It was just before the onslaught of summer when my girlfriend mentioned wanting to go somewhere. She wouldn’t tell me where, only that I should definitely bring a camera along with a tripod and lenses. So on a warm Thursday afternoon (I had the day off from work) I found myself walking along the streets by Shinchon Station (신촌역) looking for… something. We walked around a bit until we finally walked up a small and nearly hidden set of stairs. The old and unassuming building sort of melted into the surrounding neighborhood.
Off the bat I knew it was a café. I didn’t have much time to look around before the hostess/waitress/barista ushered us into a tiny house. It reminded me of those little playhouses that the thieves from “Home Alone 2” hid in at the toy store. The waitress rattled off the specials along with a few house rules in rapid fire Korean before I could really understand what was going on. I shot a confused look at my girlfriend who was grinning like a nerd at Comic Con. Outside my little house among the row of little houses, I took a look around the room. The counter, another converted playhouse decorated with stuffed animals, a rocking horse and a tree was interesting enough to look at but it was the name of the café that caught my eye.
We spent two minutes ordering our drinks when waitress returned, and another ten while she explained the rules. There were instructions on the leaflet that she left at the table but I was still a little confused. It took a few starts but when she finally realized that I had no idea where I was, she started from the top.
Each person was required to order a drink, any drink. After a few minutes (depending on the wait it could be longer), the waitress would return to escort you to what could only be described as a ten year old girl’s dream. The dresses are categorized into three prices but they come in a variety of styles including hanboks. There were skirts, dresses, and then dresses (priced accordingly). After getting laced up and pinned into the outfit of your choice, you have half an hour to roam the small grounds of the café and take pictures to your heart’s content.
- No sitting on the floor.
- No eating while in a dress.
- <Other things the waitress said in Korean I couldn’t understand.>
There was a couple who’d gotten there a few minutes before us so I had a few minutes to familiarize myself with the grounds. There are a few “sets” in the back that are Asian themed and meant to be used with the hanboks. Unfortunately they’re not lit very well nor are they in an area easy to shoot. They did have an old frame lined with lights for portrait shots but the size and weight don’t allow for much mobility. The piano was obviously a popular area to shoot in along with areas by the dressing room, make up table and the playhouses themselves. It might not sound like much but for half an hour we were busy hustling around to get to each spot.
For a place that was geared towards photography, the cafe didn’t have much for photographers. While they advertise camera rentals, all they had were a few point-and-shoots. Even then the waitress recommended using the camera on our smartphones instead. The lighting was uneven once you strayed away from the portrait light. It was yellow and fluorescent everywhere with natural lighting filtering in through the windows. Some spots were fine while other required some post-processing (read: all). We hustled around a bit making sure to hit the highlights.
If you’ve got the prep time and materials, I’d suggest a soft flash or something portable to move around with. Having multiple lenses isn’t necessary; I stuck with my kit lens and got all my work done quickly without the need to change it. Otherwise the café is a fun spot to hang out for an hour or so.
The cafe served us some decent drinks (forgot about that didn’t you?) but they weren’t really necessary. They tasted good, weren’t overpriced (for Seoul prices) and were served cold. I wouldn’t say that the drinks were bad but they were unnecessary. At the end of the day, my girlfriend was incredibly happy and we walked away with about 300 RAW photos (about 15 or so worth processing). All in all, a good haul.