Saturday, January 31, 2015

Urban Exploring With A Nokia Lumia 1020

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
"The best camera is the one that's with you." --Chase Jarvis
Nokia Lumia 1020
The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a cell phone. It's a computer, too, and a camera. Like a lot of digital gadgetry nowadays, it's a lot of different things all in one. I want to talk about the camera aspect of this device--specifically using it for urban exploration photography.

The camera has a 1/1.5 inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor with a whopping 41 megapixels, a 26mm equivalent f2.2 Carl Zeiss lens, image stabilization and the ability to save in RAW (DNG) format. On paper it seems to be a serious photography tool.
Boss Hog - Tehachapi, California
The Nokia Lumia 1020 is capable of saving in RAW (DNG) format. Dynamic range is limited and high ISO performance is marginal on this camera (more on that later), so having the ability to capture in RAW is great. But, what I have discovered is that the JPEGs are actually pretty good, especially at low ISO.

I had dismissed the JPEGs before I even started using the camera, just assuming that they were not good. I immediately set up the camera to capture in RAW. The camera also saves a small JPEG file of each image (this cannot be turned off). After post-processing the RAW files, I discovered that they didn't look all that much different than the JPEGs that the camera was saving. Perhaps a half-stop of dynamic range was lost due to the contrast that the camera applied, but the images were so similar that I stopped saving in RAW in most cases.
Ghosts of the Past - Mojave, California
The camera is very easy to use once you find your way around. The screen is a touch screen and that's where you'll find all of the controls. Nothing is difficult to adjust (except aperture, which is fixed at f2.2). One thing that I don't like is that the camera does not remember your previous settings. When you exit the camera and then return, everything is in auto and, if you don't want it in auto, must be set up again as you want it. It's not a real big deal, but it sometimes is annoying.

The slowest shutter speed on the camera is four seconds. In order to use the shutter that slow you'll need to secure it somehow. There are some companies that make tripod mounts for cell phones, so that could be one solution. Otherwise, the image stabilization on the camera will allow you to hand-hold with a shutter speed as slow as 1/15th of a second.
Knob - Mojave, California
The camera can be manually focused or auto focused. Manual focus is pretty simple, but there is no focus-peeking, so it's a matter of how good one is at eyeballing it. For auto focus, simply tap on the screen where you'd like to focus and the camera does a good job of nailing it. If you don't tap on the screen to tell it where to focus the camera will focus in the center of the image. Auto focus speed is anywhere from about half a second (in bright, contrasty light) to two seconds (in dim light). Minimum focus distance on the Lumia 1020 is just under six inches.

Nokia claims that the Lumia 1020 has loss-less digital zoom. That's nonsense. The camera zooms by cropping, and anytime you crop you lose something. However, with all that resolution the camera has, one can crop quite a bit without a noticeable loss in image quality.
Shadows of Abandonment - Mojave, California
The built-in flash works well (especially as a fill-flash), but it does have a short effective distance. Nokia claims the flash will reach 13 feet, but in practical use I would put it at about half that. Auto-white-balance works pretty well overall, but sometimes the flash seems to throw it off.

One can post-process the images right on the camera, but I prefer to upload the full size files to my computer and edit them there. It gives me more control and better results. However, if one needs to post-process and share immediately, the Lumia 1020 is certainly capable.
Better Days Behind - Tehachapi, California
The Lumia 1020 has 41 megapixels on a small sensor. Yes, the sensor is large for a cell-phone, but it is small compared to what is found in most cameras used by serious photographers. Pixels are not created equal, and in fact there are many different pixel sizes, all of which respond differently to light. Bigger pixels will produce a higher dynamic range and less digital noise while smaller pixels will produce a smaller dynamic range and higher digital noise.

In order for Nokia to get such high resolution out of the small sensor it needed to use tiny light sensors. Nokia made a camera that could capture images capable of mural-sized prints, but at the expense of dynamic range and high ISO image quality. But what surprised me is that the sacrifice was not nearly as severe as I would have guessed.
Forgotten Cans - Mojave, California
The Lumia 1020 has 38 megapixels if used in the 4:3 aspect ratio or 34 megapixels if used in the 16:9 aspect ratio. The resolution from this camera is up there with the highest megapixel full-frame cameras and almost that of medium-format cameras.

