With the sun below the horizon the masses pressed tightly to gain a vantage from the lakes edge. I slowly strolled through the crowd behind them feeling at home among the many photographers. Searching for an angle, I looked where all of the cameras were aimed and then turned facing the opposite direction. There, lay a courtyard adjacent a stages seating area that had long been filled and overflowing into the green lawn. Moving to the far side of the courtyard I turned back in the direction the cameras were aimed and composed a shot.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 34mm f/2.8 ISO 1600 1/60th sec

With the sun below the horizon the masses pressed tightly to gain a vantage from the lakes edge.  I slowly strolled through the crowd behind them feeling at home among the many photographers.  Searching for an angle, I looked where all of the cameras were aimed and then turned facing the opposite direction.  There, lay a courtyard adjacent a stages seating area that had long been filled and overflowing into the green lawn.   Moving to the far side of the courtyard I turned back in the direction the cameras were aimed and composed a shot.

 

Earlier that afternoon exit five of the Gyeongbokgung subway station led me under the National Palace Museum of Korea out into the large walled off courtyard separating the palace grounds from the city.  I walked to the east between the two southern gates to the ticket kiosk and purchased a 3000 won (less than $3 US) entry ticket.  With the shadows lengthening I stopped briefly to capture the courtyard and entrance to the reconstructed history of Seoul.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 16mm f/2.8 ISO 100 1/3200th sec

Earlier that afternoon exit five of the Gyeongbokgung subway station led me under the National Palace Museum of Korea out into the large walled off courtyard separating the palace grounds from the city.  I walked to the east between the two southern gates to the ticket kiosk and purchased a 3000 won (less than $3 US) entry ticket.  With the shadows lengthening I stopped briefly to capture the courtyard and entrance to the reconstructed history of Seoul.

 

Following the crowd of tourists through the main gate I found myself in a labyrinth of restored buildings replicating the 1394-95 architecture of the Korean Joseon Dynasty.  Here, visitors may wander throughout the complexes many alcoves, rooms and passages within the palace walls.  Many families were out enjoying the weather with children in tow exploring the buildings and courtyards.

Canon 5DIII with EF 24-105mm F/4.0L USM lens handheld @ 24mm f/4.0 ISO 100 1/400th sec

Following the crowd of tourists through the main gate I found myself in a labyrinth of restored buildings replicating the 1394-95 architecture of the Korean Joseon Dynasty.  Here, visitors may wander throughout the complexes many alcoves, rooms and passages within the palace walls.  Many families were out enjoying the weather with children in tow exploring the buildings and courtyards.

 

Engulfed in spring, green trees and budding flowers can be found on the outskirts of the central buildings.  It was here in the western courtyard, walled away from the city, that I found a large manmade lake with a pavilion in its center.  On the lakes edge a gathering of around 30 photographers had set up tripods and were milling about.  Thinking it was some sort of photography club or workshop I took a few pictures and continued to explore.  South of the lake stands a building with a south facing stage where Korean artists were performing traditional folk music and dances.  I watched briefly, then taking note of the next performance time continued on my way.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 16mm f/3.2 ISO 100 1/640th sec

Engulfed in spring, green trees and budding flowers can be found on the outskirts of the central buildings.  It was here in the western courtyard, walled away from the city, that I found a large manmade lake with a pavilion in its center.  On the lakes edge a gathering of around 30 photographers had set up tripods and were milling about.  Thinking it was some sort of photography club or workshop I took a few pictures and continued to explore.  South of the lake stands a building with a south facing stage where Korean artists were performing traditional folk music and dances.  I watched briefly, then taking note of the next performance time continued on my way.

 

Days can easily be filled exploring the network of passages and courtyard encircled inner buildings throughout the palace grounds.  From an amateur photographers perspective the palace provides user-friendly compositions with adequate lighting throughout the day.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 16mm f/3.2 ISO 100 1/1000th sec

Days can easily be filled exploring the network of passages and courtyard encircled inner buildings throughout the palace grounds.  From an amateur photographers perspective the palace provides user-friendly compositions with adequate lighting throughout the day.

 

The majority of the standing buildings are replicas of a former chapter in Korean history.  The original palace, destroyed by Japanese invasion during the 1500s, was rebuilt in the late 1860s only to be destroyed again by Japanese occupation during the 20th century.  The outcome of WWII ended the Japanese threat to the Korean peninsula and prompted disagreements among Korean leaders dividing the nation in two.  The resulting conflict between the North and South remains in a stalemate to this day.  In 1989 with the US military firmly securing its northern border the South Korean government began a forty-year initiative to rebuild the palace to its pre Japanese occupation state.  Currently the palace structures are over forty percent restored.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 16mm f/3.2 ISO 100 1/1600th sec

The majority of the standing buildings are replicas of a former chapter in Korean history.  The original palace, destroyed by Japanese invasion during the 1500s, was rebuilt in the late 1860s only to be destroyed again by Japanese occupation during the 20th century.  The outcome of WWII ended the Japanese threat to the Korean peninsula and prompted disagreements among Korean leaders dividing the nation in two.  The resulting conflict between the North and South remains in a stalemate to this day.  In 1989 with the US military firmly securing its northern border the South Korean government began a forty-year initiative to rebuild the palace to its pre Japanese occupation state.  Currently the palace structures are over forty percent restored.

