Hello Click and Learn Photography readers. My name is Ethan Brooke and I have been invited to write a guest post covering cityscape photography as well as cover some of the best places in Seoul to get the perfect cityscape shot.
You can see more of Ethan's work using the button below, or check out his social media profiles at the bottom of this article to keep up to date with everything he gets up to!
A little about me before I start: I have been living in Seoul for around two years now and I have been interested in photography for about a year longer than that. I came to Korea with a Canon 400D (my first DSLR), quickly moved on to a Nikon D5300 before moving to a Nikon D7500, before finally moving to a Sony A7rii. Around a year ago I decided to start blogging to show my adventures and exploration in Seoul and I run a photography and travel blog called SeoulInspired.
Seoul has some amazing skylines and that has inspired me to get out and take photos whenever I get the chance. Visiting some of the locations in my list six or seven times, I would say I know quite a lot about cityscape photography and the best locations for it.
With that, let me get started!
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Cityscape Photography Tips
A cityscape photograph is essentially a landscape photograph, just with an urban subject rather than a natural one. Cityscape photography isn’t a hard photography style, but getting a perfect city shot is very very difficult indeed. I want to start with some general tips for getting breathtaking shots.
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- Use a low ISO - Many sources will say to use an ISO between 50 and 100 (as low as your camera can go, as this will increase dynamic range on most cameras), however, this shouldn’t always be the case. There are often situations where changing your ISO to a higher value such as 400 or 800 will actually provide you with a better result. If you are using a faster shutter speed (maybe because you don’t want light glare, or to reduce light-trails), using a higher ISO will give you more flexibility and creativity. Increasing your ISO will decrease your dynamic range, so picture the image you want in your head and decide what is most important to you.
- Use manual focus - It is important to nail focusing when doing cityscape photography. In a long exposure, your whole image will usually be in focus, however manual focus can be used to reduce elements like light glare and will increase sharpness.
- Use bracketing - Cityscape photography (especially at night) involves a very wide dynamic range, something no camera can fully capture. To counter this, use bracketing to make sure you can get the most detail possible in your images.
- Bring a tripod and remote shutter - But don’t always use them. Having a tripod is essential for cityscape photography, however, there are often times when you just can’t get the perfect shot with a tripod (or it takes too long to set up). Many cameras these days have vibration reduction or stabilisation built, and while not the ideal situation, my A7Rii can be used handheld at 1/4 of a second with no blur. This is great for sunset when there is still enough light for such a shutter speed.
- Under expose rather than over expose - Cameras are far more capable or recovering details in dark areas, than in overly-bright areas. If you can’t bracket (maybe you don’t have the time, or your camera doesn’t support it), then expose to get the maximum detail in the bright areas of your image. This will mean that your image will probably look very dark, but never fear. These shadows are easily recoverable in post-processing.
The key here is that having a tripod, using bracketing, and using a low ISO will provide you with the best results in most situations. However, there are times when it just isn’t possible to use all of these, or they don’t fit with your photo idea. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to be creative with your setting and use of your gear.
Finally, gear is not very important for cityscape photography compared to other fields of photography. While getting newer and better gear does increase your dynamic range and ISO performance, realistically gear has minimal impact when you are using long shutter times and bracketing. I can still take great cityscapes on my Canon 400D!
Best Locations in Seoul for Cityscape Photography
When looking for locations there are two great and easy types of things to look out for, water and height. Obviously, these aren’t the only types of locations, but if you want to get started in cityscape photography these are two key things to keep an eye out for!
Water provides great reflections and visually appealing images, while height lets you get a different perspective on the city.
Namsan Tower is one of the more famous areas within Seoul for taking photos. Namsan provides great shots of the city in any direction (it is very central) and is one of the tallest points in the city.
When visiting Namsan for photography be careful of the weather as since it is a high location, air pollution can easily ruin or make a shot. If you want an amazing view, visit on a low pollution day, but if you want some sunset photos (such as the purple one above) visit on a day when there is a bit more pollution in the air. If you are considering taking photos from the top of the tower, remember to take a cloth that you can cover your camera with so as to avoid reflections on the glass. However, great photos can also be taken from the top of the mountain (bottom of the tower).
The Han River runs through the centre of Seoul and is often called the ‘heart’ or ‘soul’ of the city. There are multitudes of bridges crossing the river and also a wide variety of different scenes to capture. If you want any type of reflection image, the river will have you sorted! It is definitely best to visit the river in summer as it can be very chilly in winter, and before long you won’t be able to operate your camera (trust me, I know!). Further, in summer there are boats moving along the river which can make for some fantastic light-trails.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to visit Lotte Tower at night yet, but I can imagine the amazing views that would greet you if you can visit then! I visited at around 3 pm (one of the worst times for photography!) and even then the view was stunning. Standing at 555 metres tall it is the tallest building in the OECD. The only problem is that it is almost too high... It’s hard to get a shot that shows the true scale.
Definitely remember to bring a cloth to cover your camera with for this location, as the glare from the glass can be very bad. Also, bring a lens cap if you have one so that you can place your camera as near to the glass as possible and minimise reflections.
The Streets of Seoul
While this may sound obvious, it is something that many people overlook when trying to find a place to photograph. If you are into light-trials then the streets of Seoul are easily one of the best places in the world. With multitudes of bridges and crazy intersections, you can take some great long-exposure shots in Seoul.
And with that, I conclude my post. I tried to cover what I have found to be the most important aspects of cityscape photography and have also gone over my personal favourite locations in Seoul to photograph. I hope that you were all able to learn something or have become inspired to go out and try for yourself!
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