Urban Landscape photography covers a whole range of different types of photography, from panoramic images showing city skylines to architectural photography. Another genre of photography that fits into the title of urban landscape is Urban Exploration, more commonly known as ‘Urbex’ the subjects of which include abandoned buildings and areas usually off limits to the general public. That does not mean however that urban exploration is illegal, many urban explorers obtain permission from the appropriate authority before entering an area that is private or could contain dangerous surroundings.
It is a relatively new form of photography in that it is only in the past 20 years or so that it has become popular enough to be called a genre of photography by itself. Most urban photographers aren’t photographers by profession; it is a hobby, something to escape to. Urban explorers do it for the thrill of discovering someplace that they had no idea existed; most of these places provide a brilliant insight into our own social history. This is because a lot of abandoned hospitals, clinics and factories are still decorated from time periods long gone, and is usually in good enough condition to gain and idea of what the building used to be like when it was being used.
The main problem Urban Explorers face is their own safety when in such areas, when photographing abandoned buildings you have to think about protecting yourself from such things as unstable structures, unsafe floors, asbestos, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide poisoning, exposed wires and entrapment hazards.
There are more technical problems you might encounter. Difficult lighting conditions mean that most indoor urban exploration photography requires the use of flash guns and tripods to ensure you get a perfectly exposed image.
Another more technical problem you may come across while photographing urban landscapes using High Dynamic Range is ‘ghosting’. Shoot city landscapes means that you may be photographing something which is moving through the scene. Because you are taking more than one exposure of the image, if anything moves it will create a ghost like effect across your photograph. To make sure this does not happen you need to limit the amount of moving objects in the scene, for instance if there is a car in your image that is moving you will find it difficult to merge all the exposures and have the car in one place throughout them all.
Probably the biggest problem with urban exploration photography is that it is not that well known about, a lot of photographers get in trouble for apparently breaking the law photographing places like abandoned houses and factories because people don’t know what is legal and what is not.
Obviously it is illegal to cause damage to anything while you are there, if somebody has taken measures to restrict access to an area, no matter how little they have done, it is safe to say you risk getting arrested for trespassing if you are caught wandering around without the owner’s permission. Most Urbex photographers would say that if they ask for permission ,99% of the time they are granted it, just be sure to remember that it is somebody else property and other photographers may want to visit after you, so treating an area with respect is important.
One of the most well known Urban Exploration photographers is Henk Van Rensburgen who views himself as an explorer first and a photographer second. He feels the need to document every building he enters and has published several books of his images including abandoned houses in New York to old disused mental health clinics. Henk Van Rensburgen often photographs buildings from the 1930’s and has discovered some amazing places that have been untouched for almost 60 years, providing an experience like traveling back to that time and stepping into a word which is exactly how it was when it was being used. He has also done a lot of work in docklands in America. Documenting how entire shipyards have just been emptied of life while all the huge machinery remains forgotten.
One of my own best experiences doing urban exploration photography was when I photographed an abandoned mushroom farm just outside of Selby in Gateforth. Huge machinery used to load trucks and even the trucks themselves were still there left open. A lot of rooms had been damaged in an arsonist fire which destroyed around half of the factory. I found it was strange a place that seemed like it should be filled with noise and movement was deadly still and silent. It provided some great opportunities for me to use special techniques such HDR and panoramic photography.
Urban Exploration is growing more popular every day with more people becoming interested in what most of us don’t get the chance to discover. It is important for the photographer to know what is legal and to know their rights if they are questioned about their exploring.