2019

2019 has come and gone. We’re over a week into 2020 and I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen anyone make use of the myriad of 20/20 possibilities other than the Barbra Walters one. I suppose they’re waiting until they do their year end reviews of this year. So be forewarned: You will be inundated with a variation of “My year in review: Hindsight is 20/20”.

After reading my friends’ and colleagues’ blogs on their 2019 I got caught up in the wave. Roy Cruz, an ex-pat from the Philippines, a wonderful person and photographer (I’m probably forgetting bass player, as well.) has been using a format where he chooses his personal top 10. He takes it a wonderful step further and includes the camera, lens, and setting that was used for each photograph. He then writes a paragraph telling of the story behind each photograph.

Jason Teale is a fellow Canadian ex-pat, an awesome photographer and cinematographer. (If you don’t know what that is, click on the link and prepare for your mind to be blown.) I’m honoured to be able to call him a friend. He has done such amazing work as you’ve seen, but also the behind the scenes within the ex-pat photography circles here in South Korea. Whenever I need advice on something, he’s the first person I contact, and he’s always helping out the best he can. He puts photowalks together, Facebook groups together, and a website for other ex-pats who live or want to visit Ulsan, the city he’s called home for the past 15+ years. He offers online teaching and tutorials for photography and cinematography. Please do check out his page.

Jason, inspired by Roy, did a take on his top 9. He did an awesome job by giving an insight to his thought process behind each of the photographs which is awesome. When all of the “beginner” books and articles started to blur themselves into one another and no matter who I read, it felt like they were all saying the same thing, I wanted something else to help me further along the line. I wanted to know the thought process and what was going through the mind of the photographer when they decided to take that photograph- why they took that photo, not just how they got the photograph. This is what Jason has done and it’s brilliant.

This inspired me to do one as well.

I will give another long winded warning: During his time as a magazine mogul, David DuChemin in his interview sections would ask the photographer if he or she planned their shot or did they shoot primarily intuitive. That was the first I had ever come across that type of distinction, and it made a lot more sense to me and helped me understand where my mind was. It made me realize that I shot intuitively which is why it’s been so difficult to satisfy that need for the next step in my progress after the beginner books. So I apologize if the explanations are a little short of spectacular. (It did make a programme director upset once, which is a post for another day.)

For those who follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you are probably aware that I posted the “Best Nine” from each of my 4 Instagram accounts. This post I will look at my “main” account.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that I had only posted 97 photographs in the year. In this day and age, that number is far too low, and I apologize. I’ll try to do better in 2020. What makes it even more sad is that 33% of these photos weren’t taken in 2019.

This green tea photo was from my first trip to Boseong with my D50 during the Green tea Festival in the spring of 2006. One of the first, if not the first photo I was able to get a little fog. I liked the freshness of this; the green, the blossoms, and the fog. Enough to make you think it was about 6am? I still shake my head today that this was at 2:30 pm.

This one, although I didn’t post it until January 2, 2019, was the final sunset of 2018 from Incheon overlooking the Yellow Sea. After 8 years of living on the east coast, it was nice to live a little closer to the west coast for the opportunity to capture some unblocked (by mountains) sunsets.

This next one was from the first week of January. I had worked a camp in the back hills of Yangju, and as I drove to the camp, to my surprise, was a Buddhist temple. It was still relatively small compared to many others I had seen, but this one had a building with a gold dome, something I had never seen. They were in the process of building the temple’s grounds and even dropping by yesterday, there is a lot of work to be done. These 3 statues have been moved to a more permanent location. I liked the simplicity of this angle and felt it deserving of a black and white transformation.

I can’t remember why I was downtown Seoul so early in the morning on this day. It’s possible I was in signing up for my Korean class. Even though this is 10:10 in the morning, you’d never guess that this is one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the city. This is Insadong, one of the most popular tourist areas. Generally this place is literally shoulder to shoulder full of people. I love the peace of an early morning city.

This next one, is a cinemagraph. You can’t see it here, but if you click on the image it will take you to my Flixel account where all of my cinemagraphs are shown. I wasn’t a lover of oysters – well any seafood for that matter – before I met my wife, a pescatarian. We came to this area for the lunar new year with her family because it’s a famous oyster area. It was so good that we came back a couple of weeks later by ourselves and turned it into a bit of a photography day trip. Being on the west coast again, a chance to get that pesky sunset.

This was also the time of year my professional life just got a whole lot busier…

As said, my professional life got a lot busier than I ever thought it would, meaning that it took more time than I thought it might. But there’s one time of year I have to get out and get something. Fast forward 3 months into May and Buddha’s birthday. It’s one of the most colourful times of the year. The temples themselves are painted with a wide range of colour, add the colours of the lanterns and pow! I found 2 temples hiding, buried in the hills not far from my last home. This temple had set cloth lanterns, something I hadn’t seen before. They are usually paper. These lanterns were awesome. The temple itself, other than the huge golden Buddha it had for a roof, was actually underwhelming, but these lanterns… I coupled this with one of my favourite things to do… shoot into the sun with some flares in the lens, something that my 30 and 40 year old lenses do nicely.

