And that is exactly what the photographer intends.
"I took the photos of water, but I don't want to be confined to the subject. Rather I want to get away from it. When I think out of the frame, viewers can do so too," Lee told Yonhap News Agency during an interview on Friday.
"I grow tea but tea is complete when consumers make and drink it," he said figuratively.
When he tries to see the true nature of water, he sees light instead, he said. Light is, according to his description, "the absolute being, which you can't grab but is omnipresent."
The 57-year-old is having a photo exhibit, "Luminescence, Here and There," at Seoul's Hakgojae Gallery, his first in three years since "Eternal Moment" on the 14 Himalayan Peaks.
His latest exhibit displays 33 photos and one video, created in Seomjin River in the southern county of Hadong, South Gyeongsang Province, where the Seoul-born photographer has lived and cultivated tea while working on photography since 2000.
"When I look at the water up close, I see the whole universe there. When I do, my mind goes empty. Only my finger clicks to capture a certain moment," he said, adding that observing a subject in a microscopic way broadens his understanding of the subject.
Lee gets up three in the morning. For the following two hours, he goes through the daily ritual of drinking green tea and meditating. He let his mind wander for a while. Then, he grabs his camera and goes down to the river, where he squats and observes the flow of the water and the sunlight glinting off the surface.
"Not a single moment is the same. Depending on the weather, the amount and angle of the light falling on the surface of the river, I can capture a different scene on every click. You can never take the same photo ever again," he said.
He studied photography at Chung-Ang University and worked as a photo journalist for 15 years. For five years after he resettled in Hadong, he didn't take photos.
"I found myself framing everything like I did when I was working as a photo journalist. When I realized that, I stopped taking photos," he said. "Then one day in 2005, I saw objects like rocks and grass as they are. A moment like this, the moment of enlightenment comes to you without you knowing it's coming."
The exhibition is the last in the three-part photography series on Mount Jiri and the river. The first show, "The Vibrant Mountain," took place at the same gallery in 2008 and the second one, "Listening to My Breath," was held at Sungkok Art Museum in Seoul in 2009.
"Suddenly unfamiliar time and space appeared in front of my eyes. I was just sitting by the flowing river and moved the tip of my finger. The camera snatched every vibrant moment. That's all," he wrote in the show's catalogue.
The exhibition runs from July 20 to August 12.