Almost daily my return trip from work was under skies filled with grey clouds shedding rain.  On this day the summer rains had stopped clearing the skies of all but a few clouds that loitered over the city.  Taking out my point and shoot I captured shots of the mountain and city streets below.

Sony DSC-W300 Cyber-shot; f/8.0 1/320th sec (handheld) 15mm ISO 80

 

Almost daily my return trip from work was under skies filled with grey clouds shedding rain.  On this day the summer rains had stopped clearing the skies of all but a few clouds that loitered over the city.  Taking out my point and shoot I captured shots of the mountain and city streets below. 

Months later as I walked along the ridge of that small mountain the cold December wind pierced the leafless trees biting at my ears.  Wishing I had worn a hat I quickened my pace in order to make it to my objective before the golden hour vanished.  During my climb the temperature had gone mostly unnoticed as the south side of the mountain captures the warm sunlight and blocks the northern winds.

My thoughts were on images of the skyline from a vantage near the tower when I came upon a Korean photographer.  From the exercise trail she was intently composing shots of the sun as it dipped behind a bank of clouds to the south.  I slowed to take in the scene and noticed light reflecting through the top of the dead grass.  Deciding this was one of those “Kodak” moments I un-shouldered my pack, grabbed my Rebel T2i, mounted it on my monopod and captured the next and last images of this article.

 

Living in Seoul, South Korea over the past year has been a great experience.  Lucky that my job requires me to travel throughout the country I’ve been able to explore many different places and immerse myself into the deep rooted culture.  Throughout my travels I carried my camera and practiced photography as often as I could.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 24-70 F/2.8L USM @ f/8 1/60th sec (on a monopod) 24mm (38.4 mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

Living in Seoul, South Korea over the past year has been a great experience.  Lucky that my job requires me to travel throughout the country I’ve been able to explore many different places and immerse myself into the deep rooted culture.  Throughout my travels I carried my camera and practiced photography as often as I could.

The Korean Peninsula has a climate with four distinct seasons.  The difference between summer and winter is extreme, with milder weather in the spring and fall.  Each season, however, presents a photographer with a challenging set of conditions in which to operate.

 

When spring approached last year I was anticipating nice days with colorful landscapes, instead the skies were filled with Asian dust otherwise known as yellow sands from China.  This is a seasonal meteorological phenomenon where intense winds blowing across the deserts of Mongolia, Northern China and Kazakhstan pick up and carry soil particles with fine sand across the Korean Peninsula and Northern Japan.  The yellow haze that fills the air is believed to carry with it a myriad of pollutants to include viruses, bacteria and fungi.  The US Army issues health advisories to its soldiers limiting outdoor activities on severe days and many Koreans cover their mouth and noses with face masks, especially during strenuous activities such as bike riding.  Keeping electronic equipment such as camera sensors and computer vents clean and protected can be problematic.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 70-200 F/2.8L USM @ f/5.6 1/100th sec (handheld) 70mm (112mm equivalent) ISO 160

 

When spring approached last year I was anticipating nice days with colorful landscapes, instead the skies were filled with Asian dust otherwise known as yellow sands from China.  This is a seasonal meteorological phenomenon where intense winds blowing across the deserts of Mongolia, Northern China and Kazakhstan pick up and carry soil particles with fine sand across the Korean Peninsula and Northern Japan.  The yellow haze that fills the air is believed to carry with it a myriad of pollutants to include viruses, bacteria and fungi.  The US Army issues health advisories to its soldiers limiting outdoor activities on severe days and many Koreans cover their mouth and noses with face masks, especially during strenuous activities such as bike riding.  Keeping electronic equipment such as camera sensors and computer vents clean and protected can be problematic.

 

The ever present city smog of Seoul compounded the yellow haze problem making capturing clear images difficult at best.  The above shot taken from the roof of my apartment was about as good as it got for several weeks.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 70-200 F/2.8L USM @ f/5.6 1/200th sec (handheld) 140mm (224mm equivalent) ISO 125

 

The ever present city smog of Seoul compounded the yellow haze problem making capturing clear images difficult at best.  The above shot taken from the roof of my apartment was about as good as it got for several weeks.

