I recently went on a road trip across South Korea, from the western part ( where I live, an hour south of Seoul ) to the East Sea. Along the way, I stopped at Mungyeong Saejae (문경새재 ). This is a mountain pass that has been relatively untouched – something extremely rare for South Korea since this nation has been developing rapidly post the Korean War in 1953 and heavily bombed prior to it. This valley has now become a national park and it once was used as the old road between Seoul and Busan during the Joseon Dynasty.
Let me be clear about something – it’s depressingly difficult to take star trail photos in Korea. There are very few places that are far away enough from cities or towns to provide a proper night sky, where the stars are clearly seen and lacking in light pollution. And even when one does find him or herself out in the countryside there’s typically a small town nearby, blazing bright neon karaoke bar lights – hence making the stars scarcely visible. On top of that, Korea often has hazy days – often due to atmospheric pollution or the yellow dust for which Koreans love to blame China. And then, well, sometimes it’s just a rainy or cloudy night.
So I found myself in a very fortunate situation as I was traveling through Mungyeong. We had an uncannily clear night after several previous days of rain. I wisely had my cable release, tripod, Rolleiflex, and some daylight film handy ( In this case I shot Kodak Portra 160 ). I wandered into the park at night. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be there because no one was really around except for a very sleepy looking security guard. Unbeknownst to me, there were three television shows being filmed there all at once. This is because Mungyeong Saejae features many traditional Korean houses, and Joseon Dynasty period TV dramas are all the rage in Korea. So I guess the security guard at the gate just figured I was there to film since I just happened to be stumbling into the park with a tripod and a Rolleiflex ( lucky me! )
The photo of the mountains and stars has that light halo at the bottom due to the glaring headlights of vans that bustled back and forth, carrying actors, staff, various directors and celebrities. I’m very pleased and relieved that these artificial lights didn’t blot out the stars. You can also see these streaking headlights in the shot with the stream and tree line. It was a really neat experience to sneak onto an outdoor television set. I got to see some behind the scenes type stuff, even rubbing elbows with extras donning traditional Korean garb ( fake goatees and funny Mickey Mouse style Joseon hats and all! )
Anyhow, enjoy these shots for now. I’ll most likely be posting photos from my 4 day road trip soon! All photos were captured with a Rolleiflex Automat A camera on Kodak Portra 160 film. © Patrick Bresnahan