Urbex Photography Tips Part 1

So you’ve read all the previous posts, thought long and hard about what sort of frame backpack and asbestos mask to buy, and are ready to go out and photograph some run down rotten building. What’s left, you ask, but to go and start pressing buttons and get some great shots? So you do, and then you get home, and you’re confused as to why everything is underexposed or blurry as heck.

(This post assumes you know certain things about your camera, such as using manual mode and the light meter, along with a basic knowledge of exposure.)

Even with a few photography courses and books under my belt this happened to me. It took awhile to get the knack of comparing what I can see versus what the camera can. So, now I can give you a few ideas about how to get started based on what I had to do for certain photos.

The Tunnel series was an exercise in long exposure times, so much so that I went out and bought a remote shutter release. The only natural light source in there was coming down through tiny holes in the manhole covers above us, and unless we wanted purple highlights from our LED flashlights, it was going to take some time. I set the ISO to 800, opened the aperture to 4.0 (I didn’t have my 50mm 1.8/f yet) and started taking exposures in second increments. I finally settled on eight seconds and got this:

Laser beams!

Laser beams!

ISO 1600, f/3.5, 30 seconds. Lots of stars.

ISO 1600, f/3.5, 30 seconds. Lots of stars.

When I did get a 50mm 1.8/f and returned to the tunnel it generally made more sense to keep the aperture closer to 3.5 or 2.8 than 1.8 because of the extremely shallow depth of field that made keeping things in focus a pain. It can also be very difficult to tell in the dark and through the fog exactly what is in focus or isn’t. I took to using my flashlight on a wall as something to focus on then doing a long exposure. Not the most elegant solution but it worked sometimes.

ISO 1600, 50mm, f/1.8, 5 seconds. It didn't really shave off much exposure time, and the shallow depth of field made it difficult to get in focus.

ISO 1600, 50mm, f/1.8, 5 seconds. It didn’t really shave off much exposure time, and the shallow depth of field made it difficult to get in focus.

One more tip for pictures in places with a lot of water like this, bring a lens cloth. Better yet, bring a few lens cloths and keep them around in any pocket you think you might grab at because it takes maybe half a minute to fog up your lens and eyepiece. Also, wear those tall rubber boots and double up your socks because you don’t want to be soggy for hours and those boots tear your feet up.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if there’s any place you’re likely to destroy your equipment, an urbex location is that place. The general rule is, don’t bring it if you can’t afford to replace it. I have ignored this rule time and again but I’ve had that gut sinking feeling once or twice when something came close to falling down nine stories to its doom. Please don’t bring L glass to a place you aren’t familiar with or, at least, don’t tell me.

Sometimes railings come out of walls and you drop things.

Sometimes railings come out of walls and you drop things.

I’ll have more pointers later but I’m going to finish this post up with our friend the tripod. Since these locations are often low-light it’s good to bring a tripod along so you don’t miss out on a shot you can see but just can’t quite pull off. That’s a very frustrating feeling. If you’re newer to photography, or on a budget, the $20 dollar tripod from a Wal-Mart will work. You can pickup an inexpensive shotgun carrying strap there too which makes carrying it around a lot easier. If you’re carrying around your camera on the tripod please don’t hold it like a scepter with the camera as the jewel, carry it close to the camera bottom. Better yet, just take it off the camera until you need it on the tripod.

This entry was published on January 25, 2013 at 5:05 pm. It’s filed under Photography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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