Ahnyeong, y’all. Ever since serial instagramming my recent trip to Seoul, Korea, people have been asking me to do a Broke Student’s Guide / Recommendations post to Seoul. But honestly, the internet has no lack of Seoul Guides, and every other blogger who’s hopped over to Seoul has produced a long list of THINGS YOU MUST EAT AND / OR DO, which is something I’m honestly a bit iffy about. Because lets face it – unless you’ve lived in a country for a considerable amount of time, there’s no way you know all the things to do / best places to go, and anything in between is either a judgement call or re-quoting suggestions already floating around on the internet. When googling Seoul I had at least four different webpages telling me to go to a certain cafe which was mediocre at best, and after that I gave up, because I find it extremely frustrating to navigate the Korean Subway System (also called the KoRail, HA HA oh you punny city, Seoul!). I hate having to hunt down a particular cafe or place unless it’s definitely going to be worth my time. And while many of the other cities I’ve visited also have online recommendations, Seoul is a city that’s uniquely saturated the internet with lists and lists telling you what to eat and where to go, so you don’t need me to add to that.
So I thought I’d do something a bit different. Two of the most frequent questions I get on ask.fm are What cameras are you using? and Do you think you’re ever going to go on a diet? Ha ha, just kidding. I wish. But it’d be killing two birds with one stone to pen this down, because when people ask What cameras are you using? what they really mean is How do you decide where to take pictures, How do you decide what to take pictures of, and What filters are you using? So! All your questions today, answered and more.
I’m shooting on a Canon 500D, and I interchangeably use the 50f1.8 or 18-55mm lens.
For instagram, I also frequently use the iPhone 5s or the Nikon AW120 (yay for wifi cameras!)
And for this trip to Seoul, I very frequently used the Oppo N1 Mini, which Oppo Singapore sent over for “all my instagramming and selfie needs”. Thanks guys!
You can track all the photos taken on the Oppo with the instagram hashtag #jemmaforoppo.
My basic bitch when it comes to post processing photos on the phone is Afterlight. It’s the best photo editing app I’ve ever used, and the best 1.28$ I’ve ever spent. They also have it on Android, but it’s kind of slow there.. much better on the iPhone. I also sometimes use Snapseed’s Selective Adjustment function to get rid of unwanted shadows in my photos.
On the laptop, I use Adobe’s Lightroom. A friend got it for me as a gift but I believe it’s about a hundred dollars to purchase. Apparently you can also torrent a key for it but I’ve never tried, and torrenting confuses me.
To instagram, you need an internet connection. It sounds basic, but I’m just saying. It’s the most crucial part. I like my photos to have the location tagged because I want to fill up all the bits on my instagram geomap, so I generally don’t want to wait till I get back to the guesthouse to instagram, and also, looking for wifi is a pain in the ass.
For Korea, y5Buddy sent me a lifesaving wifi device which was incredibly compact and powerful – it can connect up to ten devices on 4g, is faster than most wifi hotspots, and lasts nearly a whole day even on constant use. I would definitely recommend it to anyone, especially if you’re traveling in a group because then you can split the cost of renting the device. It’s much better than the wifi egg you rent in Seoul itself – I know this from experience – and its far less hassle than actually getting your own Sim card because Korea has this weird rule where you can only get a tourist prepaid SIM after you’ve been in Korea for three days minimum, and if you’re only staying a week or so that makes it really pointless. Y5buddy made my life so much easier – not just with instagram, but because Korea is confusing for someone not very directionally astute like me. I just googled my way around the whole time.
You can rent one from y5buddy.com – they have it available for countries like Malaysia, Japan, HongKong, and even the USA. Rates are applicable on a daily basis.
And with that basic information out of the way, we move on to:
INSTAGRAMMING IN SEOUL.
