The exciting world of urban exploration has a lot to offer those willing to venture into the unknown and experience the gritty side of abandoned spaces. Especially attractive in the urbex world is the increased probability of capturing some interesting pictures that are astonishingly different from your everyday photography. Here are ten urban exploration photography tips that will help you get those great shots on your next urbex adventure.
Do Your Research
If you look around on the urbex forums, everyone will tell you to research your exploration site online before venturing out and we completely agree. A previous explorer may offer some guidance or tips particular to that location that may save you some time such as location, entry points, and safety hazards.
Less time on site taking care of the logistics means more time on site with camera in hand.
Never Go Alone
We can’t stress this enough. It is just a bad idea all around to go urban exploring by yourself. You may think you have the situation well in hand, and you want to snatch that critical photo with no one else knowing about your “secret” site.
But, all it takes is a rolled ankle, slip and fall on sharp debris, threatening squatters, or a hundred other possibilities that makes urbex an extremely dangerous activity to engage in alone, just don’t do it.
Gear Up For Safety
Some of the places you’ll be exploring will have been abandoned for ages and attracted vandals over time. It’s most likely that you’ll be walking over plenty of broken glass, smashed walls, rubble piles, and debris fields. You’ll be encountering dangerous and sharp hazards at nearly every turn so make sure you wear clothing and safety gear accordingly.
Solid footwear and rugged outer layers are the bare minimum. Eye protection, hard hat, breathing respirator may be required depending on the location’s specific dangerous. It’s also important to have the right gear for everyday use. This means backpacks, jackets, and more, depending on your environment and planned routes.
Respect The Location And The Activity
Adhere to the age old laws of those conscientious citizens that came before us, “Leave only footprints, take only photographs”. Have respect for your urbex location’s history, for your fellow explorer, and for yourself. Going into an abandoned location for documentation and photographs is exciting and fun.
Smashing out windows and breaking everything in sight is just vandalism. Though no one may witness the physical act of destruction, the results are there for all to see and gives a bad name to all who choose to participate in urbex making it more difficult to engage in.
Know Your Camera
You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what to do with their high end camera as it relates to urban exploration photography. They bought it to take pictures of the kids at soccer practice and everything is set on “auto”.
Ask them to change the ISO and they panic. Auto won’t get you far when you’re in an urbex location. There is almost never electric light and rarely good natural light. Spend some time getting to know your camera setting before you set out so your pictures aren’t blurry, dark and boring.
Experiment With Angles
Get experimental, get imaginative. The last ten urbex photographers who came through here took the same picture of that old staircase, try to capture something they didn’t. Try to imagine you’re going to share these pics with the urbex community, have something to show them that they haven’t seen.
Stay safe, don’t overextend yourself and get dangerous to get that shot, but do stretch out your mind and thing beyond the frame. Stop taking the same angled shot.
Carry More Than One Lens
The good urbex backpack always has just a little more room than necessary, so make certain you’ve packed varying degrees of glass. When you get to the site it may open up into a cavernous hole, or you may find a particularly interesting narrow hallway.
If you weren’t expecting either situation, the wrong lens won’t capture it in true fashion. Pack wide angles, telescopic, fisheye, and everything else you have access to. You rarely know what you’ll be in for or what inspiration may strike you while out on site.
Illumination Is Key
Seriously, there won’t be electricity. And if by some miracle there is, odds are the local vandal crew smashed all the light bulbs. You won’t have proper lighting for traditional urban exploration photography.
Set your camera up for the light, bring external flashes, have extraordinarily powerful handheld floods, or hope for a break in the clouds to open up and give you that perfect natural light to filter in through the collapsed ceiling. But whatever your plan is, make certain you have that plan ahead of time. No light, no photos.
Many urbex photographers opt to travel light and leave the tripod behind and others insist a tripod is the only way to get that perfect shot. To tripod or not to tripod, this is more or less a matter of style. If you want that urban grit realism, handheld shots are perfect. If you want an established framed and lit photo, you may need a stable tripod.
If you’re doing time lapse and long exposures a tripod is a necessity. Many camera and urbex backpacks have tripod carry loops at the bottom of the pack where you’d expect to see a bedroll.
No good photographer goes out without their lens wipes, but that “rule” is often ignored after some experience and comfort sets in. Your urbex adventure is going to bring you into some gnarly places, many of them abandoned for years and you’ll be raking up dust as you go.
This may be beneficial when you grab that picture of the dust in the light beams, but that dust is also getting all over your lens. Bring plenty of wipes, keep your glass clean. This is probably one of the most important urban exploration photography tips.
Final Thoughts on Urban Exploration Photography
These ten tips are by no means all-inclusive and you will find you will fall into your urbex photography style rather quickly. Getting started is simply a matter of being prepared. Know the location, know your camera, know the dangers.
Once you’ve prepared, let your camera loose and get interesting shots, experiment with light levels and angles. Once you’ve taken your first few sets of shots, the bug will set in and you’ll be anticipating the next urban exploration photography session.