How to Photograph Abandoned Places - Digital Photography School
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How to Photograph Abandoned Places

Abandoned buildings have become one of my favorite subjects to photograph.  Over time, I have collected a handful of useful tips to get the most out of shooting in these environments.

Bring a Flashlight

The single most important tip I can provide anyone planning on visiting an abandoned building is to bring a flashlight.  Most of these locations are without electricity and will have limited natural light.  As such, you’ll need a flashlight to help navigate the dark rooms and corridors that you will encounter.

Beyond its more obvious application, a flashlight can also provide an interesting source of off-camera lighting.  I have a small LED flashlight that I carry on my camera bag and it is often used to light up an area of a room during a long exposure shot.  While a strobe can certainly be effective for many of these situations, a flashlight allows for a high degree of precision with the light.  You can directly control exactly what is lit and for how long.  A flashlight can also add an element of movement to the lighting that will result in an unusual combination of shadows that a flash otherwise may not.

It takes some practice to get a feel for how much light is enough, but with some work the results can be very satisfying.

Stairwell by Chris Folsom

Stairwell by Chris Folsom

 

Tripod not Optional

Because of the aforementioned lighting conditions, it goes without saying that you will need a tripod.  More than half of the photos I take at these locales are shot on a tripod with a long exposure of anywhere from a couple of seconds to as much as 20 or 30 seconds.

For those instances when I don’t have my camera on a tripod, image stabilization and fast lenses help as well.  My favorite lens is a 17-50mm f/2.8 paired with my camera’s in-body stabilized sensor.  Wide open, I can usually get a relatively sharp image at 1/10th of a second.  More often than not though, the best results will come from shooting on a tripod.
 

Control the Exposure

I am not one who believes all serious photographers should shoot in manual 100% of the time.  There are plenty of instances where I am confident that the camera will properly meter the lighting and autopilot mode is fine.  Unfortunately, that tactic will not work in most abandoned buildings.
 
Because of the extreme lighting conditions of these spaces, you’ll need to control all aspects of the shot.  In the photo shown here, for example, I needed to control the aperture (I wanted this fairly sharp from front to back) and I needed to control the shutter speed to ensure proper lighting.  So, in this case I shot for 30 seconds at f/8.  This particular image is also another example of the flashlight technique described above… I used it to highlight and bring attention to the chairs while leaving the walls to be lit by the little bit of light coming from the window.
 

Auditorium by Chris Folsom

Auditorium by Chris Folsom

Go Wide

A wide angle lens can really add to the sense of emptiness and foreboding in these buildings.  The photo shown below was taken by a friend of mine with a 10-22mm lens at 10mm.  Having something that can go wide in the small areas you’ll be photographing can be a huge benefit.

The Lobby by Jonathan Mowry

The Lobby by Jonathan Mowry

Emphasize the Mood

Use creative angles and perspectives to play up the natural character of the buildings.  Get your camera low to the ground and shoot upwards to emphasize the vastness of a room, or shoot an angle to heighten the sense of disorientation.  As a photographer you are telling the story of the place you are in and even a subtle shift of the camera’s perspective can make a huge impact on the mood of the photo.

Mouth of Madness by Chris Folsom

Mouth of Madness by Chris Folsom

Focus on the Details

While it is easy to get caught up in the architecture, try to also pay attention to the discarded items and details in the area as well.  Chairs, books, phones and other remnants from days gone by can provide a powerful centerpiece to the image.   Focusing on a single object can also act as an anchor in an otherwise chaotic environment.

Lost Art by Chris Folsom

Lost Art by Chris Folsom

My final tip is for you to be careful while exploring these buildings.  No photograph is worth endangering yourself, so take extreme precaution whenever you enter an unfamiliar location.  Be safe and happy shooting!
 
chrisfolsomChris Folsom is a hobbyist photographer who spends much of his time photographing buildings that are no longer in use.  You can view his site at studiotempura.com or see more of his photos at Flickr.  His photos have been published on numerous websites and newspapers.

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  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    If you live near Saint Petersburg/Tampa I will be having an exhibition of my haikyo photos from Japan this Friday, the 13th of November.

    Details HERE

    I will have 61 haikyo images on display in sizes from 8×10 to 24×36 of several haikyo locations in Japan.

  • http://emonhassanphotography.com Emon Hassan

    I’d recently shot the abandoned hospital at Ellis Island which, even after being ‘cleaned up’ was absolutely one of the coolest places to photograph. The closed section of the island is opened to public once a year.

    Got a lot of wide and close-ups and the details spoke volumes.

  • Amy

    Honestly. I have been trying to find an artist that was born between 1890 and 1920 rougly that photographed Urban Decay well. Can anyone please please help. Google is killing me with its unhelpful results.

