Seoul, South Korea: If you’ve checked out my website before you may remember Brandon and Kim from the maternity photos I did for them roughly three years ago. It fact, it was that very set of photos that got my photography career started! Well, with baby number two on the way any day now Brandon decided it was about time to pop the big question to Kim. Brandon and I used to build couch cushion fortresses and have Nintendo all-nighters back in grade four. We lived together in university and I convinced him to move from Japan to Korea years ago. It’s pretty damn cool that I was able to do a paparazzi shoot for my best buddy and soon to be father of a second child 23 years later. I’ll always remember that balmy afternoon, sharing a beer with Brandon as he practiced playing his song for Kim and cherry blossoms cascaded down from the trees in the background. Who would of thought we’d end up in this foreign land married to some sexy, smart foreign ladies raising a family of our own…
Brandon proposing to Kim would mark my fourth paparazzi proposal to date. Brandon had setup a “Babymoon” for Kim as the cover story for the trip to Seoul for a massage, manicure and overnight stay. Usually I plan these shoots to a tee but Brandon and I tend to be somewhat impulsive so we ended up changing 90% of our plan right before the shoot! The location Brandon and I met at was beautiful but challenging, namely for the fact it was extremely crowded, there was little cover for me. Cover was especially important on this shoot because Kim would spot me in a heart beat if I wasn’t completely concealed. I ended up finding a cluster of bushes to hide in. The more concerning issue however was that the “grass goons” were out in full effect. Dare to sit or tread anywhere that wasn’t concrete and three orange clad grass goons would show up and start yelling at you. We nearly saw a fight break out between the goons and an old man who was determined not to give in.
Luckily Brandon had a good friend, fluent in Korean and English so we approached the keeper of the goons and handed him a phone which he was extremely reluctant to take. After a good minute of persuasion he finally put it to his ear and the voice on the other end explained that Brandon was there to propose to his girlfriend and that we wold only need access to a small patch of grass for a few minutes. To our surprise he agreed and called off his gang. Still, there were strict rules to be adhered to, we were not to go beyond the grass this the rock half a foot away in the green vegetation was off limits. Still, it was better than nothing!
As H-hour approached Brandon and I went through a rehearsal together — that’s right Kim, he proposed to me FIRST! Brandon took me by the hand, pulled me to my feet with considerable effort (I was pretending to be pregnant), got down on a knee and… didn’t quite know what to say from there. I advised him to work on that part while I got my gear ready. After he got the speech down we noted there would be just enough time for a beer while he practiced his song. Finally the time came for Brandon to pick Kim up from her massage and manicure around the corner. The game was on.
Gastech 2014 @ KINTEX, Seoul Korea: D4, a British creative agency, hired me to photograph the booth they designed for Herose at Gastech. This would mark my foray exhibition/trade-fair photography.
Having just returned from photographing the Seoul Living Design exhibition at COEX, I look back at Gastech and realize it was quite a special inauguration.
I wouldn’t hesitate to say Gastech is one of the most expensive, elaborate trade shows on the planet. Perhaps only arms dealers have exhibitions that are more bedazzling — booths shaped like scud missiles and indoor firing ranges to test out the latest laser weapons. Gastech is after all sponsored and attended by all the gas industry giants including Chevron, Shell and Exon. Major local companies included KOGAS, SK, Daewoo, Samsung and Hyundai. For all these players million dollar booths featuring open bars, baristas and caricature artists are just a drop in the bucket — or more literally, a drop OUT of the barrel.
Enough gushing about Gastech, allow me to explain what I was actually sent their to do. I was to capture the Herose booth in all it’s glory. It was a beautiful structure meticulously designed by D4 and they wanted every element to be captured and presented in the best possible way. Highlights included the clean linear design, prominent easy to read text, beautifully crafted valves (Herose’s specialty) and a putting green where visitors could win a set of golf balls by scoring a hole-in-one. Attendees could also drop off a business card and be entered to win the grand prize, a new set of golf clubs.
