Focus on Scott Frederick - Urban Explorer

Focus on Scott Frederick – Urban Explorer


Scott Frederick

HDR… High Dynamic Range. A bit of a controversial subject in the community these days. I really think that, when done well, HDR is awesome! Philadelphia-based photographer, Scott Frederick, is one example of someone who does it well in his ‘urban decay’ photography. I’ve recently discovered another aspect of Scott’s work in his stunning long exposure B&W photography and minimalist imagery. Scott answered a few questions for the dPS readers and I am thrilled to share this interview with you as well as some of his images.

Scott, when we met through social media a couple of years ago, it was your distinctive style of urban decay HDR photography that stood out. How long have you been shooting this type of images?

I started shooting urban decay about 2 years ago.

What interests you most, the hunt for the right location or the resulting image?

I believe the resulting image is what excites me most. Searching for locations used to excite me until I realized I’ve been to most of the decayed locations around Philadelphia.

How do you get access to all those abandoned places? Do you always ask permission?

Permission is always the first step. I’ve been fortunate to obtain permission for a few amazing locations. Other locations have been accessed at my own risk.

Have you had any close-calls?

We decided to visit an abandoned factory in North Philadelphia that also used to be a school. It turns out that the building was used by many in the neighborhood for illegal activity. We were approached by a gang of 5 people while inside and since we crawled through a small opening to get in, we weren’t able to leave quickly. Instead, we were detained inside the building by these individuals. Once they realized we weren’t in the building to tread on their territory and only to take photographs they were kind enough to let us go! After that day I had a long talk with myself about my location decisions!

What is your workflow when shooting High Dynamic Range images?

Generally while shooting for HDR I bracket up to 9 exposures at 1EV steps. This gives me plenty of dynamic range to take home to the digital darkroom. I use Photomatix Pro 4 by HDRSoft to tone-map my images before going into Photoshop CS5 where I utilize plugin-ins by onOne and Nik Software to selectively brush in detail and contrast.

What gear do you use?

Currently I using Nikon Gear. D7000, 10-24mm, 17-55 f/2.8, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 40mm Micro f/1.8. This is supported on an Induro carbon fiber tripod and ballhead.

What tips would you give someone who wants to explore abandoned buildings to start shooting urban decay imagery?

Research, research, research. Also, you’ll want find a small group to shoot with because you’ll never want to explore alone. When you find images of a location by another photographer try not to message them about how they accessed the location. Urban Explorers usually don’t like to share that kind of information with people they don’t know. Other than that be extremely careful and understand the dangers of urban exploring. Weak flooring, Asbestos, Mold, etc..  I always bring a respirator that will protect me from harmful airborne particles.

What other genres of photography do you shoot?

I love fine art black and white long exposures. I’m into studio portraiture, minimalism and abstract imagery as well.

Which photographer(s) inspired you to become one yourself?

I’m not entirely sure who or what inspired me to become a photographer. I never really gave photography much attention before 2 1/2 years ago. It was a family trip to Disney World that prompted me to purchase my first DSLR but after I took it out of the box the obsession began! I played around with iPhone photography before the purchase of my DSLR but at that point the bug hadn’t bit me yet. Today I’m inspired by so many photographers that it’s impossible to pick one. When it comes to HDR, Brian Matiash is incredible. Fine Art B&W Photographer Joel Tjintjelaar is a huge inspiration to me. Both of these photographers are generous to share their knowledge and have helped me develop into the photographer I am today.

Find out more about Scott Frederick and connect with him on social media by visiting his website.

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • Anthony Camilletti, Sr. April 16, 2013 06:46 am

    I'm sorry I can not and get out and make photographs again. I'm 84 years old and living in an assisted living facility, so all I can photograph are the flowers in the patio. But photographs like yours and others take me back to "The Good Days", and I am humbled by that. So let me say your work is awesome and awe inspiring and if I were 50 years younger I would be out photographing God knows what using the little digital camera I have around my neck, it's a lot smaller than the 4x5 Speed Graphics we used way back when. Thanks.