 

I spent a couple of hours winding my way through the maze of passages continually working my way towards the northern wall.  At times I would have to wait for small crowds to clear in order to avoid having other sightseers and photographers in my compositions.  I shot the above image several times before getting one without an unintended head or body popping into the picture.

Canon 5DIII with EF 24-105mm F/4.0L USM lens handheld @ 35mm f/4.0 ISO 100 1/125th sec

I spent a couple of hours winding my way through the maze of passages continually working my way towards the northern wall.  At times I would have to wait for small crowds to clear in order to avoid having other sightseers and photographers in my compositions.  I shot the above image several times before getting one without an unintended head or body popping into the picture.

 

Bright colored sweeping overhangs of Chinese architectural design under pinnacles lined with gargoyle like statues is the norm throughout the palace.  The near symmetrical patterned buildings arrayed in symmetry with neighboring buildings draw the eye introducing artistic patterns into the composition.

Canon 5DIII with EF 24-105mm F/4.0L USM lens handheld @ 28mm f/4.0 ISO 100 1/500th sec

Bright colored sweeping overhangs of Chinese architectural design under pinnacles lined with gargoyle like statues is the norm throughout the palace.  The near symmetrical patterned buildings arrayed in symmetry with neighboring buildings draw the eye introducing artistic patterns into the composition.

 

A new goal of mine is to test the application of the internal High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability of my new Canon 5DIII.  Processed completely in camera three consecutive shots are taken at increasing exposures, saved and then combined into a fourth JPEG image.  I’ve been experimenting with this since the camera arrived with varying levels of success.  The above image was shot from outside a palace window through the building and out an opposite window during normal daylight with no inner lighting.  While I think it’s an interesting composition, the process of increasing the dynamic range sacrificed the time it takes for multiple exposures at extending shutter speeds.  Due to this, movement by the subject and/or photographer resulted in a blurred image.  Many thanks to this couple who was rewarded for their modeling efforts with a similar image of handsome white ape pointing a camera through the opposite window at them. I wonder if they were shooting HDR as well.

Canon 5DIII with EF 24-105mm F/4.0L USM lens handheld @ 98mm f/4.0 ISO 100 (1/15th-1/60th-1/125th)sec

A new goal of mine is to test the application of the internal High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability of my new Canon 5DIII.  Processed completely in camera three consecutive shots are taken at increasing exposures, saved and then combined into a fourth JPEG image.  I’ve been experimenting with this since the camera arrived with varying levels of success.  The above image was shot from outside a palace window through the building and out an opposite window during normal daylight with no inner lighting.  While I think it’s an interesting composition, the process of increasing the dynamic range sacrificed the time it takes for multiple exposures at extending shutter speeds.  Due to this, movement by the subject and/or photographer resulted in a blurred image.  Many thanks to this couple who was rewarded for their modeling efforts with a similar image of handsome white ape pointing a camera through the opposite window at them. I wonder if they were shooting HDR as well.

 

Continuing to look for successful ways to utilize HDR I shot the above four images.  They are combined to show varying levels of success or failure. All were hand held shots braced on a window ledge, each contains varying degrees if blur.  The top left without a moving subject was the most successful and, as well as the other three, would have benefitted from a tripod.  The top right with the woman in the pink hat, who insisted on being in several on my compositions that day, contains motion blur from her movements.  The bottom left image, to me, seems to be mostly blurred from camera movement, as there is no noticeable halo around the woman.  The bottom right again shows excessive blur from an unsteady camera. It seems apparent that a tripod is a necessity in order to achieve solid results.

Continuing to look for successful ways to utilize HDR I shot the above four images.  They are combined to show varying levels of success or failure. All were hand held shots braced on a window ledge, each contains varying degrees if blur.  The top left without a moving subject was the most successful and, as well as the other three, would have benefitted from a tripod.  The top right with the woman in the pink hat, who insisted on being in several on my compositions that day, contains motion blur from her movements.  The bottom left image, to me, seems to be mostly blurred from camera movement, as there is no noticeable halo around the woman.  The bottom right again shows excessive blur from an unsteady camera. It seems apparent that a tripod is a necessity in order to achieve solid results.

