Planning Your First Urban Exploration Photographic Adventure

Most of the abandoned places and things I’ve explored and photographed have been discovered by sheer happenstance. There are, however, a handful of situations where I had to pre-plan my photographic exploits. In previous posts I have talked about things like getting permission, and safety concerns, but in this post I will focus on research methods and more specific equipment-related concerns you will need to consider prior to heading out on your journey.

Forgotten Hats

Researching Abandoned Places
The days of going out and finding abandoned places physically, in person, have been phased out due to the increasing expense of traveling, and by the growing number of websites which are built around exposing abandoned places, and sometimes even, their location.

For those who prefer the more traditional search, your best chance is to visit small towns near where you live. Any place that has taken a huge economic loss in recent years will have at least one or two abandoned places. The most interesting places are abandoned industrial centers, amusement parks, theme parks, hospitals, hotels, and commercial centers.

If you have access to a car or motor vehicle, try traveling roads that travel through towns with the small populations; avoid highways, freeways, and if possible, toll roads. Although most of the most amazing places I have had the opportunity to photograph are along old dirt roads, avoid unpaved roads during winter or during periods of bad weather, and never travel any road that is closed with signage and/or physical barriers.

Patient Records

Equipment Concerns
Abandoned places are filled with unknown hazards, dust, leaking/dripping water, and sometimes even unknown substances like plaster dust floating around in the air. Opacity has the best disclaimer I’ve ever read when it comes to exploring abandoned places that basically states, ‘Explore At Your Own Risk’. The point I’m trying to impress upon you is that no matter how much planning and research is done, you’ll never truly know what to expect until you arrive at the location.

The lens you walk inside with is the lens you will use.
If you use an SLR, you should never change the lens you are using at any time during your exploration. The tiny particles of dust and/or other contaminants in the air have the tendency to make their way right into your SLR camera and can cause severe damage. So if you must change lenses, do so before you head out, or at the very least, outdoors as far away from any buildings as possible.

Don’t bring your most expensive gear with you.
That brand new camera you just dropped $5,000 on should probably not be the camera you bring with you when you visit abandoned places. If you can help it, bring along a cheap camera, or an older camera you don’t care as much about. Some photographers use one time use cameras which are purchased with film already loaded. These are perfect if you are risking and/or anticipating the possibility of total loss, but unless you develop the film yourself, returning the film to a nosy photo finisher might be cause for suspicion, especially if you photograph high-profile or well known locations without proper permission.

Creepy Dolls Study (5 of 5)

What You Might Find
Just like anything else in life, it’s anybody’s guess what you might find when you explore a place that nobody has inhabited for any legitimate purpose for any lengthy amount of time. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have come across pretty much anything that can be imagined; everything from discarded trash to medical waste, old furniture to show costumes, and most commonly, discarded dolls. If you can dream it, chances are it’s out there… Somewhere.

Flickr Groups of Note
Flickr Groups – Geotagged Only
Flickr has a collection of groups dedicated to abandoned places and objects. Although a lot of the photographs in the group pools have geo information (i.e. their locations are mapped), the following groups require geo information.

  • Abandoned America – A Flickr group of abandonment as it pertains to locations within the United States.
  • Ghost Roads – Abandoned and/or closed roads that can no longer be traveled with a motor vehicle.
  • US-20 – The longest stretch of highway in the United States, which just so happens to be home to a lot of abandoned buildings and towns.

Flickr Groups – Optional Geotagging
The following groups may contain photos with geo information, but it isn’t required. So it is by sheer luck that you will be able to determine where a specific photo was taken.

  • The Decayed And The Abandoned – Anything goes, as long as it’s is decaying and/or abandoned.
  • Urban Decay – “Rundown buildings, neighborhoods, and all things within.”
  • Abandoned – The name says it all, places or things that are abandoned.
  • Rural Decay – Photos of abandoned places in rural areas.
  • Urban Exploration – Photos of the interior of abandoned or semi-abandoned buildings.
  • Industrial Decay – For those who enjoy abandoned factories and industry.
  • Ghost Towns – One of the best group for ghost towns.

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