Welcome to the final post in my 2023 Year in Review series. This post covers the months of October, November, and December. These are usually our most predictable in terms of weather but this year things got thrown out of order a little. Our usually short-lived autumn colours came in patches all throughout the final 4 months of the year. Normally, they come and go in the last week of October and the first week of November. The normally bitterly cold December was mostly warm except for some sudden drops well below zero. That brought with it some sudden snow storms as the weather warmed again. We truly had no idea what to expect this year. But, thankfully, all my shoots except one got great weather and we were able to reap the rewards of the slower change of season.
October – Family, eCommerce, and School Portrait Photography
October started slowly as we spent the first week still on holiday in Vietnam. I took on several family sessions throughout the month but mostly kept things open to finalise my training for my very first Gran Fondo cycling event in November. To kick things off on our return from Vietnam, we slipped into eCommerce mode for our regular Foot Locker shoots. This time around, we had two shoots in October. For the first one, I handled the tabletop photography as well as some behind-the-scenes images. Roy took care of the studio shoot as we only had one model for this round. We even managed to drag our wonderful delivery driver into our family portrait this time! For the second shoot, I took over the studio responsibilities. Of course, another “family” photo had to happen for Halloween!
Following this, I had a couple of family sessions in quick succession. The first was with the Matz family, which was a whole lot of fun! As friends of friends, I felt like I already knew them coming into the photo shoot and the whole thing felt like catching up! Next up was a morning with the Park family. We stopped by their favourite palace, Deoksugung, to work in the early morning light before the crowds arrived. It took us a little warm-up time to get the shy little man going, but we ended up with some fun images as the session progressed.
Next up was our annual portraits with the German School Seoul. This shoot is two days of solid studio shooting to capture a frame of every single student and staff member at DSSI. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of sweat, and a lot of coffee, hundreds of portraits, thousands of images made, but always satisfying!
The remainder of the month was filled with family sessions and long bike rides to get ready for November. This streak started with a gorgeous morning family shoot with Sophie and her parents at Gyeongbokgung. Skipping the queue and getting in before everyone else meant that we could snag a few lovely scenes before the palace filled up with people. Young Sophie was a little nervous and once she was ready for a snack and a break, we took the opportunity to get some lovely shots of her parents to complete the session, as well.
The very next day, I met up with the Wiesner family for the first time in a few years! It was great to work with the growing family again here in Seoul. Following this, I dedicated a week of hard work to preparing for my upcoming cycling event. The gorgeous early-autumn weather made for beautiful mornings out on the bike. Late October and early November are some of the most dramatic times of year for light and weather in Seoul. Fog is common as the temperatures swing significantly. Also, clear skies free of pollution are more common at this time than at any other time of year.
To wrap up the month before heading down to Tongyeong for the Gran Fondo, I had a few more family sessions and some time in Seoul’s palaces to enjoy the autumn light. First up was the Wright family at Gyeongbokgung. This was their first time having family pictures together since adopting their daughter a few years back and also their first trip back to Korea with her. It was a very special morning, indeed! Next, I met the Cottereau family at Peace Park for another family photo shoot. Strangely, for this time of year, the autumn leaves were still few and far between. Normally, towards the end of October, we’d be able to find several patches of leaves in full autumn hue. However, most were still the same as they had been in September, a softer shade of green than summer. Not to worry, though, we still found plenty of beautiful spots to shoot! Finally, I got to round out the month with a family I’d been speaking to for several months but hadn’t been able to schedule a time with. Lavinia and I finally managed to find a date that would work for both of us and snuck in a little autumn colour for good measure. We even managed to catch the little man’s first steps during this session!
November – Family, Event, and Proposal Photography
Typically, the trees at Gyeongbokgung peak and drop their leaves by the first, or maybe the second, week of November. This year, it was a mix of trees that had changed and some that were steadfast. But, they were still holding on to every last leaf and the weather was warm enough for us to be out in thin t-shirts! The Goodier family were extra lucky in this as we expected much cooler conditions.