  • http://martinsoler.com Martin Soler Photography

    Thanks for the tips. I should have done the flashlight part when I went to visit an old castle in France once. There was electricity but it would have been a little more dramatic with a flashlight.
    http://martinsoler.com/2010/05/04/decrepit-old-room/

  • i-nacho

    After read this article, I found a small abandoned place and this the pic I took:
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/i-nacho/4828881647/' title='abandonado' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4074/4828881647_6b95556bf1.jpg']

  • http://brownfields.de Urbex Zar

    Thank you for the great report. They are also very beautiful photos. I can confirm that you makes the best photos with tripod and without artificial light. Some of my photos you can see on my homepage:
    Beauty of decay

  • Amanda Koker

    I have been fasinated by abandoned building all my life. Finally came across a really cool place just up the road from us in Incheon, Korea. Want to go up the stairs, but kept back by my husband who fears it may be dangerous. How does one insure safety while exploring. Te place dies not look that old. An entire block of appartments built in a square with a field in the middle. Some of the outside, downstairs rooms are still used as poor shops, though the upstairs and inside downstairs rooms are decaying. I really badly want to climb the stairs. Only 3 stories with an accessable rooftop

  • http://www.kalispell.us www.kalispell.us

    “Run a long enough pipe through two portals on opposite sides of a narrow hallway, and weld the ends together… voila, infinitely long pipe. It would probably have to stay perfectly straight, too.”

  • Jasmine F

    looks like south middle in blmfld NJ

  • Onas

    Hi,

    I want to contribute to your websit as a guest author.

    I have wonderful topics in mind and some of them are mentioned below.

    Top 10 Outdoor Adventure Places in the World

    Recreational Fishing Techniques for the Beginners

    Important Tools for a good Hunter

    Hunting Tips

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  • Jared Lawson

    Your first tip is absolutely essential…a tripod is a necessity, not optional. You will be shooting in dark locations (obviously lighting will be a major factor) – and you should also have portable lighting as well. California Portrait Photographer

  • Haley

    i want to use this opportunity to thank my great doctor who really made my life a pleasurable one today. This great man Dr Saibaba who brought my husband back to me, i had 2 lovely kids for my husband, about 3 years ago i and my husband has been into one quarrel or the other until he finally left me for one lady. i felt my life was over and my kids thought they would never see their father again. i tried to be strong just for the kids but i could not control the pains that torments my heart, my heart was filled with sorrows an Ad pains because i was really in love with my husband. Every day and night i think of him and always wish he would come back to me, until one day i met a good friend of mine that was also in a situation like me but her problem was her ex-boyfriend who she had an unwanted pregnancy for and he refused to take responsibility and dumped her. she told me that mine was a small case and that i shouldn’t worry about it at all so i asked her what was the solution to my problems and she gave me this great man phone number and his email address. i was doubting if this man was the solution, so contacted this great man and he told me what to do and i deed them all, he told me to wait for just two day and that my husband will come crawling on his kneels just for forgiveness so i faithfully deed what this great man asked me to do and for sure after two days i heard a knock on the door, in a great surprise i saw him on his kneels and i was speechless, when he saw me, all he did was crying and asking me for forgiveness, from that day, all the pains and sorrows in my heart flew away,since then i and my husband and our lovely kids are happy.that’s why i want to say a big thank you to Dr Saibaba. This great man made me to understand that theirs no problem on earth that has no solution so please if you know that you have this same problem or any problem that is similar, i will advise you to come straight to this great man. you can email him templesaibaba@yahoo.com

  • Michael G

    Looks kinda like my first apartment.

  • merv

    He did NOT optional

  • Lorri A

    I too love photographing derelict buildings, sadly though, we don’t have anywhere near as many down here in NZ as you folks have in the US, I’m kinda envious.
    All good points, thanks for the reminders.

  • http://www.creeperteddy.com/ Superteddybeer

    I wish we even had abandoned buildings in my country.. Nothing like this..

Some older comments

  • www.kalispell.us

    July 12, 2013 01:22 pm

    “Run a long enough pipe through two portals on opposite sides of a narrow hallway, and weld the ends together… voila, infinitely long pipe. It would probably have to stay perfectly straight, too.”

  • Amanda Koker

    November 5, 2012 02:51 pm

    I have been fasinated by abandoned building all my life. Finally came across a really cool place just up the road from us in Incheon, Korea. Want to go up the stairs, but kept back by my husband who fears it may be dangerous. How does one insure safety while exploring. Te place dies not look that old. An entire block of appartments built in a square with a field in the middle. Some of the outside, downstairs rooms are still used as poor shops, though the upstairs and inside downstairs rooms are decaying. I really badly want to climb the stairs. Only 3 stories with an accessable rooftop

  • Urbex Zar

    March 12, 2011 01:15 am

    Thank you for the great report. They are also very beautiful photos. I can confirm that you makes the best photos with tripod and without artificial light. Some of my photos you can see on my homepage:
    Beauty of decay

  • i-nacho

    July 27, 2010 06:28 am

    After read this article, I found a small abandoned place and this the pic I took:
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/i-nacho/4828881647/' title='abandonado' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4074/4828881647_6b95556bf1.jpg']

  • Martin Soler Photography

    June 24, 2010 07:21 am

    Thanks for the tips. I should have done the flashlight part when I went to visit an old castle in France once. There was electricity but it would have been a little more dramatic with a flashlight.
    http://martinsoler.com/2010/05/04/decrepit-old-room/

  • Amy

    April 21, 2010 03:10 pm

    Honestly. I have been trying to find an artist that was born between 1890 and 1920 rougly that photographed Urban Decay well. Can anyone please please help. Google is killing me with its unhelpful results.

