Urbex – short for urban exploration – is a way to discover your city and its surrounding areas under a different guise. You wander through unique atmospheres within hidden, crumbling, and abandoned spaces, away from the noise and the chaos of the city. Your shots will achieve incredibly photogenic results.
Large complexes awaiting demolition often offer amazing detours for photographers. You can imagine the crowds that rushed around here, some remnants of the furnishings offer a suggestion of the decor, and your imagination fills in the rest. On this photo taken at the abandoned Beelitz-Heilstatten hospital, in the suburbs of Berlin, the pieces peeling away from the ceiling give the photo an apocalyptic atmosphere. You need a wide angle of course to be able to get everything into the shot.
In urbex, the contrast between crumbling buildings and how nature takes over creates a surrealist effect. Here, I created a composition in which the concrete of the building covers half of the surface, with the other half of the surface left for the invasive vegetation. You get the impression that a battle is going on between two camps in conflict.
Because they are often walled in or protected by fences, these places that are perfect for urbex are often characterized by poor lighting conditions. You’re advised to use a tripod to stabilize your camera and avoid any jerking when you take pictures. For time delays more than a quarter second, there’s no doing without one. Unless you’re able to use any furniture that’s left around or perhaps the edge of a wall. That was the case for this photo of an abandoned house.
Remembering to bring your own light source proves sometimes to be indispensable when you’re setting off for the least accessible places (here, the catacombs of Paris). LED lights often have a cool effect, and I prefer them by far over the warmth of a flame or an acetylene lamp. If needed, you can always correct the balance of whites afterward.
Derelict factories offer monumental architecture and ideal perspectives for architectural photo sessions in urbex mode. In Charleville-Mézières, the shopfloors of the old La Macérienne factory are an immense empty space. The metal and stone columns delineate the space and sketch out wonderful flight lines. So I use a wide angle to accentuate the perspectives and give great depth to the shot.
The remains of the former East Germany are a godsend for urbex and photography enthusiasts. Around Berlin, you’ll find remaining pieces of the wall, abandoned highways, train stations falling into ruin. In this old service station, I was looking for a dynamic point of view, and I found it by going into the pit for servicing vehicles from underneath. There was a great contrast between the shadowy zones and light coming from outside. I chose a multizone exposure mode to be sure to take into account both the sky’s brightness and the shadowy darkness of the pit.
Mathieu Mouillet is a slow globetrotter. On foot or by bicycle, he has been crisscrossing the planet for nearly 15 years. His traveling companions are pens, cameras, and recorders. His city treks around the large urban areas of Europe are a consistent opportunity to work with urbex and discover the local street art scene.
Discover all of his travels on social media: