Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Abandonment: Manufactured Home In The Hills - Tehachapi, California

Purple Beretta - Tehachapi, California
There's an abandoned manufactured home in the hills outside of Tehachapi, California that I recently explored. Besides the mobile home, there were two old travel trailers and a car on the property.

While located close to a route that I often travel, it took me a long time to spot this place because it's hidden behind a thicket of trees. There are several "no trespassing" signs, but it isn't clear if those are for this property or the neighboring properties (I assumed it was for the neighboring properties).

The place was completely disgusting. There were piles of decades-old dog feces everywhere. There was old food and rat poop. I did most of my exploring from the outside, photographing through windows. Safety first!
Forsaken Sink - Tehachapi, California
From what I could tell from the things that I found, this place had been abandoned for at least 15 years. It appeared as though people lived in the manufactured home and in one of the two travel trailers. There may have been children, although that's not completely clear (all of the kid stuff was found on the outside of the home, possibly dumped there after abandonment). They left quite suddenly, and most (if not all) of their belongings stayed behind. That suggests a tragic story of some sort.

The place has been pretty well ransacked. Things are toppled over. Everything that may have once been in drawers is no longer. It's definitely a mess. Rodents, birds and perhaps some other wildlife have moved in.

I captured all of these images using a Nokia Lumia 1020. Yes, I used my cell phone. This is further proof that your camera doesn't matter--vision, creativity and the decisive moment are what matter most in photography.
Clean The Dirty Kitchen - Tehachapi, California
Sole Thick - Tehachapi, California
Bathroom Pictures - Tehachapi, California
Cassette Player - Tehachapi, California
Drug Book - Tehachapi, California
Soup Bowl - Tehachapi, California
Vent View - Tehachapi, California
Bedroom Abandoned - Tehachapi, California
Blue Chair - Tehachapi, California
Torn Veiled View - Tehachapi, California
The Color of Lost Youth - Tehachapi, California
Nobody Wants Pooh - Tehachapi, California

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Legend of The School Bus In The Riverbed - Cane Brake, California

Tangled School Bus - Cane Brake, California
There's a popular tourist destination in central California at the south end of the Sierra Nevada mountains called Lake Isabella. People flock to the lake and the Kern River during the hot summer months. In the winter there is skiing on one of the surrounding mountain peaks.

In Lake Isabella there's a local legend about an old school bus. On a wet winter day many years ago, while driving on what is now California Highway 178 in the rural areas east of the lake, a bus got stranded in flood waters.

The legend has been passed around by word-of-mouth. In one widely told version the bus was full of children. It got caught in the flood waters from the creek that parallels the highway. The water was rising and the bus was stuck. The heroic efforts of the driver and some Good Samaritans saved most of the children. But then the rushing water swept the bus away, eventually placing it in a thicket, half buried in mud. A few of the children never made it out. The hero bus driver died, too.
School Bus - Canebrake, California
That and similar versions of the legend cannot be verified. I couldn't even find the date that this tragic event happened. I found no references in the local newspaper. There was an epic flood in 1966, and that's the most likely year that this event occurred.

The most likely story--and one that I've heard passed around as the "true story"--is that the bus driver lived in a rural area near Cane Brake, east of Lake Isabella. At night and on the weekends the driver kept the bus on his property. It was a weekend when the flood waters came and the bus was completely empty. It was swept away from the property where it sat, and came to rest in a thicket not all that far from where it had been parked.

It's difficult to know which version of the story is true, especially when a couple of long-time locals claim to have been rescued from that bus. Either way, it is fascinating to discover the old bus in the thicket along California Highway 178 near Cane Brake. During the winter months when the leaves are gone from the trees, and if you know where to look, you can see it from the highway.
Green And Red - Cane Brake, California
There's a small trail that leads down through the trees to the rusty yellow bus. Only half of it is visible, the rest is buried in the dirt. It is a testament to the power of a storm--that enough raindrops can turn a tiny creek into a raging river and move a large object from one place to another.

If you follow the trail just a little further--past the creek and around a corner--there's an old house that's long been abandoned. It's probably been empty as long as the school bus has been stuck in the thicket. The same flood can account for it's desertion.

The house is old, perhaps 100 years old. The roof is gone. Some of the walls are gone. Not a lot remains. There's an old wood ladder that climbs up to what may have been an attic. The house was fairly small (especially by today's standards), but it had electricity and plumbing.
Green Lampshade - Cane Brake, California
The whole area is beautiful. The air is fresh. The mountain views are stunning. The landscape is lush. It's easy to see why someone settled here. This was a nice place to have a home.