  • Emon Hassan

    November 27, 2009 03:04 am

    I'd recently shot the abandoned hospital at Ellis Island which, even after being 'cleaned up' was absolutely one of the coolest places to photograph. The closed section of the island is opened to public once a year.

    Got a lot of wide and close-ups and the details spoke volumes.

  • Jason Collin Photography

    November 12, 2009 01:41 am

    If you live near Saint Petersburg/Tampa I will be having an exhibition of my haikyo photos from Japan this Friday, the 13th of November.

    Details HERE

    I will have 61 haikyo images on display in sizes from 8x10 to 24x36 of several haikyo locations in Japan.

  • Timmy

    November 1, 2009 08:16 pm

    Where is a good place to find/research abandoned places around me? That is if someplace like that exists.

  • Hannah

    October 24, 2009 03:52 am

    I have been talking to my photography teacher about shooting on abandoned property, I know you should get permission to avoid police confrontation. But how do you go about that. How do you find the people who own the property? I have the location of the place I want, but I'm not sure who owns it. Is there a site where I can look this up? Or what?

  • dzwonienie tanie

    October 9, 2009 01:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing It gives me ideas on what to post better articles on my website. and I really loved this one and I can tell youve put a lot of time and love into it. Check my site out about at

  • Vilmis @ World In Snapshots

    September 28, 2009 09:37 am

    Kate, there is no such setting as HDR on your camera. You can find exposure bracketing setting to make pictures with different exposure and later create HDR image.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_dynamic_range_imaging

  • kate

    September 28, 2009 08:49 am

    @ Micheal John Grist, I really liked your site, I'm not familiar with HDR what is it, and how do I find out if my camera has this setting? \
    @ URG I understand where you are coming from, I've just had run ins with people in the past and ever since I felt safer with my knife. I don't like to go with people to most places, I like the lonely, but some places I know I'd be safer with a companion for the day. I also never run, that's how i ended up with a nail through my foot, and also falling through a floor, though I was walking that time but briskly and the floor just gave out, god I thought I was going to break myself seriously in a not good way that day haha.
    ***My tip don't run, walk haha. and Also I really liked that post with the glow in the dark stickers on the tripod!! I can't count how many times i've tripped and ruined shots because I just couldn't find my camera and had to shine the light around haha so thanks @ Andyincvb!!

  • URG

    September 18, 2009 09:22 pm

    Great article. Guns? Knife? Wher do you live? In Cambodia? :) God bless Europe :)

    I journey through a abandoned industrial complex, hospitals, sanitariums, storehouses and other abandoned places often in sunday and morning hours. ( from 4AM in summer, from 7AM in winter). In this hours is not much chance to meet other peoples. The Rules are simply - if you explore lonely or in small group - if you meet agressive or drinked people - run. If you meet security it's two ways - negotiate or regreat for a while. But it's off course illegal - if you run - it's must be 100% succesful escape.

    I LOVE lonely journey - it's amazing. But, if you fear - don't go lonely. Grip? tripod, camera, food&drink(if exploration long), flashlight/head. DON'T take knife, weapons and others 'dangerous' tools - if you meet police or security - you don't explain - 'I just take a photo'. If you still scary - so, maybe UEX is not for you?

  • Tom

    August 27, 2009 06:50 pm

    I'm totally new to photography (but also keen) and also have a serious interest in old abandoned buildings, partly because they're different, partly because of the opportunities they present and challenges to a photogrpaher, and partly because you're preserving something that quite likely would otherwise go unnoticed. I don't have a tripod yet but its on the list. The way you've captured the light in these photos is brilliant, particularly the auditorium!

  • kate

    August 21, 2009 03:49 am

    I always try to carry my buck knife like I said, because i'm going to very urban places such as New haven and bridgeport in ct, sometimes new york city and places in new jersey. In ct, there are always squatters living in these places and thank God i haven't had many issues yet, but I was glad I was on the phone talking to someone as well as had my knife handy, also i bring a small crowbar sometimes in helping me get into these places, most people won't come at you with that huge metal thing in your hands.

  • Andyincvb

    August 16, 2009 10:39 pm

    My hint is to put some glow in the dark stickers on your tripod. I dont know how many times I have be “painting” with the torch in pitch black with a long exposure only to want to return behind the camera and have no idea where it is. Of course you can not point the light to the camera, but the glow in the dark stickers certainly stop you tripping over your tripod and stuffing up your day & week.