  • Rachel April 13, 2012 05:26 am

    I have been looking at your photos on your site, and I am so impressed and inspired!
    I am following you now on Facebook! I want to "stalk" you for a while....keep an eye on your work!!! :-)
    I think you just point the me to a specific type of photography!!!! I want to try it out!!! Once again, thank you so much!!!

  • Scott Frederick April 13, 2012 05:13 am

    Thanks Dave, I appreciate it!

    Clara, thank you!

    Rachel, this is an amazing comment as I feel as if I've been shooting forever. If i'm inspiring others than my obsession is doing good and I'm forever grateful for this! I didn't start to like my own work looking back now until the last year or so. With that said, I'm certain the next year or so for you will be a complete different realm than where you are now!

  • Rachel April 13, 2012 04:40 am

    Great work Scott!
    I was reading your interview, and I cannot believe you have been photographing for only 2 1/2 years!!!!! It gives me hope at some day I will be as good as you!!!
    I started with photography just about a 1 1/2 years ago, and I know what you mean.... It became an obsession for me as well.
    Thank you for being such a great inspiration!!!!!

  • Clara April 13, 2012 01:34 am

    I love urban/industrial buildings. Your photographs are amazing.

  • Dave April 13, 2012 12:20 am

    The boot pic is my favourite actually. Very cool. Love the long exposure water shot too.

    And to be fair, if video game was what you were going for in the other shots then you did it very well. 'Doom' was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw them.

  • Scott Frederick April 12, 2012 11:18 pm

    oops and the Coal Breaker Boots is also a single shot B&W!

  • Scott Frederick April 12, 2012 11:16 pm

    Thanks for the recent comments TopS, mskirpi and dave!

    @Dave, I actually agree with you 100%. And a video game scene is exactly the look I was going for since a childhood friend works for RockStar Games! :) Sorry that you feel that is unfortunate! Only 4 out of the 8 images are HDR's! The others are long exposures except for the Shadow Trees image, just a single shot B&W!

  • Dave April 11, 2012 10:43 pm

    "I really think that, when done well, HDR is awesome!"

    If you can tell that it's HDR, you're doing it wrong. Unfortunately there are a couple of shots here where you can clearly tell that it's HDR (3rd and 4th photos just look like a scene from a video game). In those ones, the post-processing has almost become the focal point of the photo.

    The other photos are great, though.

    I think the issue people have with HDR is that a lot of people - and one guy in particular who is so infamously awful that I'm sure I don't even need to name him at this stage - use it to make mediocre photos seem interesting and other-worldly.

    If it's a photographer like Scott, who's taking interesting photos and choosing to use HDR anyway, well that's his artistic choice. Not the choice I'd make, but there you go.

  • MsKirpi April 11, 2012 09:33 am

    Great shots. I live so far out in the country that "urban decay" = a fallen-down barn! I don't think I would have the guts to go poking around abandoned city buildings (or abandoned country ones either, for that matter). I really liked this story and the photos. Maybe someday.... :)

  • TopS April 9, 2012 10:31 pm

    Like the story and the photos

  • April 8, 2012 07:43 am

    I do not say anything, in my photography world is still a beginner and I'm starting to learn about photography, but I really liked this article, thanks a lot for the information ..., sorry my english is not good, I come from Indonesia and I happy to visit your web site ... once again thanks for the information ....

  • Scott Frederick April 8, 2012 04:05 am

    Thanks Jimmy D., always appreciate your support buddy! :)

  • Jim Denham April 8, 2012 02:21 am

    Nice to see one of the good guys get some pub! Proud to call Scott my friend and also proud to collaborate with him in an HDR group - he's a stand up dude with amazing talent! Kudos for giving him the spotlight here!

