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A Glossary of Urban Exploration Terms (Urbex Meaning)

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 9 min read
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Urban exploration, also known as “urbexing” or ” UE “, is the exploration of abandoned and derelict buildings and structures, usually in an urban environment

The term urbexing comes from the combination of two words: “urban” and “exploration”. Urban explorers typically seek to explore places that are normally off-limits to the general public. We’ll take a deep dive into the urbex meaning and philosophy.

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The Dictionary of Urban Exploration Terms: Urbex Meaning

There are many terms you can use in urbex photography. To help you, we have divided this list into several categories.

Urban Exploration Locations

  • Access – This means gaining entry to a location.
  • Admin – This is where the administration, and often security, is in the building.
  • ARTS – This stands for abandoned rapid transport station, the last S can also mean system.
  • Cracking – This means gaining access to a location that most people or even no one else has explored before.
  • Bricked up – An access point that someone has blocked using bricks and cement
  • Crash bar – You will find these installed on exits. Opening one of these often triggers an alarm. Their everyday use would be to exit the building in an emergency.
  • The Fresh – Another word to describe raw sewage. You will encounter this if you explore sewage systems.
  • Holy Grail – A location that’s difficult to access, but is desirable to enter.
  • Hot – A location that has higher levels of security because someone was caught urbexing there.
  • Infiltration – Gaining access to a site that you should otherwise not have access to.
  • Picked – This means someone has already accessed a place using lockpicks.
  • Portal – A portal is an entrance point to something like a subway system. This point would be where that system goes from overground to underground.
  • Recce – Exploring a place before going there to photograph it. This involves looking for places to enter, where security is, and if there are any security cameras.
  • Rinsed – This refers to a place that has already been well explored and photographed.
  • Sniping – In most photography, this means taking a photo from a distance, like a sniper. In urbex photography, this refers to cutting through a fence or breaking a lock to gain entry.
  • TOADS – This is an acronym for temporary, obsolete and derelict spaces
Urbex idea: incredible cityscape taking from a high rooftop
Rooftopping is a niche within the niche area of urbex. You can get some amazing angles from a roof.

Urban Exploration Gear

  • DSLR – The standard camera for most urbex photographers. Mirrorless cameras like the Sony Alphas are also popular.
  • High-Vis – This is a type of clothing, often a fluorescent yellow vest. It’s used by people so that they can be seen.
  • Overt Camouflage – This means dressing up in disguise to make it look like you belong in the location. This could mean wearing a high-vis vest, or other clothing worn by people who are on site.

Urbex Photographer Types

  • Prohobo – Someone who camps at an abandoned place using expensive camping equipment.
  • Asylum Seeker – A photographer who visits abandoned asylums. Of course, these asylums are now not in active use.
  • Catophiles – Photographers who enjoy exploring the underground catacombs of Paris.
  • Rooftopper – A photographer who enjoys gaining access to the top of tall buildings. This type often involves climbing fire escapes.
  • Buildering – Those who climb the sides of buildings to gain access to them.
  • Drainer – This is someone who enjoys exploring the sewers and drain networks that run under a city.
  • Lift Surfer – A person who stands on the roof of a lift while it’s moving, think almost any action movie and you get the idea.
  • Ninja – Someone good at avoiding detection. Ninjas are often good at breaking into a location by climbing over walls.
  • Noob – This is short for a newbie, somebody who is new to urbex photography.
  • Trojan Horse – A person who enters a building, with clothes that allow them to fit in there. They then let other people into the building.
an abandoned industrial space for urban exploration
Abandoned buildings will often be falling apart, so you need to tread carefully.

Urbex Photography Terms

  • Backlighting – This refers to a light source that is behind your main subject. Hence the main subject is backlit. When used in portrait photography, this is sometimes called rim lighting.
  • Chimping – The practice of reviewing your photos on the LCD display of your camera. Most photographers aim to avoid doing this too much. It’s better to be taking photos rather than looking at them.
  • Hero Shot – This can refer to two things. The first is a great photo, the one that will turn heads when shown later. The other refers to a picture of a pleased urbex explorer who has gained access to a location.
  • Light Painting – Using a light source such as a torch to light a section that you are photographing. Light painting needs a long exposure, so you’ll require a tripod.
  • Dirty Shot – This type of photo involves pushing up the ISO to maximum levels and using a wide-angle lens. It’s known as dirty because of the digital noise this will cause in the photo.
otherworldly distorted urban scene
You can see some unique otherworldly scenes when you go urbexing.

General Urbex Terms

  • Back Cabbing – This means riding on the last wagon of a train. This gives you a higher chance that it’s empty, allowing more photography opportunities.
  • Base Jumping – This isn’t just for photography, and will get you spotted and in trouble. It involves rooftopping and then jumping from the roof with a parachute.
  • Bait – This involves someone creating a distraction, to bait the security. While the security is not looking, people can enter the location.
  • Blagging – Using the power of persuasion to seem like you have a legitimate reason to be somewhere when you do not.
  • Buildering – Climbing up buildings using techniques you’d usually use for rock climbing.
  • The Bill – The police force.
  • Christmas – In urbex photography, Christmas is when a location becomes unguarded. A difficult to access site can become easier to enter, which is a gift for urbex photographers.
  • Masking Up – To avoid identification by a security camera, you put a mask on before you approach.
  • Usufruct – A legal term, which you can use to justify entering someone else’s property. The condition is that nothing becomes damaged or moved.
urbex photography: cool backlighting behind a man exploring an abandoned building
Here is an example of backlighting against the person.

Common Questions About Urbex Photography

Let’s address some of the often asked questions about urbex photography. From this, you can get a feel for whether you wish to pursue this type of photography yourself.

What Is Urban Exploration Photography?

Urbex means exploring the urban environment for exciting photos. It involves exploring abandoned buildings, underground tunnels or rooftops.

How Do You Photograph Abandoned Buildings?

The short answer to that is with great care. Abandoned buildings can be dangerous and have rotten floors you could fall through.

There is also the question of the building’s ownership. Even when abandoned, you are still trespassing on someone’s property.

If you still want to photograph an abandoned building, take a wide-angle lens. Look to show the textures, leading lines, and story of the building.

What Do I Need for Urban Exploration?

There are some essential items you should bring with you for urbex photography. You will need a tripod, a camera and a flash. Try and keep your camera gear light, and only take one lens.

Take protective clothes, a pair of jeans, some gloves, and some sturdy boots. Make sure you’re covered with a long sleeve top as well. Finally for safety reasons take a torch and a mobile phone with you.

Is Exploring Abandoned Places Illegal?

Because a building stands abandoned, it doesn’t mean someone does not own it. Entering a building without the owners’ permission is trespassing, which is illegal.

If you want to explore an abandoned building legally, then you will need to get permission to explore it. You will have to reach out to the building owner, or in extreme cases, even purchase the property.

cool light painting in an abandoned industrial space for urban exploration
Light painting is an exciting photography technique, and it can be used in an urbex setting.


It’s worth learning the lingo when you get into a new type of photography.

There are terms that you’ll need to know, and this will help you achieve your goals of getting great photos.

Do you have any slang which you use for your photography?

Here at ExpertPhotography, we’d love to hear any of the new terms you’re using. Please share them in the comments section to this article, along with any urbex photos you have taken!

Photographic Documentation
iPhone Photography School’s Capture it All
Capture It All
If you’re interested in urbex meaning and want to improve your photography skills, check out this video course that will show you how to use your iPhone camera to its full potential. With 65 videos and lifetime access, you’ll learn at your own pace and capture stunning loop videos.