Photographic treasure-hunt


Combine a good old-fashioned team-based treasure hunt with a photography competition, and you’ve got a recipe for success, right?

Well, that’s what I thought too, when I signed up to attend Shoot London, an event based out of the Tate gallery, organised by Shoot Experience, a company who organises these kind of events for public and corporate events.

Sadly, it turns out that I’ll probably give future Shoot Experience events a miss – to find out why, I spoke to another participant of the event… 

Anthony was one of the people participating in the Shoot London event on May 17th. He was also on my team, so writing this up as an interview might seem slightly presumptuous, but then, this is my blog, and I do as I damn well please, thankyouverymuch.

Anyway. The basic rules for Shoot London are simple: you’re given ten clues, about the area of London, you have six hours, you submit ten photos. It’s easy to see why it is sponsored: it promotes interest in the city, and organisers end up with lots of creative photos that they have rights to.

In the event, sixty teams entered, and the four of us (Catherine, Daniela, Anthony and yours truly) made up team Auslanders (which, for some reason, the organisers kept calling ‘ozlanders’, as if they could spot the one-fourth-austrialian-ness of the team from a mile away).

The rules

The rules did not allow any photoshopping, which I’m cool with: it’s a completely different challenge (much, in fact, like the concept of days gone by – a photography site which I’m very fond of indeed) if you can only use in-camera effects. We ended up using in-camera settings which made the photos extra sharp; fuzzy; extra vivid; and black and white, depending on what the situation needed.

The rules were not opposed to us having any help at all – there were no restrictions on googling for answers, and we did find it beneficial to phone a friend (thanks for manning the intergoogles for us, Josh!). My iPhone also came in handy, both for quick Google-advice and for navigational purposes.

The ban on PCs was a bit arbitrary though, as we ended up deleting some very good photographs. As Anthony says, “it was emotional to go through the pics on the camera and delete four out of five good ones in order to keep one that was to be submitted”. In retrospect, I should have brought my EeePC along, if only to copy the good photos off the camera.

To be honest, we were also a little bit grumpy about the one-camera-to-take-the-photos rule – between us, we brought 6 cameras, I think (I brought my freshly acquired Canon 450D and my IXUS 960i).

One camera to rule them all

“Some of the rules seem to be limitations of organisational process more than anything else.”, Anthony muses. “Don’t think that if you have four good photographers with their cameras, you have four times as many chances of taking a good shot: All the photos have to be not just on the same memory card, but taken on the same camera”.

Presumably, this rule exists so the images come out in the same order (you could solve the clues in any order, but had to fill in a little form so the organisers can match the right clue to the right photo), and clearly, if one camera records ‘DC_0284.JPG’ and another records ‘IMG1948.JPG’, it’s hard to tell which photo was taken first.

Having one camera is a downside if the other team members aren’t used to shooting with it – but it’s not a total waste: “Having four team members makes a lot of difference,” Anthony explains, “to help carry gear and props, solve clues, come up with ideas and spot good shots, and to pose for shots. The other three don’t actually need to all be good photographers, but a good photographic eye will help.”

Learning to see what others see

It’s quite interesting to see how the other teams solved the riddles, though, as Anthony explains: “You can sometimes see a shot and think ‘wow that’s original’ … and then see four variations on it following”.

At the end most of the photos taken were shown, projected on a big screen in an auditorium. “I was seriously impressed with some of the photos, and saw some wonderful shots”, Anthony recalls.

“There was one photo with three people with umbrellas jumping on the millennium bridge – it was an amazing photo.”

Haphazard judging

Nonetheless – and this is what sort of ruined the fun for me, sadly – it seems as if the judges were just a little bit too rushed in their, er, judging. “But in many cases the winning shot wasn’t – in my opinion – one of the good ones,” Anthony says. “Judges seemed to favour an obvious joke – equivalent of a zany holiday snap – over a technically interesting or well composed art shot”.

Far more annoyingly, in one case, the judges ended up giving out a prize to a shot that plainly didn’t solve the clue correctly (they took a photo near the Globe Theatre, which was about a mile away and on the wrong side of the river from St Paul’s Cathedral, which was the correct answer) – while the photo itself also didn’t really strike us as being particularly amazing.

Of course, I fully expect comments along the lines of ‘sore loser’, but it wasn’t the not winning which grated on me: Most of the time, our photo wasn’t as good as some of the other photos which were shown for a given clue, but it was better than the photo which won.

Good fun, but not photographically challenging enough

As Anthony summarised the experience; “there is no shortage of takers for this fun day out, but if you’re already a DSLR-owning, multiple-lens using, flickr-account-holding arty-shot-taking passionate amateur camera geek, this contest may not be what you’re looking for”.

… Which is a damn shame, because the idea really is incredibly good.


Our photos

As mentioned before, we had quite a few photos we were rather proud of – in the interest of completeness, here are our 10 entries – including the ones that were not-so-good. The only editing done on them is a resize from 12 megapixels down to 650 pixels across so they’ll fit on this blog better

Borough market, photo taken by Anthony, Sigma 17-35mm, vivid colours.

Imax cinema, photo taken by Haje, Sigma 17-35mm, vivid colours, the zoom effect was done by zooming while having a long (0.5 second) shutter time. The lights? Well, that’s just the way the underpass by the IMAX looks!

South bank book market, photo taken by Haje, Lensbaby 3G, in-camera black-and-white. I love the retro look the Lensbaby lends to this photo, especially with the top-hat and the old-fashioned looking clothing Daniela is wearing. Oh, and the Moleskine, of course.

Gabriel’s wharf, photo taken by Haje, Sigma 70-200. Not really happy with the way this one turned out, I think this was easily our weakest photo.

Blackfriar’s pub, photo taken by Haje, Lensbaby 3G. A less-than-inspired photo, sadly, but it was raining, and we were a bit scrapped for ideas in this one.

Blackfriar’s pub, photo taken by Haje, Sigma 17-35mm. Yes, we wore hats for all of this, and this is our ‘team portrait’, which simultaneously answered the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ clue

The tube (‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’), photo taken by Haje, Sigma 17-35. We only had one stop to take this one, and the tube shakes a lot when it goes, so I had to shoot it at a high ISO (flash photography is strictly forbidden on the London Underground). I’m not really happy with the way this one turned out either, sadly.

St. Pauls, photo taken by 10-second self-timer, Sigma 17-35. On this one, we decided to try and do an ‘abby road’, to avoid the rather samey photos we expected everyone else was getting. This is one of the occasions where I was really sad to see the out-takes getting deleted, because we did have some wicked cool alternative shots on this one.

‘The sweet smell of success’, photo taken by Haje, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 lens. On this one, we just decided that we couldn’t figure out a good way to answer the clue, so we decided to get ironic/sarcastic about it. Catherine went and spoke to the guy, and he was more than happy to be photographed – especially after we gave him about £5 in change. With a bit of increased contrast, I feel this photo would really be quite good.

The Millennium Bridge, photo taken by Haje, Sigma 17-35mm. It’s really difficult to photograph the Millennium bridge well, possibly because it is such an iconic landmark by now – everyone is so familiar with it, that once 60 different teams have had their way with it, there is little left. We did spot this grid, however, and decided to do something interesting. Anthony pointed out that “this photo looks like film frames, with the main frame being taken up by Daniela”, and I can’t but agree – I think it was conceptually one of the coolest photos we did.

This post was co-written by Anthony Steele