This next photo was a cinemagraph as well. To see it in action, click on the image to take you back to my Flixel account. This was the same day, just a little earlier than the previous image. This temple is just up the road from the other one. This one was a more traditional style temple but with much fewer buildings. I liked the lines and how the lanterns with their shadows formed a triangle on the building. There was a nice breeze as well, which made me get my tripod out of the car to allow me to film it to make the cinemagraph.

Photography is a funny animal, really. I was exploring the back alleys around Insadong, that popular tourist destination, looking for some inspiration. With this image, I don’t remember posting it, let alone taking it. I remember another photo that I took on the same exploration that day, but this one… But here it is… one of the most popular “by Instagram standards”, in fact it garnered the second most number of likes of the year. I can’t even find it in my archives. I have a funny feeling that this image, too, wasn’t taken in 2019, but clearly the one that I posted in 2019 and only 2019. Funny enough it was the most commented photo as well.

Later in the year, after my workload had calmed down, I went out looking to practice tourism portraits. I’m getting better, but my photos of people are generally pretty bad. It’s something I know and trying to change knowing that I am looking to make photography my full time career come March of this year. I would stop random people at various tourist areas in Seoul and ask if they would pose for me to help me practise and in return I would send them fully retouched and finished photos of their trip. These two were a father and daughter. She had been living in Korea for sometime and her father had come to visit from Malaysia. After posting it, it (for me) blew up and is by far the #1 like getting photo I have on Instagram. She had given me her Instagram name to send the photo to, so I visited her profile and found out that she’s a pretty big deal in Malaysia promoting Muslim women’s rights and peace.

So there you have it. I try not to have any favourite photos. I am a huge fan of John Stanmeyer, and his reasonings for not having a favourite photo really hit home to me and make 100% sense. (Another blog post for the future.) But I will admit that with these “Best Nine” things, I’m a little disappointed when certain images don’t make it. Which leads me to another problem to solve as I enter photography full-time: finding out the times and hashtags that will allow for the maximum viewership.

I’ll leave you with one of those images. Thanks for reading and let’s stay in touch for 2020 and let’s make it “Foresight is 20/20”.

Why Am I Taking THIS Photo?

There’s an old saying that I like to believe:  Everything happens for a reason.  

I could go through the history of my life and there would be many times that I could use individual examples of points when, at the time, I asked myself, “Why did that happen?”  There are also a lot of other examples that happened, that seemed rather normal.  But when I look back at both, I say “Ahhhh, that happened to prepare me for this.” Or that’s what I like to believe.  It makes the bad memories a little easier to digest.

But for the longest time, I didn’t apply it to my photography.  But I have seen the light. (No pun intended.)

Reason.  

Even today, there are a lot of instances when I forget.  “What is the reason for this photo? Why did I take it?”

Reason.  It is the first and possibly the most important brick in your path.  In fact, as I have learned over the years, it should be within every brick in your path.  The reasons will change over time, just as everything changes.  In fact, the reasons may change not only from day to day but even from hour to hour or even minute to minute.  

I started out before digital cameras and my reasons were the same from day to day: to capture the places I had visited. With a limited budget for rolls of film and developing, I really had to pick and choose what I took photos of, at this point in my path, time of day had no influence on what I took photos of, but I had to choose wisely.  This scan of a film print of my trip to Florence, Italy in 1996 is the photo I credit to starting my photography path, is a perfect example of my first reason: to document the places I visited. 

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore : February 1996

Over time, the purchase of my first digital camera helped change my reasons.  With not having to pay for film and developing I was able to start taking photos because I thought something looked nice and/or colourful.  But that lead to something else.  I will call it “the vacuum”.  This was a time along my path when I was taking pictures just for the sake of taking pictures.  I would take the photo, and in many cases multiple photos for no other apparent reason other than to just use the camera.  Sure many of the photos were nice, but if you had asked me at the time why I took those photos.  I probably wouldn’t be able to give an answer.  Looking back at those photos I still wouldn’t be able to give an answer, and I even ask myself, “Why did I take a photo of that?”

Even today, I still catch myself asking why I did something.  The good thing is now, when I have to ask myself that question, I pull myself back and concentrate on the reason.  It reminds me of a time I was filming an episode for a TV programme.  We just got to the top of Namsan, a mountain in the downtown area of Seoul, South Korea at night.  The remains of the old city wall are still very well preserved, and there were square holes in the wall that the soldiers could shoot from to protect the city.  I crouched down and took a photo of the city through one of these holes.  The director asked me why I took that shot.  My answer was “I thought it might look cool.”  That’s when he turned off the camera and it was brought to my attention that, that couldn’t be a reason.  So I came up with a story: With South Korea being a world leader in televisions, I thought that the wall represented a TV and the hole was the screen and all the lights of Seoul below were the pixels of the screen.  Well, that didn’t go over very well either.  Do you know what?  The actual photos that I took were nothing close to the way I had hoped, and they were just plain bad. This experience is what finally made me realize once and for all that there has to be a reason for the photo and to the photo.  I took those photos thinking that they would look cool and they didn’t, because I had no real reason for taking those photos.  

