First off, a little caveat: This piece is inspired by a similar post of Matt Kloskowski; I’m a huge fan of Matt as both a photographer and as a blogger (check out MattK.com and you’ll see why), and in his 2014 retrospective he poses some questions every photographer need ask themselves come year end.
How did the year go for me?
2014 will always mark the point at which I started referring to myself as a photographer, rather than simply someone who enjoys taking pictures. With that in mind, I think it’s fair to dub the year a relative success. I managed to supplement my income as an English teacher by running one-on-one photography tuition and workshops, sold photographs, and even had my images featured in a variety of magazines and documentaries. I also feel incredibly privileged to have been invited to work with PIK Magazine in an editorial capacity, and shall always be grateful for that showing of faith. With the support of my saint-like girlfriend, I’ve been able to set up shop in Siem Reap, Cambodia, wherefrom I have been given the chance to work on my photography full-time.
Are these my best photos yet?
Definitely. I’ve really pushed myself this last year: exploring new genres; learning new skills; and getting out of my comfort zone as often as I dared. And I’ve developed a ruthless streak in my editing workflow; only the very best makes it through, which I hope shows in the body of work I’ve produced over the last twelves months, and in my my portfolio which is now largely comprised of the last year’s imagery.
Did I improve?
Undoubtedly. While I’m sure upgrading to my trusty Nikon D610 and Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 combo will have accounted for some of the improvements in image quality, better learning my craft is where I believe the biggest gains have been made. I’m now far more adept at telling stories in my images, and have become more comfortable photographing people, willing to get closer and to engage far more than in previous years. I’m more committed than ever: always pushing myself, always learning, and always carrying that damn tripod even when I rather wouldn’t. While I know there is still plenty of room for further development, 2014 will always be a year I look back on with fondness. 2015 is going to be make or break.
The Best of 2014:
These are the images that made 2014 so memorable for me.
“The Sound of the Drums”
Haeinsa Temple, South Korea.
Not only is this my favourite shot of 2014, it also ranks among my favourite shots from my three years in Korea. A friend of mine and fellow photographer, Simon Bond, had landed a similar shot on the cover of Nat Geo Traveler, and I must confess to feeling a tad envious. Despite an ungodly number of temple visits, this kind of shot had always evaded me. Then, right in my last month, while waiting out a sunset shot of the Haeinsa complex, I heard the unmistakable gong of ceremonial drumming. I ripped my camera from my tripod, raced down a seemingly endless number of steep stone steps, and arrived in the nick of time to capture the scene you see here. Thanks to Scott Rotzoll for rescuing my abandoned tripod.
“Life From Above”
Seomun Market, Daegu, South Korea.
This was the shot selected as my best by PIK Magazine in their Best of 2014 Special Edition. Who am I to argue with them? Communal dining plays such an important role in the lives of ordinary Korean people, I felt I really needed to make an image that adequately portrayed everyday life before I left. This was my first real foray into storytelling imagery, something that now flavours my current approach to photography. You can take a “behind the scenes” look at how the shot was made here.
“Over the Top”
Seoul N Tower, Seoul, South Korea.
So good that even Simon Slater, renowned landscape hater, actually remarked that he liked it. Again, I’d set myself a storytelling challenge with this image: Aiming to capture that Over The Top nature of Korean opulence…. the fact that I had to shoot it Over The Top of the safety barrier at Seoul Tower always makes me chuckle a little when I look at the title. Very apt.
“Exit the Demon”
Mud Festival, Boryeong, South Korea.
My best according to Flickr, and my only photograph to have made it onto the hallowed Explore page. This image was made during Boryeong’s beachfront Mud Festival; with my wrist in cast I hadn’t been able to participate in the filthy festivities, but with a few fumbles here and there, I was able to operate my camera. Koreans endure some of the cruelest working hours and are afforded very little vacation, and yet they are some of the most spirited, playful people you’ll ever meet. This image will always remind me of that. Work hard. Play hard.
“Inle in Light”
Inle Lake, Shan State, Burma (Myanmar).
After recoiling at the thought of paying for posed images of “traditional” fisherman (by virtue of my pride in capturing candid travel images) I had to work my socks off to get what I wanted. I don’t have the best of gear at the telephoto end, and I speak not a lick of Burmese, so having my boatman manoeuvre into position to photograph an ACTUAL fisherman was quite the challenge. The fact that the last shoot of 2014 ended on such a positive note rounded things off nicely.
“A Break from the Boardom”
Jeonju, South Korea.
This shot represents a bit of an awakening for me. I’d been wandering around Jeonju trying to capture the kind of Korea I thought people wanted to see, and was in a real rut with my photography because I wasn’t shooting in a way that was true to myself and my own interests. After giving up on another plain old palace, I came across a vibrant skate scene in an expanse of concrete outside a mall. It took me back to days of ripped jeans and bloody knees learning the ropes as a young and hopeless skater. Perhaps the fact that those legs could so easily have been my own in bygone years gave me a narcissistic pleasure in capturing the shot. Even more pleasing was that when I dropped it into the Geoje Photographer’s Group, it was spotted by PIK Magazine and led to my first published image. Shoot what moves you.