Dynamic range on the Lumia 1020 is not great but it's not terrible, either. I would put it into the "acceptable" category. In fact, it's about the same as the dynamic range on Fuji Velvia 50 film, the standard film for color landscape photography. The Lumia 1020's dynamic range is also very similar to full-frame sensors from about 10 years ago (such as the Canon EOS 5D introduced in 2005), APS-C sensors from about five years ago (such as the Pentax K-7 introduced in 2009), and micro-four-thirds sensors from three years ago (such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1 introduced in 2011).
Living Room View - Tehachapi, California
If you think about it, that's pretty amazing! A very small sensor stuffed with 41 megapixels is able to maintain a dynamic range almost identical to the Canon EOS 5D, Pentax K-7 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1, as well as many other cameras that have been well regarded. Even though the dynamic range on the Lumia 1020 isn't particularly great, Nokia deserves some recognition for somehow getting it to be as good as it is.

At low ISO, the Nokia Lumia 1020 will have similar digital noise to any other quality digital camera. However, the camera drops significantly in image quality as ISO increases. This is no surprise because of all those tiny pixels. Even so, the camera produces acceptable results up to ISO 1600. However, for best results, one should keep the ISO at 400 or less.
Forgotten Folding Chair - Cuddy Valley, California
The Carl Zeiss lens on the Nokia Lumia 1020 is a sharp, high quality lens. There is some softness in the corners (especially in the 16:9 aspect ratio), but not a significant amount. The lens is equivalent to 26mm in full-frame terms.

Size matters in photography, but bigger isn't better. The smaller and lighter a camera is, the more likely it will get used. A camera that fits into one's pocket is much more pleasant to have than something that must be strapped around the neck.
Home Love - Cuddy Valley, California
I paid $100 for my Nokia Lumia 1020 one year ago (with a two-year contract). That's a great price for a camera of this caliber. Oh, and it doubles as my cell phone. You can probably find one for less now, especially if you don't mind buying used.

Specifically for urban exploration, the biggest drawbacks of the Lumia 1020 are the dynamic range and high-ISO capabilities. Urban explorers are constantly trying to capture images in difficult lighting situations, and this camera isn't ideal for that. But that does not mean that this camera can't be used for urbex.
Old Broken Hinge - Mojave, California
What makes this camera an excellent choice is that it's with you. Because it is also a cell phone, it's going to be in your pocket. You don't have to worry about always carrying around that bulky DSLR.

Besides that, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is a great value. You will not find a better camera anywhere near the price-point of this one. It's the cheapest good-quality digital camera on the market.
Dips In Pavement - Mojave, California

Friday, January 30, 2015

Urbex Images - Flickr Friday Favorites

Welcome to Urbex Images - Flickr Friday Favorites, a new series of posts to be featured right here on The Urban Exploration Photography Blog. For those unaware, this blog has a Flickr group called Urbex Images. I created the group about two weeks ago, and already there are tons of great photographs being added to the group photo pool.

I've been blown away by the talented photographers who have joined and shared their work. It's all been really great stuff! I've been highly impressed with the photographs in the group. It's been inspirational for me personally. If you want to be inspired, check out the photographs shared on the Urbex Images Flickr Group!

I wanted to share some of my favorite photographs from the group pool. I wanted to give some exposure and credit to the great photographers who have joined Urbex Images and shared their work. Please check out each of their photostreams. Obviously, this is just a small sample of what's in the group pool.

My hope is that this series will be a weekly thing (quite obviously, to be posted every Friday). It was a lot more work to put this together than I would have guessed (I did learn some things about Flickr that I never knew before), so I may not be able to do this every week. We'll see.

