Photographing in North Korea

North Korea permits photography by tourists. There are several rules that must be followed and if you obey these rules then one can photograph under relative freedom. All tour groups are accompanied by two guides and the guides will tell you what you may and may most definitely not photograph. Military operations, soldiers, military vehicles, unflattering shots of the monuments dedicated to their Great Leader and, although the guides will never admit it in as many words, anything that reveals the North in an unfavorable light such as scenes of poverty or even a broken-down car, are all off-limits. I have looked at dozens of DPRK travel blogs over the past three months and the travellers who posted them, as well as the few travel books on North Korea, all recommend that you follow your guides’ orders at first without question in order to build a sense of trust. Once you have established this trust the guides will let you photograph more freely.

One is even given instructions on how to take pictures. Do not grab your camera and run to a spot and take a shot with rapid arm movements. Running in North Korea, especially by a foreigner, will arouse suspicion and you will be stopped by the police. If you wish to take a photo, it is recommended to take actions that imitate a mime, only you’re not miming being a photographer, you are a photographer. Walk up to the subject you wish to photograph. In slow movements, bring your camera to your eye. Take the shot, then slowly lower the camera. Any hasty movement will arouse the curiosity of your guides and you will likely have to show them what you had just photographed. Photographers will have to delete all shots that do not meet with the guides’ approval. 

North Korea receives only two thousand tourists from western countries each year. Less than two hundred of these western visitors are Canadians. Judging by my searches in cyberspace, I would say that most of these two thousand westerners have posted a travel blog. North Korea could very well be the least visited yet most photographed place on Earth. I have already resolved to get a second memory card since my 8 GB will likely be too small, especially since I want to take videos with it.

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