I feel like when I see things now, I see them in two frames – Instagrammable, and not-instagrammable. I know, I know. It’s a problem. I’ve embarrassed myself countless times in public contorting my body in order to get a particular angle on a flatlay shot, or clambering into prohibited areas to get pictures that I think will look nice on my Instagram feed. One day I’ll get arrested and bring dishonor upon my family (and cow), but at least I’ll have had nice photos and the chance to inspire mad jealousy in some twenty thousand people across the globe.
The funny thing is, I don’t even know if I’m kidding or not. Anyway!
There are a few things you need to instagram when you’re in Seoul, or any city for that matter. One is a landscape shot. One is a food shot. And one is a LOOK AT HOW MUCH FUN I’M HAVING OVERSEAS WISH YOU WERE HERE in a passive aggressive way shot. Lets start with the landscape picture.
The landscape picture serves the purpose of establishing your geographical location in a highly photogenic and filtered way, and is usually one of the first pictures you post in a new city, probably after The Plane Window / Passport and Travel Documents shot. Classic landscape pictures include a panorama of the Tour de Eiffel in Paris, Times Square in New York, and the Marina Bay Sands x Flyer area in Singapore. In Seoul, we have the Myeongdong / Hongdae / Edae area, which are in my opinion three of the most bustling areas of Seoul.
What you need to do is, stand smack in the middle of a busy street, be a complete obstruction to traffic, and snap a bunch of pictures until you get an angle you like. Because I’m an overachiever, I have not one, but two (!!) landscape pictures in Seoul, Hongdae, in both day and night. Day landscape pictures are cleaner, but night landscape pictures can give you very beautiful bokeh effects because of all the twinkling lights, as long as you have something to focus on. See below:
That was easy enough, wasn’t it?
Now that you’ve visually anchored yourself geographically, it’s time to take a picture of food that looks really amazing because it will inspire insatiable and crazed lust in all your followers in a very taunting manner. (Isn’t this amazing? Doesn’t this look delicious? Don’t you want some? Oh wait you can’t, because you didn’t buy a plane ticket to Seoul.) I personally believe that there’s an inverse relationship between how good food looks and how good it actually is. Come to think of it, you can apply that rule to almost anything. Cue Justin Bieber.
The most popular food photo style is the flatlay. Despite how casual it looks, it’s actually a ridiculous amount of effort, and also, everyone looks universally stupid trying to take a flatlay shot. I’ve climbed on a chair more than once to get a good picture, but hashtag yolo hashtag asian you guys. The trick to flatlaying is, your picture shouldnt look too sparse, it should be proportionate, and all your colors should balance out. Meaning if you’re taking a picture of everyone’s food, you hold your camera further up. If you’re just taking a picture of your own plate, you go closer and possibly also crop out half your food in some slanted artistic way you think looks good.
Example one. This was taken in a family run restaurant, 옛시골집, just outside our guesthouse. Noone in there spoke a word of English, and they were all locals, which in my book translates to authentic korean. It was fantastic. I got the owner to type out the name of the place for me, so if anyone finds themselves in Seoul and has the inexplicable desire to explore the back alleys of Hongdae, here you go. It cost about 11,000 KRW for this whole meal, the exchange rate being something like 1SGD to 800KRW.
Example two. And this was taken back in Singapore, during a lunch meeting with Oppo. You see how the food takes up roughly the same amount of photo space despite there being less stuff on the table? This is called playing with the space time continuum.
Sometimes getting someone else to put their hands in like they’re “eating very naturally” makes the picture better. Of course, this is a lie. People’s hands look dumb when they’re actually eating naturally. You need to get your hand model to angle their hands in such a way that makes them look angular and long and elegant, but whatever. You can figure that part out yourself. If you’re not traveling with a friend, grab a stranger’s hand. They will either think you’re damn weird but go along with it anyway because they’re too polite to tell you to scram, in which case you’ll get a good photo and someone you’ll never see again will think you’re strange, or they’ll think you’re really funny and obsessive and strike a conversation with you, in which case you’ll make a new friend and you’ll get your good photo anyway. It’s a win win!