I was to capture all of the design elements in addition to pleasant and engaging interactions between sales staff and visitors. I would also get a few pictures of Justin and Paul exploring Gastech and the world’s largest LNG pipe, a massive 197 inches in diameter!
Overall I would say things went extremely well. I arrived early in the morning to photograph the booth before anyone was there. From 10 to 12 I could focus on capturing the sales team and golfers in action. As I had no other engagements that day I decided to stick around and capture some more of the exhibition itself.
Are you looking for a photographer to photograph your next exhibition at KINTEX, COEX or some other venue? Contact me now so we can start planning your event coverage today.hings in addition to pleasant and engaging interactions between sales staff and visitors. I would also get a few pictures of Justin and Paul perusing Gastech and hanging out in the world’s largest LNG pipe!
Overall I would say things went extremely well. I arrived early in the morning to photograph the booth before anyone was there. From 10 to 12 I could focus on capturing the sales team and golfers in action. As I had no other engagements that day, I decided to stick around and capture some of the other points of interest around the exhibition.
Are you looking for a photographer to capture your next exhibition at KINTEX, COEX or some other venue? Contact me now so we can start planning your event coverage today.
Banyan Tree Hotel & Spa, Seoul Korea: I still get excited every time I pack my photography bag for an event. For me it’s another opportunity to tell a story, and, I try to tell each one better than the last.
The Maple Gala is CanCham’s biggest event of the year. Yesun, Yuna and the rest of the CanCham team outdid themselves booking the stunning Crystal Ball Room at the Banyan Tree Hotel & Spa in Seoul and transforming it into a Northern Lights them. The evening’s program included Jazz with the James Atkinson Trio, a slide show of O-Chul Kwon’s stunning aurora images, special guests David Chatterson, Yonah Martin and a moving piano performance by Steve Barakatt from Rainbow Bridge Story against a backdrop of powerful UNICEF photos.
That’s not all! Sky Vodka was there mixing up refreshing cocktails all night long and the night’s the raffle included two round trip tickets anywhere in the world from Air Canada, gloves from Canada Goose, cosmetics from Jouviance, a smart phone from LG and way too many other cool gifts to list here.
Photography-wise I approached this event more strategically than ever. CanCham had an extensive shoot list with heavy emphasis on sponsors and VIPs. I arrived early and tired to set the stage using an exterior shot of the hotel as an opening image. I got some shots of the Crystal Ball Room early on, in all its elegance, and then moved onto to capture the gifts donated by the sponsors.
Once things kicked off I was kept very busy going between photographing speakers and guests at the VIP tables. Meanwhile, every time a course was brought out by the serving staff I would commandeer a plate of the mouth watering food, photograph it, and return it — with great sadness. I also had to get shots of the Sky Vodka bar in action. After dinner it was pictures of raffle winners and then right onto the photo booth — which was a ton of fun.
The images below are of course just a sample of what I photographed that night. I did virtually no processing preferring the natural look over every adjustment I tried. These days I find myself processing less and less. If you find great light and have your camera settings down, there is almost no need to process. I hope you enjoy the images as much as I enjoyed shooting them.
63 Building (육삼 빌딩), Yeoido Seoul: Choosing an engagement location has got to be one of the toughest parts of getting engaged. As an engagement photographer, I’m always torn between going with the added security of locations I know, and trying something completely different. I’m happy to report that Dayna and Yona’s engagement fell into the completely different category.
Koreans consider the 63 building in Yeoido to be one of the top proposal locations in Seoul. Honestly, my experiences taught me to be quite leery of anything Koreans append the word “popular” to. More often than not following the trend has led me through massive queues to kitschy venues that are grossly over priced and over rated. If it’s food related popularity we’re talking about, then I guarantee you that red-bean paste, sweet potato or green tea is lurking somewhere in that scrumptious LOOKING pasta, pizza or pastry before you. So far there has been only one real exception to my rule, Jeju Island. Jeju was awesome – perhaps because we went in low season — I digress…
Now no disrespect to the 63 Building, it’s a cool place and worked fabulously for our engagement session purposes, I just wouldn’t PROPOSE there personally, but bear in mind proposal locations are very personal things.
