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Review of the Year 2019.

1st January 2019: Maebongsan, Seoul.

I was fortunate that the first sunrise of 2019 was one of vibrant colour and compelling skies, and even more so that I managed to hike up a mountain before 6am in order to witness it. It's hard to believe it was almost one year ago and that I managed to convince my body to move at that time in the morning. There have been few sunrises since I can tell you that! It was a grand start to the year and I remember coming away feeling very positive that 2019 would be nothing but a step forward in terms of my photography. So, let's look back on the ups and downs of this year!

I had to wait a few weeks after the New Year before I could really take my camera out for a good and proper adventure. I'll try to limit the 'teaching got in the way' excuse as much as possible but....well teaching got in the way.

Biei, Hokkaido, Japan

I've already reflected on my Japan trip in a previous blog post but it is interesting to look back on it now, at the end of the year. I have nothing but fond memories and a few images that make me want to quit my job and get on a plane.

Hokkaido was pure white (absolutely freezing mind) and one of the most calmingly beautiful places I've ever been to. This image in Biei sums it up to me. Hey, I may even make Christmas cards from this image next year! Doesn't it just scream Winter greetings material?! I love this simple scene and just how clean it is.

Mt Fuji, Japan

Walking along the lakes surrounding Mt Fuji was breathtakingly...windy. The excitement of seeing the volcanic mountain up front and in person probably made me look like I had some emotional issues as I happy cried to myself, while looking into my lens at the snow capped peak. Seriously the texture of the snow ridges up there was just....damn cool.

The best part of the Mt Fuji trip was the second day when I took a 40 minute bus to the middle of nowhere hoping to be able to capture something a little different. I had 15 minutes to grab a shot and get back on the bus otherwise I'd be stuck there for 4-5 hours.

Bad weather started to roll in giving some fantastic, dramatic clouds and a little car parked itself right on the edge of the lake at the perfect moment. A voice in my head yelled 'Go Go Go Go!' for 15 minutes as I raced off the bus, got a picture and raced back. Struggles of relying on public transport.

I love this image. Hoooooonestly, there were two people standing by the car that I magically erased because they didn't do much for me in terms of the composition (runs from photoshop haters) but I am tempted to go back to the original file and take another look. But still, look at that contrast in scale. The mountain is so big I couldn't get the peak into frame but I think it works with the top cropped off.

When Spring rolled in I was determined to come away with a couple of print worthy images. Spring in Korea is short lived. The cherry blossoms arrive and before you know it the wind has blown them away and they're gone. Seriously, 2 weeks max. And when you're teaching full time in the week ( got in the way!) and you can only get outside 2 out of 7 days doesn't leave you a lot of time to get the perfect Spring shot. But boy did I try.

Luckily my small mountainous town of Yeongam has its own influx of cherry blossom, so for some intimate close ups I didn't have to travel far. This image is a favourite of mine.

Gurim, Yeongam-Gun Wangin Fesitval

No, it's not a mind blowing image but I like the composition. But I may just be tooting my own horn here. I remember standing by this pavilion and one of the first things I saw was a haggle of Korean photographers, carrying expensive camera bodies and huge lenses (that I will take numerous years of teaching to be able to afford) and noted how they were all taking the same shot of the blossom surrounding the pavilion. Thus, my brain was determined to grab an image that was different. I'm sure they knew what they were doing....but it looked boring from where I was stood. So...I got in a bush. Because you know...interesting point of view and things....

I managed to race over to the East coast before the Cherry blossom disappeared entirely. Gyeongju is my favourite place in Korea, and I will rave about it any chance I get. Luckily, there were still some flowers left but I had also gone late enough so that the crowds of people had also done one. I still feel a little sorry for the Ajosshi who stood up and wandered off after I took this

Woljeonggyo, Gyeongju City

image as I'd probably bothered him with my shutter noises but made a good picture. I'll refrain from talking more about Gyeongju because....well it would be long winded. Ain't nobody got time for that!

May saw me kick Jirisan Mountain's butt in triumph. Numerous times I've gone to the Nogodan peak in search of a sunrise shot and every time I came away with nothing. First time I didn't even have my camera with me (!) and the other times saw heavy fog and no view. But I can rest easy knowing I got that shot. Just. I almost missed it. That little cloud even came chugging along to pose, just for me. Again I may have looked slightly alarming on top of the mountain, hopping around like a maniac because I was running out of time to get a decent composition. Squeezing between a throng of Chinese tourists to get that Spring bush in my foreground. I still feel a little stressed thinking about it.

