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Urban Exploration Photography
Dark halls, narrow wet cold rooms, rusted metal, chains hanging from the ceiling – it`s like you`re moving through a horror movie setting. It appears to be a pictorial journey through a strange world – a nightmarish world of shadows and darkness as after an asteroid impact.
Lost places, abandoned buildings and infrastructure are my favourite locations to take pictures. “Urban Exploration” also known as “Urbex” is the exploring of urban, (mostly) abandoned structures.
In this article I will tell you how I became an urban explorer, and show you how you can take pictures like my urban exploration photos on my website. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to go outside to find more of those lost areas.
The first step is to know the location of such abandoned places. When I got started with this hobby there was nothing on the internet about urbex or lost places. I had to search the locations for my pictures myself. But since then, a few things have changed. If you have a quick look on pages like Google Earth or FlickR you will soon find some adequate places to go. Of course you can also find them by walking attentively through the town you live in.
Ok, you have found some interesting places, and you are the owner of a DSLR or a camera to adjust exposure and aperture – now let’s get started!
For most of my urbex photos I take more than just one picture of the same scene with different camera settings to create an HDR later, so it’s important to use a tripod. With this you can set your camera’s f-number (aperture value) to a higher level around f/8 or f/16. This affects the depth of field. Using a tripod makes it possible to take shots from exactly the same spot, important for the HDR in the post-processing.
You can manage the brightness of the exposure with the shutter speed. It’s easy and the result is a much sharper picture. For example your camera settings might look like this:
Now you can take six or more shots with various exposure times. Sometimes three is enough, sometimes you need more than six. This depends on the differences of brightness (from shadows to highlights) in the certain situation.
The exposure time is a variable value which can not be set in a tutorial. But let me give you an example:
To take this indoor scene of the Car Parking Space image you see above, I took 8 different shots; the brightest one was 10 seconds (to get shadow detail) to the darkest one at 1/30th second (to get the details in the windows).
After the “outdoor work” is done you can start the post-processing. I take my shots in RAW Format, so I start editing in the Raw Converter. However, that is another tutorial. For the HDR I use PhotoMatix to edit the pictures.
Here you have to try different settings. I usually create a tone mapped image and save the result as a TIF file. After this I start Photoshop and the creative work begins…
In PS I work with different layers, contrast and tone correction, color changing etc. Here you have to be creative and find your own style to make your picture a unique one.
To take photos in bunkers like my series of the Maginot Line, you need to bring all the light to the place by yourself. The technique is nearly the same as in a “normal” abandoned place. You will just need additional flashlights and lamps in your bag to create the lightning you want. The trick is to set up the lamps and flashlights so they do not shine directly (flares!) back toward the camera, while still brightening the space evenly.
The most important part of the process is shooting at the location. That is where your photo comes into existence. You will need a little operating experience to figure out how it works. It’s all about continuing to practice and experimenting.
I hope I was able to bring you a bit closer to my way of working . More inspiration you can find on my website.
Do have any Urbex places you’ve discovered that you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments below.
Need more information on doing HDR – check out these resources:
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