Another type of food shot that’s pretty popular is the Sneaky Landscape Shot. Sneaky Landscape Shots are shots that pretend to feature food, but actually also want to include bits of the surroundings because the place is really nice, or whatever. You take a Sneaky Landscape Shot by holding whatever it is and sticking it out in front of a nice setting. See below:
I also use these shots as filler shots, when my instagram feed is looking too cluttered/ dull as a whole and I want something to either balance out the clutter or add a bit of color to it. A variation to the Sneaky Landscape Shot is just the more boring Food in the Air shot, where you shoot it against a solid background, like a brick wall or some wood, usually for feed decluttering purposes. Wood is always nice. *insert inappropriate joke here*
Remember how I said that food usually either looks or tastes good? This Honeycomb ice cream is something everyone raves about, and yet it tasted like a wannabe McFlurry. The honeycomb itself was good, but that doesn’t really impress me because you don’t exactly need skill to prepare honeycomb, you just need to cut off a bit from a slab of existing honeycomb. The soft serve, which is what I presume takes a bit more expertise to prepare since you have to mix the ingredients and all, was way too milky and melted too fast. And yet, two thousand likes. You see what I mean?
This was from Milk Cow in Garuso-Gil. They also have other chains selling this honeycomb ice cream, like HoneyBee and SoftTree, but I didn’t try any of the rest because I had already been disappointed once and also, I already had my instagram shot and I didn’t need more of the same.
Sometimes, when flat lays don’t work and there’s too much food to hold up, you take a side on shot.
Banana Tree is the only cafe I actively hunted down because of their fabled Cotton Candy Latte and Flower Pot Cakes, which I thought sounded interesting. I went to the branch at Garuso-Gil, which incidentally is also called the Tree Lined Street, which I thought was pretty rich because I walked round and round and the trees looked exactly the same as everywhere else in Korea.
The Cotton Candy Latte looks strange from the top, so I had to take it from a variety of different angles to try and make it work. You know: Top, Side, Posing with Food, Acting Surprised at Food, etcetera etcetera.
Finally, I settled on this.
Two thousand likes! I’m on a roll. What a beautiful balance of colors and proportion. It well and truly served its purpose, that sole purpose being creating a good picture for instagram. As a latte, it was mindblowingly average. I don’t even like Cotton Candy that much so I gave that bit to Cindy. And the flowerpot cake was interesting, which means to say I’m undecided on it, and also possibly very diabetic. I had to drink a lot of water to recover from that meal. I was half annoyed because all the reviews I read online called the cake was soft, spongy, and amazing. Amazingly average, you mean.
I don’t mean to be overly critical though. I had a good time at this particular cafe. I’m a sucker for pretty things, and both the food and the cafe owners were exactly that. The cafe owners were actually really, really nice, and helped me make a call / google map my way to another shop because we’d left our portable charger there earlier. If you’re in the area and into themed cafes, I think you should drop by, if only for the experience.
Since we’re on the topic of cafes, I might as well continue. This is something I truly love about Seoul – that I can walk into any random cafe, buy a cuppa, and not have to worry about being ambushed by shitty coffee as I so often am in Singapore. Koreans really know their beans. Beyond that, cafe culture in Seoul is crazy. They have themed cafes, animal cafes, artistic cafes, all designed to an obsessive level of perfection and all with their own unique character. I don’t think you need to hunt down any one specific cafe because they’re all so beautiful and make such good coffee in general, but you can hit cafe areas and spend the afternoon wandering around, popping into cafes that strike your fancy. My two favorite cafe areas are Samcheongdong and Garusogil, where every street is lined with cafes just right next to each other. It’s like they’ve never heard of the concept of direct competition. I love it.
Samcheongdong is an area inspired by traditional korean architecture, and the shops/cafes here have more conventional fronts. They also wind back to houses and restaurants built in the style of the olden days, and it’s very, very pretty. One of my favorite areas in Seoul, and for that I have to thank Daniel Wellington, because their marketing guy is actually a Korean, got very excited when I said I was headed there and sent me both a couple more watches and a bunch of recommendations.
