While I lived in my hometown, I visited and photographed most of the abandoned buildings in it. I knew exactly where I could enter and how. Sometimes, you can just walk right in. Other times, there’s a guard you need to ask for permission and hope he’s in a good mood. And sometimes you need an official license if you want to shoot somewhere.
Unfortunately, when you go to a new city or country, all these things aren’t something you know from the start. I moved to another city last year, and I am learning and exploring anew. This is why I’d like to share some tips for all urbex enthusiasts who are planning a short or a long trip, or who are moving to another city. From my experience, I’ll share the best ways to find great locations, get inside and shoot without trouble.
When you travel or move home, it’s not bad to prepare in advance for your urban exploration adventures. This is especially the case if you’re just going for a short trip and won’t have much time to search for locations while you’re there. These are some of the ways I use to discover locations, both before I travel somewhere, or during my life in the city that’s still new to me.
Join forums and Facebook groups
If you’re traveling and want to shoot some abandoned buildings, wandering around and looking for locations once you arrive could take a lot of time. Also, you won’t be sure whether you’re allowed to shoot or not. In this situation, Facebook groups and forums are of great help. There you can see plenty of photos from other users and read recommendations for shooting. You’ll also know what you need if you want to photograph a certain abandoned object (whether you can walk right in or need to file for permission).
Connect with other photographers
If you have enough time before the trip, you can connect with other artists. For example, if you are traveling to Serbia, you can search photo sharing websites for urbex photographers from this area. You can contact them, and most of them will gladly help with information and recommend locations.
In my case, Flickr played a major role when it comes to connecting with other photographers. A few groups of artists who came to my country found me there and contacted me to ask for information and recommendations. I went shooting with many of them, and together we even discovered some places I hadn’t seen before. I helped with translation and filing for permissions. Not to mention that I had a blast and made some great friends. So, if you are traveling to the country/city of urbex photographers you follow, it’s the right time to get connected, and then get together and shoot once you arrive.
Walk, walk and walk some more
If you enjoy taking walks on a vacation, you may be lucky and stumble upon a beautiful abandoned building you’d like to photograph (it happens to me often). But, you may not have the right gear with you, or it may be late with the daylight almost out (sadly, this also happens to me a lot). Additionally, you may not know if you need the shooting permission, or if the place is really abandoned (yup, this also happened to me and it was super-unpleasant). All of this could lead to unpleasant and even dangerous situations. This is exactly why it would be clever to check out forums and connect with other photographers before the trip.
However, if you move to another city or you’re there for a longer stay, walking is a fantastic way to discover new shooting locations. I emphasize walking because, in a public transport or a car, you are more likely to miss cool places than to spot them. This has been my favorite so far because, even a year later, I’m still exploring the city and I’m not even halfway there. If you’re in a new city and plan to stay for a long time, you can pack the gear and go for a long walk from time to time. If you spot something worth shooting and see it’s possible (and legal) to enter – step right in and shoot away.
In other situations, if you discover an object late in the evening, during a casual walk without the gear with you; or you see a guard: you’ll have time to plan the next visit. You’ll get some info about the place, ask for the entrance permission, arrive at the better time of day and of course, come with the camera, tripod and other gear.
General safety tips
I can’t end the writing without giving you a few extra tips regarding safety. I guess I’m becoming that person with age. :) So, first of all, make sure to wear appropriate clothes and shoes with thick soles. In my case, my beloved old Shelly’s Rangers are the footwear of choice for urban exploring. It’s not bad to have a disposable pollution mask with you. A flashlight and a cell phone with full battery probably go without saying.
Secondly, and I can never stress this enough: be careful. I know urban exploring makes the adrenaline run, but don’t push your luck just to look cool. Don’t be reckless and don’t take unnecessary risk, because you may end up being up to your eyeballs in sh*t, and not just figuratively.
Finally, if you shoot abandoned places in a new country, make sure to overcome language barriers. Most people speak English nowadays, but it won’t always be the case. Learn a few basic phrases so you can communicate with the guards. Having a pen and paper around can also help, as language barriers can often be successfully overcome by drawing. If you meet local photographers, they can help you with translation and with getting the official licenses if you need them.
To conclude, if you enjoy urban exploring in your own hometown, it can be a great “spice” to your vacation as well. And if you move to another city, there’s a whole new set of urbex adventures ahead of you. Either way, getting some information before the shoot and connecting to other photographers is the way to go. Be friendly, be curious, but also be careful and reasonable – and you’ll get home with new and inspiring shots of abandoned places you hadn’t shot before. And if you ask me, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings there is.