Jirisan National Park, South Korea

Korean summer isn't easy for landscape photographers. In fact, it's not easy for anyone standing outside. I'm still not accustomed to the intense humidity or accepting of the amount of sweating my body is capable of at this time of year. In June I finally took a trip to the town of Boseong to go and frolic among the Green Tea plantations. On the rusty bus there, I knew I was going to the middle of nowhere, and as I stepped off the bus at Boseong terminal I could have laughed at how right I was. I think the fact I managed to navigate a bus to one of the Green Tea fields was impressive (although I went to the one I didn't want to go to mind you....)

Boseong, Green Tea Fields.

I spent a few hours wondering around the steep hills here, sweating profusely, before grabbing a few shots. It's my goal next year to go back before the summer hits and 1: go to the right green tea fields this time and 2: come back with better images. But I was very fond of this shot nonetheless. I rewarded myself with some Green Tea ice-cream on the way back and grabbed a taxi so that no one on a bus had to experience my smelly armpits.

The school summer break gave me 10 days to get some outdoor exploring done. It was the perfect time to go and explore the Southeast coastal city of Busan. I didn't expect this city to have so many opportunities for landscapes and it may have knocked Seoul off the top spot for Urban outdoor photography. In ten days I visited as many places as possible, attempted to hike a few walking trails, small mountains and explored the coast while trying not to burn under the sun or become dehydrated from sweating so much.

Surfs Up: Gwangalli beach, Busan

Gwangalli beach is very interesting. A popular place for beach goers and instagrammers due to the bridge that crosses across the ocean. I decided to utilise the amount of people present for my foreground, while placed Busan's tall cityscape in the background that connects to the bridge. I admit I'm not the best at photographing people, purely because I'm very awkward and it felt very creepy watching people along the beach, waiting for someone interesting to walk into the frame. Perhaps I should do a street photography project sometime in the future to get over that hurdle. 'Excuse look interesting. Let me snap yo face please.'

Oryukdo had me attempting to utilise my limbs with great co-ordination. The sun was intense, the sweat was real, my vampire like pale skin was burning, my camera bag was heavy and my stubborn determination wouldn't let me leave without an image. A sun umbrella tucked under my armpit, bashing me in the head various times, tripod slung over one shoulder, camera bag on the

Coastal hike. Oryukdo Sky Walk, Busan

other, camera in one hand, changing a lens with the other and keeping a hand fan between two fingers to help with the heat, I am surprised I didn't drop anything. I'm telling you, squatting with all that attached to you to get the right level for this composition wasn't easy.

I like the leading lines in this image. Your eye travels from the wooden stairway in the foreground to the rocks on the coast towards the background. I advise anyone who visit here not to just stand on the sky walk, which is the popular tourist point here, and actually walk along the wooden pathways which look down on the three Island like rocks for some incredible views. Just don't do it in Summer.

September onwards saw a decline in the number of images produced.... and good weather. I had been on a little bit of a roll in the first half of the year and of course, it wasn't going to last for the rest of it. Monsoon season began. It felt like as soon as one typhoon rolled away another one replaced it just as quickly. I didn't allow it to disrupt my productivity to begin with until November, but we will get to that in a minute.

Bad weather can be a good thing for outdoor photographers. Storms can create dramatic skies. The coast is a great place to go for some rough waves and angry clouds. Except in my experience, Korean storms mean bland skies, mist and crap lighting.

I had been looking forward to visiting Tongyeong, a fishing town on the coast, for the large number of small islands surrounding it and great aerial views from the National Parks. Heavy rainstorms followed and arrived not long after I did, and the magnificent coastal views disappeared into a thick white fog leaving me dodging torrential rain while cursing the skies for ruining my island hiking plans. But, being an adaptable and patient photographer (hahahahaha) I brushed the weather fail off and decided to use it as my advantage for some good misty, minimalist photography. AKA while I was storming to my hotel room in a sulk I accidentally came across this little red lighthouse standing alone in the mist and said 'hey....that's some edgy, moody minimalism right there.' I'm telling you sometimes photography is just luck. The sea was neither rough or completely still so I slowed the shutter down for a longer exposure for some dreamy and calm waters.

The last typhoon of Monsoon season coincided with the Korean thanksgiving holiday, Chuseok. Being smart I decided to follow the typhoon up to Gangwon-do, Northeast of Seoul and a very long journey from the Southwest. Standing on a beach in Sokcho being completely battered by typhoon winds and rain, I seriously contemplated my poor life decisions here. Two rain macks covering my camera bags and one covering me, I still managed to get completely soaked through. I didn't feel dry for days. The sky was typical Korean blandness, but the waves were large and rough.

