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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

For Brad Slaney Things are Looking Down

For Brad Slaney, things are looking down these days. He, however, is spending a good deal of his spare time looking up.

Although many people have cameras and take photos of this beautiful country we live in, few, if any, are taking photos  the way Brad does. From an idea he came up with over two years ago, Brad has been taking aerial photos of Ulsan from above. But Brad’s method requires neither a pilot’s license nor airplane. Armed with only a kite, a bolt of string and a ruggedized camera, he’s been flying his equipment over the city and taking photographs from a perspective few ever see.

 

From above, the tranquility of a temple within Haksung park juxtaposes with the bustling city of Ulsan beyond

 

Ulsan sprawls out in a sharp definition from Haksung park

Before taking pictures, Brad ties his GoPro HD Hero, equipped with a wide-angle lens, a multiple interval shutter timer, and a waterproof case onto the kite. Then gingerly he sends his investment skyward over his intended target. With a 16 gigabyte SD card in the camera he loads up the card with as many shots as it takes to get what he feels is the photo he’s looking for. Then he reels in his kite and scurries home to view the result on his notebook computer. His future equipment plans call for a remote controlled live video link and DLSR photo quality. Another alternative he is considering is the use of RC helicopters and slow flying RC airplanes. In the future, Brads says it is likely he will experiment with RC helicopters, but for now he has found he enjoys flying kites so much he might miss it if he switches platforms.

Brad reels out his kite while above the clouds on Halla Mountain on Jeju Island

Brad admits this is the first time in his life he has ever regularly flown a kite, and he’s  loving the public response. Brad is a tall, bald, bearded guy teaching English here in Korea. To put it nicely, his appearance seems to shock quite a few locals. When he’s flying his kite, however, curiosity overcomes fright, and children and parents alike that may have otherwise crossed the street to the other sidewalk as he passes by now come to ask him about what he’s doing. The focus is no longer on their English ability or his appearance, it’s on the camera dangling from the kite string. Some of his favorite days in Korea have included a nice, consistent 5-10mph breeze ideal for the kites and an afternoon in the park talking with curious Koreans.

Children love to run directly below the kite and jump at it. It makes for interesting photos but he’s fearful of a wind change and someone getting hurt from the kite line. He uses 250lb black dacron, which is known as one of the safest kite strings available. At the same time, it is pretty cute to watch little kids practice their English with him in front of their astonished and proud parents.

 

From a resting area along the hiking trails of Halla Mountain on Jeju Island, Brad sppols out the line for a photo of the hikers

Although the pictures can be dramatic, so too, sometimes, can be the flying. Brad has had a couple of close calls with his equipment. He has dropped the kite in the Taewha river once, with the camera landing on the bank about 10 feet from the ledge. The camera is waterproof so that wasn’t a problem. The fear came from the fact that the camera rig uses line tension to stay in place. A wet kite means a loose line, a loose line means a disconnected and sinking camera. Another scare involved the half dome of the stadium near Hakseong Park. The camera rig was attached to the line about 100 feet up when the kite hit swirling wind caused from the cup shaped stadium seating, causing it to do a few 360 degree loops. He heard a nearby mother gasp as the kite dropped further and was sucked into the stadium bowl on the other side the the roof. After 30 minutes of daintily reeling in his kite line he had his undamaged kite and camera back in his shaky hands.

 

Taewha River Park where Brad nearly lost his rig in the river

 

A soccer pitch in Haksung Park

Should anyone worry about Brad becoming a high-tech, high altitude peeping Tom, he says the sun glinting off the windows and lack of mega-pixel resolutions should dispel any fears.

More than just a hobby, Brad intends to turn his aerial photography into a money-making venture.

I might have too many goals for this. For me, aerial photographs are great for no other reason than that they are fun to look at. The fun factor is increased tenfold if the subject matter is something you are familiar with from the ground (ie, your house).

Aerial photographs are also incredibly useful for cartography, surveying, and for real estate marketing. The applications increase when you change the camera you are shooting with. A near IR camera can be used for agriculture by pinpointing healthy and unhealthy plant growth. And with a thermal imaging camera you can spot problem areas in homes and warehouses that have holes in their insulation. Aerial videography can introduce even more exciting applications. Can you imagine watching your outdoor wedding from 80 feet up in full HD video?

Brad, 23, is a native of Madison, Wisconsin, USA and obtained his degree with a major in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and Cartography. He currently works at Nae Hwang Elementary in Ulsan.  Although his contract is up in August, Brad says this about his imminent future:

I have chosen not to renew my contract, I am really happy with my school but I would like to pursue this full time for a while. I’m not in a rush to return to the USA, so I will go wherever kite aerial photography takes me. There is an interesting photo book consisting purely of overhead DSLR images of India, I would like to try something like this in Oceania or Latin America. I think the Middle East won’t react as positively to an American taking aerial photos due to the use of military drones in the area. So far no end-of-the-contract flights have been purchased yet, we’ll see where I end up.

Since Brad isn’t sure where he’ll go next, we’ll have to just satisfy ourselves knowing that his future is “all up in the air.” (I waited all the way to the end to slip that pun in) We hope to see more of Brad’s work. Keep your eye on the skies around Ulsan and you might see him and his kite yourself.  You can reach brad at bslan427@gmail.com

 

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