If, when you pass by an abandoned house, you get the urge to go inside or are curious about who lived there, if you hear rust and cobwebs calling out to to be photographed, then you are a potential lover of Urban Exploration.
URBEX is the passion for visiting abandoned places and buildings, with the sole purpose of taking unique and fascinating photos.
Factories, houses, hospitals, amusement parks: these are all sorts of abandoned constructions that can become unforgettable photo shoot locations.
This photo was taken in an abandoned hospital using an iPhone 4s with Pro HDR and edited using Vintage Scene. Abandoned buildings are often used for photo shoots and it is not unusual to find abandoned sets inside; this is what happened in this photo, in which I rearranged parts of a previous set to create my own scene.
Accessories and Apps
The iPhone gives you a lot of advantages in this type of photography: you always have it with you, it is light and easy to use and its 35 mm focal length lends itself well to photos taken of buildings both on the inside and outside.
The main technical difficulties you can come across are associated with the lack of light (obviously, there is no electricity in abandoned places) and the poky interior spaces, in which a super wideangle lens would be useful; but there are a few accessories that can help you out.
A tripod and a phone cover with mount (such as the Klyp+) for your iPhone enable you to shoot with longer exposure times using an app such as NightCap Pro, which is optimized for taking photos in low-light conditions.
Using the standard iPhone camera in low-light conditions, the photos will usually be dark, maybe blurred and the image will be tainted with the “noise” that is produced by the digital sensors when the ISO levels are too high.
NightCap Pro sorts out these problems by offering some unique features:
- Light boost – increases the sensitivity of the sensor
- Grain reduction – reduces the grainy effect and the typical noise found in low-light shots
- Long exposure mode – allows you to take manual, long exposure shots
When the light conditions are less limiting but a room is unevenly lit, using camera apps in HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode is always effective; HDR photography is obtained by taking more than one shot (usually two or three) with different exposures (from underexposed to overexposed) and then using them to create one single image with the best exposure for every area of the image. All this is done by the app; all you have to do is make sure the lens doesn’t move whilst the shots are taken.
There are a great many HDR apps for iPhone; my favourite is Pro HDR
This photo of a spiral staircase was taken with an iPhone 4S, Pro HDR and then edited using Phototoaster and Modern Grunge. HDR mode gave the image uniform brightness; an additional Wide lens allowed me to capture the scene in its entirety.
Another essential accessory for this type of shot is a portable LED light (such as the Lumie), given that the iPhone’s integrated flash is nearly always inadequate.
When, instead, you need a wider view, there are additional lenses (such as the Klyp+ Wide and Superwide) that can broaden the iPhone lens capacity; one of the side effects of these lenses is the distortion of the perspective, but there are apps such as Skrwt that straighten out this problem in post-production by allowing you to retouch the layout of the photo.
Photo of the corridors of an abandoned hospital.
iPhone 5s with Pro HDR, edited using iColorama.
Advice on entering abandoned buildings
My rule is to enter abandoned buildings only if it is within the law and totally safe. To stick to this rule, here is some advice to follow:
- Choose your abandoned places to visit in advance, checking that they are neither private nor closed. An internet search using the keyword “urbex” will provide you with photos and features of interesting locations.
- Only enter open buildings; needless to say, forcing doors or windows is illegal.
- Wear sturdy shoes and take torches or, better still, LED head lights (you can find them in good sports shops).
- Take battery packs for recharging your smartphone.
- A rucksack is better than a shoulder bag.
- Dawn and sundown are, as always in photography, the best times of day in terms of light: rays of light coming in almost horizontally through windows create fascinating photographic effects.
- Don’t go on your own but in a group, as you never know who you might meet; there are dedicated groups of urbex enthusiasts you can join, who organize special trips.
- “Take with you only images, leave behind only your footprints.”
Davide Capponi is a manager-cum-mobile photographer and is passionate about post-editing. His work has been on display in Italy and abroad, and published in Italian newspapers and magazines. He is a founding member of New Era Museum http://neweramuseum.org/. You can contact David via his blog, http://davidecapponi.com/ on Instagram http://instagram.com/rubicorno/, on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/davidecapponi.iphoneography and on Twitter https://twitter.com/Rubicorno