How To: Urban Exploring

Urban Exploring can be both an exciting and nerve racking experience. Before I became aware of urban exploring, I never would have thought there were such interesting abandoned buildings in North America.  In this article you will find some shooting and safety tips for urban exploring.

Recommended Items:

  • Camera
  • Memory Cards
  • Tripod
  • Cable Release
  • Lens Cleaning Cloth
  • Camera Bag (Backpack preferred)
  • Flashlight
  • Protective Footwear
  • Blue Jeans
  • Work Gloves
  • Surgical Style Mask
  • Cell Phone


Abandoned buildings/sites are often on private property. PhotoWeeklyOnline does not endorse trespassing. It is up to you to use your best judgment as to whether or not you should visit a site. Depending on the site, you should consider going through the proper channels to get access.


First and foremost, we would like to say that abandoned buildings and surrounding areas can be very dangerous. Serious injuries are not out of the question, even for the most careful explorer. Most locations have not been maintained and are in a state of disrepair. Always make sure the floor you are walking on is safe as they sometimes become unstable and/or collapse. Avoid climbing up high areas. We do not recommend going out to shoot abandoned sites on your own. We highly recommend taking a friend with you in case you run in to trouble. Always let friends and family know which sites you will be visiting, and when you expect to return home. Carry a cell phone in case you need to call for help.


Before visiting a new location, take the time to do some research online. Finding out the best way to get to a site beforehand will save you a lot of time and be safer.  You can often find tips on how to enter a building safely. Sites such as Urban Explorer Resources are great for finding abandoned sites in your area.


Once you arrive on site, take a look around to determine which areas are safe to explore.  Watch out for unstable floors, walls or any other heavy items. A flash light is a must have as most sites can have areas of darkness. We highly recommend wearing bluejeans to protect your legs, and protective work boots to protect your feet from broken glass, nails, etc. A mask will keep dust and other dangerous air born elements out of your lungs. Be aware of the possibility that there may be squatters living in an abandoned building.


There are two things you should try to capture in an abandoned building:

  1. The history: Capturing the history of the environment can tell a story. Try to photograph items that are native to the building, and that may not have moved much over time.
  2. Decay: In my opinion, this is what makes for really interesting photography. Peeling paint, broken windows, rust, dust & graffiti are signs of the passage of time.

A tripod is also a must have when shooting as you are often shooting in dark areas. Long exposures (up to 30 seconds) are not uncommon. Make sure you set your ISO to 100 or less in order to avoid noisy photographs.  A cable release is not necessary, but recommended in order to reduce camera movement during exposure.   The quality of light inside an abandoned building will vary from room to room.  One way to overcome varied lighting is to bracket your exposures (+2, +1, 0, -1, -2) . This will allow you to create an HDR photo (High Dynamic Range) during editing.


  • To achieve deep focus in your image, take multiple photographs of the same scene while focusing on different elements. Afterward, combine them in editing.
  • Try shooting at different times of the day (morning, day, evening) as the quality of light is different
  • A Wide Angle lens can come in handy in tight situations
  • Take a model on site. The contrast between life and decay can be very interesting


  1. Safety, Safety, Safety!
  2. Never do anything or go anywhere that you are not comfortable with
  3. Find out more about the location ahead of time if possible
  4. Bring a trusted friend. Don’t go alone.
  5. A tripod is a must
  6. Capture the history of the building
  7. Finding decay is the name of the game

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2 Responses to “How To: Urban Exploring”

  1. Yo_Spiff says:

    Good article, especially that link to the UE database. Thanks.

    • Jonathan Eger says:

      It’s a good site in that there are many buildings in the database, and if you are in a populated area, the updates are fairly accurate.