2015 was a good year for me with regards to Jeju Island photos. It was only good, not great, because I simply didn’t get out of the house enough. Having a daughter limited my free time and I often spent golden hours on weekends playing sports or being social.
I still managed to check off a few things on my Jeju photography/to-do list (climb to the top of Hallasan, photograph cherry blossoms, go camping, cycle around the island, etc), but it was certainly a down year for me when it comes to landscape/nature shots here on Jeju.
On the other hand, I became a wedding photographer and started this website! I’ll actually follow-up this post with my top 15 Photos of People 2015, but without further ado, please enjoy (in order of date taken, click on image to view larger size)…
My Top 15 Jeju Island Photos 2015
1. Saeyeongyo Bridge at Sunset, Seogwipo
January 24, 2015 – I’ll start off my list of 15 Jeju Island photos with my favorite image that I took in Seogwipo this past year. I guess that’s not saying much because I probably only specifically went out to take photos two or three times in Seogwipo. Still, I was happy I ventured out on this chilly January evening to find the sun setting brilliantly over Saeyeongyo Bridge.
The bridge, inspired from the ‘Tewu’ (traditional Jeju log boat), connects the Seogwipo Bridge to Birds Island. For this shot, I kept moving around and getting high and low, so as to symmetrically place the island behind the bridge. Then I waiting for a bird to fly across the face of the sun. The crop of this shot really showcases the benefits of using the rule of thirds.
2. View of Hallasan from Aewol Coast
February 1, 2015 – I like to drive west from Jeju city and stay close to the coast looking for unique vantage points for seascapes. One cold night I did just that and found this area near the start of the Aewol coastal road. For this shot I wanted to get all of the best bits of Jeju into one photo – waves hitting volcanic rock, a quaint town, a modest, green oreum, and the magnificence of snow-capped Mt. Halla, South Korea’s highest peak.
3. A Room with a View
February 18, 2015 – I took this shot one day while out with fellow American photographer Glenn Lewis (check out his excellent nature, wildlife and travel shots on his website Glenn Lewis Photography). It’s a shame I only met him shortly before he left Jeju; he’s a nice guy and it was fun getting lost and discovering new photo spots with a fellow photographer.
This photo was taken within an abandoned pension* we found just off the Aewol coastal road. The rectangles I saw in the room led me to compose the shot as if the scenery outside were a landscape painting on the wall. I did quite a bit of editing to darken the room and color up the view, but I wanted the high contrast to highlight the natural outdoor beauty with the crumbling artificial interior.
*for more on the intriguing abandoned places on Jeju, check out my friend Jamie’s post here
4. Night-time Stroll under Cherry Blossoms
March 30, 2015 – Last year I completely missed the chance to photograph cherry blossoms in full bloom, so I made sure to go out and shoot them this year. I spent a couple of hours one evening walking around and photographing the cherry blossoms and yellow canola flowers in a well-kept park next to the Jeju stadium area.
The scene in this photo was the first area where I set up my tripod, and when a couple passed by and fit the composition perfectly, I raised my ISO and got the shot.
5. The Lost Village of Goneul
April 2, 2015 – I took photos to accompany several stories for the Jeju Weekly this past year; I’m grateful that my friend and editor of the paper Darren Southcott gave me the jobs as I not only got to shoot some very interesting locations and stories that I wouldn’t have even known about, but also learned about the history of Jeju. Because Darren is much, much better with his words, I’ve posted his introduction to the article which featured my above photo:
“People once lived on the sides of this steep headland. They built their homes here. They married here. They died here.
In late 1948 the 76-household-strong community of Goneuldong just west of Hwabuk, Jeju City, was split into three: Gaundet Goneul at center, An Goneul in the west, and Dong Goneul (or Bat Goneul) to the east.
Jeju 4.3 was at its height, a state-led massacre of up to 30,000 islanders between 1947 and 1954 under the pretext of suppressing a communist insurgency.
By January 1949, all that was left were the charred remains of homes and bullet-ridden bodies.”
Click here to read the rest of the article. It was a poignant afternoon once I learned about the tragic history about the area, but I tried to get a shot which contrasted loss with revival.