  • Doc Holliday

    August 16, 2009 02:56 am

    As this topic has skewed into the topic of self-defense, I thought I would share some of my thoughts.

    The number one way to deal with a problem is to remain situationally aware, so that you can act to avoid the problem, rather than having to react to an assailant.

    Nearly all states, except for Florida, require that you attempt to flee to a place of safety before you can use deadly force on an assailant. Flee upward, to high ground, if you can. You will have a distinct advantage, (as The Art of War says, 'never attack uphill'). You can see what is happening below you and this puts an assailant at a disadvantage. If you flee up stairs or up a ladder, you have reduced the avenues that an assailant will have available to attack you. They will have to climb the same stairs or ladder you had to. (At that point, I would start throwing whatever was available at them or pepper spray them.) Another option is hiding. In older buildings with little to no light, hiding would be highly effective. Hiding in an elevated place would be even better.

    If you are going to use a weapon, know its limitations.

    Deploying a folding knife can take a relatively long period of time, (probably more than 30 seconds), and often requires two hands to deploy. In thirty seconds, your assailant, traveling at 8MPH will have covered ten feet. In a minute, they will have covered 20 feet. At a distance of 20 feet in low light, it is very difficult to make out the intentions of another person. Using a knife with a 3 inch blade requires you to be no more than 3 inches, (or, whatever the length of you knife's blade), away from your assailant. (Do you really want an assailant bent on hurting you only 3 inches away?) Knives do not do very much damage, even if you are accomplished at using them. Knives will not protect you against animals that hunt in packs - like feral dogs or pigs - no matter how accomplished you are at using them. Knives will not protect you from an assailant with a firearm. Knives will not protect you from an assailant using pepper spray. If I had a choice between pepper spray and a knife, I would take pepper spray. Pepper spray can be deployed at a much greater distance and will work against multiple assailants.

    Clubs of various lengths are somewhat better. You can strike out at an assailant before he gets close enough to use your knife. Clubs, though, have an added consideration - the strength and space necessary to swing them fast and hard enough to hurt your assailant. They, also, won't work against pack animals or firearms.

    Firearms, if it is legal to carry them, are somewhat more useful in fending off an assailant. Handgun confrontations usually occur with the two persons involved 8-12 feet away from each other, but firearms can be effective up to 25 feet if you know what you are doing. Firearms can, also, deter an attack, (something they do hundreds of time each year), without a shot being fired. However, firearms take a great deal of skill to be used effectively against an assailant in a closed or open space. When you point a firearm at someone, with the intent to use it, one has to be able to accept that there is the real possibility someone will end up dead or severely injured at the end of the confrontation. There is no 'shooting to wound.' You put as many rounds in the assailant's 'center of mass' as you can and keep firing until they go down, (this is what cops do). To do this, effectively, takes a huge amount of practice and the right presence of mind.

    Few people even consider whether or not they have the will to kill or maim another person. You can't wait until you are confronted. You have to have already decided you can injure or kill a person before you are confronted. Hesitating a few seconds to decide will allow you assailant to get close and make your weapon ineffective. If you do not, clearly, understand and accept that use of your weapon may result in the death of another person, then you are better off without it.

    As far as wild animals. The only handgun calibers I would expect to useful against a large body predator, (bear or mountain lion) or aggressive small bodied predators, (wild pigs-I have shot pigs at close range with a cal. .357 magnum and they just kept coming), are Casull .454 or Smith & Wesson .50. These handguns are huge and difficult to use. They take a great deal of practice to use effectively. Use of a long gun is preferable, but takes longer to deploy and may not be able to be deployed in tight spaces.

    Bears, usually, make their intentions clear before they move against you. Mountain lions, on the other hand, are ambush predators. Both can be avoided by being situationally aware. Know where you are going and what to expect. I spend a great deal of time far into the back country. Through situational awareness and knowing what to look for I seldom encounter these animals. [Bears and mountain lions are increasingly seen in urban settings, because of human encroachment on their habitat.]

    The only encounter with a bear I have had was in Denali National Park in Alaska, It was with a grizzly sow, after I had inadvertently, walked between her and her cubs. Believe me, this is not a confrontation one wants to have. And I didn't have a weapon of any kind when it happened.

  • AlainP

    August 15, 2009 09:40 pm

    I find it very interesting to see how the security measure and different according to the country or even state! Detroit is in incredible place to do UE, but it is probably the only place I would be scared to go right now.

  • Michael John Grist

    August 15, 2009 03:05 pm

    I`ll second what Jason said- in Japan there is little to fear from the police. I`ve been `caught` by security in locations several times, and each time they just basically said- on your way, it`s not safe in here you know.