But the hidden danger was nature. The little creek had a dark side. On a stormy day in 1966 the waters rose. It placed a bus where it didn't belong and forced the residents of the nearby house to move someplace else.

I captured all of these photographs several years ago. On a whim myself and some of my family went on an adventure to see if we could find the bus. The abandoned house was a bonus. It was one of my first adventures in the urban exploration genre (well before I even knew what that meant). The bottom three photographs were published in a book about Kern County, California.
Ladder & Wall - Cane Brake, California

Friday, March 27, 2015

Urbex Images - Flickr Friday Favorites

After taking last week off, Flickr Friday Favorites is back! For the uninitiated, The Urban Exploration Photography Blog has a Flickr group called Urbex Images (which I am the administrator of), and I go through the photographs added to the group pool to find my favorites to share here.

There are many talented photographers in the group, and each day many interesting images are added to the group pool. It's really fun to go through. There are many more photographs worth seeing than what you see posted here.

As always, the copyrights belong to the photographers who created the photographs. All of the images you see here I asked for and received permission to use. I encourage you to take a closer look at each photographer--check out the rest of their work.
Playing to Empty Seats by Frank Grace
I like the from-stage perspective. It almost feels like the viewpoint of a spirit performing even in

death. The lights add some interest and drama.
Visit his website by clicking here.
remember how the numbers clicked? by cHRISTIN cORDOVA
The vintage look of this image is quite fitting for the subject. It has a film-like quality, and the
light-leaks are a nice touch.
Visit her website by clicking here.
Late Check-In by Ron Pinkerton
The yellow building is color-contrasted with he blue sky. The red light-painted interior gives an

uneasy feeling.
Visit his website by clicking here.
just a tiny guy, a pair of big eyes... and a shoe by Szydlak likes Abandoned Places
Contrast draws the eyes to the glasses, and from there one explores the many unusual details

of the scene.
Shocked couch by Fred Denman
This scene is interesting because of the face in the couch. The "NO" on the wall is a nice punchline. 

I like the simplicity of it.
P3132380 by Olivier Bailleux
This image is about simplicity and light. I really like the mysterious feeling of it. 
the devil is in the details b Tumra Needi
Another simple image. There are several repeated shapes. The punchline is found in the white oval.
the little white castle horse by potosi6088m
Gotta love the horse--it gives this scene a mysterious/whimsical feel. The through-the-doorway perspective adds depth.
Casting Couch by Joe Bastek
A simple scene with good lighting. It's vibrant, and the the red stains on the couch add subtle color-contrast.
timeless by Rainer Schund
Great lighting, composition, contrast and concept. Good use of a narrow depth-of-field.
Rusty flowers by Seb alessandroni
An interestering perspective. There are repeated lines and shapes. The green moss and rust provide some color contrast.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Graffiti Photographs

Hall Loves You - Newberry Springs, California
Abandoned buildings are often covered in the "urban art" known as graffiti. Spray paint can turn the deviant into an artist.

I'm not a fan of graffiti. I have a hard time understanding the value of it. I prefer to find abandoned locations that haven't been defaced, but those locations can be difficult to come by.

Most commonly, the way I photographically handle graffiti is to subtly and thoughtfully include it in the scene. It becomes a part of the composition, but it is not the photographic subject.
Have Yourself A Kooper Little Christmas - Atolia, California
Occasionally, however, I find some graffiti that is compelling and deserving of a photograph. The deviant art becomes the subject of an image. The photographs in this post are of those rare instances where the graffiti was worth creating an image of.

A snapshot of art is still a snapshot. Photographic vision is required to make a meaningful image. One cannot rely solely on the creativity of another--your own creativity is still required.

One last thought on graffiti is this: the artist owns the copyright (at least in America). Courts have ruled that if you photograph someone's graffiti and you earn a profit from that image, the graffiti artist, if he or she can prove that they created it, is entitled to a portion of the profits. This may sound really dumb, but you appreciate similar protection of your own photographic images.
Mockingjay - Boron, California
Oh, Well - Boron, California
Alien - Mojave, California
Sorry About The Wall - Mojave, California

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cameras & Contentment

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
This image was captured with a cell phone. It was good enough to be published in a magazine.
It's easy to think that your gear isn't good enough. Many photography magazines and blogs will tell you that owning the latest gear is a prerequisite to good photography. Camera manufacturers and retailers are good at convincing you that whatever you own, unless it's brand-new and expensive, isn't going to cut it.

This line of thinking is not healthy. Besides the obvious pocketbook impact, it convinces us that gear is the most important thing in photography. But it is not. Vision and creativity are paramount, far above the gear that we use.

