Roof topping in Ulsan
Years ago when a photographer friend led me onto the roof of the Namun Plaza near the sinbok rotary in Ulsan, I was taken back by the sight before me and the sneakiness getting to the top without being seen. Little did I know that this would become a trend in some circles of photography and a passion of my own.
For me, getting to the top of a particular building was a challenge. Even more so now because of the electronic coded locks on all of the new high-rise apartment buildings that line the horizon in Ulsan. As a foreigner, you don’t exactly blend in, but I have never really been hassled while taking photos in some pretty strange spots. Even today I find myself humming the “mission complete” music from game “metal gear solid”
The biggest draw to me was how the right vantage point changes how you see the city. From a roof top you can see the old buildings, the new buildings and everything in between. Living in Ulsan for so long, I can see the changes in the skyline and remember when certain places didn’t exist.
There is also that sense of calm in me. Be it standing on a ledge 20 floor up or finding on one of those cool roof top parks that no one uses, I enjoy my time up there and no matter how many times I go to a particular location I am still happy to be up there.
When I started to use HDR, the results were amazing or at least I thought so. I was able to pull out more detail and colour from the shots. The sharpness and richness of the colour made the city come alive. This is important when your subject is not known for being nothing more than an industrial city with an appetite for whale meat.
Getting to the Top
I must admit that times are changing and the once open doors that would lead you to the roof are slowly being locked. The newer the buildings in Korea, the less chance you’ll have to get to the top.
A good working knowledge of the language is key if you want to ask security to let you in. This always has mixed results as I have found that it is easier for a security guard to say “no” than take the risk in letting you up.
Timing is also key. If you can catch the door or elevator as someone is leaving, then you got your easy ticket in, at least to the top if security does notice that you slipped through the door.
The rest of the time, buildings and business towers are pretty laid back when it comes to shooting from the roof. I have even had security hold the door for me with a sort of puzzled look like “where is that guy going?” I have had people even suggest alternate locations when I’ve stumbled onto a rooftop meeting.
Choosing your location
Research is the best. Check around town to see where the best vantage points are. Check other photographer’s work and see where people are shooting from or other possible locations. If you don’t know a location, go there early and see if you can get in or what the view from the top even looks like.
Often a location may seem cool from street level and then not really pan out once you are on top. A few weeks ago, I was trying to get a shot of the Samsandong area in Ulsan. I got to the roof, scaled over a plastic skylight, only to find that the view was not that interesting or at least not what I was hoping for. It is all just a part of the game.
Roof topping as this style is now referred to is invigorating. With new places popping up all the time there is alway somewhere to shoot from. There will always be one more challenge to see if you can get in it. With that in mind, get out there and see what the world looks like in HDR… from the top.