 

The arrival of rain in the late spring washed the sand and smog from the air making for better conditions and marked the onset of summer.  The addition of an umbrella to the backpack became a necessity as the rains continued steadily well into the summer.  When a clear day presents itself during this time of the year it is advisable to take advantage of it.  The above shot was taken from the roof of my apartment during the summer in between rainy days.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/2.8 1/50th sec (handheld, braced against a ledge) 16mm (25.6mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

The arrival of rain in the late spring washed the sand and smog from the air making for better conditions and marked the onset of summer.  The addition of an umbrella to the backpack became a necessity as the rains continued steadily well into the summer.  When a clear day presents itself during this time of the year it is advisable to take advantage of it.  The above shot was taken from the roof of my apartment during the summer in between rainy days.

 

Long summer days provided useable light late into the evenings making work days viable for getting out to take in the sights.  The above image is of the sun setting behind the radio tower next to the Seoul tower.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/10 1/60th sec (handheld braced against railing) 16mm (25.6mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

Long summer days provided useable light late into the evenings making work days viable for getting out to take in the sights.  The above image is of the sun setting behind the radio tower next to the Seoul tower.

 

Summer turned into fall which brought vivid colors and what I felt to be the most favorable conditions for photography.  The mild temperatures made for pleasant outings with little to no atmospheric obstruction to deal with.  Above is a road near work and I like the contrast of the evergreens and deciduous trees flanking it.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/10 1/200th sec (handheld) 16mm (25.6mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

Summer turned into fall which brought vivid colors and what I felt to be the most favorable conditions for photography.  The mild temperatures made for pleasant outings with little to no atmospheric obstruction to deal with.  Above is a road near work and I like the contrast of the evergreens and deciduous trees flanking it.

 

As fall slipped into winter new scenes were revealed through the bare branches of once colorful trees adding a new challenge to compositions in a dormant landscape.  The above image was taken from the top of Namsan Mountain facing to the East with the Seoul Tower directly behind me.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/8.0 1/4th sec (on monopod braced against a railing) 35mm (56mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

As fall slipped into winter new scenes were revealed through the bare branches of once colorful trees adding a new challenge to compositions in a dormant landscape.  The above image was taken from the top of Namsan Mountain facing to the East with the Seoul Tower directly behind me.

 

Last winter snow fell from time to time, never more than eight to ten inches, presenting brief opportunities to capture winter landscapes before melting away or taking on the cold winter grayness.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 18-55 F/3.5-5.6 IS USM @ f/7.1 1/100th sec (handheld) 24mm (38.4mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

Last winter snow fell from time to time, never more than eight to ten inches, presenting brief opportunities to capture winter landscapes before melting away or taking on the cold winter grayness.

Throughout the changing seasons I packed my camera with me wherever I went and spent many hours exploring and capturing images in and out of the City.  With my billets within walking distance of Namsan Tower (Seoul Tower) it became a convenient focal point for many outings.

 

Standing at the base of the tower amongst the busloads of tourist I captured this image.  In a future piece I plan to focus on the tower from different perspectives and hopefully show it from angles that the busloads are missing.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/2.8 1/20th sec (handheld/braced) 22mm (35.2mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

Standing at the base of the tower amongst the busloads of tourist I captured this image.  In a future piece I plan to focus on the tower from different perspectives and hopefully show it from angles that the busloads are missing.

One thing most tourists don’t miss while visiting the Seoul Tower is the outstanding view from the observation deck at the base of the tower.  The problem is you have to get through a crowd to get to the railing where taking quality images without being bumped or jostled can be tricky.  After politely working through the crowd on my first trip I decided to go in search of an alternate location.  I found a wooden platform about a quarter of the way down the tour busses access road.  Here there are rarely more than ten people on the roomy deck and the view, while not as extensive as on top, works very well for cityscapes.  I walked to this spot many times in order to capture Seoul under varying conditions and will include a few in my piece on Namsan Tower.

 

This image taken at sunset includes a portion of the deck, the parks, a portion of the city, the Han river and the mountains to the south of Seoul.  Here you can see the diverse landscapes Seoul has to offer.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/10 1/13th sec (resting on railing) 16mm (25.6mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

This image taken at sunset includes a portion of the deck, the parks, a portion of the city, the Han river and the mountains to the south of Seoul.  Here you can see the diverse landscapes Seoul has to offer.