I find that it's better to be happy with what you have than to get down in the dumps over what you don't have. Camera envy gets you nowhere.

Besides, limitations are actually advantages if you'll let them be. Limitations force you to be more creative with what you have, and creativity is one of the principals of great photography. In other words, use what gear you have to the best of your ability, and you'll soon realize that it doesn't really matter what camera you use. You'll find yourself more content, and contentment equals happiness. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Childlike Mind & Photography

Forgotten Doll - Mojave, California
"Adults are logical thinkers. Adults like order. Adults have preconceived notions. Children are not that way. Children don't have the experiences yet that tell them there are limitations. They have not yet been told 'you can't do this, you can't do that' and 'you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that.' Creative people must channel that inner child." --Ritchie Roesch
It's funny, in school we are taught to check boxes, follow standardized procedures and stay inside the lines. As adults, outside-the-box thinking is a coveted commodity. Outside-the-box thinking is essential to creativity. I think that children are naturally creative thinkers, and that we often stifle that creativity by forcing them to fit some mold.

Knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. Knowledge is both good and bad.

Knowing how to correctly expose a photograph is good. Knowing what makes a photograph great is good. Knowing too much about gear, composition rules and locations are curses.
On The Moon - Mojave, California
How are those things curses?

Too much knowledge about gear will make one too concerned about things that don't matter. Tiny differences in things like dynamic range and corner sharpness have no real-world impact on photographs, yet people get consumed by those very things. It is amazing how much time and money is spent on gear, yet it is actually pretty difficult to find crappy cameras and lenses anymore. Almost every camera made today is more than good enough to create great images with. And the equipment that actually is crappy is coveted by a sub-genre of photography called lomography.

Too much knowledge about photography rules gets in the way of creating great photographs. Photography rules are meant to guarantee consistently good results, yet rarely allow for great results. Great results happen when the rules are ignored.
Deserted Bear - Rosamond, California
Too much knowledge about a location can make one think that they know everything worth photographing at that location. It is amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can see. Every so often I find something in my own yard worth photographing that I never noticed before. At familiar locations it is beneficial to imagine that it is your first time at that location.

Children are curious and imaginative. Their world is full of amazement and endless possibilities. As photographers we should find our childlike mind. We shouldn't be less concerned with knowledge and more concerned about creativity.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Nikon D3300 & High ISO

Old Cup of Coffee - Tehachapi, California
High-ISO is important to the urban exploration photographer. Often one find's themselves in dark situations, and tripods are not always a convenient solution. A camera capable of good image quality while in the higher ISOs can be valuable urbex photography tool.

Not long ago high-ISO digital photography was limited to cameras with full-frame or larger sensors. Those days are gone. APS-C sized sensors are now producing results that just five years ago was only possible with larger sensors.
Oh, Well - Boron, California
Digital technology changes quickly, and advancements are happening everywhere. It is an exciting time to be a photographer. Just in the last year we have seen improvements in camera sensors all the way from medium-format to the tiny sensors found in cell phones.

Not too long ago I purchased Nikon's "entry-level" DSLR, the D3300. This camera has a 24-megapixel APS-C sized sensor. As I've been using it, I've been blown away by its high-ISO capabilities.
Shelvador - Rosamond, California
It is not only an improvement over the D3200, but it is right up there with what Fuji is getting out of their 16 megapixel X-Trans sensor. It is also right up there with full-frame sensors from just a few years ago, like the Canon EOS 5D, Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, the Sony A850 and the Sony A900 (according to DxOMark).

Comparing JPEGs from the D3300, there is almost no distinguishable differences between ISO 100 and ISO 400. Yes, if you closely study side-by-side 100% crops you can detect a slight increase in digital noise in shadows that have been lightened (or burned, using the old darkroom term). The first jump in noise is at ISO 800, but it is a small jump that's difficult to notice without a close study. The jump at ISO 1600 is similar to the previous one--small and not all that obvious without a close look. If you were to compare images captured at ISO 400 or below with images captured at ISO 1600 there is a noticeable increase in noise, but it still isn't all that big of a difference.
Small Wood Table - Johannesburg, California
At ISO 3200 the photographs begin to look just a little soft, but there is no noticeable increase in noise. This is because Nikon has increased the noise reduction applied. While the images are softer, they still look quite good. With previous cameras I have owned, I might have expected similar results around ISO 800.

