My Top 10 Photos of 2014 – Korea Travel and Landscape Photographer

As they say, better late than never.  I’ve been wanting to do a 2014 retrospective for a while now, but I never could decide on how to approach it. Would I focus on client shoots, personal projects, specific images, or all of the above?  I became inspired as I was listening to one of my preferred photography podcasts by Japan-based photographer Martin Bailey.  He wrapped up the year by highlighting his top 10 images of 2014.  This approach appealed to me because it focuses on the most important aspect of photography: the images.  It not only gives you a look back on your best creations over the past year, but also serves as a point of comparison for progress in the year to come.  I also like the number of 10 images which is very manageable and concise, yet telling of your work.

Before we get to the images, let me just quickly mention the other aspects of my photographic year.  2014 was my best year yet business-wise in Korea.  I had a fairly steady stream of client shoots throughout the year in my area, as well as a larger-scale project with an international client that took me all over the peninsula.  My photos also showed up in several publications and even a CD album cover.  2014 was also a big year in networking with other photographers.  I met many talented photographers at the Photo and Imaging show in Seoul, where I was part of a special exhibit for foreign photographers in Korea.  I met even more great people when I co-hosted a photo walk in Tongyeong for Busan Lightstalkers with my buddy and former Tongyeong resident Chris Cusick.

Most importantly, 2014 was a great year for my development as a photographer.  I became more selective about my shots before and after pressing the shutter.  I also became better at planning my shoots and doing research to determine ideal locations, conditions and shooting times.  I added more images to my portfolio this year than I ever have before.  I also learned more about what I like to shoot and what I don’t really like.  As a result, I got better at using the magic word “no”.  But I also got better at using the even more magical word “yes”.  All in all, I feel very blessed, humbled, and thankful for the year that was 2014.  I feel like I’m moving in the right direction and am looking forward to 2015.  And now, I present my top 10 favorite images of 2014 in chronological order:


“Roadside Blossoms”
Geoje, South Korea
Fuji X100S + Wide Conversion Lens
f/16, ISO 200, 90 seconds

Korea's Roadside Blossoms-1

Every spring in Korea, thousands of cherry blossom images of all shapes and sizes pop up online and it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. In previous years, I had only managed to make average images and I really wanted to make a unique one this year.  I was walking to my car after a pretty unsuccessful shoot in Geoje, when I saw a road mirror and a steady stream of cars going by.  The mirror reflected another part of the neighborhood and the distant bridge,  and I thought it would be cool to incorporate the light trails from both scenes with the curving cherry blossom-lined road.  I was happy with the resulting image, and it’s my best cherry blossom photo yet.


“Best Seat in the House”
Tongyeong, South Korea
Fuji X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2.0
f/2.0, ISO 3200, 27 seconds

Best Seat in the House-1

June brought along the purchase of another Fuji X camera.  The wide conversion lens for the X100S is great, but I wanted to be able to capture much wider scenes. I have been bitten by the compact mirrorless camera bug, and I prefer not to use my DSLR for personal projects anymore.  So I picked up a used X-E1 for around $300 and a Samyang 12mm f/2.0 lens for another $300 and put together a bang-for-the-buck landscape kit that would take most of my landscape photos for the rest of the year.  The fast and wide lens on the Samyang and the great high ISO performance of the Fuji meant that I could experiment with star/astro photography, and I did just that.  After a bit of Googling, I learned about the right settings and conditions for star photography, as well as the 500 rule.  With the basic knowledge I had acquired, I set out on a moonless night to the darkest spot I could find without having to climb a mountain.  Living in the countryside, that spot turned out to be 10 minutes away from my house, at a very accessible park.  I found some foreground elements in the form of a tree and bench and set up my tripod to face southwest.  Luckily, the weather was good and the milky way was visible.  Even more luckily, during one of my exposures, a couple with a cellphone flashlight came and drew a light trail and illuminated the tree for me.  I probably ruined their private moment, but got a great picture in the process.


“Rocks, Bridge, and Reflection”
Tongyeong, South Korea
Fuji X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2.0
f/11, ISO 400, 26 seconds

Tongyeong Bridge
This image is here because it is now my favorite photo of a bridge I have photographed hundreds of times.  The balcony of my home faces this bridge and I have unlimited access to the view from a high vantage point.  Ironically, this photo was taken from the lowest vantage point possible, squatting under the boardwalk in a smelly corner of the Tongyeong canal.  This, to me was a reminder to search for other angles, even though it seems that you already have a great one.


Geoje, South Korea
Fuji X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2.0
f/11, ISO 200, 5.3 seconds

Save Me From Drowning-1

This photo marked a bit of a turning point in my photography style.  After months of photographing landscapes, I began to long for something else to enhance my frames.  Pure landscapes are beautiful and I will continue to make those kinds of photos, but having a human element in the landscape can make the image even more interesting.  I came across this scene one late afternoon in Geoje.  The sunken boats attracted my attention and I made several photos of the landscape.  I was pretty happy with the images, but what happened next made everything fall into place.  One of the people from the fishing shop that owned the pier came out, grabbed the rope and just stood there for a while, seemingly pondering how to remove the boat.  This was my shot.  I wanted the smoothness of the water while keeping the human figure in tact.  Luckily, he didn’t move too much and a 5-second exposure was possible.


