A Day in Seoul

I spent the last year and a half of my life living in Seoul, Korea. It was an amazing time and I loved living and traveling throughout the country. I wanted to make something to remember my time in Korea. This is my Love Letter to Seoul.

THE INSPIRATION

I came to Korea to grow, save money, and travel. A small part of that period I wanted to try to learn about photography when I could. I eventually fell in love with Photography, perhaps a bit too much. During my year teaching in Korea I learned about a bunch of exceptional photographers that I admired from afar and hoped to use their images to learn and emulate them until I found my own way.

Among the many photographers I found the first two I loved the most were Sungjin Kim and John Steele. Their stunning landscape photos drove me to continue to practice and practice as much as I could. My goal was simply to have 1 photo that I was proud of, one photo to turn into a big picture for that one day when I finally had my own home, and it would serve as the fond memories I had in Korea and the first step of this amazing journey I have been able to share with my girlfriend Megan.

My first idea was to shoot 12 different locations on my last 12 weeks during Korea and hope that one of them would nail it. Those last 12 weeks I had Wednesdays off, so that was my day to have planned, research, pack food, travel and shoot with no exceptions just to hope and get a single photo that I thought would be of professional caliber and I was pretty fucking intimated. But one image by John Steele stood out and I knew I wanted to try my hand at it and I did. Here is John’s photo that started the idea in my head.

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Here is the best photo I was able to get.

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CHANGE OF PLANS

After that day, I saw a video called “Enter Pyongyang” by Rob Whitworth that made me change my project overnight. I seriously encourage you to watch, it will take your breath away. Afterwards I searched for more of Rob’s work and I think watched all of his videos 3 or 4 times each. His videos on Kuala Lumpur and Barcelona GO!, I watched maybe 20-30 times each. I even went so far to e-mail the poor guy like a crazy swimfan each time he released a new video just to tell him how blown away and inspired I was. I assume he thinks I am fucking crazy, he was nice enough to respond by the way. Megan told me to stop e-mailing him because she thought it might be getting weird.

LEARNING TIMELAPSE

I had never seen anything like it, but knew I wanted to try it badly.

I now had 12 weeks to learn how the hell to do a timelapse, but then also add moving the camera in the mix, as well as try to tell a story. The first step was to learn how to do a timelapse, and hopefully a holy grail timelapse. A holy grail timelapse is when a timelapse begins either before sunrise/sunset and goes well past it, made difficult by the dramatic change in light over the course of the hours.

I failed 5-10 timelapses in about a week. But learned a lot from those failures. For example, don’t try to add a circular ND filter in the middle of the shoot. Don’t change your aperture settings if possible because that screws shit up. Know your camera inside and out because when it’s time to adjust the iso, you better know which way is up or down. I ran into countless problems and struggled mightily to get the hang of it. I really wanted to nail it.

CHOOSING THE IDEA

Coming up with the idea was extremely difficult, but I wanted to create a video that shared with you my favorite parts in Seoul. I wanted to share with you, that if you had one day in Seoul with me, all the places that I would want to take you see. From my point of view, it all begins and ends with the subway.

LOCATIONS AND SHOOTING PROBLEMS

The next part of this will share with you in order the locations of the video and just some of the problems I had. But many times, I came to an area forgetting a tripod, an SD card, or my brain. Hopefully if you are interested in these kinds of things you can learn from my mistakes.

Daewha

The video actually begins in a subway station called Daewha, which technically is a part of Ilsan, and outside of Seoul. However it was the only one that offered me the ability to see people line up and get a far enough distance away from the actual subway. Most other subways, I would have been too close to get the whole scene even with my tamron 10-24mm lens.

The problems I ran into here were this was getting towards the tail end of my shoot, and Daewha has a slightly different scheme for departures. Since Daewha is the last stop at the end of the line, trains arrive and depart from both sides in the same direction. Which made choosing a side to shoot difficult. Luckily, I chose the right side because after a couple trains, every other train would pass through empty, and switch to the side I was shooting on. So if I chose the other side by accident, you would never see anyone board, only exit.

