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Lately, I have taken a lot of photographs.  I mean, A LOT.  Like, thousands.  Somewhere in the sorting out of responsibilities in our union, I became the primary photography for our little family.  And, don’t get me wrong, I love it.  I have a blast trying to capture great shots of all the cool places we get to go and the awesome things we see along the way.  I am much more at home behind a lens that I would have ever thought I could be.

However, yesterday we saw one of the most visually stunning things we have encountered since moving to Korea.  And, despite having my camera with me and a fully charged battery, I have no photos of it.

The annual Busan Fireworks Festival is the biggest one in all of Korea. Every year, more than a million tourists and locals flock to Gwangan Beach to see the sky light up in a way that can only be described as magical.   We watched the show from one of the peaks in the Igidae cliffs, which meant we actually got to look down on the Gwangan Bridge, the fireworks, and the crowds amassed on the beach.  It was a spectacular, expansive view.

I had hiked up preparing to shoot the fireworks, to happily click away as rockets lit up the sky and folks around me oohed and aahed.  But then I remembered something.  I really love fireworks shows.  Like small child on Christmas kind of love them.  And, as any professional or amateur photographer will tell you, shooting something isn’t really living it.  I mean, sure you’re making a record of something that you can look back on forever, but, in order to do so, you forfeit being an actual participant in the event.  You distance yourself with the lens, framing out your world with a view finder.  And when there are fireworks involved, I want my view to be an infinite panorama.  I want to be taken in  by the drama of a light show without fiddling with the settings or shutter speed of a machine.  I want to be taken in by the crowd instead of worrying about whether they will jostle my DSLR mid-exposure.  I wanted to record this with my eyes and write it on my heart, instead of filing it away in a digital archive that I may or may not ever actually curate into an album anywhere.

So I put my lens cap back on.  I oohed and aahed. I snuggled up against my sweetheart and watched the most amazing fireworks display I have ever seen without worrying once if my photos were turning out blurry.  And, when I felt a small child nudge in next to me, I gave her my front row seat and knelt behind her to watch her watch the show.  Halfway through the program, the child’s mother leaned toward me, whispered “감사합니다”, and pressed a Jeju orange into my palm.

Standing there, eyes dazzled by a fireworks show of epic performance, slightly chilled by fall weather, the smell of orange and firework smoke in my nose, I realized that sometimes living an experience is superior to capturing it via camera.

Does this mean I’m going to abandon travel photography or stifle my newfound inner camera-geek?  Definitely not.  But, documenting an event should never supersede living it.  So, there are no photos here to advertise the amazingness of the Busan Fireworks Festival.  If you wanna know what this one looks like, pack a kimbap dinner, hike up to Igidae, brave the chilly bite of autumn, and see it for yourself.

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Busan, Fireworks, Gwangan, Korea, Photography, places to see, Stuff to Do


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