Urban exploration, also known as urbex, is a popular subcategory of architectural photography and it features various kinds of ruins and urban decay.
Since many major cities around the world have abandoned industrial areas full of old factories, urbex has become an alternative to more traditional architectural photography.
The process of finding urban ruins and exploring them poses certain risks and it is popular mainly among young photographers and explorers who are looking for adventures and a really interesting series of photos.
The following tips will help you get prepared and stay safe while capturing some really great urbex shots of deserted buildings:
1. Research Your Urbex Location
Nowadays, thanks to the Internet and Google Maps, it’s quite easy to find any location if we have the correct address. However, getting the address and entering the building might be somewhat tricky.
The safest place to look for abandoned buildings are various urbex forums – many countries have their own local forums with useful information for anyone interested in urban exploration.
One of the largest urbex portals (Oblivion State) is very active and it’s getting updated every day so that is probably the best place to start from when it comes to urbex photography
Photo by Ashim D'Silva on Unsplash
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2. Don’t Go Urban Exploring Alone
The most important thing when exploring abandoned buildings is safety. Since these buildings are often located somewhere on the outskirts and they aren’t supervised in any way, it’s advisable to ask a friend to join you. You have to make sure that someone can give you a hand or call the emergency services if something goes wrong.
Once you arrive at the building, don’t forget to respect its history and integrity. Photographers shouldn’t be vandals – it’s best to leave everything exactly the way you found it (no littering!) so that other urban explorers can enjoy it safely in the future.
3. Don’t Break Anything
One thing that is absolutely prohibited in urbex is breaking doors or windows in order to enter the building or some locked-up rooms inside the building. Even without breaking anything, urbex is usually not the most legal activity, so it’s really important not to make it even more suspicious.
In case you can’t find any easy entrance to the building, you shouldn’t enter at all. However, this is usually not the case, since almost every abandoned building has some missing doors or windows.
4. Try To Pack Light
Urbexing shouldn’t be something like a studio set up – instead of bringing all the equipment you have, you should think carefully about the stuff you really need. In the best case scenario, it should all fit into an average-sized backpack.
This is a list of the most basic photo equipment for the urbex aficionado:
- A wide-angle lens; just like in architectural photography, you’ll need a lens that allows more of the scene to be included in the photograph
- A flash; either on or off-camera
- A tripod; this is a must especially if you’re planning to do long exposure photography
- Lens wipes and regular wet wipes; there’s a lot of dust and dirt in abandoned places so you should be well prepared for such conditions
- Spare batteries
5. Know What To Shoot And How To Do It
Before you start shooting the building, it’s good to have a walk around in order to get some ideas in terms of best angles, most interesting details and lighting in general.
You’ll probably have to shoot it in low light, which means you should know well how to properly set a long shutter speed, a wide aperture, or a high ISO. All these settings depend on your equipment.
In case you’re using a tripod, you don’t have to worry too much about ISO since you can do longer exposures. This means that you can keep ISO relatively low (around 400) and avoid noise in your images. On the other hand, if you’re shooting handheld, you will need a wide aperture and a high ISO.
When it comes to flash, while it’s usually not necessary to use it if you’re shooting during the daytime or early evening, you can still include it in your photos if you want a more creative approach that combines natural and artificial light.
Finally, when it comes to post-processing of urbex photography, a great technique to try out is HDR. It usually looks amazing in these photographs since it enhances all those interesting textures and colors we can find inside abandoned buildings.
Despite the fact that urbex can be risky and dangerous, there is something truly exhilarating about exploring urban decay.
On a deeper level, it also allows us to see the power of nature against man-made structures. If given enough time, everything that we humans have made will crumble down and nature will reclaim its territory.
In a way, urbex is a unique homage to the neverending battle between nature and the built environment.