How Urban Exploration Can Boost Every Photographer’s Portfolio

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You stumble upon an old, abandoned building that seems to serve as a relic of times past. Some people would keep walking, telling themselves there’s nothing of interest there. But as a photographer, you appreciate the story the building tells in its worn floorboards and discolored walls.

Across the globe, photographers are capturing these rare urban treasures. Called urban exploration, the trend takes photographers off the beaten path, allowing them to photograph a wide array of interesting sights. Instead of heading out to the lake or the mountains to snap photos of scenery, artists locate manmade structures like skyscrapers and sewers. The goal is to explore areas that aren’t normally seen by the general public.

If you’re building your portfolio, urban exploration can be a great way to add unique shots. Success with urban exploration requires a combination of finding the right location and making the most of what you find once you get there. Here are some things you should know about urban exploration as an outlet for your photography.

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Be Safe

A large part of urban exploration is choosing the right location. Some urban explorers get in trouble by sneaking into unauthorized areas of buildings or hanging out in abandoned homes without permission from the property owner. Before venturing onto private property, make sure you have permission. Even an abandoned building could have an owner, and that owner will be held liable for any issues that arise with trespassers. If you don’t get permission first, a surprise visit from the police may interrupt your exploration.

Most importantly, make sure you’re safe as you explore. When you’re caught up in taking pictures, it can be easy to forget that you’re walking on unreliable floorboards or standing beneath a damaged roof. The first step in exploring any new building should be to examine the area and make sure it’s safe.

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Tell a Story

The most important part of urban exploration is telling a story. The objects you find as you’re walking through an area can paint a very vivid picture of the people who once lived there. Children’s drawings in an abandoned mental hospital can be chilling, whereas baby shoes in an old house can be touching. Try to capture the fading imprints of the people who once occupied a space.

The best part of urban exploration is that it gives you, the photographer, an opportunity to be an adventurer in your own city. You don’t have to travel across the world to capture interesting sites—they’re just around the corner. Whether you’re spelunking through caves or capturing graffiti left under bridges, you’re showing the mark man has left on various structures. The human part of the story is what makes this type of photography so interesting. So as you explore, focus on those elements that tell stories about the people who lived and worked in that area.

With the right approach, urban exploration can be a great way to boost your portfolio without spending your hard-earned money on travel. There are likely treasures in your own town, just waiting for someone to capture them. Use your imagination as you head with your camera and focus on the human element. You’ll be able to capture a story more interesting than even the best history book could tell.

Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip, 25 Roses, and the upcoming Piper Morgan series.