North Korea – Photo Tip

Photo Tip: Play by the rules to gain trust

The "Arirang" gymnastic and artistic performance involves at least 80,000 participants and is recognized by Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest. Thousands of children flip cards in unison to make images such as this one of the two pistols used by Kim Il Sung when he founded the Anti-Japanese People’s Guerrilla Army in 1932.

Photo by Robert van Sluis

North Korea – Photo Tip

Photo Tip: Play by the rules to gain trust

When we exited North Korea, the border guards deleted photos from other people’s cameras, but not mine. It was a sort of random inspection.

Robert van Sluis
Robert van Sluis Travel Photographer

Our guides always gave clear instructions when we could or could not photograph, even as we were riding the bus. I gained trust with them by always asking if it was OK and, with trust established, they were not bothered too much by my photography.

At the beginning, I also did not take my 200mm lens out and when I did, I let them see what I was shooting. They did not want us to take photos of the poorer aspects of the countryside, but my photos of weather-worn city apartments were fine.

Photos of the military, even when enjoying themselves at the fun fair, are definitely not OK, but I never felt threatened and taking photos was much easier than I expected.

At the Arirang Games, the main challenge was the changing light. Sometimes the stadium was so brightly lit, it was OK at ISO 200, other times it was very dark, with one spotlight on a singer. It was helpful to go a second time, when I knew what to expect and could anticipate the shot by changing lens or ISO. It was an amazing sight; you know you are seeing something you cannot see anywhere else in the world.

The mass games feature two stories, one telling the country’s political history and the other a...

The mass games feature two stories, one telling the country’s political history and the other a classical story based on “Arirang”, a popular Korean folk song. It tells of a heart-broken woman who still hopes her lover will return, a metaphor for the break-up of Korea. Photo by Robert van Sluis

Robert van Sluis

Robert van Sluis

The mass games feature two stories, one telling the country’s political history and the other a classical story based on “Arirang”, a popular Korean folk song. It tells of a heart-broken woman who still hopes her lover will return, a metaphor for the break-up of Korea.