Urban Exploration Photography Tips - An #Urbexer's Guide

Updated: Apr 16


​Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN #URBEXER?

Here is my list of tips for you on how to start exploring abandoned places in your area, safely, stealthily, and swiftly.

Exploring abandoned places for urbexers is like going to an art museum. We love the art of decay. We are basically just playing in the trash and taking photos of what humans left behind. We are #GrimeLordz!

This blog coincides with a podcast! Listen to it while you scroll!

TIP #1: Know Who You're Taking With You!

You wouldn’t just let ANYONE into your secret treehouse, would you? So DONT LET RANDOM PEOPLE KNOW THE LOCATION OF YOUR ABANDONED BUILDING!

My number one tip for exploring abandoned buildings is “Take a Buddy!” I can’t stress this enough! It’s exactly the same as going on a hiking adventure. These places can be dangerous; floors could be unstable, there could be cracked out homeless people in the darkness..or Pennywise…or…this guy…

JamesEightArms

The first person I explored with in Los Angeles was ChamoIsDead. He tried to get me into the Abandoned Hawthorne Mall, but we were caught and kicked out by security. I have since gone into the mall, which you will see further down on this page.

Chamo took me to an abandoned Army Warehouse.

TIP #2: DO YOUR RESEARCH

Take the time to research the place you are trying to explore. Just like a hiking trip, you want to know as much as possible about the area you’re going to be in. Not only for safety reasons, but it’s nice to be at least a bit familiar with where you’re going to be treading.

WHERE TO FIND LOCATIONS!

So the number one question I get is "where do you find all of these places?" Well, how do you find Target, or Starbucks, or A Camp Site? You google it, ask someone, or go on instagram! Some explorers are more open to sharing the locations of abandoned places, while others get angry if you even ask them. Militant Urbexers, I guess you could call them haha! But, we keep our lips sealed for the prosperity of the location.

- LOOK ON INSTAGRAM

Instagram is the best place to find locations, because of the introduction of hashtags! There are numerous hashtags you can use to find photos and videos of abandoned places, rooftops, cranes, tunnels, trains, and just about anything else you could want to explore. Try searching things like #Urbex, #urbanexploration, #urbanexplore #abandoned, #abandonedhouse #urbex_kings #Kings_abandoned #abandonedlosangeles #abandonedchicago, #abandoneddetroit, #itsabandoned #moodygrams.

Once you see something you like, DM the user, or leave them a comment and ask them to DM you. Once you are in a PRIVATE chat, you can then proceed to ask if they'd be willing to Pinswap, or trade the location pin in Google Maps with you for one of your own location pins. Some urbexers might even charge a fee for sharing the spot with you. It just depends on who you ask. However, if they tell you no, don't press them for the address. If they're not willing to give it to you on the onset of asking, then they're not going to change their mind. If this is the case, however, ask them if they'd be willing to TAKE YOU to the spot.

- ASK SOMEONE TO TAKE YOU

Often times, us explorers would kill to explore a place a second time. It’s a lot more exciting when you KNOW the place and can share it with someone else who will appreciate it for the art, the history, and the decay. If I’m traveling somewhere for work I will set aside free time to go explore an abandoned place or two. This is where meeting up with IG creators/youtubers comes in handy.

*TIP #1 DISCLAIMER*

Yes, it can be dangerous to meet up with a stranger and go into an abandoned building, with no one around, with them. For example, explorer, NightScape (@Night.Scape) and his friend traveled to Paris to explore The Catacombs, through a secret entrance, with an Instagramer by the name of @Tainted.KTA. @Tainted.KTA escorted them into the catacombs, guided them deep into the tunnels, far beyond any markers, stole their gear, and left them in the darkness, with no sense of direction. Here is that crazy vlog:

Another fantastic source for finding info about abandoned spots are forums and blogs like Atlas Obscura. This is my go-to site when it comes to traveling.

TIP #2: BRING THE RIGHT GEAR!

The right exploration gear is important for a successful mission! Depending on what you are going into these buildings for, you need to bring in the right gear. As a photographer, I obviously bring camera gear, but if you are a tagger, for example, you’re going to bring a very different bag of gear.

- TIP #2A: LEAVE YOUR ID IN THE CAR!

LEAVE YOUR ID IN THE CAR!!! If you run into trouble, a security guard can’t ID you to the cops if you don’t have your ID to show them. This is just an honest tip from a fellow explorer.

Put your keys on a carabiner, hook it on your belt loop, and tuck them into your pocket. You don’t want to sound like a janitor running through an abandoned jail. It’s loud and you WILL get caught.

