What is urban exploration (urbex) photography?
Learn more about the art of urbex photography and some best practices for (safely) finding beauty in the breakdown.
If you’re someone who finds beauty in decay, then urban exploration photography may be right up your alley. Also known as urbex, this emerging field captures images of derelict buildings or abandoned properties in their various stages of decay. Let’s explore what you need to know.
Delve into history with urbex photography.
As a photographer, it can be thrilling to explore a piece of the past — that’s what urbex is all about. Yet, exciting as it may be, it can also be dangerous. Before you set out on any urbex photoshoot, you’ll want to keep these tips in mind:
- Legal jeopardy. Depending on the city, county, or state regulations where you plan to explore, entering an abandoned building may be considered trespassing. When possible, contact the building owner in advance for permission to enter. (It may be advisable to carry some proof of permission with you.) Or, if there are security guards around, simply ask if you can enter and photograph.
- Research your location. Abandoned hotels, hospitals, barns, and homes are common urbex locations. Know what you’re getting into before you set out. Online forums are a handy resource for finding new locations and exchanging tips with other photographers.
- Safety first. Floorboards weaken with weather and neglect; shards of glass may blanket the site. Your research may raise some important red flags, too — was the place a former chemical plant, for example? Always be mindful of the state of the building, and maybe even bring a buddy or two with you.
- Bring light. These sorts of locations won’t have electricity, so remember to bring at least a good flashlight. Try to explore and do your shooting in the daylight hours, when the lighting will be most suitable anyway.
- Leave no trace. As with landscape photography, you’ll want to preserve urban spaces too. Keep those spaces authentic and beautiful for photographers and other visitors who may come after you — especially as nature begins to reclaim them.
If the thought of urbex excites your creativity, start by compiling a list of interesting locations. Use each adventure as an opportunity to play with different lenses, experiment with new techniques, or simply explore new (old) places — you never know what you might find.