Having a reason will lead you down the path of composition, f-stop, and shutter speed. 

There must be a reason.  This is true for all photos, and it does not matter the situation.  Are you taking the photo with the phone that you just hurriedly pulled out of your pocket so you can post it on Facebook or Twitter? I feel that if you would like to have a better photo you have to have a bigger reason than “Just to post it.”  I would guess that the resulting photo is either going to be blurry or unflattering.  Now if that’s the look you were going for, then, great.  But chances are you weren’t. 

You have to make a quick decision, 1. Do I enjoy the moment in its entirety?  or 2. Do I want to share this experience with my friends and followers?  

If you chose #2 and pulled out your camera, make it count.  Share the experience.  The experience that made you want to share it to begin with.  Don’t just press the button or shutter at the first possible moment your finger touches it.  Relax, wait, try and get that moment that made you say to yourself, “Wow, I wish ________ was here to see and experience this,” so that ________ will be able to see it and experience it.  Chances are that if it is one of those experiences that you wished others were there to share with, it will either happen again or continue.  

If it is one of those very short experiences,  (trust me when I say I’ve had my fair share)  I smile while nodding or shaking my head in disbelief or awe of what I witnessed and I am thankful that I was able to see it and experience it.  One such situation that happened to me a while ago, I was set up waiting for the sun to rise on the coast and I noticed something fly behind me, bigger than a seagull, but I wasn’t sure of what it was.  I didn’t see anything, but as I turned back around there was a large Eurasian Eagle Owl flying about 2-3 metres in front of me and my camera.  My knees got weak and I froze as its two bright orangey-yellow eyes stared at me as it flew by.  It wasn’t until 3 minutes later that I remembered I had the camera in front of me with the shutter release in my hands.  Had I tried getting those shots of it as it flew by, I will almost guarantee that those haunting eyes would never have had the lasting effect that they had.

If you hastily press the shutter and the photo doesn’t turn out they way you hoped or remembered it, in my experience, one of 2 things might happen, and both will sour your memory of it.  The first thing is spending too much time in post-processing trying to “save” the photo.  It becomes an obsession, and after hours and hours of work, it may still not turn out the way you want or remember it. It will only turn the memory into a bad experience because you spent too much time on the post processing that it went past fun, it became “work”.  

The second thing that might happen is that the photo is so unflattering that it warps the memory that you had of the experience.  You go back and look at the photo a few months or years later and think to yourself, “That’s not exactly how I remember it.” But because you have a photo of it that doesn’t lie, you could start to think, “Well, maybe it wasn’t that great after all.”  And since it has been proven that our memories of events aren’t as sharp when we are photographing them, it will fade into the background of your mind.  Which really would be a horrible thing, because the reality was that it was a spectacular experience.

Donghae, South Korea : 2012

As I mentioned earlier, your reasons can and will change over time and even from time to time.  You could be shooting a rainbow to show off its colours and size for your friend in Europe to see, and then shooting a tornado that suddenly appeared to send to the local news paper or TV station. Situations can change that quickly.  

The next time you have your camera in your hand, ask yourself first, “Why am I taking this photo?”  You might surprise yourself with your answer, and by asking this question it will allow for your first step towards more meaningful photos, and it might make choices on shutter speed or depth of field easier.

In this second photo, the reason for the shot was to capture the two boys playing together both as a memory for the two boys, but also as a history shot of when I was their age playing with my brother on the beach.  I wanted to show that no matter how much the world is changing, some things pass down from generation to generation, surrounded by the strength and stability of family and friends.  I wanted to show the movement of the water, the symbol of life as it flows and to give a sense of how quickly the boys were moving and playing to show how quickly people act throughout their lives, but surrounded by the stable rocks of the mother and father (the 2 larger rocks) and the true friends (the smaller rocks) as they stand true and strong throughout their lives to serve as protection from the outside elements, the rough water on the other side of the rocks as well as a holding the stormy skies at bay.  Because of these reasons, it allowed me to choose a slower shutter speed and get a lower point of view so that the the parental rocks appeared larger. For me, the reasons have changed over time.  As I’ve said before, each brick is different, and sometimes I go back to the first reason of wanting to document the places I’ve been.  

Now, about controlling the reason… 

Oh, wait… what’s that? What do you mean I can control the reason?  Well, now.  That changes everything… But we’ll save that for another time.