    Carrying a knife I think is a major mistake. People starting knife fights more often than not get stabbed themselves, and if you`re carrying a knife and don`t intend to use it, then it`s ineffectual. It`s just overkill. If this kind of security is an issue for you- then pack a sturdy tripod or flashlight. Tripods when rolled up make very effective clubs, as do the larger maglites- very big and heavy, with the added benefit that they are totally innocuous. Carrying a knife is just sending the wrong signal. Bump into another well-meaning exporer packing a knife in a dark space could turn what might have ben a friendly exchange into something a bit worse. Wouldn`t they also go for their knife?

    As for shooting, I don`t think anyone mentioned HDR. Whether you like the weird effects tone-mapping produces or not, it`s an indispensable technique for getting dramatic skies, and for filling in detail in blown out windows and doorways. I shot with a d90 always set on bracketing mode now, just so the option is always there.

    I`ve got a wide collection of Japan ruins here- http://www.michaeljohngrist.com/ruins-gallery/

    My latest post, HDR of some mines at which I was caught and gently reprimanded by security, here- http://www.michaeljohngrist.com/2009/08/the-chemical-pools-of-osarizawa-mine/

  • John Cruz

    August 14, 2009 11:42 pm

    I do a fair deal of Urban Decay Photography, although nowhere near the caliber of the pictures in this tutorial, but i'm learning and my camera sucks, but I make do.

    Anyways, as the shootings I do are in Detroit, I take some extra precautions. These are my rules for exploration:

    1) never never never never go alone. I understand Doc Holiday's post completely, and if you need to make a voyage about it then it would be a little different. But an abandoned industrial complex by yourself in the middle of what might be the most dangerous city in the country means you better bring someone with you. Also, make sure you tell some people where you're going, twitter it or something. If something happens to you the police will need to know where to start looking.

    2) Everyone in the party carries a walkie talkie. Cell phone use during these situations should be used only for emergencies. This is for a few reasons: first off, if you're in a place where you can't get a cell signal for whatever reason, you don't want to be stuck in a stairwell screaming hoping your party finds you. The other reason is that you want to keep fancy equipment to a minimal amount. Granted you'll have your camera, but you don't want to tempt one of the building's "residents" with your nice new iPhone. Make it happen.

    And make sure you have new batteries.

    3) Wear work boots. This is just a matter of safety, if just about any other part of your body is injured you can walk to safety. If you can't walk your way out, well, it won't be fun. I usually wear cargo pants as well to house all of my necessities and a shirt that I don't much care about.

    4) Carry a headlamp and other flashlights. This is non negotiable. Getting stuck in the dark is no fun. I use a mag-light with the headband strap masked by a baseball cap so I don't look like a complete dork. Other lanterns and lighting for the pictures are completely up to you.

    5) Carry a knife. You don't want to be left undefended just in case. I carry a small 3.5 inch blade which is really all you need. A machete is also a viable option but might arouse some problems if the police are called, which is unlikely, but still. DO NOT CARRY A GUN. Even with a permit to carry, the charge for armed break in is a lot more severe than just breaking in and taking pictures. Not worth your head over it.

  • Jason Collin Photography

    August 14, 2009 01:37 pm

    In Japan urban exploring is known as "haikyo" and I have done a fair few of them there. There is little to no concern over being caught by the police because often the haikyo are in very remote areas. They are often filled with valuable items like copy machines, TVs, etc because it just costs too much to remove them.

    I believe no one mentioned using off camera flash in these places. I am pleased with the results I have gotten using my flash off camera, or bounced off a wall or ceiling, especially for lighting up inside glass containers.

    A couple of haikyo posts:

    http://jasoncollin.org/tag/haikyo/

  • Rich Collins Photography

    August 14, 2009 11:19 am

    Good advice on tripods, crisp detail is essential without the noise.

  • AlainP

    August 14, 2009 09:48 am

    To those who asked for it, I completed the blog post with my advices on urban exploration:

    http://www.canon5dtips.com/2009/08/urban-exploration-guide-for-photographersui/

    It really frustrate me to see that most of the urban explorer pictures are made with crappy point and shoot. I just hope that more serious photographers get into this domain so we could have better documentation of these building!

  • kate

    August 14, 2009 09:21 am

    @Kris

    About the not carrying knives and such, I always carry a buck knife on me for safety reasons ie: homeless people squatting in these places, or just squatters themselves. Plus I also love to shoot by myself but it is key that you try to bring someone with you or at least have your cellphone on you,this is key, and talk to someone while you are walking around for just in case things happening. trust in murphy's law people, what can go wrong will go wrong and a lot can go wrong fast in these places and it can hurt alot too. if you fall, trip, cut yourself in anyway, stab yourself in anyway etc etc get to a walk-in clinic asap because you'll need a tetanus shot and god only knows what else. you don't know what has, is, or was living in these places or made, or used or whatever. always err on the side of caution when it comes to your health. I find face masks a very simple and easy way to prevent from breathing certain particles in, gloves, boots, long pants, etc. always bring flashlights and backup batteries, as well as topilet paper because you might have to go and obviously there are no working bathrooms, as well as water because you don't want to get dehydrated walking around.
    back to the whole knife thing, most states allow you knives on your body as long as their a certain length, though my buck knife is way past the legal limit i'd rather have it and not need it than vice versa, and cops are mostly ok with people walking around as long as you're not destroying property. Going into the Winchester factory, i asked a cop about it, he pointed out a spot for me to park and said "if you get hurt it's your own fault, be careful" and he just let me go in by turning his back. How cool! just ask if you see cops haha, and let them see your work too, it makes it more believable, plus if you're school age, which everyone is, say that you're working on a portfolio for your digital photo class, that has worked for me every time and has even gotten me some walking tours with security guards or cops etc.

