky person and I take life with optimism as much as I can. Hence, taking the caption ‘I AM YOU’,  I wanted to reflect my personality in this shot of him. I took a series of shots and I struggled to choose one shot to submit. Eventually I chose this:

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Sadly, this shot didn’t sit well with the judges and you should have heard the horribly negative comments they gave. I was trying hard to hold back my tears! Praying that I wouldn’t get eliminated, my prayers went unheard and I was asked to leave.

Here are the other shots I took of him, which I’m pretty sure would have made it through:

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Anyway, it was just too bad. I chose to stick to relevance of theme and I forgot that this is a photography competition after all, so the technicalities of the photo are more important. Get a strong shot and then try to fit it into the theme. Painful lesson learnt and there went my chance of winning the $20,000 prize.

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I was really upset about the elimination because I made the mistake. I should have and could have picked the stronger photo but I stubbornly insisted on sticking to the relevance of theme. It also hurt to know that I had stronger shots from the later challenges.

I will just share the rest of the challenges that I got to shoot but never made public because I was already eliminated.

Challenge #4: I AM DANGEROUSLY BEAUTIFUL

(Equipment: Nikon D7000 with AF-S 17-55mm F2.8)

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Taken to Mount Merapi, the active volcano that last erupted in 2010, we had only 30 minutes to get on a jeep and go around the bottom of the mountain to shoot landscape photography according to the theme ‘I AM DANGEROUSLY BEAUTIFUL’. Time was limited and I only had about 10 minutes to shoot as travelling time had to be taken into consideration.

This was my shot, which I titled “Remembering lost ones”:

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I made that cross myself out of random sticks I found on the ground, as a sign of respect for the many who lost their lives from the eruption. We had a little voting contest among the participants and my shot was voted the favourite! As a result I received a booster prize, which was a nice candlelight dinner at a fancy restaurant. I took Janna with me because she was feeling demoralised about her shots. It must have helped her because from then onwards, she started gaining her confidence and she even made it to the last two.

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Challenge #5: I AM A FIGMENT OF YOUR IMAGINATION

(Equipment: Nikon D7000 with AF-S 17-55mm F2.8)

For this we went to Borobudur, the must-go place when you visit Jogjakarta.

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Having to shoot in the style of conceptual photography, the theme was ‘I AM A FIGMENT OF YOUR IMAGINATION’. Although I was given 45 minutes for this task, I spent the first 20 minutes standing at the top and not knowing what to shoot. I started to panic because I couldn’t think of how to shoot according to this caption. We were given a model, which was up to us to use or not. Eventually, I managed this:

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That’s right – that’s the model’s face at the end. I was trying to make her blend in with the rest of the statues on the wall. I liked this shot a lot and it would have been nice to hear what the judges had to say. Too bad!

Challenge #6: I AM FIT FOR KINGS

(Equipment: Nikon D4 with 24-70mm F2.8)

Food photography was up next. For this, we got to use the Nikon D4 and I was really excited about using it.

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Kings usually have a feast prepared for them across a long table. We were given just 15 minutes to do this and we didn’t have to use all the dishes. I tried a few ways and I had these two shots:

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Again, I had a hard time choosing between both. I eventually submitted the one above but well, I’ll never know if it would have made it or not.

Challenge #7: I AM THEREFORE I LIVE

(Equipment: Nikon D4 with AF-S VR-micro 105mm F2.8)

We had to shoot in the style of micro photography according to the theme ‘I AM THEREFORE I LIVE’ at this market called Pasar Satwa and Tanaman Hias Yogyakarta (PASTY). There were many ‘live’ animals sold there and they were all caged up. I felt a pang of sympathy for these animals, which seemed to be calling out for help. We were specifically tasked to shoot a part of a living animal. I had a shot of dead animals, which made me feel a little sick in the stomach, as they were left dead in the cage with their living counterparts in the same cage.

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It really pained me to see them like that. During the 30-minute challenge, I got a mixture of dead and living animals and then I realised later that I needed to submit a part of a living animal. So this was what I submitted:

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I was really proud of this shot for some reason and I really wanted the chance to present it to the judges and hear what they had to say. Oh well!

I want to drop a special mention here to Morven Koh who won The Big Shot 3! I really cannot think of anyone else who deserved the win better. He never declined help and was teaching some of us along the way when we didn’t understand how to get certain shots. He was always the first to volunteer to go for the task and when he came back, he would share the task with us so we could have some time to think about it first. My journey may have ended earlier than I hoped for, but at least a deserving person won!

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Anyway, that brings me to the end of my Big Shot journey. It’s the first time I’ve taken part in a reality show and first time I participated in a photo competition. I have to say, I went into this competition with low expectations because I know that my experience could not beat some of the competitors who do photography full-time for a living.

But along the way I started to gain confidence and my expectations rose higher. The producers were very nice to me and they said they thought I would have made it to the final two. While that’s comforting to hear, it’s over now and I will just keep working on my photography skills.

The Big Shot did improve my confidence and it spurred me to work harder at my photography. I had help from a good friend throughout the journey and his advice kept me going. This friend marked a significant turning point in my photography and he gave me the boost I needed. Thank you, you know who you are.

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View the rest of my Big Shot journey photos here.

*P.S. I tried searching for the catch-up videos of the episodes but they seemed to have been removed from xinMSN already!

Cheryl Tay

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Singapore’s only female full-time motoring and motorsports photojournalist. Independent automotive consultant and prominent local motorsports personality Cheryl Tay is uniquely passionate about all things cars and motorsports. She also has a strong passion to share her interest and knowledge, hence having a dream to become the ‘Oprah Winfrey of cars and motorsports’ and create a multimedia platform for her sharing. - A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl Tay is Singapore’s only female full-time motoring journalist and motorsports blogger and she regularly writes for prominent titles in Singapore, Asia and internationally. (See full list of titles that Cheryl Tay writes for here.)

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