The beauty of the east coast
Glen Sundeen is a Canada native and Seoul resident. When not shooting landscapes, he is a university teacher. For this month’s Capturing Korea, he shot one of Korea’s most popular tourist destinations: Seoraksan and the nearby city of Sokcho.
Groove Korea: Give our readers an introduction to yourself as a person, and as a photographer.
Glen Sundeen: Although from Canada, I am a long-term resident of Seoul and work as a language instructor at Korea University. As a photographer, I have so far managed to avoid defining myself too tightly, but mostly I shoot landscapes.
Thematically, I think I am most inspired by abandoned, lonely places. There is something quite thrilling in capturing the melancholy mood of the old and derelict. It’s not that I am a particularly dour person; it just touches a nerve with me when I make an image that holds that kind of atmosphere. Perhaps it comes from growing up on the isolated prairie in western Canada.
What time of day brings beautiful light to Sokcho? Any tips for shooting in this type of light?
The east coast of Korea is famous for sunrises, and as something of a night owl, I rarely see sunrises. I think this is what drew me to Sokcho one Christmas Day: the chance to see the early golden hour that I so often neglect.
One of the great features of Sokcho is the magnificent backdrop of Seoraksan, which on the right day is positively illuminated in that morning golden-hour sunlight. The coastal flats sweep dramatically up into the wall of the mountains in the interior, and while many would be staring at the sunrise, those mountains behind the viewer are stunning.
What sort of things were you looking for when you photographed Sokcho?
To be honest, I saw some images from another photographer who had driven all night from Seoul to arrive before sunrise. I was intrigued. I was also looking for something different to do on Christmas Day, so that is how my friends and I went to Sokcho. We lucked out when the muddy skies over Seoul cleared as we descended from the mountains of Gangwon Province. The East Sea sunlight was crisp and warm compared to the usual murkiness of the west coast. That early morning fresh sunlight was a treat to shoot in, even though we missed the sunrise.
A few of your pictures have that gorgeous silky water effect. How was this achieved in your photos?
Over the past year I have been interested in long exposures. Typically, photographers use neutral density (ND) filters to keep the shutter open longer and capture the motion blur of water, light trails, clouds, even star trails (I haven’t tried that one yet) in contrast to unmoving objects in the frame. It’s not that difficult, but requires a tripod and, in daylight, an ND filter. I mostly use a 10-stop ND filter from B+W. It takes a bit of experimentation, but one can achieve some really interesting results.
What are some other things to do around Sokcho?
With beaches, fishing villages and pounding surf, the sea is the obvious main attraction around Sokcho. But like I said, don’t ignore the mountains at your back. Seoraksan is one of Korea’s most popular and visited national parks for good reason. Its proximity to the sea makes a very special combination.
Naksan Temple is a pleasant diversion south of Sokcho. If you have a car, another treat is Highway 44 from the coast south of Sokcho over the mountains to Inje. It’s much slower than other routes over the mountains, but it’s got some wild hairpin turns.