  • kate

    August 14, 2009 09:05 am

    I have explored many a place in my short amount of time in shooting. I recently got into the Winchester arms factory in new haven, and was so caught up at one point i wasn't really paying attention and had a nail go through my foot and had to get a tetanus shot, so yes now i am safe but it still hurts like hell so from experience of falling through floors and stuff falling on me and getting caught i things i recommended highly wearing boots meant to keep nails out and long pants as well as clothes you do not care about because you can get very dirty.

  • Joe

    August 14, 2009 05:52 am

    Interesting article. I disagree with Chuck (and Ken Rockwell) on the tripod statement though.

  • Mark

    August 14, 2009 03:54 am

    Interesting post! I don't do much urban exploring though I find it interesting. Here's a favorite shot though when I once "toured" an old diner/restaurant just before it was demolished.

  • Kris McElman

    August 14, 2009 03:22 am

    Another important tip when dealing with police: Don't carry tools or knives with you. Not even a pocket knife. If searched by the police they may be mistaken for burglary tools or a weapon that could result in a charge of a felony rather than simple tresspassing.

    In some states they can also search you but not your bags without a warrant. Check your local laws to be sure!

    Have fun and be safe!

  • Hondaeg05

    August 14, 2009 02:53 am

    I would love to find a place around me to shoot! Hopefully my trusty friend Google will help with the search.

  • Col

    August 14, 2009 02:35 am

    @davidn

    Although I'm not in or from the UK, I'm definitely an Anglophile and repeat traveller there...and I think I can speak to a small part of your question; I, too, have wondered about how people go about getting these great buildings shots--the one abandoned place I've photographed repeatedly is a defunct amusement park that mostly burned but still has its old wooden roller coaster, but I'm curious about abandoned buildings, etc. When I was in London last October and Waterstone's was just about to close, I spied the book Derelict London and immediately knew I'd be interested. It's a small book and I look through it frequently, but better still, there's a Web site (it began as a Web site) where you can see the photographs from the book and more. As frequently as possible, background information on each location is provided. Although many of the photographs are outdoor shots, there are many interiors as well. I often wonder how they get into some of the sites (for some reason, I find the abandoned indoor pools the most compelling--and the most unsettling. Empty pools...eesh. Must be that Prime Suspect 5). I'd love to photograph one of those.

    So, check them out:

    The site: http://www.derelictlondon.com/id17.htm

    And the pools section: Check out the beautiful marble (and lighting) of "SOHO - MARSHALL STREET BATHS": http://www.derelictlondon.com/id46.htm

  • THRobinson

    August 14, 2009 01:41 am

    The "Control the Exposure" shot.... was that 30sec or 1/30s?

    Sadly, as much as I like reading these articles, everytime I want to check the camera settings, I click the image, go to the source (usually Flickr) and the metadata is missing from the photos. :(

  • Major Bokeh

    August 13, 2009 04:35 am

    There's a building near me south of Salt Lake City along a rail line that's an old decaying iron ore processing plant. The grounds are littered with rusting cars and machines. It's a perfect location for this kind of shooting. I tried to go there and was met by barking dogs. I found someone around the front of the yard by chance. A cranky old man who apparently either lives there or just keeps it for some reason I can't imagine. I politely asked for access and was denied. He made reference to other photographers breaking in and didn't take kindly to our passion. Bummer.

  • Vilmis @ World In Snapshots

    August 12, 2009 11:20 am

    @Karl: could you share some info about such places in Sydney or around it ?

    @chuck: it depends what you are shooting. In places with low light you need longer exposure then 1/30s. I like shoot at night and don't see how I could make most pictures without trippod

  • Danferno

    August 12, 2009 04:25 am

    @Pestilence

    I think he simply opened the book.

  • Doc Holliday

    August 12, 2009 04:21 am

    This was a great article. As someone who shoots 'abandoned buildings' a great deal, I heartedly agree with most of the things he said. The ones I don't agree with, are probably, a matter of individual taste.