 

Continuing to the northern edges of the palace grounds I found a second manmade lake with an island in the center.  On the island is the Hyangwonjeong pavilion, which loosely translates to “building of far-reaching fragrance”.  It makes me wonder what the fragrance was that the builders felt the need to place it out in the middle of a lake. Nonetheless, the lakes glasslike surface dotted with lily pads makes picturesque scene.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 21mm f/2.8 ISO 100 1/400th sec

Continuing to the northern edges of the palace grounds I found a second manmade lake with an island in the center.  On the island is the Hyangwonjeong pavilion, which loosely translates to “building of far-reaching fragrance”.  It makes me wonder what the fragrance was that the builders felt the need to place it out in the middle of a lake. Nonetheless, the lakes glasslike surface dotted with lily pads makes picturesque scene.

 

During an outing last fall while walking around the palaces outer walls I was stopped by a security officer and informed that pictures were not allowed.  When I arrived at this northern gate directly opposite the “Blue House” presidential residence I noted Korean nationals freely snapping images right in front of the guards.  Assuming the “When in Rome” attitude I resumed taking pictures capturing the fall leaves and pretty ladies through the arch.

Canon EOS Rebel T2i 550D with EF 16-35 F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 34mm f/2.8 ISO 1600 1/60th sec

During an outing last fall while walking around the palaces outer walls I was stopped by a security officer and informed that pictures were not allowed.  When I arrived at this northern gate directly opposite the “Blue House” presidential residence I noted Korean nationals freely snapping images right in front of the guards.  Assuming the “When in Rome” attitude I resumed taking pictures capturing the fall leaves and pretty ladies through the arch.

 

My plan this trip was to approach the arch from the inside and capture an image of the “Blue House” through it. This I did, producing a decent image but I would like to take more time to do it right.  While taking the picture the feeling of watchful eyes came over me hastening my actions and prompting me to shoot quickly without thought.  After taking the pictures from inside I walked through the gate with my camera in hand to check out the lighting on the other side.  A business suited security officer on the far side of the road to notice me and quickly signaled to the palace security.  Not waiting around to allow the officials to ruin my evening I made my way back into the palace.  I’m sure if they wanted to catch up with me I would be easy to spot so my infraction must not have been too serious.

Canon 5DIII with EF 24-105mm F/4.0L USM lens handheld @ 35mm f/4.0 ISO 100 1/125th sec

My plan this trip was to approach the arch from the inside and capture an image of the “Blue House” through it. This I did, producing a decent image but I would like to take more time to do it right.  While taking the picture the feeling of watchful eyes came over me hastening my actions and prompting me to shoot quickly without thought.  After taking the pictures from inside I walked through the gate with my camera in hand to check out the lighting on the other side.  A business suited security officer on the far side of the road to notice me and quickly signaled to the palace security.  Not waiting around to allow the officials to ruin my evening I made my way back into the palace.  I’m sure if they wanted to catch up with me I would be easy to spot so my infraction must not have been too serious.

 

The parks’ closing time is 1800 during the summer months so time remained for more images.  I proceeded back to the first lake and captured the above image of the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion with its reflection on the water.  The crowd surrounding the lake had grown considerably larger by this time so I decided to move again back to the inner palace for a few shots before returning for the last folk show of the day.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 26mm f/2.8 ISO 100 1/320th sec

The parks’ closing time is 1800 during the summer months so time remained for more images.  I proceeded back to the first lake and captured the above image of the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion with its reflection on the water.  The crowd surrounding the lake had grown considerably larger by this time so I decided to move again back to the inner palace for a few shots before returning for the last folk show of the day.

 

Finding a courtyard with a view of the sun setting behind a mountain I squeezed my rather large frame as far as I could into a corner in order to capture the above image.  This is another instance where a tripod or monopod might have proven useful.  After a couple of shots I wanted to stay until the sun was past the horizon but was instead ushered out of the area by park workers as they cleared the grounds for closing.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 16mm f/8.0 ISO 100 1/80th sec

Finding a courtyard with a view of the sun setting behind a mountain I squeezed my rather large frame as far as I could into a corner in order to capture the above image.  This is another instance where a tripod or monopod might have proven useful.  After a couple of shots I wanted to stay until the sun was past the horizon but was instead ushered out of the area by park workers as they cleared the grounds for closing.

 

On days when special events take place in the park certain areas remain open past closing time.  Such was the case with the folk dancers at the western lake where the large crown was gathering.  Upon my return it was obvious that what I earlier thought to be a photography club was actually an assemblage of random photographers gathering to capture a special event.  Packed into every available inch of space along the lakes west and southern banks were photographers, tripods and cameras.  Pressed up against and straddling a length of chain fencing was the front rank.  Some kneeling where they could with tripods lowered and a second rank behind them with tripods at eye level.  Behind the second rank stood a third with tripods and lenses offset.  It all took on the resemblance of a crude American Civil War formation.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 34mm f/2.8 ISO 1600 1/250th sec

On days when special events take place in the park certain areas remain open past closing time.  Such was the case with the folk dancers at the western lake where the large crown was gathering.  Upon my return it was obvious that what I earlier thought to be a photography club was actually an assemblage of random photographers gathering to capture a special event.  Packed into every available inch of space along the lakes west and southern banks were photographers, tripods and cameras.  Pressed up against and straddling a length of chain fencing was the front rank.  Some kneeling where they could with tripods lowered and a second rank behind them with tripods at eye level.  Behind the second rank stood a third with tripods and lenses offset.  It all took on the resemblance of a crude American Civil War formation.