Dayna, Yona and I began shooting outside on a Sunday in early January — hence a BIG part of our reason for choosing the 63 Building in the first place – it was FREEZING! The other reason we chose it is because Dayna and Duncan had some history at 63, they had dated there.
After setting the scene with a few exterior shots we quickly headed up to the Sky Art Museum where a Beatles photo exhibition was going on. I’d scouted the location a week earlier and loved the mix vibrant yellow with neutral grays, panoramic views and the all important beautiful soft light spilling in through the giant windows in the sky.
The three of us worked our way through the exhibition interspersing serious, love-y, playful and downright silly shots all along the way. One of my favorites is the Zombie series at the bottom, Dayna and Yona are big zombie flick fans.
To sum up, The Art Museum at the top of the 63 Building is one of the few indoor public spaces I know in Seoul where you can photograph in great light when the weather outside isn’t cooperating be it too hot, cold or rainy. The space, at least during Beatles exhibitions, lends itself to simple, clean, minimalistic style couple photography.
Trying to choose an engagement location around Seoul? Contact me to chat more about the 63 Building and other locations I’ve used.
“Greg, do you know a good place I could propose to my girlfriend while in Seoul?” This is the question I get asked EVERY time a man inquires with me about photographing his proposal. (Sadly I haven’t had any women contact me about proposals — yet.) Ben was no exception.
Honestly, this is one of the hardest questions for me to answer. The candid, au-natural side of me starts by saying, “Choose a location that best fits with the vision you have.” Then my client replies, “I was envisioning a romantic candlelit dinner for two at the top of Namsan Tower overlooking the twinkling lights of Seoul…” and I start thinking OH NO!!!
You see, this is when the photographer in me kicks into gear. As soon as a specific venue is mentioned I start analyzing available light, probability of reflections, ease of movement, overall plan complexity, chances of ruining the surprise and ultimately our odds of capturing great proposal photos.
5 Reasons not to propose at Namsan Tower
Now, before we move on, let me clarify why Namsan Tower, and similar locations, are a horrible idea IF you’re hoping to have your proposal photographed.
1. Chances are the view won’t be as good as you imagined
Even if you luck-out and manage to find yourself at the top of Namsan tower with a clear sky overhead and a city devoid of smog and haze, a rarity in Seoul, the view always looks better to the naked eye than it does through a lens. It’s analogous to when you show someone your photo with the moon in it and then proceed to tell them how much bigger and better it looked in person.
2. Reflections, Reflections, Reflections
Did I mention reflections? Unless your very well connected or have enough money to rent out the entire Sky Restaurant you probably won’t be able to convince N-Grill staff to shut off all interior lights just for you. At night these lights cast unsightly reflections onto the giant windows overlooking the city. The curvature of each window acts like one of those curved anti theft mirrors at the convenience store picking up reflections in a 180 degree radius. The human eye easily looks past such reflections in person, in a photo they are the first thing you will notice and you can not look past them.
3. It’s too Dark
N-Grill has extremely low ambient light so patrons can appreciate the city lights. To get photos in this light you need to shoot at ISO 6400 or above which can lead to very grainy photos. Not only would flash ruin the whole surprise aspect of your proposal, it will also reflect off of the windows ruining your photos and disturbing others.
4. Too Cramped
The setup at N-Grill is tight. It’s cozy for a couple sharing a romantic dinner but there’s no extra room for a photographer to move around unnoticed. Couples sit next to each other in booths facing towards the windows. For the photographer to get more than the backs of heads s/he must get between the window and the couple and use a very wide lens due to the tight space. Fisheye lenses don’t make for the most flattering portraits.
