Getting the Shot 15: On the Roof

An HDR of the Taehwa River Grand Park

Back in the old days you could pretty much stroll into any new apartment and not encounter any sort of static. You may have gotten a few stares but that was mostly people thinking “I don’t remember any waygooks living here?” However, these days the ultra modern apartments now have modern coded-entry systems and guards that actually do more than sleep and watch TV.

With that being said I have found a few ways to get to the roof and get the shot like the above. It is a little tricky but in time you can breeze into many buildings and get in now problem.

The Shot: This is your fairly typical “blue hour” shot of a scenic landscape. What forced me to jump on the motorcycle and speed across the city was the sky. After picking up my wife and watching the sun try and break through the clouds, I knew that the blue hour would be cool. It was just a matter of finding the right location.

This shot is all about the timing and the weather conditions. I always like when there is something going on in the sky as if just adds more to the frame than just a solid colour. Also the landscape has some pretty interesting features that pull the eye through the frame adding something more than just a standard “oh a park…”

The Location: The location is tricky as the building is new and has a coded-entry system, which means that you pretty much have to know someone in the building and call them via the code or wait until someone comes out and you slip through the open door. I use the open-door. The plus side is that most people don’t look back and the doors are automatic. Also the elevator will usually be right there too.

The other thing to try if there is security is just fessing up. If they know what you are doing, then there should be no problems. I have often thought about bringing in some drinks or something for the security guys but have yet to encounter  a situation where I needed to butter them up. The thing that usually works is to look like you know where you are going, rather than skulking around in the shadows. Just walk up to the door, wait or check your phone and then check the elevator. If it is coming down just hang out a bit and then head through door as the people are leaving.

The Timing and Set-up: Get there a bit early and set up. Get an idea of the shot that you want before the light starts to drop. Of course you are going to need a tripod to steady the camera, but you may get away with resting it on the ledge if you forgot.

These days the sun going down later so look to head out around 7:00 to &:30 and you should be alright. Usually after it rains or when there is a storm coming are great times to get these kinds of shots. The trick is to keep an eye on the weather conditions. In this case there was a storm coming in behind me and that made for some more interesting conditions than normal.

The main thing to do is to also take advantage of your time and don’t wait too long. I normally start shooting when I think that it is too bright out and keep shooting until it is too dark. That way you will have a good range of shots to choose the best one, especially like in this case where I made an HDR and thus you may not have a good idea what it will look like when it comes out.

The Post-Processing: The main thing that you want to look at here is the the sky; its colour and contrast. Photomatix does a great job of both but effective use of curves will add more depth and drama to your shots. Keep an I eye on the blog for I will explain in an upcoming post about how to use curves to select certain features and adjust for contrast.

Like anything, you want the sky to pop without making the photo too over the top. Draw out the deep blue sky and give it some detail. Make sure that the orange street lights don’t over power the shot too much either.




  1. Greg Reply

    Great website, good info, nice layout. I only wish I’d found it sooner.

    A while back I was doing some interviewing for DSME in the heart of Seoul and wanted to use my rented tilt shift lens on my lunch break. I employed the “look like you know where you’re going” strategy in a major office building and it worked like a charm. There were cameras everywhere on the roof but no one bothered me. Here’s the tower I stood on and the shot I ended up getting.

    I gotta get on more rooftops, it’s quite a thrill.

    • Jason Teale Reply

      Greg! I had a look at your site and your work is amazing! Thanks for popping by and leaving some comments!

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