My Top 10 Photos of 2016 – Asia Travel Photographer

For some time now, it has been a yearly tradition to post my top 10 images of the year.  The list is typically comprised of photos that I have shot for myself during personal photography trips.  This is a totally subjective list based on a combination of photographic merits and my personal feelings towards the images.  I like to do this because it’s a great way to look back on the year’s best work (in my opinion) and also serves as a point of comparison to gauge my progress, or lack thereof.  It’s also a nice walk down memory lane, especially with the background stories for each image.  Why 10 images?  Setting this limit really makes one edit and reflect, and it offers a concise look at where you were photographically.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 images of 2016, in chronological order:

“Milky Way Above the University”
University of the Philippines Los Baños, Philippines
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2
f/2.0, ISO 3200, 26 seconds

During the first quarter of 2016, I took a month-long vacation in the Philippines.  It was so great to be home, and I had a great time visiting family, friends, and my favorite places once again.  This photo was taken in the wee hours of the morning at U.P. Los Baños’ famous “Fertility Tree”.  The sky was clear, the stars were out, and there was this amazing glow coming from the street lights behind the big tree.  After hauling a few very heavy soccer goals out of the frame, I reduced a lot of the light pollution from the street lights by mounting my graduated ND filter upside-down in the holder.  The icing on the cake was the shooting star on the left, which made me choose this particular frame.  For me, this images is nice tribute to my alma mater, and many people seemed to agree with me.  This photo was shared quite a bit online, especially among graduates of the University.


“A Walk Through Grandeur”
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, Bataan, Philippines
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2
f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/60 sec

Many people say the golden age of the Philippines is now in the past.  While I don’t particularly agree or disagree with this, I do appreciate how some people are keeping pieces of the past alive for people to enjoy.  Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is an open-air museum, heritage park, and resort located in the quiet town of Bagac, Bataan.  It’s owners have taken 18th century buildings from all over the Philippines, transplanted and rebuilt them at an idyllic location by the sea.  Seeing these restored buildings together makes for a unique time travel-like experience.  The interior of the Hotel de Oriente, pictured above, left me breathless with its grandeur.  While it’s not the original interior of the hotel, it is a celebration of native Filipino colors, symbols, and materials, painstakingly crafted by hand.  When making this photo, I wanted to show the sweeping lines and intricate details of the grand lobby.  My tour guide Elvie served as the muse for this image as she walked quietly down the stairs in her traditional attire.


“Orangdae Sunrise”
Busan, South Korea
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2 + Cokin Varicolor Polarizer
f/11, ISO 400, 3.7 seconds

Taken on the morning I returned to Korea from the Philippines (there was not much sleep that night), this photo has both photographic and personal significance to me.  This was the last shoot with my friend and fellow photographer Joshua Herrin, before he moved back to the U.S.  I also met other great photographers on this shoot, namely Ryan Bentley and Tom Go.  It was quite a drab morning at Orangdae shrine in Busan when the sun decided it wasn’t coming out.  However, I think we all made do and came away with some nice images.  This one in particular showed a lot of great texture in the rocks, with the distinctly Asian backdrop.  The slightly long exposure showed just enough wave movement and the Cokin Varicolor Polarizer completed the image with its blue and yellow toning, making this one of my favorite images of the year.


“Morning Stretch”
Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2 + Cokin Varicolor Polarizer
f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/90 sec

Barely a week after getting back to Korea, I was on an airplane again.  This time it headed towards Hong Kong.  I had been dreaming of going to Hong Kong for ages, and in 2016 year my dream came true.  The city lived up to all of my expectations and it quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world.  The mix of modernity and old-world charm was just spectacular.  And oh, that skyline!  Hong Kong is such a great place for street photography, with character (and characters) everywhere.  This particular photo was taken during a morning stroll along Victoria Harbor on the Kowloon side.  The fog was rolling off the water, covering the skyline like a blanket.  Early-risers (or those just finishing their nights) were stretching, exercising, and just enjoying the spectacular view.  This shot incorporates several things I love about Hong Kong: the modernity, the people, and even a bit of the grit.  The unusually wide perspective exaggerates the person’s movement and shows off the a lot of the iconic skyline.


“Stepping Towards the Horizon”
Tongyeong, South Korea
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2
f/11, ISO 200, 0.7 seconds

This photo was taken a few days after my grandmother, my last living grandparent, died.  I was recalling the times we spent together, or the lack thereof, and I wanted to dedicate a photo to her.  True enough, I found this spot in Tongyeong, which I had never photographed before.  I loved how the floating platforms looked like steps to the horizon.  Add the pristine reflections in the water and the gorgeous clouds, and a beautiful photo is born.  This one is for you, Lola.