5. It’s Moving!
Take all the above challenges and then add movement on top of it all. N-Grill is rotating, that is, the glass wall remains stationary while the floor spins. Even if you did rent out the place, get all the lights shut off and giveaway that you had hired a photographer, you would really need to have someone push the pause button on the restaurant if you wanted to get one of those truly epic night shots.
So, now that I’ve HOPEFULLY convinced you not to propose at Namasan Tower, let’s examine some other proposal ideas that are far more photo friendly. We will use Ben and Raya as our case study.
4 Tips for choosing a photogenic proposal location
1. Propose During the Day — or at least someplace bright!
From September through April the light is soft and golden all day long in Korea, ideal for sightseeing and photos. Come summer you’ll probably have to move into the shade of an open air cafe or tree at the park, it gets hot and candid photos in the midday sun don’t usually come out as well.
Ben proposed to Raya on December 31st. Being one of the coolest and darkest days of the year, I made sure we started early, at 2pm so we could catch the golden afternoon sun at the skating rink and dusk down in Itaewon.
2. DO, Don’t Dine
Despite what all those romantic movies have lead us to believe, you don’t have to propose over a gourmet dinner, or any other meal for that matter. You’re future fiancee is going to get really weirded-out when she notices some stranger taking her picture from the table in the corner. Instead DO something together! Not only will it make your proposal less predicable for her, focusing your attention on an activity you both enjoy will make for more natural looking photos and increase our chances of keeping it all a surprise.
Ben and I ended up choosing the Park Hyatt skating rink for a number of reasons:
a. It provides the perfect excuse to hold hands and cuddle each other, especially if you’re not exactly skating masters like our couple Ben and Raya. Look below at how cute they look out there bracing each other.
b. Skating demands that you come bundled up warm so your girlfriend will be dressed for the winter weather by default. This makes shooting followup pictures on the streets that much more enjoyable.
c. The Grand Hyatt skating rink offers up a beautiful Seoul city backdrop.
d. There is tons and tons of light, both from above and reflected from below. Great light is the most important ingredient for making great photos.
e. The hustle and bustle of people made it easier for me to go unnoticed. I also feel it made for more interesting photos.
3. Keep it Simple
The KISS principal never goes out of style. Don’t get too elaborate, a paparazzi engagement has enough variables as it is. Your only concern should be enjoying the moment.
4. Do Plan a Little
Bearing in mind point #3, some degree of planning is essential. You should at least agree on a meeting time, general location and the direction you will be facing when you propose.
The nice thing about the skating rink was that it kept Ben and Raya in a contained area. I knew I could cover the whole rink with my lens if he suddenly decided not to propose against the skyline as we had planned. Ben was aware of where I was standing the whole time and made sure his and Raya’s profiles were facing me when he got down on a knee.
So where should I propose?
Sorry, I still can’t tell you where to propose but if you keep in mind what I’ve mentioned above when choosing your location/venue you can at least rest assured you are setting the stage for the best photos possible.
Ben and Raya’s proposal was magnificent. They looked sweet out there bundled up on the ice together, bathed in golden light against the backdrop of the city. When Ben made his move I broke the rules and ran out onto the ice in my shoes to get a closer shot! I was soon escorted off of the ice and Ben and Raya went though numerous cycles of skate, stop, gaze at the ring, cry, hug, kiss, and repeat.
Raya had no idea I was present. Even after I revealed myself it took her a while to put it all together, she was in shock from the proposal for some time. What I love is that you can see Ben and Raya gleaming with happiness, excitement and pure emotion in every frame after the proposal. The vibe carried right through into our couple shots around Itaewon. As always, I was fortunate to work with such a great couple. All the best to you Ben and Raya!
Considering having your proposal photographed in Seoul? Contact me now to start brainstorming ideas!
Can you suggest a great proposal location or activity around Seoul? Please share your idea in the comments below!
(Note: By request of Ben & Raya I have only posted a very limited selection of photos to respect their desire for a low internet profile.)