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How To Easily Find Abandoned Places for Urbex

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One of the most exciting types of photography you can try is urbex. Urbex stands for urban exploration. It describes finding locations in an urban setting that are interesting to photograph.

So now you might be wondering how to find abandoned places near you. In today’s article, you’ll learn exactly how to do this.

Photo of an old abandoned building
This old colonial building has been abandoned, but still looks amazing.

What Is Urbex?

Urban exploration is a lot more involved than looking around a city. In fact, some urbex photography occurs in places that aren’t strictly speaking urban.

The majority of urbex photography happens within cities though. The locations are places that have been abandoned. The following are popular types of photos to take in these locations.

  • Portraits – You can find some of the best backdrops for portrait photography in an urbex setting. Urban decay works very well. The natural lines in buildings, such as doorways, are great. And if you happen to be in an industrial complex, then lines of pipes might be a possibility.
  • Cityscapes – If the building you’re entering happens to be tall, the rooftop may offer a great view of the city. In fact, roof-topping is a sub-genre of urbex photography. It might actually be more popular than urbex itself.
  • Architecture – A lot of buildings have amazing architecture. Especially if the building you’re accessing used to be a factory or power station.
  • Abstract – Plants growing through the walls, dusty floorboards, or light coming through broken windows. These all make for great abstract photography. They can be a legitimate main subject for your photo.
Photo of the metropolitan cityscape of Shanghai
This cityscape of Shanghai was taken from the rooftop of an abandoned building. There was no lift, so it meant climbing around 60 floors up the stairs.

Which Abandoned Places Near Me Work Best?

An abandoned factory will work better than an abandoned family home in suburbia. That factory might be harder to gain permission to enter though.

The following list only reflects what would be interesting from a photography perspective. Gaining access to such places will be covered later.

  • An industrial building – Even abandoned, these might still under guard. There is a decent chance some form of security is still present. The opportunity for unique photos in these places is a big draw though. Think of power stations, factories or even oil rigs at sea.
  • A theme park – The abandoned theme park is a classic in the horror movie genre. It goes without saying this will also translate to photography as well.
  • An apartment block – There are some places that have half-finished apartment blocks. The company building them usually ran out of money and abandoned them. Asia has quite a lot of these that are relics of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Eastern Europe also has a few.
  • A house – In some places, you can find abandoned houses. Even modern houses can be interesting to photograph when they’re empty. The best houses are those that are older.
  • Stately home – In some countries there are old stately homes or even castles that have been abandoned. They can sometimes be like time-capsules into the past. You might even find old newspapers lying around. Take extra care when accessing a building like this.
Photo with the use of light painting technique inside an abandoned building
Techniques like light painting can work well when juxtaposed against an abandoned building.

Safety When Exploring

An important aspect of urban exploration is your own safety. You’ll need to look at this from the point of view of wearing the right clothes, and personal safety.

Equipment You’ll Need

The following is a suggested list for exploring abandoned buildings. These places have plenty of hazards that could cause injury, so look to bring the following.

  • Shoes – These should be sturdy boots, even with steel toe caps. They need to protect your feet from things like broken glass, or rusty nails.
  • Jeans – Again to protect from sharp objects bring jeans. Should you be in a hot country you could choose different trousers, but you need to cover your legs.
  • Long sleeves – A long sleeve top appropriate to the climate you’re in.
  • Mask – Old buildings may have air that you should not be breathing. Dust, mold or even asbestos all pose a potential risk.
  • Phone – If things go bad, your first method to get help will be your phone. Make sure it’s charged.
  • First aid kit – Again a precautionary measure to take in a place that could be risky to be in.
  • Torch – A light source for a dimly lit room may well let you see risky objects on the ground so you can avoid that area. A headlamp is the best option here.
Photo of an abandoned house with sepia filter
Abandoned buildings will have signs of decay like overgrown weeds.

Personal Safety

Abandoned buildings have plenty of risks. With the right gear, you can minimize the risk of personal injury. The worst can still happen.

You could hurt yourself badly enough that it might be difficult to get out of the building. This could occur through falling through floor boarding or getting bitten by a snake.

Abandoned places where you’re on your own are also good places to get mugged, so it might be worth packing some mace.

The best protection against all of the above is to bring a friend. Probably another photographer who also knows the risks. They can help should you get into trouble.

How Can I Find Abandoned Places Near Me?