All of the photographs below are from the Urbex Images group pool. The photographers own the copyrights to their photographs (please, don't steal--it's not cool). I asked for and received permission to use each of the images in this post. Thanks to everyone who participated! Enjoy.
Old Train Station, Detroit MI by Lukas Dreser
This photograph has great contrast. I really like the balance of it, with the chair at the bottom right and the windows at the top left. There's a line to lead the viewer between these two spots. I like the gritty, lonely feeling the image has and how it's a bit uneasy.
Senior Citizen Mansion by Urbex.with.Flo
The missing key is what makes this photo great, and that's exactly what the photographer wants the viewer to key in on (pun intended). The repeated lines and circles add interest, and the Viola Forte (at least that's what I think it says) at the top left is the punchline.
Cold Demons by Szydlak likes Abandoned Places
What I love about this photograph is the depth. It appears 3D, like you could just step into the scene. It also has a dark, cold feel that fits the subject perfectly.
Star Gazing by Jo-Anne Praught
This photograph is great because you feel like you are at this lonely old barn at night looking up at the vast starry sky. There is a loneliness to it, and, even though the building is large, it seems small in comparison to the universe.
Untitled by LostButNotForgotten
What makes this image is the sun shining through the the hole in the roof. It's a high-contrast point that draws the eye in. Then the ladder leads the viewer to the debris on the floor. The negative space has repeated circles upon close inspection, adding interest and even a slight dizziness.
Untitled by Fp4shooter
The desert wind blows the tattered curtains on a lonely night. This image has a great surreal, eerie feel to it. Two
 strobes were used to light the scene.
Urbex- Tapioca Farm by Ioanna Sakellaraki
It's as if, after dinner, the place was abandoned. It leaves a lot of questions. I like the repeated circles and the vintage cross-processed look of the photo.
Farewell to St. Nicks by andrew bacha
The space seems to go for infinity. The boots leave a lot of questions. There is a metaphoric message in this image. The lighting is fantastic.
Picture This by Ron Pinkerton
What I think makes this photograph great are the color contrast (yellow and blue) and the circular star trails. It is beautifully exposed. It's a great example of light painting and long exposure techniques.
Abandoned State Hospital by skel bone
This still-life photograph of decay is well designed. I like the repeated horizontal lines. I like the side lighting. I like the subtle color. I like that some photography rules were broken. It has an interesting feel. 
Please go on over take a look at the Urbex Images Flickr group to see a whole lot more great photographs by a number of talented artists. Check out each photographer listed above to see more of their wonderful work. Be sure to share this post on social media if you found it interesting. You can "Follow by Email" this blog on the right side of the page. Also, don't forget to "like" The Urban Exploration Photography Blog on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

25 Things I Think About Urban Exploration Photography

When it comes to photography, I have a lot of opinions. I think a lot of different things about a lot of different things. It is having opinions that allows me to successful run a photography blog (two, actually). So I've come up with 25 things I think about urban exploration photography, in no particular order.
Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
1. What camera you use isn't important. Any camera is capable of capturing great photographs just as long the the photographer is also capable. Keep Out The Sun at the top was captured using a cell phone and it was good enough to be published in a magazine.

2. If great gear is somehow a prerequisite to creating great photographs, how can one explain the great photographs captured with cell phones, Holga's and home-made cameras? Those cameras are crappy, yet photographers were able to create real art with them.

3. A crappy camera in hand is worth two Leica's at home on a shelf.

4. What does matter in photography is photographic vision.

5. It is better to spend an hour exploring and photographing an abandoned building than to spend an hour on a photography forum.

6. Photography is just as much about being in the right place at the right time than anything else. If you want to capture a great photograph, that means putting yourself in a position to do so.

7. Any abandoned structure is interesting and could potentially produce a great photograph. One of my favorite images, On A Brighter Day, below, which was recently published in a magazine, was captured at a building that had half of a wall standing and that was about it (basically, what you see in the image). The rest of the building had been completely destroyed by a fire.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
8. Photography is very simple. Anyone can do it, and it doesn't take much effort to learn how everything works.

9. Great photography is very difficult. It takes years of practice to even begin to understand it.

10. Less is more in your camera bag. A simple camera set up is better than a complex camera set up because you are more likely to use something if you can just grab-and-go.

11. Less is more in composition. A simple photograph is better than a complex one. Almost always a photograph is better when it includes the least amount possible to convey the point.

12. Don't over-complicate things. Too much complexity in any part of your photography will weigh you down over time.

13. Photographing close to home is good. You'd be surprised at how many photographic opportunities are not all that far away from you. Besides, this allows you to become an expert of your local area.

14. If you see an abandoned place that you want to explore and photograph, don't wait! If you hesitate, by the time you get around to it the place may be closed or demolished. The place where the photograph below was captured is now off-limits and security cameras ensure that you don't enter.
Forgotten Faucet - Tehachapi, California
15. Besides that, vandals will destroy a place, and what was a few months ago a great scene is no longer. Waiting in urban exploration is not usually a good thing.

16. It's a good idea to return to places you've already explored and photographed. It's likely you left a few good images behind, and you may be able to improve on some photographs that you attempted the first time around.

17. Don't have G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). It takes your time, attention, money and energy away from what matters most in photography.

