Some people come to Urbex with a background in photography whilst others come just for the exploration and end up taking photos casually and it’s hard to write up some tips that’ll help both sets of explorers so I’ll start by giving some general tips and maybe later on I’ll put up some separate posts for those of us with SLRs (or with Point & Shoot cameras that offer manual controls).
- Control Your Flash.
Most Point & Shoot cameras tend to have the flash in an ‘Auto’ mode, if you’re going to achieve good results you’ll want to turn this off and make a deliberate decision about when to use the flash. If you’re outdoors in bright conditions then I wouldn’t bother unless there’s something in the foreground you want to light up. If you’re in a dark room (and doing Urbex you will be at some point) then you’ll probably want to turn it on. The upside of controlling the flash manually is that you can try different scenes with and without the flash and see what works best. Another mini-tip is that if your flash tends to come out too bright, cover 25-50% of it with your finger as you take the photo and it’ll calm down the brightness (at the expense of a slight red tint).
- Steady the Camera.
Keeping the camera steady will reduce the amount of blur in the photo, especially when the camera is struggling with low-light environments. If you have a tripod you’re welcome to use it but I often find it to be a bit of a burden in an urbex environment, there are a couple of alternatives that will achieve the same effect (stability) but without the hassle. Check out the Joby Gorillapod, it’s a small plastic tripod that can be free-standing or bent to secure your camera around fence posts, railings, furniture, etc.
Another similar idea (but for flat surfaces only) is a to use a bean-bag, this will also have the effect of steadying your camera against vibrations. If you don’t want to go out and spend money one good tip is to use the timer on your camera, when you press the button to take a photo you move the camera slightly but if you set the shot up and put the camera on a 5/10 second time you won’t have to worry about vibrations. Another tip to reduce camera shake is to butt your elbows into your chest or to leaning against a wall or other structure (be VERY careful doing this in a derelict building).
- Take a Torch.
In low light environments your camera may struggle to focus on the objects in front of it. A good tip is to take a torch and point it at your subject, set the shot up to get the focus (usually this means keeping the button half-pressed), turn of the torch and take the shot. If you’re using a flash then the light from that will take over and if you’re using a long exposure then you will avoid having the torch light in the scene.
I hope that helps to get you started, if you do happen to be an SLR user you can check out my more general SLR Tips over on my personal blog at www.thirtyfootscrew.com.