It costs money to build a building, and if you do so you want to get use out of that building.

It goes without saying that most buildings will be occupied. Finding abandoned buildings isn’t easy. You’ll need to try some of the methods below to identify a building.

Portrait photo of a model inside an abandoned building
Abandoned buildings often work very well for portrait photography. Make sure you and your model are prepared for the conditions in the property.

Join an Urbex Group Online

There are plenty of urbex photographers out there. One of the best ways of finding out about urbex locations is to visit places other urbex photographers have visited before.

Online forums can help with this. You can also use the following sites that work as databases for urbex photographers.

  • Shothotspot – This site is a great resource. The caveat is it’s only as good as how active the urbex community is in a location. A search for the town I live in South Korea brings up zero results, and yet I know of abandoned buildings in this town.
  • Abandoned places – A similar site that offers a database of locations. It also has images taken of such places. You can’t search any location in the world. You need to select the galleries. From there you can select various locations found around the world. To select pictures, navigate using the buttons on the photo wheel.

Local Knowledge

Nothing beats local knowledge, that’s true of any form of photography. This is especially true when it comes to urbex.

You can gain local knowledge by visiting urbex forums and websites. If you can join a local photographer that’s even better. Having someone with you will also give you that added safety.

Photo of a girl playing the accordion on the stairs of an abandoned house
This photo is a result of local knowledge. I passed this building regularly by bus, and could see it was abandoned.

Explore by Yourself

The last option is to explore yourself. This is the most time consuming and risky. It can also be the most rewarding if you can find a location and be the first to photograph there.

Of course, this isn’t easy to do, and in some parts of the world, this might be almost impossible. There are some things you can do to improve your chances.

  • Economically deprived – Areas of the country that have fallen on hard times are more likely to have abandoned buildings. Look to visit these areas, and then look for signs that a property has been neglected.
  • Overgrown – Vegetation overgrowing in a property is a good sign that the property has been abandoned. At this point, consider asking people in neighboring properties if the building you’re looking at is indeed abandoned.
  • Online search – Looking for abandoned buildings can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. This is true even in areas that have suffered and economic downturn. Look to property websites with telltale signs like “below market value” or “immediate possession”. Most of the time properties sell slowly because there is a chain of people looking to buy and sell. If the property is empty this chain won’t exist.
Photo with the use of light painting technique inside an abandoned building
You can experiment with unique ideas and concepts with abandoned buildings.

Accessing Buildings for Urban Exploration

Get permission before accessing a building. This means you’re legitimate. If you choose not to do so, any risks you undertake are yours.

This website does not endorse breaking the law.

Photo of an abandoned building at nighttime
Nighttime can provide really interesting conditions to photograph inside.

How to Seek Permission for Urban Exploration

There are several options open to you here. Finding the owner of the building and asking is not always easy.

  • Trace the owner – One of the easiest ways to trace the owner will be tax records. This may be a person but could also be a bank. Once you have this, you have the person responsible for the property. You can now ask that person for permission to enter the property.
  • Inform the police – If you’re unable to trace the property owner, then the next approach is to contact the police. They likely know the building is empty. Inform them of your intention to enter the building, and they can then give you permission. You are now on the right side of the law.
  • Purchase the property – The most extreme option is to take over possession of the property yourself. If you were able to track down the owner this will be easier, as you can make them a direct offer. Keep in mind things like any unpaid tax on the property. If you can’t find the owner, a court may allow you to take procession of a property, if it’s proven to be abandoned.

Final Tips for Exploring Abandoned Buildings.

The following are some strategies to use when engaging in urban exploration.

  • Pack light – Don’t carry massive amounts of camera gear. This makes it more difficult to move around old abandoned buildings. Remember that the flooring and stairs may not be stable.
  • Leave no trace – This is one of the main rules of urban exploration. If you gain access, take photos but leave the place as you found it.
  • Lights – It’s important to see where you’re going. Pack headlamps and torches, and make sure to take extra batteries with you.

Conclusion

So now you’re all set with all the information you need to kick start your urbex adventure. Have you explored abandoned places before? What were your experiences? Was it easy or difficult to gain access to the abandoned building?

We would love to hear your experiences on finding abandoned places near you. Feel free to share your thoughts and photographs in the comments section of this article.

Why not check out our post on finding abandoned places with the Forgotten app next!

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