Photography memories to bring home on your Mongolian adventure
On this journey, you’ll experience two utterly different and unique destinations. The South Korean capital of Seoul is an astonishing blend of the ancient and the ultra-modern, while Mongolia is one of the most mysterious and photogenic countries in the world. And, not only does Mongolia boast stunning natural landscapes and an incredible historical heritage, it’s also home to alluring nomadic cultures and ethnic groups — many of whom still follow their ancient traditions and way of live.
Your Mongolian journey will provide images that will remain treasured memories for years to come. Here are some ideas and tips to help you make the most of your visit and return home with shots you can’t wait to show off.
The Nadaam Festival
There are more horses in Mongolia than people, and Mongolian horsemen are known to be the most skillful in the world. So, it’s no surprise that horse racing, along with wrestling and archery, is considered one of the “three manly sports.” These sports are celebrated during the three-day national holiday of the Nadaam Festival each July. This is the perfect opportunity for capturing what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment" — freezing a potent but fleeting moment for eternity. Photograph the spectacle of 1,000 horses racing across open grasslands, of archers as they strain their bows, and of the Mongolian wrestlers in their cropped jackets.
Pro Photo Tip:
Between the fast motion of the racing horses and increased camera shake if you’re using a long lens, it's easy to end up with blurry photos. To ensure your pictures stay sharp, shoot at 1/1000th of a second. It’s also a good idea to catch action shots using your camera’s burst mode setting to increase your odds of nailing the perfect shot.
Seoul is an explosion of modern skyscrapers and historic neighborhoods, palaces and temples, which create a stunning variety of photo locations. The city is every photographer’s dream, especially the village of Buchon, where the narrow, winding streets are filled with hanoks
, or traditional Korean houses. At Namdaemun, Korea’s largest traditional market, you can browse the hundreds of stalls overflowing with fabric and homewares. You’ll also want to have your camera or GoPro ready for your visit to the Korean DMZ — a thrilling and truly once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity!
Of course, your journey through Mongolia will provide some coveted opportunities to photographic its distinctive people and their cultures. We’ll spend time in an authentic nomadic Mongolian camp outside Ulaanbaatar, where families live in traditional wood and felt tents called gers
, and visit a camel-herding family in the Gobi Desert.
Pro Photo Tip:
Try not to get stuck looking for the perfect ‘postcard’ shot. Also, aim to snap images that depict destinations and people as they really are. These may not be the quintessential travel images you see in magazines, but they're honest moments that will remind you what life is like in these far-flung and beautiful lands.
Always ask people before you photograph them. Most of the time you will get enthusiastic cooperation, especially if you have already established a connection with your subjects. However, be aware that many Mongolian people are quite shy, and some older people believe that having their photo taken will reduce their lifespan. Take a few small gifts to give children, and always carry a little change in your pocket in case your models ask for money.
On your Mongolian adventure, you can look forward to photographing endless vistas dotted with wild horses, herds of sheep and goats, and two-humped Bactrian camels. In the Yoln Am Gorge, you could also spot the astonishingly nimble Siberian ibex, the magnificently-horned Argali wild sheep, and the adorable little Mongolian pika.
Pro Photo Tip:
Shooting domesticated animals such as camels and horses is easily done with a compact camera and a wide lens. However, most wild animals are likely to keep their distance, so having a telephoto lens is crucial if you want to catch them. If you’re shooting with a DSLR, it’s best to use a zoom lens with a focal length of at least 200mm. If you prefer using a compact camera, go for one with at least a 60x optical zoom.
Mongolia’s stunning landscapes range from rugged mountains and boundless steppes, to freshwater lakes and dune-covered deserts — all of them calling out to be photographed. At the Gobi glacier, you’ll find a rugged oasis of sheltered canyons carved by a river of ice. At Khongoryn Els, you’ll venture into the spectacular sand dunes to shoot their sculptural waves. And, at the Red Cliffs, you’ll be able to get shots of the monolithic red sandstone formations as they're set ablaze by the setting sun.
Pro Photo Tip:
Mongolia's epic landscapes are famous, but they can look flat and boring in photographs, unless you add some foreground detail to give them a sense of scale. Include something in the foreground like a yurt, a yak, or a horseman — or even shoot at ground level so you can include a rock or a flower. This will help accentuate the perspective and avoid an empty picture.
On this journey, you’ll visit two of the most impressive of the five grand palaces in Seoul. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Changdeokgung Palace offers many photo opportunities, especially the wooden pillars lining the interior courtyards, the gorgeous temple entrances and the peaceful Secret Garden. At Gyeongbokgung, another of the five grand palaces of Seoul, the grounds are so massive that it’s easy to spend hours photographing it, and the vibrant colors and beautiful gardens make it hard to take a bad shot. Another UNESCO site, Jongmyo is a Confucian shrine consisting buildings set against a serene woodland backdrop.
Mongolia’s heritage will also tempt you to photographic excess. In Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar, you’ll visit Gandan Khiid Monastery, one of the few which escaped the destruction of monasteries during the Communist period. And, of course, you’ll stop at the unforgettable Genghis Khan monument. Standing 131 feet high atop a 33-foot-high visitor center, this stainless-steel behemoth is the world’s highest equestrian statue. Ride an elevator to the viewing platform on the top of the horse’s head for sweeping views of the plains.
Pro Photo Tip:
Experiment with using black and white for your architectural photographs, either by using a black and white mode on your digital camera, or by processing your photos later. There are no real rules about when you should use black and white over color, but it does help to enhance textures and make scenes appear moodier.
If you’re already familiar with the concept of Korean barbeque, you can imagine how much fun it will be to photograph the real deal on this journey. You’ll also be introduced to some fascinating Mongol specialties and be on the lookout for arkhi
. This potent brew is distilled from fermented horse or yak’s milk (and is arguably more fun to photograph than drink).