Blue Storm, Sokcho Beach

While watching the waves an idea struck me, an ND filter and a long exposure would create an image that was the complete opposite to what I was experiencing. The waves battering the beach rolled in and out so fast than with a slow shutter they became smooth mist on top of water. I had a lot of fun getting the 'right' waves to create a hauntingly calming photograph. Photography is all about what the photographer sees. At that moment everything was chaotic and rough. Perhaps it was because I was so downtrodden and beaten by the weather by this point, that I needed some comfort and calmness that I was able to see how the insane typhoon could become so. Or I'm sprouting rubbish right now. Yeah let's just face it, who doesn't like to play with ND filters.

What Typhoon? Sokcho Beach.

So, after the typhoon season passed, my photography screeched to a halt. Work overtime began and getting outside with my camera was, unfortunately, no longer a priority. Work got in the way. Really it did! Any time I was able to get out my creative ability had become flattened into fine dust from the exhaustion of working a 50 hour plus weeks. During October and November, I still tried, however found myself frustrated with the slump I had slipped into and the images I was producing. I knew I could do better. It was even more frustrating due to the fact Autumn in Korean is very beautiful. I love the colour changes of the trees, the oranges, yellows and reds, however, like Spring it comes and goes very quickly. If you blink you'll miss it. I do feel as though I failed to capture the beauty of Korean Autumn and it was my last chance to do so.

I visited Naejangsan twice, a very popular Autumn location due to the beautiful pagoda on water surrounded by hanging orange and red trees. I came back from the first trip and looked at my images in complete disappointment. They were just not what I was after. Don't get me wrong, they were okay images but they were only okay. A goal of mine throughout the year was to really think about the images I was taking in order to come away with one or two really good images with time and effort put in, rather than just picking the best one out of a bunch of average images. In these Naejangsan images nothing stood out, they felt messy and amateur. The weekend after I decided to go back and re-do them, only to completely mess up on my timing and miss the light. Thus, Naejangsan and Korean Autumn escaped me.

I did however manage to visit Damyang's metasequoia path. Arriving very early in the morning I spent hours walking around looking for a good composition but the problem was there was no light. I felt frustrated watching other photographers running around before the crowds came in to the park, taking what looked like hundreds of pictures. I just couldn't understand what they were seeing that I wasn't! There was no light! None! I was almost ready to give up, and eventually locals and tourists came pouring in to get their instagram shots. There were too many people now to get a good image, and the light coming through the trees was sparing.

In the end, I did come away with two images I liked and I suppose I like them for two reasons, the beautiful Autumn colours and the hard work it took to capture them. But I am also proud of myself for not settling for an average looking shot with no interesting light or details for the sake of just getting an image. I had clearly learned from my Naejangsan Fiasco.

Lines of Orange trees, Damyang

Peering through the trees at Damyang

The end of Autumn and beginning of winter has seen no more photography produced. In fact, I admit I haven't touched my camera in numerous weeks now. After a very frustrating Autumn I resigned myself to needing a break. And believe me, that is a difficult thing for me to accept! It's been odd, not rushing around with my camera at the weekend but I've appreciated the time to recover from work, relax and look back on my images this year. It would be easy to declare myself as a failure for not going out and trying to get some winter images, but I decided to look at it in a slightly different way.

If I were creating a calendar of some of the photography I've taken this year, I'd need a minimum of 12 images. One for each month. Therefore 12 good images a year is a good goal for an outdoor and landscape photographer. You could essentially only need to produce one image a month. Or multiple images one month and none the next and still end up with 12 images by the end of the year. I feel as though I have 12 images and I can be very proud of the improvement my photography has seen this year. Instead of worrying that I didn't produce an image for December, I can look towards 2020 and my photography goals for next year.

2020 Goals:

I will:

  • Keep improving.

  • Continue to produce good quality images I am proud of.

  • Expand my creative ability to help overcome those difficult photography days.

  • Visit new places before I leave Korea in August.

  • Utilise my time better. Work more on my website, networking and youtube.

  • Use my youtube to document my photography trips.

  • Save money for a trip to Iceland and Switzerland.

I will not:

  • Put myself down for not producing images weekly.

  • Teach overtime.

  • Follow typhoons.

Here's to 2020!

You can keep up with my work on my instagram here and check out my Youtube for some Photography vlogs arriving in the near future.

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