It was raining when I was there so we headed to O’sulloc, famous for having great green tea products, and waited out the rain. It was surprisingly good, even though I don’t like green tea that matcha, and the cafe atmosphere is very minimalistic and peaceful. Sorry about the pun, I couldn’t resist.
Walking to Samcheongdong, you pass by the Gyeongbukgung palace, so you can kill two birds with one stone and get your TRADITIONAL KOREA shot as well.
The streets surrounding the palace also make for very photogenic backdrops once you yell at all the other tourists to get out of your shot.
I offended about two tour groups for this photograph.
Garusogil is a more modern area, a fair walk from the Apujong station which is the area where people get all their plastic surgery done. When you get off at Apujong, there are posters everywhere telling you how much better you could look with real life examples of success cases, and even a mirror that has helpful little dotted arrows showing you how much slimmer your face could be / how much better you would look with bigger eyes. It’s very clarifying.
Garusogil is clustered with cafes, and because nearly any cafe will give you good coffee, I suggest you just go down to the area and walk around. It’s not exactly easy to navigate Seoul if you can’t read Korean, and I feel like trying to hunt down specific cafes can really take the fun out of it. We stopped by this cafe called Milestone Coffee Roasters where I had a piccolo latte and Cindy had a mojito, and both were really good. And as everyone knows, when at a cafe, you instagram.
If you’re given the option of a hot or iced coffee, always go for the hot one even if its sweltering outside. Hot coffee just looks better in photos.
Because the shop fronts are usually also very pretty, you can take your OOTD or FRIENDSHIP IS WONDERFUL shots there as well.
There are several types of OOTD shots. There’s the I just woke up picture:
The middle of a busy street shot:
The against a wall shot:
And the I’m a Road Hazard shot:
Just a few ideas for you, yknw.
Of course, you don’t want your instagram feed to look too posed or too much like you only took a holiday to take photos (although it’s true, har di har), so you should probably also include some Upclose And Personal shots, which can be things like an artistically lit photo of your hotel bed, a selfie, a wefie, or a candid-ish picture of you hanging out with your friends.
Sucks to you if you thought this picture was candid. It was totally posed.
Example of a picture of me “doing touristy things”.
Picture of us ‘chilling’, or whatever.
Lastly, you can take a End Of Holiday Trip photo. This can include you sulking at the airport, looking wistfully at the camera, or yet another cliched plane window shot.
With a good mix of all the above pictures, your holiday will look like something out of a commercial for young people having fun! Your instagram feed will be beautiful and all will be well with the world. You’ll probably also have gained a few hundred followers along the way, because everyone likes holiday photos. Hashtag wanderlust hashtag getaway hashtag citizen of the world. I don’t even know if this post is satire or not.
Don’t get me wrong – i don’t have any beef with people who take excessive pride in their instagram feeds or online life, even if I do sound like I’m being slightly sardonic in this post. I’ve read so many articles over the past year about how we should all stop using social media because all you see is filtered life and it causes irrational jealousy which is unhealthy for self image, or something. To which I say, well, duh. I don’t know anyone who honestly believes that an instagrammer has quinoa and strawberries for every meal, or that another person’s life is all fun all day every day. I think we all create the narratives we aspire towards living, be it on instagram, twitter, text messaging, or even the choice of words we use when talking one on one to another person. It’s just more amplified and obvious online – especially when you have the option of subscribing to a particular kind of lifestyle another person is living. Noone is exactly like what they are online – but then again, noone is exactly like what they are in front of other people in real life either. You can call it hypocrisy or pretentiousness, or you can call it what it is: which is a person being fundamentally human, with all of a normal person’s flaws and fears of how they are perceived by others. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t be a hater.
Anyway, if nothing else I hope you enjoyed the photos and had a good laugh. I enjoyed Seoul very much – any city obsessed with cats and coffee is a city for me. If you’d like more concrete and substantial recommendations on what to do in Seoul, you can check out this link.