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  • Courtney Esson

What a winter!


A clumsy start...

It’s only been about 3 months since my last photography blog update in 2019, however it feels like a lifetime of things have happened since. One thing is for certain, 2020 is so far becoming a very challenging year.

November of last year saw me taking a break in photography after hitting a pretty bad plateau. After reviewing the year, making some goals for 2020, and planning out my locations for when I stepped back into photography as the Winter holidays started, things only went from bad to worse.

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A few days before the New Year, I was apparently determined to do one last clumsy thing before January arrived and managed to break my laptop. The death of my Macbook Pro was a hard hit to take. They’re not cheap for one and I had photographs, software and a video I was working on backed up on it. Luckily, I have the RAW files of the photographs, the software would have to be re-bought and the video…well, upon review it wasn’t a great video anyway. But still, I now had the issue that this would hinder any photography work until I had replaced it.

The same weekend I was arranging to purchase a new laptop, I broke my ‘break from photography’ only to injure my foot while walking. Yes walking. Not hiking. Walking on flat terrain. Just walking, like any other human being. What happened? Couldn’t tell you. Except for I am very clumsy, accident prone and these things tend to happen to me. I seemed to dislocate the cuboid bone in my foot and was no longer able to walk without immense pain. I worried this was going to prevent me from spending my upcoming winter holiday getting out and about with my camera. It took multiple weeks to heal and so walking and hiking was replaced with being stationary and eating…a lot.

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As my school term finished and I was able to start my time off and get back into photography, hopefully without any more injuries, I was still having issued getting a laptop. The Korean new year saw the shutdown of certain delivery companies, and then the coronavirus entered our worlds. Luckily, I am typing to you from a new laptop so one found it's way to me! Eventually.

I was feeling pretty stressed by the end of January with work exhaustion, foot injuries, upcoming tax, money and laptops. But now I had about a months of travel down the East coast of Korea to look forward to. I was going to break that photography plateau and own it!

I barely gave myself 24 hours to come down from the end of the teaching term before I was out of my door with my camera bag in tow, with the intention of not returning home for a good 3-4 weeks.

Not even the weather can stop me!

And thus, was my first mistake. I didn’t allow myself time to relax before going from one job to another. I would struggle throughout the month to get up for sunrises and have enough energy in the day to stick around for sunsets. This deterred my progress a little bit. A lesson learned, always find time to relax.

The winter weather this year was erratic. South Korea saw very little snow this year, in fact, we only had a few days of it, and it disappeared faster than it arrived. Otherwise we had it all, heavy rain, fog, thunderstorms, air pollution, brief on and off blizzards, typhoon like winds and hot sun. A landscape photographer needs to be able to adapt to weather conditions as we are unable to control it, and it can change very suddenly. Honestly, I struggled to keep up with the fluctuations of weather types some days. One particular day saw rain followed by insane winds, blizzards for numerous hours with a thunderstorm in between and finally a sunny evening. It was mind blowing.

On the days I was not being battered by weather fluctuations, the skies could be described as one of three types. Cloudless and blue, cloudless or minimal clouds with hazy air pollution, or thick, flat, white cloud coverage. All of which are not ideal skies for photography unless your image contains little to no sky. This ended up being a challenge and meant I’d have to return to locations multiple times in hope of getting the right, or any, light.

Foggy days call for Long exposure seascapes.

My Winter travels focused primarily on seascapes, coastal locations and rivers. I travelled down the East Coast of Korea as this is an area that is not so easy for me to travel to during the weekends, due to the distance. I came away at the end with a handful of images I was happy with, however not as many as I’d hoped for. So, let’s take a look at a few of them!

After traipsing through Danyang for multiple days and coming away with nothing I headed to Sokcho, home of the Seoraksan National Park and a mountain that owes me a view. As I got off the express bus, I couldn’t help but notice how bleak it was. Thick clouds sat on the mountains, hiding them from view. Looks like I wouldn’t be seeing the views of Seoraksan this time either. The weather would deter me a lot here however I persisted quite stubbornly at the Yeonggeumjeong pavilion which sticks out into the ocean. I returned here 3 times in hope for some good light. I got very wet, cold and almost lost fingers and my tripod here. The wind was so strong that my ever so sturdy tripod was being pushed over very slightly, which made focusing difficult in long exposure images. On the third day I gave up on the ND filters for long exposures and went back to a fast shutter speed, and then almost gave up entirely as the grey clouds didn’t seem to want to shift.

