Night Photography in Gwanghwamun

With my new camera in hand, a 50mm lens attached, and a tripod I made a short trip to Gwanghwamun for some night photography. I’ve always loved doing street photography, it’s quite common to see me doing that just about anywhere. Today, the same applies. I’m also equipped to do some long-exposure photographs. I already have in mind to go to the main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace. This main gate is actually called ‘Gwanghwamun’. Whereas the palace in its entirety is name Gyeongbokgung.

When people talk about Gwanghwamun, they are usually referring to the area of the Jongro district, in Seoul. There’s a central street, Sejongro, extending from the palace with a large rectangular area called Gwanghwamun Square. (There’s also Gwanghwamun subway station on line 5 here.) It’s the historical center of the city. There are several historical sites and museums within walking distance, there are also several modern government buildings and countless businesses. This area is a bustling business district with many workers coming to and from every day. To come in the day, you will see office workers everywhere.

Coming in at night, we can definitely find these company workers, finishing their work and going back home. But surprisingly we also see a much more relaxed atmosphere as well.

Let’s see what I came up with on my short visit.

First Photographs and Timelapse

First, when arriving I got out my tripod and started getting set up for long exposure. On the first try, I did some in view of the street with tall business buildings in the background. I set up the tripod, pulled down the shutter speed, and adjusted for a good exposure. At first, I wanted to capture the people as a blur, when they walk past. So that’s exactly what I did. Long exposure, but not too long. If it’s too long we won’t be able to see the people at all, too fast we catch too much of the person freezing them in our frame. I want something between those two.

long exposure night photography in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, South Korea

This is what I came up with. The couple in the middle were relatively still so capture them well, whereas the woman on the right of the frame is walking through, and we get that really nice motion blur as she walks through. She seems slightly transparent, we can still see the background behind her. I liked this image. Be sure to share your thoughts with me.

I was happy in this spot and wanted to test out the in-camera timelapse function. After resetting I made this little clip. It’s likely not very entertaining in itself. It’s left un-edited, later as the uses arise with video making, I can clip the parts that look best and use them as needed.

Continue to Gwanghwamun (The Palace Main Gate)

From here I walk up towards the palace gate, which is oriented in the opposite direction of the photograph and timelapse above. It’s not really that far, just about a 5-minute walk. The palace is closed by now, but they light up the gates and walls so we can take some interesting photographs and enjoy the scene. Again I’m working with slow shutter speeds to catch that nice motion blur. I get situated across the street from the palace gate. So I have several interesting elements. I wanted to catch light streams through the photos. To do so, and make the light streams longer, I made the shutter speed even slower than before.

Another thing that’s very interesting about the scene is since it’s dark and the gate is so bright, we get to work with silhouettes. When people in from of the gate are standing still, taking photos, or waiting from the crosswalk signal, we get to capture them as part of the photo. The following are a couple of the photos I took.

Gwanghwamun, main gate of Gyeongbokgung Palace lit up at night photographed by Seoul photographer Don MacDonell
Slow Shutter Speed Photograph of Gyeongbokgung Main Gat by Don MacDonell

I also worked on a short Timelapse in front of the palace as well. This is the result:

Final Photographs and Thoughts

My photographing certainly didn’t stop there. After spending time making the timelapse, and trying a few other photos, I got up closer to photograph more, utilizing the beautiful silhouettes. From this point, my tripod is packed up and I’m going handheld with a normal shutter speed.

Couples Silhouette in Front of Gyeongbokgung's Main Gate in Seoul, South Korea

My evening continued from here over to Cheonggyecheon, which is a manmade stream that runs through Seoul. The main starting point of Cheonggyecheon is close to where I started the evening, so I just walk back and continue photographing. I’ll share the results in my next post.

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