“A Plaza Possessed”
Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul, South Korea.
While out shooting with Jackson Hung (whom I interviewed towards the end of last year), I stumbled into the scene you see above. Though uncomfortable in the presence of so many police, and after being advised to leave the area through fear of my own safety, I threw caution to the wind and focused on photographing what was such an unusual sight. After seeing Simon Slater’s Banksy-esque take on the same happenings, I realised the important role that photography plays in portraying history as it unfolds. The set of images that emerged from all over the peninsula that weekend painted a more accurate picture of the mood in Korea than I have seen written anywhere.
ARC, Daegu, South Korea.
This image was made during my first outing with the Busan Lighstalkers and, for me, gives credence to my mantra of “doing things differently.” While the other members of the group headed to a nearby bridge to capture the sun setting over the distant mountains, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to the silhouettes of the cyclists you see here. I chanced my arm at getting something a little different, and was very pleased with what I came away with. Now, whenever I shoot, I ask myself if I’m just going to make another image like those that have gone before, or whether I can put my own stamp on it. That the image went on to win a photo competition in Korea told me I was doing things the right way.
“Friends Like These”
Gwangju, South Korea.
I captured this scene while participating in the 2014 Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk, lead by Gwangju-based photographer (and my editor at PIK Magazine) Joe Wabe. In earlier years, I’d been terrified to get up close and personal in my pursuit of storytelling images. That I was able to capture this shot, portraying the typical camaraderie found among the elderly men of South Korea, without the use of a telephoto represented a giant stride forward for me. The image was picked out as the best from the Gwangju Walk.
“Veins of the City”
Centum City, Busan, South Korea.
I had tried my hand at a few cityscapes before, but this is the one I’m most fond of, showing that dizzying pace and electricity for which Busan is renowned. The image wouldn’t have been possible without Keith Homan, who gave me access to his rooftop and pushed me (mentally) closer to the roof edge with each passing minute. The photographic community in Korea is the best I’ve encountered anywhere; we’re very lucky to have such a sharing, caring bunch of ‘togs here. I know I’m much the better photographer for it. To learn from the best, check out my article on the Fantastic Five.
“The Fastest of Food”
Tongyeong, South Korea.
After reading David duChemin‘s excellent Within The Frame, I was inspired to produce a storytelling image of the daredevil delivery drivers native to my adoptive hometown. This image is representative of trying new things, as I experimented with panning to produce the kind of nauseating dynamism that comes to mind when I picture those 125cc menaces tearing through red lights. For more on photographic vision, check out duChemin’s excellent range of books at Craft and Vision.
Tongyeong International Music Festival (TIMF), Tongyeong, South Korea.
My best according to my girlfriend. In helping me select the images for this piece, she was rather adamant I include this one. Saying as she puts a roof over my head, I figured it’d be best to keep her happy. This shot was taken at the Tongyeong International Music Festival back in March, and as ever, I endeavoured to put my own, unique stamp on proceedings. The shoot had been a rather nervy one, having agreed to pass on the images to the band you see here, whose bassist just so happens to be professional photographer, Roy Cruz. That Roy was so complimentary about my shots did my confidence the world of good. His invitation to work as second shooter at an upcoming wedding told me his compliments were genuine.
“Under the Sea”
Tongyeong, South Korea.
After Busan Lightstalkers kindly invited me to co-host a Tongyeong Photowalk along with friend and fellow photographer, Roy Cruz, we set out planning the day’s route. This image was made during those planning stages. I’d been a little unsure of my style in the build up to this image, and had spent a little too long experimenting with washed out black and white. This shot represents an injection of colour back into my work, and is one of my favourites from my adoptive hometown. The image was featured in Busan Haps’ Must See Korea article in their July 2014 Issue, an incredibly humbling feat given the plethora of talent on the peninsula.
“Where it all Began”
Seoul World Cup Stadium, South Korea.
I took this shot during my last week in Korea. I’d been visiting a friend in Seoul, and killing time while he worked during the days. With plenty of time to think, and with my impending departure, I got to thinking why I ever came to Korea in the first place. It dawned on me that the peninsular had first appeared on my radar with the co-hosting of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Visiting the World Cup Stadium, then, would mark a fitting end to my time here. As it happened, the stadium was in preparation for a rather different upcoming tournament, the League of Legends World Championship. With all the other professional photographers buzzing around the place I sneakily slipped my tour group and headed up into the nosebleeds to make this image with the excellent Samyang 14mm f/2.8 manual focus lens I was testing, to be reviewed shortly.
If you’ve enjoyed my work throughout 2014, I’d love for you to join me on my photographic journey for 2015. There are a few ways you can connect with me. The easiest is to Follow Me on Facebook. You’ll also find a selection of my work on 500px and Instagram.
For my regular fans, I urge you to stick with me as I aim to bring you even better images in this coming year. I’d really appreciate it if you shared my site or Facebook profile with friends and family to help me reach new audiences. Happy New Year to all of you!