Tips To Improve Your Grunge Photography

If you want to improve your grunge photography, allow these simple tips and tricks to help you find interesting subjects, compose your shots, and if nothing else, inspire you.  I have assembled some of my best tips and tricks that can be used not only for grunge photography, but other photographic styles as well.

The End Of The Road

Take The Road Less Traveled

Instead of traveling the same road that everyone else travels, make your own way. Most of the abandoned and grunge photos I have taken are the direct result of taking back roads, and avoiding highways. Every small town will always have at least one ghost road, at least one abandoned building, and generally a handful of friendly people who will be more than happy to suggest places that a photographer might be interested in. When in doubt, ask someone who lives or works in the area; those with a lot of local knowledge will be most helpful.

This photo was found at the end of a dirt road. It is also important to geotag your photos, especially if you add them to Flickr so that others can see where the photo was taken (more on this later).

The Life They Let Slip Away (Holga Edit)

Don’t Overlook The Details

Or as they say, the proof is in the pudding. Instead of just taking photos of grand places, shoot the details. While I was exploring an abandoned house, I came across a room filled with trash and neglected toys. Just as I was about to leave, I came across this old doll laying on the floor behind an open door. After taking several shots of this doll, this one was by far my best shot of the day, and perhaps one of my most talked about and coveted photos.

Empty House 1 - 1

Do Your Research

In other words, know before you go. I originally planned to visit the abandoned town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. After talking to some local folks, I was referred to Ashland instead, which was a neighboring town with lots of abandoned places. I came across this abandoned house; it looked small from the front, but looks can sometimes be deceiving. It ended up being a multi-family dwelling with some sort of car repair shop in the back.

Old Phone

Trash Can Be Pretty

The mark of a good photographer is the ability to take a picture of something nobody cares about, might find uninteresting or is just plain unattractive, and turn it into a priceless shot. One of the best groups on Flickr is called clutter, litter, mess and muddle.  I found this old telephone on top of a pile of discarded trash.  The fact that it was raining at the time the shot was taken added to the mood and made the lighting even more interesting.

Roller Skates

Look For Patterns

I decided to spend some time at a skating rink following a birthday party I was photographing.  At closing  time, I watched about 100 people drop their skates in front of the skate rental counter.  I took this picture as the staff went around picking up the pairs of skates one by one as they were put back on the shelves.

Geotag Your Photos

Flickr has an amazing mapping feature that I believe is not used nearly enough.  If you go to the Map Page on Flickr, you will be shown an interactive map of where photos were taken.  Not only is this a great way to view new and interesting places and photographs, but it can also be a useful tool to research places to take photos. Above all else, one of the best ways to share your grunge photography and/or urban exploration photos is to disclose the location where it was taken.  I try to geotag the photos I take whenever possible, except sometimes when the location needs to remain undisclosed to protect the property or to protect myself from possible litigation by the property owners, be it current and/or future.

Here are a handful of related Flickr groups worth a look:

I should probably also mention this guys blog… Jacques has a fascinating collection of urban exploration photograpy, and his blog is entertaining, inspiring, and resourceful.

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  1. I loved the article! I looked for the word grunge in the World Reference dictionary and found the meaning has nothing to do with the photographic concept presented here. Would you please send a brief explanation about this new concept to me? Thank you!

    • Hi Victor, thanks for the question.

      The grunge style (or effect) adds an old, dirty feel to subject. Shooting in an abandoned house for example, inherently adds an old, dirty and even eerie feel to the photo. Finding these naturally grungy subjects, as Thomas describes in his article is often a challenge, so many photographers like to create the effect in post processing. They will add a dark vignette, mute colors, increase contrast, and even add a grain to the image to convey that dark feeling.

      I invite you to click on the author’s name a the top of the post to browse his other articles. He has a ton of experience shooting abandoned places, and grungy subjects, and he shares a lot of his stories and experiences in his articles.