6. Hallasan’s Summit in Early Spring
June 6, 2015 – There are four main hiking trails in Hallasan National Park. I had only climbed up the Yeongsil and Eorimok routes before I woke up one spring morning at 4:30 am and set out to climb the Seongpanak trail, which is one of the two trails (the other is the Gwaneumsa trail) that go to the Baeknokdam summit.
The hike is 9.6 km and one hiking website says it takes 4.5 hours one-way. I think I made it up in about 3.5 hours, but that’s most likely because when you go that early in the morning, there are no other hikers bogging you down! It gets seriously crowded and annoying on the trails on weekends, so whenever I hike Halla, I go early.
For the shot above, I stitched four shots in Photoshop together. I took the shots horizontally, but since then I’ve learned that quality panorama shots are usually composed of about 12 vertical shots stitched together. That being said, I’m quite happy with the shot as it was a gorgeous, clear morning and there weren’t any gaudily dressed hikers in my shot.
7. Cow and Calf, Aewol Coastal Road
June 7, 2015 – The day after I hiked to the summit of Halla I went on a bike ride to Gwakji beach with my friend Duncan. While we were cycling along the Aewol Coastal road (third photo from that area already! note to self: travel somewhere new next year), Duncan had to stop to do some work on his laptop. I was fine with the pitstop because I thought I could photograph a cow and her calf grazing in the grass alongside the road.
For me, this final photo highlights another key element of photography: patience, especially when your subject is an animal (or a baby who can’t understand instructions). At first, I took some shots of just the cow, and then the cow and calf together laying a couple of yards apart. I used Halla to add a nice background. I checked my shots and was content with the snaps. Duncan was still working though. He needed another 15 minutes.
I began thinking more creatively and decided to add the volcanic rock into the foreground. At one point, I climbed up the rocks to get closer to the cow, but this startled her so she moved towards her calf. I quickly got down, and just as I positioned myself in front of a nice section of volcanic rock (notice the central yellow stone and two plants in front of the cow and calf? That was all intentional) I took this shot. In my mind, everything fell into place and I captured the moment that epitomised the feeling and setting at the time. Thanks to Duncan and patience, I captured ‘the decisive moment’.
If you have never heard this term and are interested in photography, then check out this article about what the famous French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called “The Decisive Moment”.
8. Darangswi Oreum at Sunset
July 26, 2015 – I was with my friends Phil and Sherman, who were visiting from China, on this lovely summer day. We were driving home from Sunrise Peak when I began to get overly excited about the colors developing in the sky. I could sense it, it was going to be an epic sunset, and I would go mad if I didn’t find a subject to shoot with the sky as a majestic background.
We were inland a bit, driving on the 1136 road when this pristine oreum came into view. I quickly pulled over, apologised to my guests, grabbed my gear and ran down a pebbled road to a place where I could frame the oreum in an all natural locale. I set up my tripod and took several shots, content with the knowledge that the sunset was not wasted for me, and then walked back to the car. I thought Phil might be annoyed that I stopped so abruptly, yet he had a big smile on his face.
“Dude,” he said in his Aussie accent, “those fake traffic signal people are freaky!! They look so real!” He laughed and took a drag from his cigarette. He had been taking selfies with those realistic looking traffic signal people, and having a blast doing it. Go figure, this photo was meant to be. Maybe my favorite from the year, mainly because of the memory it evokes.
It was a great ending to a great day which began at…
9. Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak)
July 26, 2015 – Seongsan Ilchulbong may be the most photogenic site on Jeju. From whatever angle you shoot it from, it looks pretty sublime. I’ve taken loads of photos of the peak (especially from this angle), but never been completely satisfied. Until this day, when, after learning from my mistakes and really utilising the knowledge I had learned about creating panoramas, I just went for it.
I stood and leaned against the wooden barriers to crop out anything artificial, put my camera on manual, set the dials accordingly, turned it vertical, and took 12 handheld overlapping shots which I would then stitch together in Photoshop. I couldn’t believe the results, and when I put the image on Flickr it was explored and had about 12,000 views in a day.
