The following article was originally published by Photography Tricks on August 2, 2013.
Why urban exploration photography
Whenever I tell someone that I’m a photographer, the first question they generally ask is, “Do you shoot weddings?”
While wedding photography is a very competitive and generally lucrative photographic pursuit, the answer is always “no.” The reason is that, unlike most people, I’m what is known as an introvert. An introvert is someone who generally takes pleasure in solitary activities or activities that involve just a small handful of very close friends.
Weddings tend to be gala events with many people, the likes of which is enough to overload my senses. So, for me, photographing weddings and large events is something that I much prefer to leave to others who see wedding photography as their specialty.
The draw to this genre of photography is quite obvious; however, as an introvert, the fewer people around me while I’m working, the better. Add to that the scenario that nobody will stop in to bother me while I’m working, I can, at least in theory, take as much time as I need to take all the shots necessary at my own pace.
My specialty is urban exploration photography; it is basically photographing abandoned places or places that are commonly overlooked, except to those with a specific interest and an eye for detail, like me.
While taking pictures of abandoned places generally doesn’t pay much—if anything, it costs more to travel to these places than it is worth—the experience itself and the learning experience of taking pictures in less-than-ideal conditions make it worthwhile.
Urban exploration photography tricks
Photographing abandoned places is inherently risky by its very nature. Barring any legal action that might be brought against you, either at the time of your visit or months afterward, although highly unlikely, is always a concern. The major concerns are to ones safety, as the majority of these buildings are unsafe to enter, and most of them were built with unhealthy materials, such as asbestos and lead paint.
Equipments to bring
Over the years, I have learned some tricks about shooting in less-than-ideal conditions, especially in poorly lit areas. Your first concern, after safety, of course, is your equipment. If the building or area is contaminated in any way, you should bring equipment that has a good chance of surviving the trip.
These photographs were taken with a Canon 5D Mark II with plastic wrapped around the camera in such a way that only the end of the lens is exposed. If you are going to bring any camera, be sure to bring a DSLR, or any camera that has a wide aperture lens, otherwise you may have to get creative with your lighting.
But remember, anytime you go into someone else’s property without permission, you are trespassing, so the more equipment you bring with you, the greater the chance that you will get caught. While I do my best to obtain permission, there are a handful of times, for whatever reason, when I took pictures without getting the proper permission.
One piece of equipment that you must bring is a tripod, especially for low-light situations. A tripod will keep your camera still and level enough to get those shots that would normally require the use of a flash or extra lighting. One of the biggest downfalls of electrical lighting, aside from creating an almost studio-like artificial feel to this type of photography, is that it attracts a lot of unnecessary attention from the general public.
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment to have is an LED flashlight. Not only is this for obvious safety reasons, but it can also serve as a makeshift photographic light source. I have had great success in situations of low-light photography lighting-up the scene quite well with the use of multiple battery-powered LED flashlights.
Bring a notebook
Ideally, you should also bring along a notebook. I’m a writer by trade, and my notebook goes with me everywhere. I take copious amounts of notes, both about my personal life, and any commercial writing projects I am hired to write. Your photography deserves the same treatment. I thoroughly document peoples’ names (if they appear in my photos), locations, time, date, even weather conditions.
I even wrote down a list of names I found written on a wall in an old hotel that dated back to 1960. Some times like this simply cannot go undocumented. By taking notes with our pictures, we can look back and see trends as to what went right, or wrong, and if we wish to achieve similar results, what techniques we used previously.