18. Always use an extra dose of caution when visiting abandoned sites. Most of them are not safe, and you really don't want to get hurt. That's a quick way to ruin your day.

19. You should have someone who's opinion you trust critique your photographs. You might be overlooking something that will significantly improve your photography.

20. When it comes to critics, be careful who you listen to. Not all opinions are created equal. Pay no attention to destructive criticism.

21. A quick post-processing workflow is great. The less time sitting in front of a computer the better. Find any shortcuts you can.

22. Want the look of film? Shoot film. Or, use Alien Skin Exposure software, which is pretty close. The image below was made to look like it was captured with film, but it is in fact digital.
Vintage Abandoned Ranch - Rosamond, California
23. Don't let the number of "likes" or "stars" or "favorites" fool you about a photograph. Some of my best images get the least amount of social media attention, while some of my worst have received a lot of attention.

24. Photography rules should be ignored. They're meant to insure consistently good results, while rarely allowing for great results. Try to be unconventional.

25. Try to photograph daily, and never let a week go by without using your camera.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Abandonment: Small Ranch - Rosamond, California

Lake Front Property - Rosamond, California
On January 9th I published a post called Top 10 Best Urban Exploration Sites In California's Mojave Desert. Listed at #10 is a small ranch near Rosamond.

I hadn't stopped by that ranch since my initial visit in October of 2013. I've passed by it hundreds of times since then, but just kept on driving. Finally, on January 16th, I decided to once again visit the abandoned place.

It was obvious right away that in the year-and-a-half since my first visit vandals and nature have taken their toll on the place. It isn't in the same condition that I remember. Yet, at the same time, as much changed, even more stayed the same. Many things were exactly as I had last seen them.
Classic Television Set - Rosamond, California
I like going back to places that I once visited. I see it as a chance to create different and perhaps better photographs. I think with each place that I visit I leave behind some good images, and perhaps I didn't do my absolute best with each photograph. There is a redeeming quality found in returning.

I also ventured a little more around the property. I was surprised to find an old boat sitting in the desert. I also stumbled on an old hot tub. These are things I didn't find before, I think because I didn't look.

I used a Nikon D3300 DSLR to capture these images. I post-processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 7 software.
Color Lid - Rosamond, California
Reading Chair - Rosamond, California
Wall Shadows - Rosamond, California
Tired Old Building - Rosamond, California
Full of Junk - Rosamond, California
What I Learned In Oklahoma - Rosamond, California
Soundcraft - Rosamond, California
Young California Pioneer - Rosamond, California
To The Reader - Rosamond, California 
Old Chair, Broken - Rosamond, California
Vintage Abandoned Ranch - Rosamond, California
Hot Tub - Rosamond, California
This Was My Grandparents - Rosamond, California
Light's Out - Tehachapi, California

Friday, January 23, 2015

Abandoned (But Not Structures)

Old Tracks - McKinney, Texas
These old railroad tracks are no longer used, and eventually they'll be torn up and replaced with a DART light-rail expansion.
Sometimes I find and photograph abandoned things, but they are not associated with structures. They seem, either thematically or aesthetically, to belong with my urban exploration images, but, technically speaking, they probably fall into a different genre.

I still find these things interesting, perhaps even as much as abandoned buildings. There is a certain loneliness and uneasiness to them. There are questions begging for answers (answers that are typically lost to time).

So I thought I'd share these images here in this post. These have been captured over the last four-ish years using a variety of cameras.
Forgotten Highway 58 - Mojave, California
This old section of California Highway 58 was replaced a couple decades ago by a freeway bypass around the town of Mojave. Now it sits forgotten and unused in the desert.

Ambassador Custo - Wickenburg, Arizona
Someone's old car, left to rust in the desert.
The Beauty of Trash - Rosamond, California
People have a bad idea that the vast empty landscape is their personal landfill.
Old Milage Marker - Mojave, California
This is an old highway that no longer exists, replaced by the Randsburg Cutoff Road. 
Magnavox - Rosamond, California
Someone dumped their old TV in the desert.
Unwanted Joy - Rosamond, California
They also dumped their Christmas decor in the desert.
Red Chair At Lake - Princeton, Texas
Found this chair on a lake shore. Perhaps it is used by a fisherman.
Deserted Bear - Rosamond, California
Someone didn't want their stuffed bear. This was probably a Christmas gift. Now it is lost in the Mojave Desert.