I also shot with a pretty high aperture. At f/13 and forgot to turn off autofocus. So there is a bit of flicker that I didn’t know how to fix. Were I to do it again, I would go wide open and turn off autofocus.

Ghwanghwamun Square to Gyeongbokgung Palace Entrance

The subway takes you to Ghwangwhamun square/stream. The exit has lots of historical sites near it, and during different times of the year has different displays and art, such as umbrellas, or its annual light show.

Quite a few technical problems with this place. First, you never know what’s going on there. The first time we came at 8:00 am, there were tents and crowds for a farmer’s market type of thing and shooting was worthless. Another time we came there was a concert blocking Gyeongbokgung. So I only got one real shot at this and it was at the very beginning of stages of me trying a hyperlapse. One day we were there and I tried walking and keeping the camera as steady as I could while focusing on Megan’s back having my camera fire every 3 seconds. The result was absolute shit. I did a few trials with a tripod and that worked better but took 5 times as long.

The walking scene is shot at 2 second intervals which is the fastest my card and camera could shoot at. I would have much preferred to have 1 second intervals. It then transitions to me being right behind her and us both taking 3 steps for every photo all the way until we got to Gyeongbokgung. It took us 5.5 hours, 5 breaks, 3 bottles of soju and a lot of patience to complete.

One really funny problem we ran into was people would stop and take photos of Megan during this part, making me have to wait minutes as she stood still like a rock and had no idea people were taking photos of her and were completely blocking my view of her.

The people made it really tricky to walk across the street and it’s pretty obvious because that part is not smooth at all. In addition I wasn’t thinking enough about where things were and got stuck with a traffic light in front of King Sejong’s face for the transition. A bit of a bummer, but I would not have another chance to retry it.

The rest of the walk went fairly straight forward and I think pretty well. We called it a day after that and I was very greatful for my gf’s patience and time. That was hard work for the both of us.

Gyeongbokgung to Bukchon Hanok Village

I definitely had some luck here, I had no idea wtf I was doing but knew I wanted to try this. The day I showed up might have been the second most beautiful day I’ve ever seen in Korea. This is my favorite, and most beautiful place that I wanted to show and I felt the pressure to get it right on such a gorgeous day.

The main entrance was challenging as hell because ten minutes into they were about to begin a drum sequence and needed everyone to get in a line, however I still had 20 minutes left of shooting and they said, you have 5 minutes. So I turned my tripod into a basic monopod and did my best for that one thinking I might be able to come back and try again if needed. I wouldn’t get the chance and had to do my best to stabilize it but there are definitely some issues there.

After that you pass the second gate and then go to the left where I take you to one of the more pretty buildings where private meetings and groups were held.

I was blown away by the beauty, but think I took too big of steps in between and had to slow the frame rate here to 18 frames per second. I wish I didn’t have to do that and would have shot more photos.

The last place is the most famous and iconic place of Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are stunning photos of this place all over the internet and I was excited and nervous to try shooting it on such a beautiful day. I think it went fairly well. It takes you to a door, which takes you to Bukchon Hanok Village.

Bukchon Hanok Village to Myeongdong

This shoot made me look silly. One time I forgot my tripod, another time I got lost. Then I didn’t take enough photos. But the thing that gets me the most is the back and forth of the lens that happens as I walk. I believe it is because the lens was not taped at a focal point and it would adjust a bit from time to time and make it appear as if I am zooming in or out, which is unintentional and a huge source of frustration.

The idea was to zoom into Namsan tower and use that as my point to take you to Myeondong, but at that time of the day the glare and pollution made getting that shot difficult. This shoot I tried 3 different times and took me an hour to two hours each time.

Myeongdong to the Bus

This was my most mind bending part. Complicated, crowded, and frustrating. The walking down Myeongdong I tried just twice. Having better luck when I used tape to turn my tripod into a monopod. Still had issues with the 10-24 lens zooming in and out which is extremely frustrating.