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Only it did. Briefly. For about 3 minutes. I was very happy I’d taken that ND filter off beforehand as I managed to get this image. The waves were rough (and tried to take me out mind you) but the little light that presented itself was gorgeous.

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After Sokcho I moved down to Gangneung city, a place I’d never been to before. I came here for one location and one location only.

This is the sunrise location in Korea. Can you get better than this?

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Rough waves and the sun rising behind this strange coastal coffee shop. What a location! I was so excited to be here. It takes an hour from the city to this beach, only there were no buses at 5-6am. I got a taxi and asked the driver to drive fast. I was originally mistaken for a Korean in the dark backseat and only when the driver realised I was not, he decided to try and explain that this beach was a TV drama location and that the ‘sand clock’ there was famous. Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about seeing as I don’t watch Korean romance dramas. But trying to figure out what he was trying to tell me definitely woke me up! I arrived at the empty beach and stood on the sand in the pitch black knowing my fingers would not survive this sunrise. Turns out my feet didn’t either as those waves were aiming for every photographer stood on that beach during the sunrise. Tip: don’t put your bag on the ground unless you want it swept into the ocean.


It was a mad rush, snapping away using a fast shutter speed to get those waves at the perfect

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moment and the light before it became too bright and harsh. You don’t realise how fast the sun rises until you’re racing against it. The sky was cloudless which meant when the sun was high enough everything would become too hazy and white. The sky filled with this magnificent orange and I wanted to keep that colour as it reflected off the waves rolling in.

This is a location I’d love to come back to and try to get some different angels and compositions. Maybe even some clouds in the sky?


After Gangneung I moved onto my favourite Korean town. Gyeongju. Now in my defence it’d been a whole year since I’d visited here. I couldn’t stay away for much longer and I’ll most likely be back again. I came here for 4 locations. One I didn’t manage to get to as it was far out and the pine tree forest location where I took images at, didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. I returned to my favourite place, Woljeong Bridge, for the sunset and some night photography and even filmed my

first photography vlog here! I had originally been aiming for sunrise photography however after two attempts I realised it was not going to happen for me this time around. But I love the evening shots I got here with that flowing river in the foreground.




This shot on a river by a temple was a place I’d been hoping to get to and shoot at the sunset. I came here for some reason believing the temple lit up at night, similar to Woljeong bridge. Only it didn’t. In fact, as it got quite dark a Korean girl came clambering over the rocky side of the river I was sat on to ask what I was doing. I simply replied with a ‘don’t know.’ Testing how long my fingers will survive in the cold? I waited for her to leave, pretended to look like I knew what I was doing in the dark, then packed up.


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Going downhill.

By the time I was in Busan things had begun to fall apart. The weather was getting the better of me and I was struggling. Numerous days involved extremely heavy rain where I simply declared that there was no way I was putting my camera out in that! It was so heavy it began to leak through my umbrella. Perhaps that just says something about the quality of umbrellas I own, but still…Courtney: 0 Rain: 1

The one clear (and cloudless) morning I got, I managed to get out to a waterfront park opposite some rather tall buildings in Haeundae, for the sunrise. I arrived pre-sunrise to grab a long

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exposure shot with all the building lights illuminated. When I arrived, there were numerous Korean photographers setting up and so I quietly chose my spot and got to work. A few minutes later I felt a presence. One of the photographers decided to see if I was Korean or not, apparently awestruck that a female photographer was out and about and even more so that I was foreign. Perhaps I was being too sensitive, but I felt awkward when he then placed his own tripod next to mine and got a bit nosy with my camera settings. Feeling put off and not ready for human interaction that early in the day, I slithered off.

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As the sun rose the air was filled with the sound of cameras clicking, while I stood there looking at this uninspiring, distant, tiny, hazy ball rise in the sky. Very unimpressed and not willing to waste camera battery on something so….average, I put away my tripod. I did linger for a few more minutes and the sky did fill with a golden light briefly and so I grabbed a quick handheld picture. I love the light, but I didn’t particularly think about the composition that much as to be honest.

