Photographing abandoned buildings can be so rewarding. Urbex photography can yeild amazing unique images that will draw people in but just because you point and shoot a camera at an abandoned building doesent mean your images will reflect the amazing spaces you explore.
Urbex Photography has lots of hurdles so here are 10 tips to help you get by!
10 Tips for Photographing Abandoned Buildings
Tip #1 - Choosing the Right Equipment
How much do you want to invest into your photography? Now I am not saying you need expensive equipment by any means but do you care enough about your photos to spend a bit more time getting a great shot? If you are happy just taking a few snaps on your phone then great, if not then maybe look at buying a DSLR (the big chunky cameras you see people using) or Mirrorless camera (smaller and lighter but newer ones have the same features as some DSLRs), even if it is a second hand one.
A DSLR or Mirrorless camera is better for a few main reasons, the first being a larger sensor, this will let you get better images in darker rooms. The second reason you may want a DSLR is the ability to control settings to get exactly the images you want.
Tip #2 - Get / Use a Tripod
Most abandoned buildings are dark places, not ideal for photography. If your camera more light to take a well exposed image then there are a few options.
Option one for getting more light into your camera is open up the aperture, this lets more light in but will give you a shallow depth of field (less in focus).
Option two for getting more light is to increase the ISO, which is the sensitivity to light. Increasing your ISO will add noise to your image and past a certain point will degrade the quality too much to make a usable image.
Option three to get more light into your camera is to have the shutter open longer, but this means any camera shake will make for a blurry image. With a tripod you can have a super long exposure (time shutting is open) get all the light you need and with no wobble. The only down side to a tripod is the fact you have to carry it!
Tip #3 - Setting Your Settings
Your camera has a little peep hole between the sensor and the lens, this is where all the light comes in through your lens and onto your sensor. The aperture relates to how big or small that little peep hole is. Aperture is given as a number; you will normally see it with an “f” in front i.e. f10. Now this may seem a bit backward but a small “f” number means the hole is “big”, comparably speaking, and a big “f” number means a smaller hole. The bigger the hole is open, the more light your camera’s sensor will see, meaning shorter shutter times and lower ISO. The trade-off for all this extra light is a shallower the depth of field (less in focus). A big “f” number, tiny hole, will get more in focus but you will need to use ISO and shutter speed to get enough light in for a good image.
I like to get lots of detail in my shot so use a small aperture, small hole, big “f” number. A low “f” number can be good for detail shots though, blurring out the foreground and background to draw focus to an object.
The ISO comes from film cameras where you could buy film that was more or less sensitive to light. With digital cameras today the ISO is a digital process of increasing sensitivity to light. Having more light is great if you need to use a lower shutter speed or want more in focus but comes at the cost of noise. Cameras can’t work miracles; you can’t make light and details out of nothing. If you can use a low ISO then do so, noise looks ugly and detracts from the quality of your images.
When you press the button to take an image your camera opens a little blind for a set amount of time, while its open all the light rushing in is captured. The longer the shutter is open for the more light is captured by the camera, but if you are moving your images will come out blurry and you will loose all the sharpness and details. Shutter speed is often the last thing I worry about because I use a tripod. Once I am happy with the Aperture and ISO I can set the shutter speed to get as much or as little light as the camera needs to make a well exposed shot.
Tip #4 - Use a Wide Angle Lense
When photographing inside buildings it is often difficult to stand far enough back to get the whole room in. Using a wide-angle camera can help get more in your image and help your images become more immersive, capturing the room as a whole.
On the extreme side of things, a fish eye lens can get even more of a room in but will provide extremely distorted images. A fish eye lens can sometimes provide a creative shot, drawing focus on objects towards the middle of the composition but may not portray the location as very realistic.
Tip #5 - Focus on The Detail
Capturing a room as a whole is great but sometimes the details get lost. What is it in the room that gives it feeling, that shows the history or provides context? Objects within an abandoned building tell a story and it is great to celebrate those objects with a closer picture. A great way to highlight a particular item is to use a low aperture to blur out the background, isolating the subject to draw focus. Using a low aperture can also help provide scale to objects.
Often, I find it is more than just objects that suit detail shots. Sometimes it is a specific patch of decay that demands your focus, a plant growing though where it shouldn’t or some particularly beautiful flaky paint.
Tip #6 - Use the Light Available
Light is often a scarce resource in abandoned buildings, windows boarded up, plants growing over the openings and so on. The light that does creep through often makes for magical pictures. Learning to make the best out of the ambient lighting is one of the best ways to get depth, feeling and interest into your images. Often times you will require a long exposure to get enough of that faint light trickling in so don’t forget your tripod!
Another tip is to explore during daylight where possible, if you have no ambient light your images will come out looking flat and artificial. Although light beams can look great, they can also ruin some images. Cameras can only capture a certain range of light to dark, having very bright sun lit areas and dark shadows can sometimes make the light bits look too light or the dark bits look too dark, loosing detail.
Tip #7 - Editing
It doesn’t matter if you are just using Instagram filters or the full adobe suite to edit your images, you still need to choose your settings wisely. Although editing is very much down to personal preference how you edit your images can change their “feel”. White balance is one setting that you may change (or may be changed in a filter). The white balance effects how cold (blueish) or warm (yellowish) the image looks and can be tuned to give accurate colours or provide a slightly happier or sad “feel” to them. Other settings like saturation and exposure can be changed to get the reaction you want for your images.
Editing is not just to make your images look a certain way; they can also help improve their quality somewhat. Lightening shadows, reducing highlights, sharpening details and reducing noise are all ways to make your image more appealing.
Tip #8 - Composition
Man made structures are often full of straight lines, use them to ensure your images are straight. Although images can sometimes be taken at a severe angle (called a “Dutch Angle”) to give the feeling of “unease” they are often received as looking wrong.
Perspective will make objects look less straight around the edges so it maybe helpful to find a reference close to the middle of your image to work from. Another good reference for if your image is straight is the horizon. Spending a little time ensuring your images are straight will give your images a more professional look.
Tip #9 - Classy Watermarks
No one likes having their images stolen or used elsewhere, especially when you don’t get the credit you deserve for it! Adding a watermark to your image is a common way to ensure people know where your images come from but they can be distracting. Without the correct software you may find yourself typing your name in a dull font over your images with bold colours and slapdash angles. It can be a bit of a balancing act between a discreet water mark someone can crop off and a messy name that stops people wanting to see them in the first place.
Try and keep your watermark simple, classy and not too distracting. Opting for either a small signature in one of the corners or a faint transparent one over the whole image is the best option. Once your reputation is good enough you might worry a little less about image thieves as people will recognise your style and call them out on it.
Tip #10 - Don’t Post Bad Shots
If you want to give off a more professional feel to your images then don’t post out your accidents. I understand it is hard to pick and choose your favourites sometimes but if images are blurry or too dark to see then there is no point sharing them.
Spend some time double checking your images before you post them to pick out the mistakes. Very bad images can stop people scrolling through the rest of an album on the presumption they will all be bad, so double check.