The city streets and rooftops of Seoul made another interesting and convenient subject.  Old construction contours to the hilly terrain creating a maze of small roads and pedestrian alleyways.  The sharp topography and unique architecture make for interesting compositions of this concrete jungle.

 

This shot was also taken from the roof of my apartment building in the spring.  I hope to complete a piece featuring the “Seoul City Streets and Rooftops” in the coming months.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 70-200 F/2.8L USM @ f/2.8 1/50th sec (on a cheap tripod) 145mm (232 mm equivalent) ISO 3200

 

This shot was also taken from the roof of my apartment building in the spring.  I hope to complete a piece featuring the “Seoul City Streets and Rooftops” in the coming months.

Inside the diverse landscape of the city there are many shopping centers and districts where you can find a jumble of merchants selling just about anything.

 

This was taken in the Myongdong district, a very popular place for Koreans and foreigners as it offers a large variety of name brand merchandise.  Caution is advised as you may not be getting a real Louis Vuitton bag or Cannon lens, even if it’s sealed in a box as if it came straight from the manufacturer.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 24-70 F/2.8L USM @ f/6.3 1/30th sec (handheld) 70mm (112mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

This was taken in the Myongdong district, a very popular place for Koreans and foreigners as it offers a large variety of name brand merchandise.  Caution is advised as you may not be getting a real Louis Vuitton bag or Cannon lens, even if it’s sealed in a box as if it came straight from the manufacturer.

Also amidst the Seoul landscape are great places to get out and enjoy nature.  You can get out of Seoul without leaving the city by checking out some of the many city parks.

 

These parks are well kept, clean and safe.  They have many paved and unpaved trails for exercise or a leisurely stroll with the camera.  This shot was taken partway up the south side of Namsan mountain in the early fall.  I hiked and ran all over Namsan park this year and I am still finding new trails to investigate.  It is one of many South Korean parks (lol) and a photo tour of a few parks will be coming to your favorite Bangkok Images site soon.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/6.3 1/400th sec (handheld) 16mm (25.6mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

These parks are well kept, clean and safe.  They have many paved and unpaved trails for exercise or a leisurely stroll with the camera.  This shot was taken partway up the south side of Namsan mountain in the early fall.  I hiked and ran all over Namsan park this year and I am still finding new trails to investigate.  It is one of many South Korean parks (lol) and a photo tour of a few parks will be coming to your favorite Bangkok Images site soon.

The National Palace located north of Namsan mountain is a popular tourist destination.  During my visit I intended to check out the Palace grounds but became sidetracked and ended up in a park on a mountaintop overlooking northern Seoul.  I wasn’t lost but kept finding myself wanting to see what was around the next corner.  It was a relaxing day full of exploring the city through the lens.  On my next trip I will try to stay a bit more focused and take in more of the palace.

 

My intent with this image was to show the contrast of modern and ancient Seoul.  Again, look for more of the National Palace in an upcoming piece on Korean parks.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/5.0 1/320th sec (handheld) 30mm (48mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

My intent with this image was to show the contrast of modern and ancient Seoul.  Again, look for more of the National Palace in an upcoming piece on Korean parks.

Another way to relax is to actually leave Seoul to get away from the city.  I highly recommend doing this as I spend a few days a month outside the city and the relief from the traffic alone is a sanity check.

 

This image was taken in a park near my work just outside of Seoul.  The South Koreans love to trek all over the place and they dress the part.  It’s not uncommon to see a group decked out in their alpine gear on the subway heading to one of the mountains near Seoul.  Mountainside trails and parks can be found from Deagu in the south to the DMZ in the north all with accommodation nearby usually in the $30-$45 range.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM @ f/8.0 1/5th (resting in the crook of a tree) 16mm (25.6mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

This image was taken in a park near my work just outside of Seoul.  The South Koreans love to trek all over the place and they dress the part.  It’s not uncommon to see a group decked out in their alpine gear on the subway heading to one of the mountains near Seoul.  Mountainside trails and parks can be found from Deagu in the south to the DMZ in the north all with accommodation nearby usually in the $30-$45 range.

