Seoknamsa Temple

There are days as a photographer where you need to take some time and just explore with your camera. No shot lists, no deadlines, just exploration. The other day, I was in such a bad mood that I needed to get out and visit Seoknamsa. It’s a temple that I have not been to in a while.

Seoknamsa sits at the foot of Gajisan Mountain, just outside of Ulsan. It was a place that I used to visit from time to time when I first arrived as the temple is the start to the epic drive over Gajisan Mountain. I would stop at the rest stop in front of the temple and make sure that my motorcycle could make it over the mountain.

Years later, the area has seen some upgrades but it still has the same look and feel as it did so many years ago. I am pretty sure that the people are running the shops that are selling everything from stew to alcohol with a phallic cap for “stamina” are probably the same people from 17 years ago.

Seoknamsa Temple in the Mist

I went out there to also check out the mountains and to see if they had started changing colours yet. Realizing that they are still a ways off, I decided to take a stroll up to the temple and clear my head. This is one of the nicer walks in the area, second only to Tongdosa just down the way.

As you walk up to the main temple area at Seoknamsa, you can hear the sounds of the rushing water through the canopy of green trees. I have heard of a term called “forest healing” but I never really experienced it. Walking up to the temple, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was simply walking with my camera and exploring not only the temple but my creativity as well.

As I approached the main temple area, I was greeted with the beauty of a waterfall and the sound of rushing water. The sights and sounds of this view need to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. As I approached the waterfalls, I noticed a bench next to the bridge, and I decided to have a seat and just sort of collect my thoughts there for a moment.

Don’t Rush

It is times like these that as photographers, we tend to rush our way through and click away. This day was different. I didn’t care if I came away with nothing to show, this day was for me. I wanted the landscape to tell me how to photograph it, if that makes any sense.

I slowly made my way up to the main temple area the sound of the rushing water seems to drown out any other sounds, especially those of the few middle-aged couples speaking far too loudly given the location. The sound of the water rushing past the front gate of the temple seemed to be amplified as walked along the edge of the temple walls.

It is on walks like this that you notice the little details like how the moss grows between the rocks on the wall at you approach the temple. You hear the birds in the trees and the sound of the sand or gravel crunch under your foot as you enter the main area of the temple.

With Seoknamsa, I typically start at the far end of the temple and work my way back to the gates. I do this because the area at the far end of the temple is elevated and offers a great view of the main temple area. One misty and rainy days, this will give you some wonderful shots.

Take Your Time Walking Back

Heading down the stairs behind the main hall, I wander along the paths between the temple buildings. I try to be as quiet as I can as I feel that this allows people to simply act normal and not focus on me taking pictures. Leaving the main temple area, I walk over the little bridge to the right as you leave the main gates of the temple. I follow the path back down to the main bridge exploring the different viewpoints along the way.

Back to the bridge, you can carefully venture down to the rocks to get a closer view of the waterfalls. This is where I spend a decent amount of time. On this particular occasion, I was wanting to capture some long exposure shots of the falls. So I used a 10-stop filter and took my time.

The shots at this time of day, even with the 10-stop filter on were relatively quick. For golden hour shots they can sometimes take up to 8 minutes but here it was around 50 seconds or so. It was a nice change and yielded some nice results.

Adding a Little Mystery

When I arrived home, I started editing these shots. I wasn’t expecting anything amazing but I after seeing the mist in the shots, I wanted to add something to them that created a certain mood. I found that the presets that I picked up from Peter McKinnon worked well.

These presets have a certain mood to them that can be a challenge to find a suitable subject. Here, they fit the mood perfectly. I was also surprised that Peter actually “liked” the post that I made on twitter about the shots. That was a nice way to end the day of creative exploration.

The bottomline here is that sometimes you just have to explore and see where the day takes you. The COVID outbreak has had a negative impact on my livelihood here. My classes have been cancelled and events have been indefinitely postponed. Meaning that I have more time than money these days. The stress of which cripples my creativity. Hence, the need to get out and relieve some stress.

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