“Marina Sunrise”
Tongyeong, South Korea
Fuji X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2.0
f/11, ISO 200, 0.4 seconds

Tongyeong Marina Sunrise-1

As with many people, I find it easier to photograph sunsets than sunrises.  However, in this case, an early morning trip to the marina was worth it.  The clouds, the sunrise and the stillness of the water all came together to make a beautiful sky and reflection.  The ideal conditions, along with the foreground elements of the boats and bridge made for a good image.


“Love, Light, and Waves”
Seoul, South Korea
Fuji X100S
f/8.0, ISO 640, 10 seconds

Light and Waves-1

I love traveling to Seoul.  The city always has something new and exciting to offer. This time, our main objective was to see the fireworks festival on the Han River. Fulfilling a dream of hers, my wife booked a yacht ride for a unique view of the fireworks.  Photographically, this was not ideal.  Successful fireworks photography involves long exposures and having a steady base is crucial.  However, in this case, the base itself was moving.  I quickly (after 10 minutes of stubbornly trying) gave up any notions of typical fireworks photos.  Instead, I decided to use the motion of the boat to my advantage.  I knew I needed an in-focus element to keep the image easily understandable. Luckily (again), a couple was cuddling to stay warm and they served as an anchor for the image.  What I got was an interesting combination of light trails, silky water, fireworks and a portrait.


“A Seoul Garden”
Seoul, South Korea
Fuji X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2.0
f/11, ISO 400, 1/1500 seconds

Seoul DDP Flowers-1
Anyone who lives in South Korea has probably heard of or been to the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP).  This futuristic landmark has been visited and photographed many times.  Back in October, I visited the DDP for the first time.  Of course, I wanted to photograph it.  In fact, I messaged my friend, Seoul-based landscape photographer John Steele, asking where the best high vantage point would be to shoot it.  However, as I was exploring the area, I came across an interesting art installation.  One area of the roof was filled with white roses.  I had seen many photos of the DDP from above, but I had never seen any photos like this.  I decided not to pursue my original idea and went with this one instead.  I believe it captures the modernity and artistic nature of the DDP.  The back-lit flowers and monochrome treatment make the white flowers pop amongst the futuristic structure and silhouettes of people.


“A Fellow Spectator”
Geoje, South Korea
Fuji X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2.0
f/11, ISO 800, 1/110 seconds

A Fellow Spectator-1
This is another example of the landscape with a human element.  As I was working the scene, I thought to myself, “Here’s another sunset.  How will this photo be any different?”  I decided to scrap the usual long exposure and go for something else.  I saw the mirror and felt that its reflection was pretty interesting, so I included it in the frame.  As I was doing this, I heard some movement behind me.  An elderly man was coming to see the sunset and he was walking right into the mirror’s reflection.  I knew this was my chance.  I waited for the right moment when the man would be in a good position and light, and made the photo.


“Look Up”
Geoje, South Korea
Fuji X100S + Telephoto Conversion Lens
f/2.0, ISO 200, 1/160 seconds

Look Up-1
One of the main reasons why I started using small cameras is pictured here.  No, not the sea animal.  Small, unobtrusive gear is a godsend when you have to chase around a toddler.  This photo was taken during a trip to the aquarium.  Moment is king in this image, as my daughter turned her head to see the white whale swimming upwards.  The silhouette adds a bit of drama, while the gradient blue adds cleanliness and simplicity.  One of my favorite family images of 2014.


“A Moment of Peace”
Sampaloc Lake, Philippines
Fuji X100S + Wide Conversion Lens + Cokin IR Filter
f/11.0, ISO 400, 20 seconds

Sampaloc Lake-1
Christmas is arguably 0ne of the best times to go to the Philippines.  Everyone is in a festive mood, there are parties everywhere and everyone comes home to see friends and family.  However, that also means massive traffic, long queues, flight delays, and karaoke blaring from every other house.  This Christmas was no different, and while I had a great time, I found myself longing for a bit of peace and quiet.  I found it one afternoon on Sampaloc Lake.  The time of day was not quite ideal for landscape photography, so I brought out the infrared filter.  This allowed me to do long exposures to smoothen out the water and capture cloud movement.  It also brought out a different glow in the leaves and foliage.  While the funky false colors brought about by IR filters works sometimes, I wanted to bring out a feeling of calm and focus on the light, shadow, and texture in this photo, hence the black and white conversion.


Runner up:

“Self Portrait with the Stars”

Self Portrait With the Stars-1

Taken on the same night as “Best Seat in the House”, this photo was really just me playing around.  However, it got really good feedback from viewers and a lot of them say they like it better than the other one.  I am also a bit torn between the two because, hey, it’s me in the shot. 😉  So I’ve decided to include it as a runner-up.

I hope you enjoyed the images and the stories behind them.  Looking at these images, I can definitely see where my mind and heart were photographically last year.  If you are a photographer and haven’t done this sort of retrospective yet, I recommend you try it.  It could prove to be an insightful experience.

I’m excited about 2015 and I hope it will be a great year for you as well.  Happy new year and thanks for reading!  Till next time!

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Roy Cruz

Roy Cruz

Photographer at Roy Cruz Photo
Roy Cruz is a freelance photographer based in Tongyeong, South Korea specializing in travel and documentary photography. He started shooting professionally in 2007 and has worked all over the Philippines and South Korea. He is also a dedicated husband, bass player, and father.

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  1. Absolutely beautiful work Roy. Narrowing down to just 10 of your best images must have been a real challenge. I’m curious which job took you all over the peninsula but I understand if you can’t share yet. All the best in 2015!

  2. An utterly breathtaking year, Roy. It was a pleasure organising the walk, working, and shooting with you. I can’t wait to see you making us all look bad in 2015 😉

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