As I may have mentioned a couple of times here, November was the month I rode my first-ever cycling event. I was nervous and excited and absolutely over-prepared for it. Nonetheless, it was a great experience to be on the start line with 2500 other cyclists and enjoy riding on closed roads around the coastal city of Tongyeong. I can’t recommend Tongyeong enough as a way to experience a little bit of small-city Korea. It’s a great town with a bit of everything, but mostly just gorgeous coastal views. The weather was somewhat stormy and cold while we were there, but it still didn’t disappoint.
Ducking back up to Seoul, it was time for a little event photography. Firstly, I joined the KGCCI for their annual Innovation Awards Ceremony. This is quite a big event that involves a photo wall with onsite printing as well as full coverage of the five-hour-long proceedings. This year’s event was held at the Banyan Tree Seoul, which made for some beautiful images! Next, I joined the Australian Defence Force as they guided the Australian Minister for Defence Industry, the Honourable Pat Conroy, through a series of meetings and visits on his mission to Korea. It was a busy couple of days that involved official ceremonies with the Korean Ministry of Defence, a visit to the JSA, and a War Memorial Seoul tour, as well as several meetings with defence partners in Korea.
Following this, I had a quick autumn family photo shoot with the Choi family at Seoul Forest Park. The odd autumn we’ve been having continued here as well with only a few trees being fully changed while others right next to them had already completely lost their leaves or were still green! Typically, autumn comes and goes like clockwork, but it’s been a strange year and we were still able to get some leaves for this session late in November!
I had one more morning family session with the Smith family in Seoul before I took an afternoon train down to another of my favourite cities in Korea, Busan, for a proposal shoot with Kevin and Rachel. They’d been living in Busan for several months and the rocky outcrops of the Igidae Coastal Walk were Kevin’s choice for the location. Heading down the day before, I made some sample image angles and we decided on a location where they would be fully in the afternoon sun, allowing us to keep both the couple and the city behind in the images. Thankfully, the wind from that day had died down by the time the proposal came around the next day and we had the perfect afternoon for it!
The following week back in Seoul was filled with adoption post-custody family shoots. Now that the Korean government is reducing the number of adoptions and processing them in batches, they tend to come in thick and fast at certain times of the year. This time around, I was able to work with a family I had worked with during their previous adoption, the Bowdens, and three new families! The Persson family, Adams family, and Kim family made up the rest of my sessions and they were all filled with plenty of joy. Thankfully, the weather had remained well above zero for this final week of November in a rare performance for this time of year.
The Bowdens were, as any family with four children, a fun time. Keeping four little personalities on track, especially one who has just joined the family, means all hands on deck. It was great to see them again and work as a team with Paul and Kelsey to make this shoot happen!
My next session was with the Persson family, a lovely tribe from Sweden. We had a wonderfully warm afternoon filled with laughter and family play. I love sessions like this, ones where you feel more like a street photographer than a family photographer. The dance of trying to get everyone in, all the expressions right, and still have a nice composition is a really fun challenge!
Next was my session with Bada and his parents. After a slight location change, we met up and got to work immediately in the fading light of day. Even from November, our days start getting much shorter and we need to schedule photo shoots much earlier in the day than in summer. Bada was full of zest and smiles, which made for a really fun session. Getting hungry put a quick stop to our shoot though, and the last frame I have from this session is with the little man holding onto his snacks like someone would take them away! Look out for the full blog from this session in the coming year. For now, though, enjoy these couple of images from before that moment!
My final post-custody session was with the Kim family at Changdeokgung. It was a much chillier morning than we’d had up until this point, but much warmer than we expect for this time of year. Jiwoo loved to explore the palace on his own terms and absolutely adored his father’s ability to mimic bird sounds! We took our time and allowed him to be himself while quickly springing into action when opportunities presented themselves for lovely images.
As a final session for the month before heading down to work with a regular client on some future images, I met up with the Soh family on a perfect afternoon. It’s not often that we still have autumn leaves at the end of November and it’s not often that we get a small flurry of snow at that time either! Cool temperatures may taunt our equatorial friends when they visit Korea, but snow is sure to bring a smile to their faces. We spent an hour making some great images and capturing the autumn leaves while in between shots the kids tried to catch snow on their tongues. Snowy images to come in the full blog post! What a perfect way to end the month!
