When I got the call from Silkwinds Magazine to work on a story about Busan’s lighthouses along the Seagull Path (Galmetgil), all my boyhood dreams of grizzly old men lighting candles in the night and fierce waves dashing boats against the shore flashed through my mind. Knowing full well that this wasn’t the kind of article we’d be working on didn’t stop the excitement of that vision from making fingers shake as I typed my response to the editor. We got the formalities out of the way and it was off to Gijang County and Busan to find some lighthouses.
I wanted to start this journey with the cover shot. I knew I wanted to get this out of my mind so that I could focus on the rest of the story. Knowing that the first fishing boat to make the rounds of the islets in the bay wasn’t until an hour after sunrise, I stopped by the beautiful Igidae to snag a couple of shots of Busan City at sunrise and hopefully a few fishermen along the coast. There’s something special about standing alone and looking back across the bay at the city waking up. This is especially true since none of the city’s coffee shops were open when I left! The haze of sleep was still clouding my vision, but I managed to get a few nice shots without being taken by a wave.
TIP: Igidae is a gorgeous section of the Seagull Path. I wholeheartedly recommend getting a taxi out here and walking the length of the peninsula.
After arriving at the jetty, I was greeted by a sea-worn gent who was selling tickets on a small fishing boat that would take daring locals out to fish on the rocky islets surrounding Oryukdo. I needed to get a shot of the Oryukdo Lighthouse. The Silkwinds team had a specific idea in mind for the cover, and I needed to give them several options to work with. I chatted with the skipper and asked him to pass by the lighthouse slowly so I could make my frames. He told me that due to the choppy water, we’d have to stay at quite a distance if we wanted to go slowly. No problems at all, that checked a couple of my visual boxes anyway and all I’d need to do would be to hammer out as many different compositions as I could in the time I had.
One thing I hadn’t anticipated was how seasick looking through the viewfinder would make me as the boat was tossed around by the waves. Green in the face, I stepped off the boat when we got back to shore and took a few minutes to recuperate before texting some samples to my editor to make sure we had exactly what we needed. She confirmed that she had plenty to work with and I let out a quick sigh of relief that I wouldn’t be looking through the viewfinder from the edge of a boat any longer. Once my body returned to normal, I finally had a chance to appreciate the beauty of this morning from the perspective I had photographed it. A few of those images are below.
TIP: This is not the tourist ferry and it’s a rough ride. If you’d like to see the islands from the bay, I recommend taking the tourist ferry from either Jagalchi or Yeongdo Taejongdae Park. These are much larger boats that won’t make you seasick and the jetties are labelled in English.
Feeling that I wasn’t quite done with Oryukdo yet, I tucked my camera safely in my bag and asked the boatman to take me back out to the island. They kindly obliged and dropped me off for a few minutes of additional shooting on the island. I wanted to make sure the magazine had plenty of additional material to round out the story if needed. Plus, Busan’s coffee shops still wouldn’t be open, so there was no reason for me to head back into the city!
Once this section was done, it was time to drive across to Gijang County where the bulk of the interesting lighthouses are. I had a list of spots from the editor to hit and I wanted to knock a few of the simpler ones out during the day and hit the Jukseong Dream Church Lighthouse towards sunset as it was one of the most visually interesting. So, I started my afternoon with the Baseball Bat Lighthouse and Seagull Lighthouse. While you can walk along the breakwaters and get over to these two, they are most visually interesting from the parking area at the wharf. From here you get a sense of shape. As with just about every piece of coastline in the area, there were fisherman all around the breakwater who were extremely curious as to what this foreigner was doing climbing out there with them.
I’d wrapped up this section of the shoot quicker than I thought I might, so I headed to one of the dozens of coastal cafes and lucked out with one that actually made a decently well-rounded cup of coffee. The staff at Cafe Cube were some of the friendlier folks I met along the way as well, so I’d recommend dropping in there for a fix if you need.
TIP: If you’re a seafood fan, this section of the coast has plenty of great eateries overlooking the ocean. Fresh seafood is much cheaper down here than it is in Seoul, so enjoy it while you’re here.
Next it was off to my last planned stop for the day, Jukseong Dream Church Lighthouse. This is neither a church nor a real lighthouse. It was constructed for the soap opera “Dream” and has become a tourist attraction ever since. However, since it was visually interesting, we included it in the story. Again, this ended up being a much shorter shoot than expected as the sun dipped behind the nearby trees and stopped illuminating the building. So, I headed a little further down the coast and added some additional shots of my lighthouses from the next day’s shooting.
TIP: The Jukseong Dream Church has a small museum inside dedicated to the drama, but it’s much prettier to view from the rocks surrounding it. There are several places you can get down onto the rocks and look at the church as the waves crash over the bluff.
So, that was a long day of shooting! I headed back to my hotel in Busan to make use of the massage bath before getting some sleep for the next full day of work. This day’s schedule would be centred around Taejongdae Park, the Seagull Path, and the last lighthouse keeper in Busan. Since Busan’s lighthouses are now almost completely automated, they can be monitored and controlled from a central office. The lighthouse at Taejongdae contains an office and I wanted to get a portrait of the lighthouse keeper to add to the collection. The day would involve walking the length of the Seagull Path through the park, taking the tourist ferry out to get a look at the lighthouse, and getting a shot of the lighthouse at dusk as it lit up for the night’s work.
Getting access to the lighthouse bulb itself was one of the highlights of the day. Seeing the tiny bulb illuminating the Fresnel lenses and shooting beams of light out into the distance was part of that boyhood dream I talked about. We know how all this works. It’s not new technology. But, seeing it first-hand is really something special. I was in awe of this man and his job. If you ever have the chance to go inside a working lighthouse, take it!
TIP: The lighthouses of Busan and Gijang are most easily accessed by car or bicycle. Public transport is infrequent and only gets you to some of the spots. I recommend walking, cycling, or driving this beautiful coast.
The third and final day of shooting would take me back to Gijang County. This time, I wanted to capture a couple of lighthouses at sunrise, visit a couple more cafes, and then come back down to Busan to capture a little more of the Seagull Path to wrap up the story. I started with the Baby Bottle lighthouse again and invited my good friend Jason Teale down for the shoot and a cup of coffee. Jason is probably the only person I know who dissects coffee more than I do, so I was sure to get a couple of recommendations for pretty spaces and good coffee for this story. We shot the sunrise together, headed over to the Fish Lighthouse (which was under construction, but I managed to snag a couple of frames while the excavators were moving), and sat down in the famous Wave On Cafe to pour over a book I’d just received, Steve McCurry: A Life in Pictures.
For the final set of images, I headed back into Busan to shoot along the Haeundae section of the Seagull Path. We got lucky with some lovely afternoon light and a nice sunset before the pollution settled back in and none of this was visible anymore. All in all, this was a lucky trip with the weather I had a great time exploring the Lighthouses of Busan’s coastline.
Thanks for joining me on this journey across Busan and Gijang for Silkwinds Magazine. For editorial enquiries, please get in touch!