- TIP #2B: TAKE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED

Other than camera gear I bring a head lamp, snacks, two bottles of water, baby wipes, hand sanitiser, and, because I’m a lady, a few tampons. You never know man. If you have a girl in your group it’s always nice to be prepared for shit like that. Trust me. May I suggest tampax sport. I haven’t gotten into the “organic/eco-friendly” tampon movement yet, because most of them still use plastic applicators lol.

I also take extra batteries, portable charger, and a rain sleeve for my camera. I always have that rain sleeve in my bag, because, again, nature can be unpredictable.

- TIP #2C: BRING A RESPIRATOR

TAKE CARE OF YOUR LUNGS! CANCER IS THE DEVIL!

Bring a respirator if you’re going into a building. Period. I’ve been kind of bad about this recently, and I need to get my shit together. I just got a new respirator, so I’m good to go again. I’ll link it below as well. Home Depot has cheap respirators, by the way, so if you’re on the go and forgot yours or don’t have one, just stop off and pick one up for a few bucks!

- TIP #2D: CAMERA GEAR TO BRING

I bring a wide angle lens with me, because I love those wide, distorted, POV style shots, a zoom lens, so I can shoot things that are far away, portrait shots, and I might bring a prime lens, depending on a few factors, including the conditions inside the building (lighting), artistic creativity, and my go pro. Try not to carry an excessive amount of gear. If you're like me and you get anxious about potentially not having the perfect lens, think about it from a different perspective. Think of it as a challenge! What are you really capable of shooting when you are limited on your choices?

- More gear means more weight, which means slower speed, harder manoeuvring, and more to have to recover from the next day or two.

Camera gear I shoot on:

Sony A7Sii Canon 28-135mm Sigma 70-300 Gopro Hero 5, DJI Mavic Pro

- TIP #2E: ASSUME YOUR PHONE WON'T WORK

As far as communicating with your exploration partner(s), come up with some signal to communicate with each other. This can be a whistle, a bird call, or anything really, that will help you a)find each other and b) warn each other of possible security/other people in the area. Safety should always be your first thought.

Assume that your phone isn’t going to work. You need to bring a watch with you to keep track of time, because it’s important to know how long you’ve been inside. This is helpful, because there could be chemicals, asbestos, spores, or other harmful fumes inside that could damage you the longer you are there. The same goes with nuclear power plants or anywhere with radiation. If you know there is radiation where you are exploring, bring the necessary equipment to keep you safe.

Timing is also important if you’re in a city, because there are often limits on how long your car can be parked somewhere. It would suck to have to run out of a building from a homeless person and come to find out that your car was towed. Not a good time.

- TIP #2F: BRING SOME TUNES

Okay, well before you phone dies, you might want some tunes. Depending on the type of location you're exploring, you might be able to get away with jamming some music on a blootooth speaker, or maybe pop in a headphone. Just make sure you can at least hear out of one ear. You need to know what's around you and being able to hear is a bit important.

SHOULD YOU TAKE A KNIFE?

Personally, I always have my knife in my waistband. Rain, shine, abandoned, gas station, I always have a knife. I have been assaulted before and it’s nice to feel a bit protected, for sure. Of course, some explorers advise against this for a few reasons. If there is a knife and something happens, it’s highly likely that that knife is going to end up hurting someone. You have to be prepared to deal with those consequences, but, self defence is more important to me than getting killed in an abandoned building, because I was afraid of getting in trouble. But, that’s just me. Also, you never know if the assailant has a knife or even a gun. My mother warns me not to bring a knife to a gun fight, but I keep telling her that it’s nice to have SOMETHING in a gun fight! I can’t beat a gun with my hands, but I can scare the shooter with a knife and my great method acting. Bringing a knife is also practical for cutting a shoelace free from barbed wire, it can be used to tighten things, like the mount for your glidecam.

HIGH VISIBILITY VESTS? "Walk the Walk"

Explorer AllyLaw is notorious for his AL Hi Visibility vests that his crew wears when they sneak into construction sites to climb roofs and cranes. I don’t know if there are legal reproductions for like, impersonating a worker, or something, but I’m pretty sure it’s just seen as a shirt. I’ll look it up quickly and put any info below.

The only info about the legality of wearing a hi vis talks about wearing specifically "Police Hi Vis" clothing, with "POLICE" printed on it. “Any item of clothing that has been manufactured to match the characteristics of police uniform is at risk of contravening legislation, namely Section 90 Police Act 1996,” which pertains to a UK specific law.

TIP 3: THE BEST DAY/TIME TO EXPLORE

The best time to explore is Sunday. Any time on Sunday. No one works on Sundays in the US, which means it’s relatively calm and quiet in the streets. Sunday is Exploration day for us. This isn’t the ONLY day we explore, but if we plan an exploration out properly, we will try to schedule for Sundays. Easy as that. I like to visit abandoned churches on Sundays, because, well, how fascinating is it that people just leave the church. They leave the books, the kids drawings, the pianos, everything. Humans really do litter everywhere we go.