    The buildings I shoot are all rural. Sometimes very remote. [Last week I was at the Independence mine and ghost town down in the Abrasoka mountains at 10,000 ft. After the 'normal' road ends, the primitive road to Independence continues for five miles. During that five miles you travel a road that could be better described as a stream bed and you gain 6,000 ft. in elevation. It took me three hours on an ATV to get up there.] So, my experiences differ from the authors in that respect. Here's my thoughts:

    Going it alone. I prefer to go alone. Most of the people I shoot with don't/won't ride an ATV or a horse for long distances. Most don't have the enthusiasm to rise extremely early and spend hours getting to a place with a remaining window of an hour or two left to shoot before the light is lost and/or being forced to shoot in less than ideal lighting conditions. Having someone else there ruins my 'process' and makes it more difficult to shoot. There is a definite danger to going it alone. If I have a problem in the back country, I know I am on my own - well, except for my dogs... If you are going it alone, make sure you take adequate equipment to meet your basic survival needs. Make sure your ATV is in good repair or your horse is adequately shod and not going to come up lame. Carry extra gasoline, water and food. Let someone know where you are going and how long you expect to be gone. This way, searchers will have some idea where to start looking.

    Exposures. This is critically important. Where there is any light and a hole for that light to come through, there is the possibility of a huge range of light in any one image. To a certain extent, you can manage the exterior light coming into buildings, (think NDF). Some, though, you can't. So you have to be able to compromise. This is one of the most difficult things I am faced with. A tripod is absolutely necessary. No question. I do not do hand held inside a building, (this is another reason I don't take people, they sometimes get annoyed when I spend half an hour setting up a tripod shot), it just doesn't work. I like the idea of using a flashlight or a pen light. When I use flash in these situations, usually the results aren't good.

    The safety issues are important. Know as much as you can about the area you are going to shoot. I understand most of the common ways that metal ore was extracted from the earth and processed in Montana in the late 19th and early 20th century, so I know what hazards are potentially there. This is the most important thing, with not taking inappropriate risks in unknown situations coming second. Falling down a mine shaft would not be cool. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has cataloged most sites where there was hard rock, open pit, hydraulic or dredge mining in the state. Most, if not all, open shafts or pits have been blown, closed over with metal doors or fenced off. Respect the precautions taken to save you.

    As far as permission is concerned. There are a lot of ghost towns/ruins on private property. Some owners don't care, (Independence is private property that is open to the public), while some owners do. If the area is posted, respect that, (I am surprised that so many don't.). In Montana, property tax records and plot maps are online. Find out who's land you want to go on and contact them for permission before you go.

  • Robin Ryan

    August 12, 2009 03:36 am

    Great article. I'm looking forward to trying some of these out.

  • Joel

    August 12, 2009 01:33 am

    Thanks for the tip, Chris! The shots look great. I like the idea that I will be able to take my own sweet time to compose and take photos here. However, I'm surprised that you were allowed to be in those places. Look really unsafe to me. But anyway, I'll definitely try it out some time. :-)

  • Pestilence

    August 12, 2009 12:15 am

    I don't want to be a jerk... but the last picture, "lost art" appears staged. Look how clean the book is. The pages are exactly white and there is no debris on the book at all. Now, look a foot away at the other papers on the desk and see how they are off-color with debris on them.

    Now, I'm far from an art critic, but this was immediately evident to me. I'm not sure if the "lost art" was imported or repositioned from within the room, but the photo instantly loses credibility. Even if it wasn't staged, it appears staged. Perhaps a wider angle to show what kept the book so clean and pristine, or maybe the photo just doesn't belong in the collection. Yes, I know the point was to illustrate the idea of Focus on the Details, but maybe the point also needs to be made that the photo needs to be (or at least appear) authentic.

  • dcclark

    August 11, 2009 11:53 pm

    As far as gaining access -- Urban Exploration is the name (as mentioned), but more rural areas are often the easiest to get to. In this area (Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula), we have 100+ year old copper mine ruins, and they're almost entirely on public land. They are thoroughly forgotten and ignored by almost everyone, and they would cost way too much to properly recover, rehabilitate, or destroy -- so they're just left. This is the case in many rural areas.

    Once again: be careful!

  • Gary

    August 11, 2009 10:54 pm

    Good article and advice. I've done a couple of these projects in the past and have found them rewarding. It's nice to do something different once in a while.

  • Debbie

    August 11, 2009 10:50 pm

    I've bookmarked this article so i can read it again and study it further. My favorite subjects to photograph are old textile mills so anything I can learn about how to photograph them better would be of great help. I know what I see in these old buildings is beautiful, but how to make it work in the camera and bring it out to the viewer isn't always as easy. I echo the request for a blog post on the subject myself.

  • Tommy

    August 11, 2009 08:38 pm

    Try to bring some of your brave and strong friends too, just in case if anything gone awry. Be safe =]

  • AlainP

    August 11, 2009 08:08 pm

    Ok ok.. I am on it. Expect something either tonight or tomorrow.

  • Stevo

    August 11, 2009 02:00 pm

    Great tips, thanks a lot. I need to buy a better tripod.

