Photographing Abandoned Places: Rule of Three

The advice on how to tackle photographing an abandoned site is limitless. With Photoshop, many can take rather so-so photos and sex them up with deeper colors, blurring, even make them look like old photos. Hocus pocus, aside, let's talk about how to take advantage of sites that don't need sexing up post production. They need to be exposed and raw and in their natural form as you found them.

This is my very first thing I consider when looking at an abandoned site. In the picture above in which the crumbled building is far in the distant desert, I photographed if that way on purpose. When I approached the site, the thing that amazed me the most was that it was nothing but flat open desert and an exposed guts of a home. To show the magnitude of the surrounding desert and it's crumby unnoticeable little place in it, I took advantage of a more panoramic shot. Look at the context in which the place is located--is it in a tenement row? Take advantage of the tall narrow perspective. Is it in a row of abandoned buildings? Take a shot from in front of the end building looking down the row of them to show how many there are; all abandoned together. Context creates mood.

Lighting: There is something magnificent about light coming through cracks in broken boards, shattered windows and the sight of hazy dust motes. Shadows cast onto the building and within the building all make for more mystery. The lighting is so crucial. In the burned out building above, I took the shot into the sunlight to take advantage of the rays hitting the building just right. It took it from being just a dead building to window panes to heaven. Lighting creates atmosphere.

Framing: The closeup shot of the concrete sign was not a normal instinctive way to take the shot, but what I wanted to create was a piece of the scene, not the whole thing. It's more evocative if you have no context for this photo. You see part of it, but your mind fills in the bigger scene of where it is set. You leave the viewer to create the setting in his mind's eye. What is this sign attached to? You can almost picture it, can't you? Framing creates mystery.

I've given tips on photographing abandoned sites a lot on here and you can no doubt find them in the search bar. I gain knowledge each time I do it, but one thing I always keep in mind are the context, lighting and framing. Those three things alone if considered for each shot will give you something unexpected every time and also capture your memories of the place in a way that you can look at your photos and instantly recall how it smelled, felt, and what you thought of as you walked through the site. Consequently, those who did not go there in person will still get the same imagery because you captured what it was like to stand there.

As an addendum, check out this pic of me on the beach in CA.

It's a sunset shot, but why show the sunset--boring. Show how it affects everything around it. You still see the sunset, but this tells more story, doesn't it?