“Lohas IR”
Daecheong Lohas Road, Daejeon, South Korea
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2 + Cokin P007 Infrared Filter
f/11, ISO 320, 1.8 seconds

Lohas Road, near Daecheong Dam in Daejeon (what a mouthful!), was a mysterious place to me.  For years, I saw photos of sinister-looking, but beautiful trees growing out of a river with a crystal-clear reflection.  This year, I finally tracked the place down and made it a point to visit.  Unfortunately, according to locals, the place has deteriorated a lot, and a lot of the trees have fallen over.  Nevertheless, conditions were great on the days I went, and the water level was perfect to show reflections.  To put a slightly different twist on the much-photographed location, I decided to use an infrared filter.  I’m glad I was able to photograph the location before further deterioration sets in.


“Walking in Seopirang”
Tongyeong, South Korea
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2
f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/17 sec

One of the pieces of photography advice I give students and friends is to know and shoot your home town like no one else can.  Photographers often look outside their own area for more “interesting”, exotic locations.  However, knowing your own town and revisiting local spots again and again is one advantage you have as a local.  So make good use of that and produce the best photos of your town or city that you can!  That’s what I had in mind when I took this photo in Seopirang village, Tongyeong.  This is one of many places I come again and again looking for different angles and new ways to shoot it.  My favorite things about this photo are the lines from the stairs, the detail of the buildings, the contrasting cool and warm colors, and the human element with ever-so-slight motion blur.

(See ALL of my favorite locations in Tongyeong here)


“The Lantern Tunnel”
Jinju, South Korea
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2
f/2.8, ISO 1500, 1/40 sec

Sometimes exaggerating perspective makes all the difference in a photo.  That was the thought process behind this photo of the lantern tunnel at Jinju’s famous lantern festival.  The 18mm equivalent lens pushes the background further back, dwarfing the people and exaggerating the lanterns.  This, along with the uniquely Korean backdrop and human element make this one of my favorite photos of 2016.


“Man at Sunrise”
Tongyeong, South Korea
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2
f/11, ISO 200, 1/3 sec

My year wouldn’t be complete without a silhouette shot.  I was shooting a sunrise timelapse on Mireuk Island in Tongyeong, when a well-dressed man climbed up the rock and into my frame.  He seemed to read my mind as he struck a photo-worthy pose on the cliff.  That, along with the textures in the rocks, the wave movement, and the clouds, puts this photo in the top 10. This image reminds me that luck will always have a part in photography.  However, getting yourself out there to receive the luck is equally important!


“Autumn at Miraesa”
Tongyeong, South Korea
Fujifilm X-E1 + Samyang 12mm f/2
f/11, ISO 400, 1/110 sec

The final shot in our top 10 resolves an “issue” I’ve had.  Over the years in Korea, I always used to complain that I never get any “proper” autumn shots.  This is partly because autumn here in Tongyeong can be a bit unpredictable.  Sometimes the leaves just seem to go straight to brown and the best autumn locations are just simply out of the way.  This photo is on the list not only because of the photographic elements such as color, reflection, and location, but also because I finally got an autumn photo I’m happy with, without having to go too far.


Lens of the year (again!): Samyang 12mm f/2.0… time for a change?

All of these images were made with one lens: the Samyang 12mm.  I’ve certainly used other lenses, but what I feel are my strongest images were all shot with the Samyang.  It is obvious after 3 years (see the Top 10 for 2014 and 2015) that I have a special affinity for the 18mm equivalent focal length.  It matches my vision.  Pre-visualizing images and telling my story at this focal length has become second nature to me.  While it’s great to have a favorite lens, I must be careful not to overuse it and make this focal length a crutch.  Is it time for a change or should I keep a good thing going?  Or perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about lenses altogether.  Let’s see what happens in 2017. 🙂


Goodbye 2016!

2016 has been a great year for photography.  I traveled a lot, worked with great clients, and tried new things, such as making photography YouTube videos and timelapses, like this one:

A video posted by Roy Cruz (@roycruzphoto) on

(See more timelapses on my Instagram and Facebook)

Next year, I plan to continue exploring new ways of creating, new tools, and new approaches in the wonderful craft that is photography.  I hope we can all enjoy this ride together.

I wish you all the best in 2017!



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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. He…. bougth the samyang on your recommendation… wow. I love it. Smashed the front element right in a doorway once (for some reason my lens hood was off). Not a scratch! I really enjoy your videos. Like most aspiring photographer I spend most of my days on these “high profile” channels but I keep coming back to your videos every now and then because you cover topics that others don’t. Keep it up!

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