My name is Don, a photographer that first got my start in photography in Seoul, South Korea back in late August 2014. This is the most complete journal of my adventures exploring and doing photography in South Korea. I’m writing these journals in 2023, they serve as a retrospect of my photography journey. I offer insights into my work and process and delve into lessons that newer photographers can learn based on my experiences. These are the tips and advice I wish I heard years ago, which could have had a major impact on my growth as a photographer. I hope the series will serve as such for you!
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My Journey From the Beginning
This journal series begins with photographs from my very first DSLR. My story in photography did start much earlier though. I never realized it at the time, but I had some interest in photography in my earlier years. I described that journey for those who are interested in another article as well as in a podcast-type video with a few image slides at the end.
September 2014 Part #1: The first journal picks up after I first purchased my DSLR in late August 2014. I took photographs right away, but they are mostly personal photographs of family and friends. I began stepping out into the world exploring with my new camera in mid-September. The article details my first little adventure to Seoul where I share some 70 photographs from Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwanghwamun Square, and Cheonggyecheon Stream among other locations, and highlight some lessons for beginner photographers.
My second mini expedition in mid-Septmeber 2014 takes me to Banghak-dong, Dobong-Gu, Seoul, South Korea. I wanted to visit a place I hadn’t explored yet so I researched Dobong-Gu, a district in northeastern Seoul. I came across a walking route for locals which I decided to follow. The area has little to offer in the way of tourism for the average visitor. But as I was on a journey to explore and discover something new within more ordinary settings, I was happy to visit.
The trip mainly took me to graveyards and tombs and lots of hiking along the base of Dobong Mountain, which the area is famous for. I followed walking trails and even discovered a small local museum of a Korean author and poet. Most of all I found the small village-like outskirts and small land of the neighborhood at the base of the mountain and trails the most fascinating, and I’m happy I photographed the scene. Here are some of the resulting images from the day of photography in Banghak-dong.
The first thing that I came across was this 830-year-old Ginko tree. As you can see, I really didn’t do a very good job photographing it. I’m not sure I’d take the best photographs of the tree even today, but surely it wouldn’t be hard to capture it in a more pleasing way. Moving on though.,
Walking around the neighborhood a little bit a came across a small public park with resting areas surrounding a small pond. The pond had lots of lotus petals and a few secluded blooms which I also focused on a lot and tried to photograph. Again there’s nothing here of any significant photographic value, but I followed a similar pattern as mentioned in part one of these articles, that of trying to capture the scene from different angles and focal lengths. I think the fact that I was experimenting in that way is a very good plus! If you’re learning photography, that is one of my biggest recommendations to you! Be sure to photograph a very good variety of angles and distances from your subject. Keep experimenting and trying something new. Even if you’re a more seasoned photographer this should be something that you shouldn’t neglect doing!
The above gallery sums up the rest of my day trip to Banghak-dong. Exploring the area I came across a variety of gravesites and tombs. The first 9 images are of the royal tombs which include Prince Yeonsangun’s tomb, a prince of the Joseon dynasty from the late 1400s/early 1500s. The neatly kept, gated gravesite is of Princess Jeongui, the second daughter of King Sejong the Great from the mid-1400s Joseon Dynasty. The rest of the images are of various tombs, a shrine, and I believe a Confucian school.
The remaining images (below), are what I found the most fascinating, the houses and small farmland at the edges of Banghak-dong near the base of Dobong Mountain.
Seoul Museum of History
I finished my trip to Banghak-dong and then returned to a more central area in Seoul where I could get the bus back home. That brought me to Jongno District, the cultural and historical center of upper Seoul. I looked around the outer area of the Seoul Museum of History, where there are more sculptures to take a look at.
Seoul Tower (Namsan Tower)
The following day, I was happy to take an evening trip to Seoul Tower (aka Namsan Tower), where I photographed a bit with my on-camera flash. I took a few photographs of the lit-up city from the tower all handheld. As with my photographs thus far, they are not extraordinary by any means, I was still shooting with all auto settings in jpeg. I had much to learn in the way of photography, but I was happy to be out exploring and getting used to my new camera. Here are some of the results of my night trip to Seoul Tower.
You can tell that the images are very amateur. Taking photographs at night of the city requires much better-working knowledge of the mechanics of the camera and the ability to use it well to create a decent image. I was using auto settings with a flash, which is a terrible idea, especially when the sun goes down. Additionally, I was photographing handheld which creates another set of challenges and difficulties. I won’t get into all the skills involved in night photography in this journal, rather I’ll leave that for a future article.
Of the above photographs, I don’t mind the photo of the love sign and the close-up flash photograph of the heart-shaped lock. Other than that the majority of the images were throwaways. (Though I do keep them regardless of such for personal reflection.)
Local Outdoor Concert in Deokyang-Gu, Goyang
One evening I was out walking around a little outside of Seoul, in the neighboring city of Goyang, Gyeonggi-do. Somewhere in Deokyang-gu (district), in a little bit of a countryside-like environment along a local stream, there was a large outdoor park. They had a stage set up and were hosting an outdoor concert for the local area. It’s just a small area, there’s no one famous attending these events as guests, rather there are local folk singers and dancers and the like. Korean people love having a good time eating and drinking, as well as enjoying good music and dancing. (This is VERY different than the nightlife scene you may imagine, as these are for locals of all ages.) I took my young son along to go play a little bit and took some of the following photographs using auto settings with an on-camera flash.
The photographs leave a lot to be desired, to say the least!
Bukhansan National Park
The final day of photography in September 2014 was a trip I took to Bukhansan National Park, a large mountain range, with the highest altitude in Seoul, South Korea. I climbed to the top peak with a couple of friends who were visiting Seoul at the time. I took my camera and took several photographs. I recall being frustrated not knowing how to deal with the smoggy-like atmosphere. I wasn’t able to capture any images to my satisfaction at the time. Although the weather wasn’t in my control, there were things I could have done to make it more of a success of the situation. That would still take me years to learn though. Here are some of the images from the hike.
I found these gates from the Joseon dynasty to be very fascinating to photograph. There are several main gates closer to the base of the mountain after walking up for about 20 minutes we came up to this gate built during the Joseon dynasty and patrolled by guards keeping watch in the past.
The hike to the top of the mountain is quite a ways! I have visited several different peaks of this mountain over the past 10 years living in South Korea. It’s always interesting to explore the different trails, discover temples or figures, and view the city from the higher points of the journey. Of course, nothing beats the view from the very peak of the mountain, where you can hang on the large rocky plateaus.
There’s something very interesting that I found when going through the images. When I first started out with photography, as seen in this post and the first part of this journey, I photographed basically anything that I came upon. Truth be told, I do that still today. However, I’ve certainly leaned towards documenting real life in Seoul, which includes capturing people interacting in the environment. I wouldn’t say it was my focus at the time in 2014, but I can see a trace of that interest in some of these images, such as the following.
Photo Archive to Date (09.30.2014):
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Continuing My Photo Journey
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