Seoul is one of the “must see” destinations for expats that spend any amount of time in Korea, and there is one question often asked of members at the Seoul Photo Club.
Asked by visiting relatives from home, visiting friends from elsewhere in Korea and even via random inquiries from people abroad that are coming here for business or pleasure, it is: “Where are some good places to go in Seoul to get some nice pictures?”
It’s often not an easy question to answer. Seoul is a very big city and so much depends on factors like where you are staying, for how long and how much free time you have while you are here.
The number one subject that most visitors want to shoot falls under the very broad category of Korean Culture. This can take many different forms of course, but where to find it, or rather, them? The palaces are a great place to start. They are centrally located, extensive and each offer variety to the keen photographer as well as being close to each other and having other prime locations nearby. Gyeongbok Palace was the seat of the Joseon Dynasty and contains the very photogenic Gyeonghoeru and Hyangwonjeong pavilions and the newly reconstructed Gwanghwamun -- the main gate to the palace. The lovely Changgyeong Palace buildings and gardens are beautiful through all four seasons -- they reflect and present the seasonal transitions very attractively to the photographer.
Traditional scenes and cultural spots of other varieties lie within a 20 minute walk of either palace. The well-preserved Korean Hanok houses of the Samcheong-Dong neighborhood, Jogyesa Buddhist Temple, Cheongyecheon Stream and that evergreen tourist destination of Insadong are the most popular examples. Excellent photographic locations all.
Seoul is also a street photographer’s paradise. This densely populated city with many local markets, street food stalls and small parks presents opportunities galore for those with an eye for people and their daily life. The clothing markets around Dongdaemun and especially the extensive street market in Namdaemun are hotbeds of human interaction and the bustle of city life. The club and bar life in the Hongdae area is colorful and varied. The proximity to several universities ensures an eclectic -- and often eccentric -- crowd there in the evenings. For something a little different, try the Noryangjin Fish Market -- a mind-boggling array of seafood and seafood sellers. Just a note on street shooting, many people are a little camera-shy, so be sure to be considerate and ask beforehand if you can before snapping away. T
here’s not much in the way of conventional landscape photography here in Seoul, but there is a lot of scope for the urban equivalent. A short hike up Inwangsan in northern Seoul, central Namsan with its tower, or Gwanaksan further south can yield fantastic city vistas on a good day and wonderful night lights on a clear evening.
Don’t forget to explore the many back-alleys of this sprawling city; you never know what photographic opportunities -- scenes of grit, urban decay and the dichotomy of a modern city with such a long and colorful history -- are hiding back there.
Of course, I’ve tossed just a few ideas and locations out there, so do a little online research to determine what area might be more suited to your style of shooting. Be sure to plan ahead though. The public transportation system here in Korea’s Big Smoke is certainly amongst the very best in the world so with some careful scheduling you can maximize your opportunities very well no matter how much time you have available.
By Aaron Raisey
Feel free to contact me or drop by the Seoul Photo Club on Flickr if you have any comments or questions, or if you are looking for a bit of photographic advice. Contact details are on the Groove Photo Challenge page.