Above ISO 3200 there are noticeable increases in noise and softness. However, RAW files, with some careful post-processing, are perfectly usable up to ISO 6400, particularly for grainy monochrome images.
Half Cup - Rosamond, California
When it comes to digital cameras I have always been a low-ISO guy. I've never been all that satisfied with high-ISO results. But with the Nikon D3300 I'm quite happy to use the camera all the way up to ISO 3200. In fact, every image in this post was captured at ISO 3200 using the D3300.

Now the really amazing thing about this is that the D3300 is not an expensive camera. In fact, I paid $375 for mine (body only). Even just one year ago similar results were not possible at that price point.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why Prime Lenses Are Better Than Zooms - And Why It Doesn't Matter

Alien - Mojave, California
Prime lenses are better than zoom lenses. A fixed focal length allows the engineers to fine-tune the lens to as close to perfection as possible. With a zoom there are a lot of variables that make it much more difficult to get that super sharp, super crisp glass. There are some zoom lenses that are exceptional and are as sharp as some primes, but those cost a lot of money.

Prime lenses are sharper than zooms, and they often outperform them in other ways, too. Almost always a good prime will have a larger maximum aperture than a good zoom. Often there are less chromatic aberrations and vignetting on prime lenses.
Forgotten Faucet - Tehachapi, California
One advantage of prime lenses that may not be immediately obvious is that you are limited to one focal length. Limitations improve art. Having only one focal length available will force you to be more creative, and being more creative will improve your photographs.

But does any of this really matter? Should you abandon your zoom and use only prime lenses? No, because equipment doesn't matter. Photographic vision is far more important than camera or lens choices.
Old Life, New Life - Victorville, California
Ansel Adams said, "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept." I'll add that a fuzzy image of a sharp concept is by far preferable to a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.

Sharpness is sometimes overrated. Looking back at some of the "masters" of photography, there are plenty of photographs that are not tack sharp. The photographs are great because the concepts are great. What lens was used isn't all that important.
Room 7 - Rosamond, California
Worry more about sharp concepts and less about sharp lenses. The photographer's ability is more important than the lens' ability. Artistic vision trumps equipment every time.

Oh, did I mention that all of the photographs in this post were captured using cheap zoom lenses? Use whatever lens you have, and don't worry if they are tack sharp. What is in your mind and heart are much more important than what gear is in your hand.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How I Easily Make (Urbex) Photographs Look Vintage

Vintage Abandoned Ranch - Rosamond, California
This image was made to look like it had been captured using Polaroid 55.
The trendy thing in photography is vintage-looking images. The retro appearance is "in". Perhaps this is brought on by Instagram and other cell phone apps that quickly give snapshots a vintage makeover.

What constitutes vintage-looking photographs? Those that appear to have been captured by old film cameras, such as Polaroid or Diana. Cross-processed-looking photographs are included in this.
Old Dormitories - Boron, CaliforniaThis image was post-processed using one of the Polaroid "film" options.
Some actually use old film cameras to get the vintage look. This is often called lomography. I have a Holga 120N that I occasionally use, and it (by design) gives images a certain [desired] look.

Another way to achieve the vintage look is to post-process your digital images in such a way that the images look old. You can play with the color curves and use layers and so forth. It takes a little effort, but once you figure out what you're doing it's not that hard (just a bit time consuming).
Retro Living - Johannesburg, California
This image was made to look like it had been captured using Polaroid 55.
There is, however, a much easier way. Several companies make software that with one-click you can transform your bland digital images into retro-looking photographs. The software of choice for me is Alien Skin Exposure. It's simple to use and gives me the look that I want quickly.

Exposure is a film-emulation and post-processing software. There are a ton of color and black-and-white "film" options, including Polaroid and other vintage films, and also options for pushed process and cross-process (and tons of other things, too, such as light leaks and dust). They've done a great job of getting the colors, contrast and grain just right. With one click the photographs look like they were captured using that film.
Soundcraft - Rosamond, California
This image was post-processed using one of the Polaroid "film" options.
There are many post-processing tools found within the software to further fine tune the photographs. You can make a bunch of modifications, and they're all pretty simple to do. The look you want, whatever that look is, is quickly achieved.

The photographs you see in this post were all post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure 7. And that's it. No other software was used. They were RAW files captured using a Nikon D3300 DSLR.
To The Reader - Rosamond, CaliforniaThis image was post-processed using one of the Polaroid "film" options.
Exposure is not the only software available that does this. There are a handful of options out there, and I've heard good things about them all. I don't think you could go wrong with any of them.

What stood out to me about Alien Skin was the effort that they put into getting the "look" for each film right. They painstakingly study actual film to ensure that the emulation is accurate. Another great thing is that the software works as a stand-alone program and Photoshop isn't required (but it can also be used as a Photoshop plug-in).