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North Korea advice for photography

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I've just returned from a trip to North Korea. Before I went I asked about a small camera to take that would be Alamy acceptable and got a few answers, which was appreciated. Now I'm back Here's a few notes on my experience which may help anyone following me there.

  • Photography is allowed, but controlled, i.e. they tell you what not to shoot. Soldiers and officials, except the traffic directors, are no-nos. This is strict and I saw one person who pushed the evenlope have her SD card removed. Taking a shot of a soldier "wanding" us at the War Museum was not smart and we had already been warned.
  • Photography should be "nice", i.e. not critical of the country. They say "nice" but its a language issue not getting the real meaning over, I saw a great shot of a woman with child on her back working in a rice field, yellow top against green, but was told not to take it. I would consider it a tribute to the woman but they did not see it that way.
  • You're accompanied all the time, and they watch, so candid shots are hard, but not impossible, so long as you do it discreetly and not all the time. I am pleased with many we took.
  • A polariser is useful as often you're shooting through glass (train, bus). Trains are an experience themselves, but 26 hours each way from Beijing-Dangdong-Pyongyang is not easy.
  • We only took my wife's Nikon 5100 with us, with 18-200 lens on it. I left my bigger Nikons at home, but did not need to. Lens size, not body quality, was what they looked at, so an 80-200 at f2.8 - will be likely stopped. Some of my tour had larger Canons with short zooms, nothing long. Most of the rest had 4/3 CSCs or smaller Nikon/Canon bodies.
  • I had my Huawei P8 phone viewed by my guide who was disappointed to see virtually nothing on it.
  • One guide looked at my camcorder and was very familiar with the controls - even though they're not on sale there. Nothing deleted, probably too much to review.
  • Checks on the train on the way in were number of phones, tablets, cameras and if your camera has a GPS option. They're keen not to geo-tag anything.
  • Checks were not 100% and there's a degree of profiling on the people who did get checked, not a lot different to Heathrow in that respect.
  • Contact with people on the street is about zero, but you'll get scenic and grab shots. We fell lucky on one 1st birthday celebration.
  • The guides will either quietly, or in one case bluntly, check photos on phones/camera and camcorders - and delete things they do not like. I backed off the SD card daily and we lost nothing, but some "landmarks" were removed from other travellers.
  • Biggest issue was large groups of tourists from a neighbouring country who mob photos and photo-spots, regardless of you or if you are there first. Be prepared to fight for your spot!
  • There's a circus they can take you to, but it has bear acts if you are sensitive. I am so did not go, which led to catching the birthday whilst waiting for the others to return.
  • The beer is surprisingly good.
  • Overall the countryside from Dandong to Pyongyang is rice fields, which make good shots as there are many workers etc. and there's some interesting architecture in the city. At the "gifts museum" in the mountains the hills are like you'd expect to see in classic Chinese panoramas. Scenically it's good.
  • In short, I'm glad I went, it was an experience more than a holiday, got some good photographs and saw Orwell's 1984 in reality. Being from Wigan I've never been an Orwell fan, but this he did get right.
  • If you go be prepared to keep your thoughts to yourself. We all burst into conversation when arriving back in Dandong, probably itself worth a day in as it's an "old-new" city in China.


I hope this helps anyone planning a trip.




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That's down to the person - it's not for tourists, but those who want to make their own informed decisions. If anything my own hardened after going, but now they're based on observation not rhetoric. The only thing I really hate is admitting Orwell was right about something.

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