Saying all that though, what I’m most happy about is the fact that I finally have a great image of what Sunrise Peak actually looks like with my eyes from this vantage point. A single shot with even the widest lens, can’t do justice to this view. That’s why this year, I’ve truly become a student of panorama photography.
10. Camping at Hado Beach
July 30, 2015 – Camping on Jeju is a regular activity for foreigners in the summer, yet this day was my first experience in two years of living on Jeju. Why did I wait so long? Well, besides the fact that I have a wife and baby daughter, it’s because I wanted to camp right, if I was going to camp at all. And Phil, Tom, and I camped right on this amazing, drunk, full moon, empty beach night. Everything that happened on this day was just (humorously) perfect, and that’s why I don’t even want to write about it.
I’ll tell about the photo though. I had Tom use my flashlight to light paint “JEJU” next to our tents and the fire. I have a shot with the full JEJU spelled out but I like this shot the best, because it more accurately reflects the tedious 30 minutes of tampering with the light and positioning to make this shot happen. We all learned that Light painting isn’t easy! Still, best…camping…ever.
11. Swimming at Sunset, Jungmun Beach
September 26, 2015 – This shot represents the beginning of the R & R (and camping) after day one of Cycling around Jeju. It just so happens that there were stunning cloud formations and colors taking place in the sky while my friends were swimming. Being a photographer, I couldn’t help but try to capture them, the sea, and the sky together. I was pretty content with this higher ISO handheld shot while a wave nearly took me out.
12. Seongsan Ilchulbong at Sunrise
September 28, 2015 – I took this shot at 6:25 am, just before the sun appeared on the horizon. Our cycling crew was camped out very close to this position, but I did have to walk onto the slippery rocks and get really low to capture this shot.
13. Yeongnuni Oreum in Morning Light
October 31, 2015 – If there’s one location which incomparably captures the ubiquitous silver grass in the fall, it’s Yeongnuni Oreum. I happened to make a detour to this exquisite oreum on my way to Seogwipo. I couldn’t believe that I’d never been there before. If you’re in Jeju in the fall, go there. Enough said.
14. Hyopjae Beach at Sunset
November 28, 2015 – My parents visited my family in November so they could be a part of my daughter Lila’s first birthday party. On this day, we visited Hallim Park and then drove across the street to check out Hyopjae beach at sunset.
I couldn’t help but take the chance to capture a representative shot of this gorgeous coastline as the sun was setting behind a colourful sky. I used my new toy, a B + W ND 10 stop filter, to capture this long exposure while it was still quite light out. I look forward to using this filter more in 2016, as it really makes creative long exposure shots possible.
15. Shooting into the New Year, Aewol Coast
December 29, 2015 – It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve been out by myself searching for a new location to photograph a unique view of Jeju. And I’m right, it has been ages. I simply don’t have the freedom or time, or even the passionate ambition I used to have, to go out seeking beautiful Jeju Island photos anymore.
However, a couple of days ago I finally took my gear out and drove to a familiar spot along the Aewol coastline. I watched and photographed the waves hitting the volcanic rocks, the heavy grey clouds moving slowly across the dreary sky, and then the planes repeatedly cruising across the sky. I couldn’t help but think about the contentious new airport plans in the east of Jeju (read here), and also the very controversial arrival of the first Navy ship to Gangjeong in the south of Jeju (read here).
These thoughts then led me back to my previous night’s viewing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the new (yet old) battle of light vs dark. And then to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And then to Syrian refugees and ISIS (there’s my lazy wrap-up of the year).
What am I trying to say now? 2015 has been…up and down? For me, for my photography, for Jeju, for the world? Sure, what year hasn’t been. History repeats itself. I guess I’m trying to conclude that I’m hopeful and worried about nearly every aspect of my life in the coming year. And in the world.
Such is life though, and I for one won’t be losing sleep over anything but my angelic daughter’s cry. For my last thought on this last post of 2015, I’ll just say, 16 is my favorite number. Simply because of that fact, I know that 2016 will be a fantastic year for me and for everyone else who believes in the light…of a well taken photo.
Happy New Year!
PS. What are your reflections about 2015 and hopes for 2016?