We often consider a photograph effective when it elicits an emotional response from the viewer. The image may not necessarily be pretty but it holds our attention and we feel a strong sense of connection. Urban decay photography is the photographing of man-made structures and objects that have fallen into disrepair or have been abandoned. It is so popular, not only because of the eye-catching compositions, but also because of how it appeals to our emotions.
Perhaps we feel so strongly because the photograph is proof that material things are impermanent and no matter how sturdy they look, they can be broken and ravaged by time. That our creations are no match for Mother Nature. It may also be that images of abandoned places can look creepy and we are drawn to the mystery of its history. The fascination for the old, the rusted, the abandoned, and the broken has caused many a photographer to venture off the beaten path to capture urban decay in an image.
Tips on shooting urban decay:
Look for subjects that can trigger memories and has context –many objects which can have a special meaning to us are also universally known, such as a bed, a chair, a toy, or a tricycle. They might remind us, and likely the viewer, of home, or childhood, or half-forgotten memories. Objects like these that have grown old or have been abandoned can strike a chord in us when we see them in a photograph.
Be adventurous when looking for subjects – with urban decay photography, you may hunt for subjects in remote places. Sometimes, depending on where you are located, you have to go out of your usual route to find some photo opportunities. Abandoned buildings may not be so accessible, and you may need a permit to enter these sites.
Be prepared before entering abandoned sites – aside from your camera and equipment such as a tripod, extra batteries, and reflector, also bring a flashlight, gloves (in case you have to move rusty, sharp things to the side), a dust mask, and a stick to poke at suspicious looking mounds that might hide snakes, rats, and spiders.
Look for elements that can improve your composition – use shapes, lines, colors, and patterns found in the surroundings and highlight them in your shot. Also, things that are decaying are usually rusty, moldy, dusty, scratched, and battered. These are all perfect opportunities to present texture.
Be alert and careful – be always watch your step when roaming around abandoned places because floorboards may be weak and rotten or there might be holes beneath mounds of leaves and undergrowth. Avoid areas that are too risky, a perfect picture is not worth breaking a limb.
Take advantage of natural lighting – sunlight streaming in from windows, doors, and holes in the ceiling and walls, is fantastic for illuminating interiors. There might be instances when you will need to use a tripod so you can set your camera at a slow shutter speed to capture more light.
Shoot from a variety of angles and distances – you can practice urban decay photography by shooting entire interiors of rooms, hallways, gardens (a wide-angle lens would be ideal to get as much of the scene in the image frame). You can also shoot much closer to subjects and get just the details, such as the cracks on a broken pot or a rusty doorknob and padlock.
Take note that with urban decay photography, you don’t have to go too far to get great shots. Interesting subjects may be found just around the corner if you just take the time to look and notice.