  • Scott Frederick April 7, 2012 11:32 am

    @Jason, i've been loving my D7000. It get's the job done, some of these shots were done on a D5000. I checked out that link, love haikyo! Thank you for sharing! Being in Florida is good I think for urbex? At least your on the east coast! :)

    @ccting, Totally! Groups are a must. I've not heard of spacing brackets out 6 full stops for HDR but if you know of a method and like the result, I'm game! I'm not sure about the sensor limitations but it will capture as many stops in a given scene as you wish as long as your altering the light entering the camera, in this case being the shutter speed! The dynamic range when covered at 1 stop increments for me is usually 9 shots, that have a variable 1 stop change in shutter speed. Hope that helps?

    @Sean, Thanks a lot dude! I make bad HDR's all the time, I just don't post them! :) Your limited to 3 brackets but that is at a set shutter speed. I have a really sturdy Induro CT213 and ballhead. Also the D7000 allows me to set a function button to allow one wheel click change 1 full stop. This way I meter my scene for zero and start my bracketing after adjusting my shutter speed 3 stops down. Then back to zero, 3 brackets. Then 3 stops overexposed, 3 more brackets. Eventually you can become very quick and smooth with the motions!
    As far as delay exposure on an XTi, I'm not sure. I knew at my recent workshop the nikon users had no trouble but the canon users couldn't locate it, so if you find it let me know! :)

    Thanks everyone for your great comments and from checking out my work! Have a great weekend!

  • Sean April 7, 2012 03:58 am

    Thank you Scott for the link, Having an XTi, I always thought I was limited to 3 brackets(I guess that's auto). Also I have a remote timer but have not found a way to "delay exposure"? I have done HDR in the past which I thought were good until I saw your work. Keep it up. Its nice to see someone who uses HDR correctly to really capture a scene. I'm tired of seeing poorly shot HDR (myself included) so I hope you have more pics soon.

  • Peter April 6, 2012 07:51 pm

    We have a different name for urban decay here in the UK, we call them Historic Buildings

  • raghavendra April 6, 2012 05:00 pm

    Going to abandon places and taking a picture of it is a lot more adventurous and thrill

  • steve slater April 6, 2012 04:04 pm

    Decay and hdr are a good match:

  • anotherphotographynoob April 6, 2012 03:04 pm

    Photo number five is fantastic!

  • jim April 6, 2012 02:53 pm

    Not bad at all. I shoot in Detroit all the time with a group of friends. My Seasons of Farwell shot was done in an abandoned building in Downtown Detroit.

    View my stream for more. :)

  • ccting April 6, 2012 12:37 pm

    Any difference if we capture images with 6 stops difference , instead of 1 stop difference? The camera sensor is capable to capture 6-7 stops..


  • ccting April 6, 2012 10:43 am

    It is a total dangerous kind of photography where you risk yourself not only for human, but other things .. U need to go with group.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer April 6, 2012 10:41 am

    @Scott we have a lot of the same work flow for HDR & gear (I shoot Nikon & even use an Induro CT214 tripod), although I have not manually set my exposures as you do. I have done the majority of my urban exploring in Japan, where it is called haikyo, so have not had to really worry about security risks. When I moved back to the U.S. I was surprised that one local gallery owner was interested in displaying some haikyo images.

    I have only gone to a few places I have stumbled upon since living in Florida the past three years.

  • Scott Frederick April 6, 2012 09:11 am

    Sean, thank you very much appreciated. This is how I go about those 9 exposures!

    Alexx, it's important to go with your gut instinct. I'm surprised by that outcome. I read online recently it's currently the most dangerous building in Philly! Be careful and best of luck exploring! Thank you

  • Greg Davis April 6, 2012 08:57 am

    Nice work and nice write up. I like the subtleness of your hDR work.

  • Scott Frederick April 6, 2012 08:27 am


    It's truly an honor to be included in your Focus On series here on Digital Photography School. Thank you!!!

  • Alexx April 6, 2012 08:04 am

    Sounds like a scary close call. They have no problem just shooting anyone who knows what illegal stuff they're doing.

    I'd like to try some urban exploration sometime.

  • Sean April 6, 2012 07:56 am

    Wow those are awesome, great pictures, so does your camera bracket 9 or you manually bracket 9?