Shooting to the bus was also extremely frustrating, perhaps taking me 5-8 times to get something close. Again the major issue was my camera couldn’t shoot at an interval of 1 second because after 4 photos it would skip a photo every time. Moving the camera, trying to figure out what bus would go the direction that I want and just all the chaos of trying to transition from the roof to the bus. It didn’t go nearly as well as I was hoping but it was the best I could get in 12 days of trial.

Bus to Building 63

I love Building 63 and feel like everyone should visit Yeouido Park and see it during sunset, which is what I really wanted to show. Of all shots, that I went through this was by far the hardest, easiest, frustrating, and gratifying of them all. The final shot that I used for this was the coldest, windiest day I had experienced, walking along a bridge for over a kilometer. I would take two steps, turn, frame the shot, snap it and repeat for 1.5 hours. The bridge was too high for a tripod so it all had to be hand held and that was freaking difficult. Every twenty minutes on this final shot my hands were frozen and I didn’t know if I could physically do it without gloves. I came here and tried this shot 4 times because of framing issues and just overall difficulty. 3 of the times I saw my favorite photographer John Steele and was bummed out because my lack of planning and embarrassment prevented me from stopping and talking to him. He always seemed to be on the Han River and I don’t know why but I always wanted to meet him and talk to him and 3 times we crossed paths and I never was able to say hi due to this project. Which might have been for the best because what would I say, dude I love your photos and wish I could do them.

It was now beginning to get quite cold towards the end of the video, which is the number one reason why reshoots were impossible. Megan wore clothes that were great for the heat, but like a switch the cold comes on in Korea and there is just no way she could wear the same clothes for parts of the shoots I wanted to redo. Then the leaves were all gone and the sky was gray instead of blue. Making redo’s only possible if I were to try again next year. There were times I freaked out, wanted to cry, and thought I had just wasted all my time and my video was shit.

I felt that I could redo everything in three days with much better success with all the learning I had done from my failures. But that wasn’t an option.

Building 63 back to Namsan

One of the luckiest and craziest shoots was when we only had two days left. Megan and my phone were both going to die and we were going to meet up at 7:30. During this time the sun was going to set at 5:30 from my vantage point I was going to reshoot Building 63 sequence and then if I had time try to shoot from a bridge about 6 km away. It was absolutely gorgeous and I just finished the shoot on the bridge and decided to say fuck it and took a taxi to one of the most dilapidated buildings I’ve seen in Korea and tried the shoot. Luckily, some of my lessons have paid off and the hour on the roof ended up working out. The only dilemma was dust on the sensor that had to be fixed the best I could using the dust and scratches effect in After Effects.

Namsan to the Subway

I enjoyed shooting Namsan again. I was by myself and I had hours to try and figure out a good shot. I think I walked 5 km to find the best one and got up on a bridge and was pretty happy with the transition. It was my last sequence and I was finally starting to get the feel for the intervals of shots, moving the camera, and what my abilities and limitations.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really hope you enjoyed this video, it’s not quite what I was hoping for but thought I’d share it since it was such a great learning experience. It was also an extremely fun and frustrating way to end my time in Korea. I hope in the future, that over the next year or two when I can start to master the skill and develop my own style I may be able to earn a living travelling and creating videos like this. Until then I will try my hardest, enjoy the journey, and marvel at how fucking talented Rob Whitworth is. If you like the video, please consider sharing it.

Also if you liked the video, and are interested in travelling, consider liking our Facebook page as we journey around the world and try to share with you our images, and our favorite things.

Thanks a lot for your time,
Scott

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About the Author

Scott Herder

Scott has been traveling with his Fiancé Megan since 2014. Prefers slow travel, beer, spicy food, and motorbikes. When Scott isn't thinking about travel he is either shooting hyperlapse or speaking about hyperlapse photography at international conferences. I love travelling and learning. Currently trying to learn how to take better photographs, use this website, and begin travelling the world. Life goals to have Anthony Bourdain's job and travel through India on a motorbike!

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