9 Tips for Urban Decay Photography (With Cool Examples)

There are a few key subjects that draw both the eye of photographers and people who enjoy the art form.  They include, among many others, train tracks, running water, sunsets / sunrises and old, desolate buildings.  It's the later of the bunch that we'll focus on now, especially since we've shown you 21 stunning shots of urban decay.  This article focuses on giving tips for urban decay photography for your next outing that will surely get you memorable photos.

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Photo by Bob Jagendorf

Dress for the occasion. Most all of the places you are going to haven't been occupied in a long time and are far from safe.  Broken glass, loose boards with nails sticking out, snakes, thorn bushes and all kinds of other nasty stuff is bound to be around.  Wear thick soled boots with long pants, regardless of how hot it might be.  There is a reason the military has bloused their pants for decades, it works.  Tuck your pants into your boots to prevent them from getting hung up or caught on anything loose, or from something crawling up your leg.  Wear gloves and take insect spray with you.

Light the way. Since you'll be exploring in and around structures, it's bound to be dark inside.  Take a flash light or better, a head mounted light to see where you are stepping and crawling around.

Don't forget your tripod. Again, when inside a building it will be dark, even if the windows are open.  A tripod will allow you to get the proper exposure and build some bracketed shots for HDR experimentation should you feel so inclined.

The RIC

Photo by Werwin15

Get in close and pay attention to details.

Texture 25 - Pealing Paint (Alcatraz)

Photo by jpdodd

Urban decay can show some stuff texturally that you'll probably never see anywhere else.  Often times these textures alone go unnoticed because of the overwhelming area of all that is going on.  Take a macro lens with you, get in close and snap some photos.  Those paint peeling walls, rusty metal beams and other great textures often make amazing art prints!

Panoramas aren't just for cityscapes and sunsets! Inside or outside any urban environment makes for a great pano shot, and since you already have your tripod, why not give it a shot!

Go wide! Interior urban decay can vary from tight and cramped quarters to wide open areas under busy highway overpasses.  While you should take a macro lens to get nice and close for the details, sometimes showing the scene all at once will give you the best composition.  Take the widest lens you have, step back and frame your shot.

Go at night for a unique look.  Not only is night photography often more unique, it can add an added layer of grime and mystique to your photographs.  Tripods are obviously needed for this, and a cable release is a good idea to help control camera shake.

Look for the lines. While this isn't just for urban decay, focusing on lines in composition is always a good idea.

City of Domes

Photo by Compound Eye

Finding the line to help draw the eye to the subject is what can really make an ordinary photograph something special.

Give black and white a chance. It seems most urban decay settings are whitewashed and gray anyway, so why not give the black and white conversion a shot?

North Weald Redoubt - Damp

Photo by artwork_rebel

For what it's worth, sepia toned images are also wonderful post processing technique that yields great results for urban decay settings.

Keep in mind that you don't need to be in an urban environment to take urban decay photographs, but it does help.  They are possible in and around old farms in the middle of nowhere too!  And lastly, the disclaimer.  Be aware that most of these areas are illegal to trespass on, it's possible to get hurt and the structures aren't always stable.  Be sure of your footing when walking around and keep an eye out for wildlife and squatters.

About the author

Mike Panic

is a professional photographer. See his site at Mike Panic Photography.

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