The amount of digital technology with quality glass attached was impressive to say the least and the stereotype of picture happy Asians rang true on this night.  Finally, behind the ranks of tripods was a mass of cell phone wielding amateurs and well… me.  I still hadn’t figured out what the draw was so I roamed around in the back wondering if there was going to be some sort of extravagant laser show with erupting fountains and exploding fireworks.  Of course none of this came to pass and as the light of day faded it became as clear as its reflection on the water.  The layout of the lake with the lighted pavilion in its center is unique as it’s only accessible from two sides.  This leaves the north and eastern sides void of people with the sweeping palace roofs as a natural backdrop.  The pavilion and its watery floodlit reflection under the twilight was an opportunity only presented on days the park is open after sunset. Moving back and shooting images of the crowd was my only real chance of any type of decent composition so I did what I could, changed lenses and moved on to the folk show.

 

Across the lawn from the lake musicians sat on stage dressed in bright red awaiting the other performers.  With a slight height advantage over the surrounding Koreans I set up in the crowd to the left of the stage.  My vantage was from ground level shooting up between two sets of stage lights.  With the 70-200mm f2.8 mounted, aperture set on f8.0 (I’m not sure why but it worked out) and metered using the histogram.  Adjusting the ISO I looked for a reasonable shutter speed to capture the slow movement of the dancers I had witnessed earlier.

Canon 5DIII with EF 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM lens handheld @ 200mm f/8.0 ISO 2000 1/320th sec

Across the lawn from the lake musicians sat on stage dressed in bright red awaiting the other performers.  With a slight height advantage over the surrounding Koreans I set up in the crowd to the left of the stage.  My vantage was from ground level shooting up between two sets of stage lights.  With the 70-200mm f2.8 mounted, aperture set on f8.0 (I’m not sure why but it worked out) and metered using the histogram.  Adjusting the ISO I looked for a reasonable shutter speed to capture the slow movement of the dancers I had witnessed earlier.

 

The doors behind the band opened and onto the stage came the attractive troupe of Korean ladies complete with flowerpots on top of their heads.  The above image is approximately a 1:1 crop that I’m calling a success, with the help of the attractive ladies of course.

Canon 5DIII with EF 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM lens handheld @ 200mm f/8.0 ISO 2000 1/100th sec

The doors behind the band opened and onto the stage came the attractive troupe of Korean ladies complete with flowerpots on top of their heads.  The above image is approximately a 1:1 crop that I’m calling a success, with the help of the attractive ladies of course.

 

The colorful hanbok dresses lit up nicely under the stage lights working well with the exposure settings I had dialed in.

Canon 5DIII with EF 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM lens handheld @ 150mm f/8.0 ISO 2000 1/320th sec

The colorful hanbok dresses lit up nicely under the stage lights working well with the exposure settings I had dialed in.

 

When the music ended the ladies crowned in flowers took a bow and left the stage.  Satisfied with the days outing I headed for home ready to process the days capture.

Canon 5DIII with EF 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM lens handheld @ 200mm f/8.0 ISO 2000 1/320th sec

When the music ended the ladies crowned in flowers took a bow and left the stage.  Satisfied with the days outing I headed for home ready to process the days capture.

 

Earlier, after capturing the image from across the courtyard,  I moved back to the mass of photographers and recomposed for another shot.  Choosing the crowd as my subject with their subject as the backdrop I captured and leave with you one of my favorite shots of the day.

Canon 5DIII with EF 16-35mm F/2.8L USM lens handheld @ 58mm f/4.5 ISO 3200 1/20th sec

Earlier, after capturing the image from across the courtyard,  I moved back to the mass of photographers and recomposed for another shot.  Choosing the crowd as my subject with their subject as the backdrop I captured and leave with you one of my favorite shots of the day.

 

Remarks:

The extensive Seoul park system ranges throughout the city and includes their national landmarks.  These parks are among the cleanest and best maintained parks I’ve seen in the world. My afternoon and evening at the Seoul National Palace was a positive, affordable experience with many photographic opportunities that I would recommend to anyone visiting Korea.

For palace information go to; http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264337, where information on guided or recorded tours are available. Of note, there are limited concessions inside the park so bringing bottled water is advisable.

References: Wikipedia, Google Earth