During my excursions out of the city I found many things to photograph.  A specific event I would like to highlight is the Republic of Korea Army Day Celebration.  Because of my work I was able to attend the two week train up in August and capture many images of the event.  During this time I worked with the ROK/US High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachute team.  I had my camera with me every day and captured some awesome images.

 

This is a three man canopy work team that connects and flies their parachutes together after opening at a very high altitude.  It’s one of many images I plan to feature in a special on the ROK Army Day.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 70-200 F/2.8L USM @ f/2.8 1/2500th sec (on a monopod) 170mm (272mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

This is a three man canopy work team that connects and flies their parachutes together after opening at a very high altitude.  It’s one of many images I plan to feature in a special on the ROK Army Day.

One thing I do regularly is take in Seoul’s colorful nightlife.  I wish I had more images but I don’t normally carry a camera with me and if I do it’s my point and shoot.  The fact is I’m usually preoccupied and forget the camera is in my pocket.  There are many nightlife areas but I tend to stick to Itaewon which is within walking distance.  This area offers a wide range of venues from dining to a mixture of bars and clubs.

In the past the maze of streets primarily catered to the US military but has changed drastically over the past ten years.  Previously “drinky” bars lined the streets but has now been transformed to an international district with the venues of ill repute being pushed into out of the way, lesser obvious locations.  The legendary Hooker Hill still exists but is hurting for business as what made it famous has now become a target of reform. 

An effort has been made by the US Army in conjunction with local residents to change the image of the community.  The whole area is now promoted as an international tourist area where you can find a mix of young Koreans, international tourists, expats and American soldiers in popular restaurants, bars and night clubs.  While there is still the occasional lady of the night peddling her wares it is not as obvious nor visible on the main streets as it was in the past.

 

This image taken with my point and shoot is of the main intersection in Itaewon right over the subway station.  There is a light crowd out enjoying the summer evening making their way to their favorite watering hole.  I’ve made it a goal to get more images of Seoul’s nightlife and will see how that goes for a future article.

Sony DSC-W300 Cyber-shot; f/2.8 1/25th sec (resting on the window ledge) 7.6mm ISO 400

 

This image taken with my point and shoot is of the main intersection in Itaewon right over the subway station.  There is a light crowd out enjoying the summer evening making their way to their favorite watering hole.  I’ve made it a goal to get more images of Seoul’s nightlife and will see how that goes for a future article.

This last image was taken at the same time as the second image in the article.  While I don’t feel the composition of these sunsets, trees and grass are remarkable I did realize during post processing that little was needed in order to produce good images.  With this I feel I have made improvements in the hobby.

 

As December marks the onset of winter it also marks the end of my first year living in South Korea.  In the months prior to moving to Seoul I had unknowingly taken my first shots as an amateur photographer in Okinawa, New York City and Washington DC.  The images from those outings marked a baseline for me in the hobby with the past year providing me with opportunities develop pixel by pixel.  I found and built new skills and relationships around the hobby.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D, EF 24-70 F/2.8L USM @ f/8 1/50th sec (on a monopod) 38mm (60.8 mm equivalent) ISO 100

 

As December marks the onset of winter it also marks the end of my first year living in South Korea.  In the months prior to moving to Seoul I had unknowingly taken my first shots as an amateur photographer in Okinawa, New York City and Washington DC.  The images from those outings marked a baseline for me in the hobby with the past year providing me with opportunities develop pixel by pixel.  I found and built new skills and relationships around the hobby. 

My thanks goes out to Steve and others like him who make information available online.  In my travels I have captured only a small portion of the “Land of the Morning Calm” all while enjoying an interesting culture full of stubborn tradition that could test the will of many an old mule.  I welcome critiques, comments and advice on my writings, images and the hobby.

I also have much more to share and will do so with future articles on the Namsan tower and cityscapes, Seoul City Streets and Rooftops, ROK Army Day, getting out of Seoul without leaving (Seoul city parks and the National palace), and hopefully more on the Nightlife in Seoul.  Until next time, take your shots where you can and I’ll take mine in the bar.  Have a great holiday season and an even better new year.