I was feeling done by that point, and just wanted to crawl back into bed.





One afternoon didn’t disappoint as this gorgeous, blue and purple colour spread across Gwangalli Beach as the sun disappeared. I spotted some cool patterns in the sand for my foreground and loved the colour reflecting off the water and sand. Definitely wasn’t feeling blue after this photograph!


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By the time I got to Jeju Island I was quite done with the weather. The first few days were so windy I refused to set up my camera on a tripod at all, as I realised it would have been pointless. I personally was being blown over by the wind and was struggling to stay on my feet. My tripod had no hope.

On the second day, low cloud covered everything and then the snow blizzards came. It was cold. Very cold. Jeju Island isn’t the easiest to get around by public transport and I was struggling to get to locations only to be foiled by the weather when I did arrive.

As I travelled to the South-East side of the island, the weather surprisingly became warm and the skies cleared a little. I spent a bit of time at Seongsan Ilchulbong peak, an archetypal tuff cone formed by hydrovolcanic eruptions about 5 thousand years ago, which is now a UNESCO World heritage site that you can hike. A 5-10 minute walk from this volcano is Gwangchigi beach. The sunrises behind the mountain every morning and this is the perfect location to witness it.


3 times a charm.

The first time I came by this beach was early afternoon. The sky was clear blue and it was warm. I decided to scout out the beach to figure out which point along the sand I’d probably want to set up my camera during the next day’s sunrise. I became so excited as I slid down the sand bank towards the water. The tide was out, revealing bright green seaweed covered rock pools of all shapes and sizes. I cannot begin to describe the excitement at seeing all these interesting rock formations and colours. So many potential compositions! I spent a while exploring them and collecting a few seashells on my way. But the problem was, the sun was way too harsh to take a good photograph. I hoped the tide would be out in the morning and that some of these rock pools would be visible and useable for an interesting foreground subject with the sunrise in the background.

I applaud myself for getting up in time for the sunrise the next morning. I practically ran to the beach, huffing and puffing with my tripod and camera bag. And to my delight not all the rocks were covered! I quickly set up and got ready for the sun to show itself. And just as it did, the tide came in. Very quickly. By the time I’d grabbed my gear and waded back to the sand, the sun was rising fast and I had no composition. The waves swallowed up the beach and I realised I wasn’t going to find another potential spot with an interesting foreground. I was foiled again.

Being as stubborn as I am, I decided to go back later that day as the sky filled with some clouds. The light was not harsh, but it also wasn’t good. You just can’t win! In the end, I did grab a picture and….I don’t know if I’m happy with it or not. At first, I hated it. Now….it’s okay. But I don’t think I will ever love this photograph. Which is a shame as I was very hopeful of getting some fantastic shots at this location.

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I like the interesting foreground, the textures in the sand and rock pools but the light and overall tone of the image, doesn’t feel right to me. I can’t put my finger on what exactly bothers me though. I spent a while in post processing playing with this image, altering the warmth or coldness of it to see if that helped to create some atmosphere. I may come back to this image in the future and have another go, or it may just get left in a folder somewhere on my hard drive as one of those ‘okay’ shots.

I left Jeju Island, a little disappointed in my trip (but got some good beach time in!) and hopeful for the upcoming Spring. But as you all know, the coronavirus went from 0 to 100 quickly and South Korea has been encouraged to self isolate over the past couple of months.

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I returned to work, only schools are currently still closed, and I have been doing desk warming and working from home since. We are discouraged to travel anywhere to risk the spread of the disease, which is understandable, however Spring is now beginning to bloom here. The cherry blossom season has started, soon the Azaleas will come out too and I’m afraid I’m going to miss Spring photo opportunities while locked up in my apartment or at work.

I was so determined this year was going to be the year for me and my photography, but it’s off to a rocky start. But I think we are all having a rocky start to the year. Let’s hope the coronavirus blows over fast and the rest of this year picks up for everyone. I hope everyone stays safe from this outbreak and please make sure to know what the COVID19 symptoms are and ways to get medical help if you are worried you, or someone you may know, could have contracted it.






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