In between all of these sessions, I still found time to get out and experience the beautiful light that autumn has to offer in Seoul! Here are a few of my images from walks and cycling trips around the photo shoots!
December – Family, Couple, Proposal, Event, and eCommerce Photography
I began December’s string of photo shoots with the Donaldson family after they took custody of their daughter. Initially, the family was a little worried as their daughter was very shy and nervous around new people. But, we took things slowly and let her open up at her own pace. It wasn’t too long before we discovered a few things she liked that would carry us through the session. Although she didn’t want to leave her dad’s arms, we found plenty of ways to exploit that and still come away with a lovely set of images from their first week as a family.
My next session was with Karen and Edward in the same location but under very different conditions. The completely erratic weather forecasts of Korea really did not do us any favours for this shoot. It was supposed to rain overnight. Then the forecast said it would stop at breakfast time. But, when we woke up it still wasn’t raining and the forecast said late morning for the first drops. Finally, I left the house to go to the shoot and it started pouring the moment I got off the bus! So, we met for coffee and waited out the rain together before heading in to shoot. Still, it was a great session!
Over the course of the next week, I worked with two couples for surprise proposal photos at Gyeongbokgung. Typically, I don’t recommend Gyeongbokgung but both loved the look of the little pagoda in the pond. That’s a spot we can use in the morning before the tour groups arrive so we planned to be first in the gate. Edwin had picked a spot looking back towards the mountains with full sunlight hitting the couple whereas Wei Liang picked a spot that would be backlit and actually ended up being quite atmospheric thanks to some fog that morning. Both sessions had that crisp early-December light that I love so much. No other time of year gives us this lovely warm light at that time of day. More to come in the full blogs of these sessions.
In between these two, I spent a day working with the Asia Society Korea Chapter again. This time, it was their Next Generation Fellows Summit and included some high-profile guests to discuss the future of leadership, including the ambassadors to Korea for Ukraine and Israel. Events like these are relatively simple photographically but extremely interesting to listen to as the day goes on.
Following this, all that was left for the year were a few final jobs and one massive personal challenge. Starting it off, an event for the University of Toronto for their alumni get-together, a quick shoot for Foot Locker, and a lovely couple from Australia filled my week. At William and Alice’s engagement shoot, we still had some snow on the shaded sides of the palace rooves, which made for a beautiful tidbit of winter to include for Aussies!
This was also the moment I finally convinced my friend and colleague, Roy Cruz, to get out and complete his first metric century on the bicycle! It had been a long time coming, but I finally got him to agree to go out and ride with the possibility of completing 100km in mind. Once I got him to 80km, he had no choice but to complete the 100km! Gotcha, sir! In all seriousness, it’s been an utter pleasure working with you all year and it was good to be there for this one!
Then, it was time to dedicate myself to the Rapha Festive 500. This involves peddling 500km in the eight days beginning December 24th and ending December 31st. It was looking great. We had warm weather and I had only one photo shoot on the calendar. Then, a last-minute change to the forecast, as so often happens, threw a spanner in the works. Two full nights of snow on the 23rd and 24th of December covered the ground in bicycle-destroying and potentially bone-breaking snow and ice (you can see some images here from Christmas morning!). So, my plans were pushed back and now I would only have 6 days to complete the challenge. Fast forward to the 28th and I had completed 302km of riding and was looking forward to a casual few days to wrap this up. Then, another weather report set us up for two more days of dumping snow. Thus it had to be, Friday was my only day to ride and I set off with the goal of doing at least 200km. A puncture and fading light tried to slow me down, but I still managed to finish it. What a way to end 2023!
A big thanks again to everyone who has chosen to work with me this year. It has been a pleasure to meet you all and make memories together. I look forward to seeing many of you again next year and meeting plenty of new people! Have a wonderful start to 2024, everyone!