  • yasky

    August 11, 2009 01:49 pm

    Some time we need permission to enter the place.

  • Peter

    August 11, 2009 01:42 pm

    @ Alain,

    I second the request about a blog on this subject... thanks...

  • MeiTeng

    August 11, 2009 01:34 pm

    Alain, thanks for the explanation. This is something for me to explore in the future :)

  • Karl

    August 11, 2009 12:26 pm

    Alain, if you could please write a blog post, that would be really appreciated!

    I've been really getting into urban exploring around Sydney Australia recently and, while there is some information online, the more information (especially regarding safety, can never be too safe with some of these) the better! :)

  • AlainP

    August 11, 2009 10:55 am

    MeiTend: no it is not. BUT if you are caught by the police, just explain what you are doing, that you are not damaging the property and you should be fine. Actually, of all the people I know who do this, NONE ever had an issue with the police. Just stay polite and you will be fine. Unless you are sure to not be caught, it is useless to try to run and will only cause you more troubles if you are caught.

    There is only one exception and this is an important one: do not visit hospitals/mental institutes in New England. Because of some idiots about a year ago, these places are now under constant surveillance and covered by federal jurisdiction. If you are caught there, you will be prosecuted and fined for ridiculous large amount of money.

    Oh, important tip: dont change lenses in the building! Dust will get to the sensor! That is why I prefer to use a 17-40 lens, its range cover most of the situation I need.

    I think I will have to write a blog post about this, seeing the general interest of the subject!

  • MeiTeng

    August 11, 2009 10:49 am

    Great article and photos. I was wondering if it's legally all right for people to just walk into abandoned buildings and start to photograph. Most of these places would be fenced off and one would need some sort of permission to photograph.

  • AlainP

    August 11, 2009 10:20 am

    The activity of exploring these places is called "urban exploration". I have been an urban explorer for a while and while the advices in the article are great, they are no where need enough. Just to name a few dangers: asbestos, falling stairs, excrement of raccoon, raccoons, etc...

    And now some buildings I go to even have TRAPS installed by kids: concealed holes, loose rocks, etc... If I ever catch one of the kids who does that I dont know what I will do to him! Basically, until you know the place, dont trust anything.

    Regarding equipment, I use almost exclusively my 17-40 + a tripod. If you think you can shoot without a tripod, its because you have never been in pitch black darkness where the only light is the one you carry with you.

    Also, I always carry 2 lights: a Petzel headlight and a lantern with a rechargeable swivel. Also bring a clean wet tissue in a ziplock in case you cut yourself to clean the wound.

    You can see some of the stuff I can publicly show here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/megapixelicious/sets/72157605545165526/

    And please, if you explore, dont take any souvenirs so others can enjoy the place in the future. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

  • Amy Cham

    August 11, 2009 09:28 am

    Great article...I've lately been infatuated by old, abandoned buildings. I haven't ventured yet as I'm not sure how to go about it.

    Any chance of a followup addressing safety and legal issues?

  • Jonathan

    August 11, 2009 09:27 am

    "tripod is a thing of the past for 99% of situations. high iso of modern cameras + DxO give you freedom one could not dream about even some 5 years ago."

    Sorry chuck but this is just not true, yes things have improved but even with a new model camera, unless you want a photo ruined by noise when printed at a decent size a tripod is always necessary!

  • DavidN

    August 11, 2009 08:45 am

    I find this article a mystery - but I know why.
    A mystery because I can't conceive of this being possible. How do you get access to such places? In the UK they would be fenced, chained and padlocked; even covered by CCTV.
    Please - anyone in the UK tell me I'm wrong.

  • dcclark

    August 11, 2009 08:09 am

    Let me say it again -- BE CAREFUL!. I spend much of my photographic time exploring old mine sites, and it is absolutely essential to do your research, be sharp-eyed, and not take risks, especially if you're on your own. For that matter, don't be alone even if you really really want to go and nobody will join you.

    Don't step on the odd-looking floorboard. Don't trust your weight on the old stair. Don't put your hand on the old wiring. Don't get too close to the musty hole in the ground. Just DON'T. I have had enough close calls to call myself lucky to be alive (and yes, I will admit that I'm an idiot for doing so).

    Seriously.

    While I'm at it, here's an example of focusing on details. It's essentially macro -- the teeth of a machine in an abandoned mine roundhouse.

  • Peter

    August 11, 2009 07:54 am

    Good suggestions on an interesting subject. Abandoned buildings are an open door to creativity. The suggestion to carry a flashlight is priceless...

    I do agree that a tripod is extremely important because it is more flexible than any flat surface one can rely on, it is true that today's cameras do an excellent job handling high ISO, but a tripod is one of those fundamentals of photography that simply is essential.

    great article, and thanks dps...

  • chuck

    August 11, 2009 07:09 am

    tripod is a thing of the past for 99% of situations. high iso of modern cameras + DxO give you freedom one could not dream about even some 5 years ago.

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