TIP #4: KNOW YOUR ENTRANCES AND EXITS

Before you go into the building, through the fence, or over the wall, make sure you know your way in and out. If there are two ways in/out, that is ideal, but more often than not, there will only be one way in and one way out. This isn’t just an Urban Exploration tip, this is a street tip. Always know your entrances and your exits. This is another ROUTINE that will keep you safe, just like climbing that scaffolding.

FOR FUCKS SAKE! DO! NOT! BREAK! IN!!!!!

B&E’s are NOT recommended for Urban Exploration. This will get you into real trouble. If you are not able to get in without breaking in, you are not meant to go into that building. This is just another piece of advise for you, if you’re trying to CONTINUE to explore. You don’t want to pick up a charge for THE GRAM.

-TIP #4A: CLOSE THE DOOR BEHIND YOU

Wherever you DO go in, close the door behind you. You don’t want people seeing that a door is wide open, because they will call the cops. This is also an open invitation for anyone to walk in. I know it’s ironic to be saying something like this, because if we do see doors or windows open..that’s HOW WE get in! HA! Just be smart, basically. If you don’t want to get caught, don’t be dumb.

**Just remember guys, be prepared to deal with the consequences of your actions. You might get arrested and charged for trespassing.

-TIP #5: GET PAID TO EXPLORE!

So, I figured out a way to make money exploring these abandoned places, by photographing bands, clothing, amazon seller products, skateboards, or by filming a Youtube video, and selling the video footage and photos of the abandonment as stock photography and videography.

Check out some of my stock phtoos/videos and sign up for your account and start selling today! You can get a discount by clicking the link below.

My Adobe Stock Porftolio: https://stock.adobe.com/contributor/207466518/NoTracers

Adobe is having a promotion right now where they will give you a free year of the Adobe Creative Cloud, a /year package, if you have 300 approved uploads by the end of 2018! THAT’S TWO MONTHS LEFT PEOPLE!!! I am so close to reaching that 300 mark and I am SO STOKED! Stay tuned for updates on that.

Editing (discounts):

Adobe Creative Cloud: http://festyy.com/wKeiqp

Adobe Lightroom: http://festyy.com/wKee4F

Everywhere you go is an opportunity to film stock videos. Mount your go pro on your car. From where I live in Orange County to Los Angeles, that’s 45 minutes of footage, or two hours of traffic footage, depending on when you leave! HA

*TIP #5 DISCLAIMER*

I have limits to what I will do for a freelancing job when it comes to urban exploring for client projects. And, I never thought about it until Air BnB asked me to be a “tour guide,” and bring AirBnB tourists into some of these cool abandoned places.

You see, AirBnB, I love your service, but realistically speaking, are you all prepared to deal with the repercussions of potential injury, arrest, or death? I didn’t think so. It’s not worth the risk, my friends. It’s not like staying in someone’s guest house.

This is also to protect the secrecy of of our locations. I don’t know, it’s just not something I’m personally comfortable with doing. But again, I love what you guys do!

*MOST IMPORTANTLY, LEAVE NO TRACE!

LEAVE NO TRACE!

Don’t leave your trash inside a location! Don’t leave cigarette butts, roaches, baby wipes, SMOKE GRENADE CARTRIDGES, anything. You are not there to make your mark. You are there to capture the decay, don’t add to it, that is not your place and it makes you just like the assholes that left their shit there before you. lol

WHAT ABOUT HAUNTED BUILDINGS?

I have been in a few supposed haunted locations, but I haven’t experienced a whole lot of activity, other than what I experienced inside the Downey Insane Asylum. This place is crazy spooky. I ended up practically running out of there. If you're into exploring haunted places, just be careful, man. Demons don't like to be messed with. They aren't stupid. Don't taunt them or move their things, unless they ask you to, of course. Remember, you are in someone else's home. You are a tresspasser. I mean..have you seen The Collector?

WHAT ABOUT CLIMBING CRANES/BUILDINGS/ROOFTOPPING?

If you choose to climb something, be it, a crane, a building, a barbwire fence, etc. bring someone who knows what they're doing. You don't want to bring an amateur on a climb, for obvious reasons.

Shiey, a rooftopper, train surfer, talks about the safety of exploring your surroundings, by finding the patterns that are created in architecture. Climbing up a pattern is safe if you know the pattern. It then becomes routine, and routine is safe and comfortable.

Check out Shiey’s video about climbing and safety by using routine.

This is James Kingston, one of my favorite climbers. He's a crazy human.

And the Storror boys! Perhaps the most well known parkour group in the world, they are currently filming a feature film with Michael Bay. It's huge for the parkour community. This is the trailer to their amazing documentary, Roof Culture. Pay for that download, fam!

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