This is true with photography, as well. There is no such thing as "photograph-by-number" and there are no easy shortcuts to great images. It takes years of practicing the craft of photography to become truly good at it.
With that said, below are five pieces of advice to get you on your way. These will help you to become a better urban exploration photographer.
Keep It Simple
|Fruit Cup - Tehachapi, California|
Often this means getting close and refining the composition. Look carefully at the background. Look carefully at the edges of the frame. Look for anything that doesn't belong and rework the subject until those distractions are gone.
Sometimes the difference between a so-so image and a good one is a matter of a few inches. A few inches closer. A few inches left or right. A few inches up or down. Sometimes small changes have big impacts on the photograph.
Often photographs are improved by subtraction and rarely by addition. In many cases, the more that is stripped away from the composition the better the photograph will be. Make it obvious to the viewer what the photograph is about by taking away everything possible that does not convey the massage.
Better Light Equals Better Photographs
|Abandoned Window Morning - Rosamond, California|
While great light can be found at any time of the day or night if one looks hard enough for it (or if they create it themselves), the most obvious great light is found around sunrise and sunset. Photographing around this time is an easy way to immediately improve one's images.
The pursuit of great photographs is really the pursuit of great light. The sooner you understand that the better.
|Forgotten Faucet - Tehachapi, California|
Light contrast are areas within an image where light and dark areas touch. Color contrast are areas within an image where colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel touch (such as red and green). Anytime you have light contrast or color contrast, that is where the viewer will look first. You want to use this contrast to draw the viewer's eyes to where you want them to look in an image. You must be careful that light or color contrast doesn't take the viewer to some place that you don't want them to go.
Lines, Shapes and Forms
|Tumbledown Window - Mojave, California|
Perhaps you have a "punchline" in the image that you want the viewer to see, but it is not likely they'd notice without being guided. Lines, shapes and forms can be used to take the viewer's eyes there.
Lines protruding from the edges of the frame will take the viewer's eyes out of the photograph (and onto the next image). Lines from the corners will draw the viewer's attention in to wherever the line leads.
Tell A Story
|One Dollar - Tehachapi, California|
Because photography is communication it can be used to tell a story. It can be used to speak to the viewer in a way that verbal words would have a difficult time stating. Photography can be powerful in this way.
Use your photography to say something. Don't just snap pictures. Instead, convey some kind of message that the viewer can take with them long after they've seen your photograph.