The Eerie Beauty of Urban Decay Photography

Broadway by Timothy Neesam
Broadway by Timothy Neesam

What is urban decay photography?

Urban decay is the process of an urban area becoming abandoned and falling into disrepair, and some might think that this type of environment wouldn’t provide any interesting photographic opportunities. But if you’re able to find beauty in unlikely places, images of urban decay can be truly compelling and unique. Forgotten alleyways, dilapidated buildings, discarded and forgotten furniture and equipment – these are all subjects you can explore if you want to try your hand at urban decay photography. Below are a few tips to keep in mind, and some photos to inspire you!

AmusementPark by AndresArnason
Pripyat Amusement Park by Andres Arnason

Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Watch your step!

It probably goes without saying that abandoned buildings can be dangerous to explore, due to structural damage, discarded junk all over the floors and lack of light, so make sure you take precautions and BE SAFE. Bring a friend, or at least your phone. Dress appropriately – proper footgear like a sturdy pair of boots plus long pants and sleeves will protect you from broken glass, nails and other nasty things. And no matter how caught up you get in your photography, remember to pay close attention to where you are walking.

2. Proper equipment

Besides your camera, make sure you pack a flashlight. You can’t expect to find power in abandoned buildings, so you will need a flashlight to see where you are going and to use as a light source. You should also bring along a tripod, since you will likely be shooting in low light. This kind of lighting usually requires a long exposure so you need a tripod to stabilize your camera.

WestParkReflectionsToo by Romany WG
West Park Reflections Too by Romany WG

3. Don’t rely on your camera to do all the work

Since most urban decay photos are shot in low light, you shouldn’t rely on your camera’s automatic settings to properly control all the variables. This means shooting in manual mode. If you’re a beginner photographer, check out our tutorial series Camera Focus and Settings to learn how control and adjust various aspects of your shots.

4. It’s all in the details

Aside from the buildings themselves and their architectural details, look for smaller objects like furniture, books, tools or household items – they can help tell the story of the building’s life, and death.

Hardcore Chair for a Hardcore Place by Chris Jones
Hardcore Chair for a Hardcore Place by Chris Jones

5. Set the mood

Urban decay photography is often dark and somber, yet captivating. There are a few things that can help to capture this tone. Take your time to compose your shot, keeping in mind the rules of photography composition. Try using a wide angle lens to help convey the sense of vast emptiness that can be found in places like this. And lastly, many examples of urban decay photography use a technique like HDR to create a unique, otherworldly effect. Usually you would need to have 3 or more versions of the shot, taken with different exposures, and combine them to create an HDR effect. But you can also get the same look using your photo editing software – see how it’s done in PaintShop Pro.

Beelitz by James Farmer

If you’re looking for an even simpler way to convey a sense of starkness and desolation in your photos, you can use something like the Post-apocalyptic Fresco script that will automatically transform your photos for you.

We hope this has given you the inspiration you need to create your own urban decay photography, and we look forward to seeing your photos!

Reader Interactions

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *