Saturday, June 11, 2016

Video: Abandoned Scottland

I got an email this morning from an urbex group in Scottland called Abandoned Scottland. They asked if I'd be willing to share their new video of an abandoned mansion that they explored. I found it interesting enough, so I decided to share it with you. If you have a few moments, take a look at it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Top 10 Greatest Posts

To The Reader - Rosamond, California
On the right-hand side of this page under "Popular Posts" you will see the 10 most viewed articles on The Urban Exploration Photography Blog. Some of those posts are great, and some are not--they're simply the most popular.

So what are the 10 best articles published on this blog? You and I might not pick the same posts, but, in my opinion, the top 10 greatest posts on The Urban Exploration Photography Blog are (drum roll, please!):

If you haven't looked at these post, take a moment and click on them. You won't be disappointed! There are tons of other topics that I've written on, so if there is something specific you have in mind, use the "Search This Blog" tool to find out what I've said about it. There's plenty to find if you browse this blog.

Monday, April 25, 2016

How To Take Good Photos Anytime of The Day

Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer - Mojave, California
Captured at 12:20 PM.
I watched a video on how to take good pictures even when the time of day would suggest that the light is bad. It could be summarized this way: you need photographic visiongood lighting exists anytime of the day or night if you look hard enough, and that if your pictures aren't good enough than you are not close enough. I strongly agree with all of those points.

Instead of trying to capture a wide seen that includes poor light, move in close and find the spots within the scene that have good light. Instead of photographing the entire building, compose an image using just one of the walls. Instead of photographing the entire landscape, compose an image using just one element (a flower, a leaf, a rock, etc.). Include in your frame only the parts of the scene that contain good light and subtract the parts that have bad light.
Do Not Disturb - Mojave, California
Captured at 3:07 PM.
These are simple concepts, but essential to it all is understanding light. You have to know what is good light and what is not good light. If you cannot read light you won't recognize what you need to do to successfully capture a scene.

The best way to learn light is to capture a lot of photographs in a lot of different light situations (experiment), and then study the results. What worked? What didn't? Why do you think that you got the results that you did? What could you do better next time? You learn by doing. "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst," said Henri Cartier-Bresson.

You shouldn't put your camera away when the light doesn't seem good because of the time of day. But you shouldn't settle for crummy pictures, either. This is when you've got to try harder, because the situation is more challenging. Limitations improve art, including light limitations, because they force you to be creative.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Everyone's A Photographer ...And How To Stand Out From The Crowd

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Everyone is a photographer. Everyone has a camera. Hunter Schwarz, an author at, stated, "Mankind has taken a lot of photos." That's a tremendous understatement, but entirely true.

From 1826 through 1900, according to Schwarz, only a few million photographs were captured across the world, but by 1930 about one billion pictures were exposed annually and by 1960 that number increased to three billion. In the 1970's an average of 10 billion photos were captured each year, and that number increased to 25 billion in the 1980's and 57 billion in the 1990's. Beginning in 2000, the number of photographs captured annually across the world spiked steeply, passing 380 billion in 2012. We were expected to surpass one trillion in 2015 (not sure if that happened or not).

I have no idea how anyone knows for sure just how many photographs were captured each year. This seems like an impossible task, and I feel bad for whoever had to come up with the answer. Perhaps that is why a simple statement of "a lot of photos" is the best response.

There's a saying that you've probably heard before: "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile." Even a hapless snapshooter that knows nothing about photography and uses their cell phone as their camera will capture a good photo every now and then. There are literally hundreds of millions of these "blind squirrel" photographers out there across the world capturing the occasional good image. Add it all up and that's a heck of a lot of good pictures created by hapless picture-takers.
The Lost Chair - Mojave, California
Because every year camera gear gets cheaper and cheaper--you can buy a DSLR that produces good image quality and a lens that's not terrible for under $500--it's easier now more than ever to become a "professional" photographer. That's not to say that everyone who calls themselves "professional" actually delivers professional-quality images. But it's not hard to buy a cheap DSLR, print some business cards for under $20, set up a free or cheap website, and watermark your images--who's to say that you're not a professional?

It used to be that developing and printing photographs required skill and experience in the darkroom. Now software will do the post-processing for you--just pick the "filter" or "preset" you want--and send it off to Costco. The mystery has been removed as photo editing has been opened to the masses.

Anyone can be a photographer, and, because of that, everyone is a photographer. There is an over-saturation of photographs in the world. I'm reminded of the scene in The Incredibles where Buddy (Syndrome) says, "And when everyone's super, no one will be." Photography, in a way, has been cheapened--way more supply than demand. Everyone's a photographer, producing hundreds or even thousands of images annually.

This is not necessarily bad news. Gear is both better and cheaper than ever. There are things that you can do photographically now that would have been extraordinarily difficult or even impossible just 20 years ago. There are so many more ways to share your photographs with the world than there ever was before.
Peerless - Newberry Springs, California
But it's also much easier to get lost in the crowd. The photographic crowd is unimaginably massive. It grows significantly larger every year. Most of the photographers who are "big" now made their name known when the crowd was 80% smaller than today. What would have gotten you noticed 15 years ago is not even close to good enough now.

To stand out from the crowd and get noticed is not easy. It's a seemingly impossible task. But it is possible, and people do it every day. I have some thoughts on how to achieve this.

First, whatever the crowd is doing, that's what you shouldn't be doing--do the opposite. You have to go against the grain. If everyone else is using the same gear, photographing the same subject, doing the same post-processing effect, do not do those things yourself. Find the things that very few, if any, are doing. Do what no one else is doing, think what no one else is thinking.

Second, you have to be creative like mad. There are tons of creative people in the crowd. You need to find ways to up the ante on your own creativity, which is an essential element of photographic vision. You have to make sure that you are the most creative person that you can be.
Tired Old Purse - Mojave, California
Third, you have to go where others are not going and at times when they are not there. Stand out from the metaphoric crowd by not being anywhere near an actual crowd. Photography is in part about being at the right place at the right time, and that often means doing things that others are not willing to do.

Finally, to stand out from the crowd, you need to interpret the scene and not just capture it. Most picture-takers are documenting the scene in front of them, but very few are interpreting it. Charles Hawthorne said, "The world is waiting for men with vision--it is not interested in mere pictures." Most people are capturing "mere pictures" and few are capturing interpretations of the world. You must infuse your images with your own unique thoughts and feelings. It's not necessarily about seeing something that hasn't been seen, but thinking differently about what everyone sees.

Mankind has indeed taken a lot of photos, and the vast majority of them are uninteresting. Most are not good at all. Very few speak to the viewer. It is those who can create meaningful photographs that will find success.

Monday, April 18, 2016

What Differentiates A Photographer From A Snapshooter?

Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
What differentiates a photographer from a snapshooter? The answer is simple: photographic vision.

Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that. Vision is a great starting point, and perhaps it could be boiled down to just that. But it takes a little more, in my opinion. In addition to vision, what differentiates a photographer from a snapshooter is the ability to infuse nonverbal communication into the images. It's creating photographs that speak a message or emotion to others. It's telling a story.

You have to take a scene and figure out what's important and what's not. Then remove everything that's unimportant until only the important remains. It's a little like sculpting. Keep chiseling away everything that doesn't belong.

A snapshooter doesn't do that. They see a scene and capture as much of it as they can. They don't think about it. They don't consider what belongs and what doesn't. They don't try and communicate any message or emotion.

Don't be a snapshooter. Take a moment and figure out what you want your images to speak, then figure out how to create that with the scene in front of you. Being a photographer means being thoughtful and deliberate with your exposures.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Long Overdue Update + Announcement

Forgotten Utah - Tehachapi, California
It's been nearly a month since I posted an update to The Urban Exploration Photography Blog. That's too long, and I apologize. I've been really busy lately, and that brings us right into the big announcement: I'm moving from California to Utah.

While I love living in central California, and I don't feel that I've even scratched the surface of exploring and photographing abandoned places in the region, it's time for me to move on. Utah will certainly offer plenty of photographic opportunities, and I know that there are many abandoned sites there, as well. I can't wait to find and photograph them!

In the meantime, I appreciate your patience. Thank you for hanging in there despite how quiet it has been. Activity will pick up, but probably not for another month, maybe longer. Between now and then posts will be few and far between. I'll try to get one published each week, but no promises.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Embrace Light. Love Light. Know Light.

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Photography is capturing light. Without light there is no photograph.

George Eastman said, "Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you're worth, and you will know the key to photography."

Most of the light that one captures is reflected light--you are not photographing an object or scene, but the reflected luminosity from that object or scene. Different surfaces reflect light differently, giving various amounts of illumination, or, in black-and-white photography, different shades of grey. A blown out highlight is too much light and a deep black shadow is the absence of light.

A photograph is two-dimensional. What differentiates one thing from another is light, or lack of light, or (more usually) both.  It's highlights, shadows, and those in-between tones that make the different shapes and forms within a photograph. In black-and-white photography, if the tones are all the same you won't see a picture, you'll see a grey rectangle.
Web of Neglect - Mojave, California
What appears as different shapes and forms within a photograph is nothing more than different levels of luminance. One can "see" the light--look at the light in a given scene and in one's mind know how that will look in a photograph--and, using this knowledge, understand what will make a good photograph and what won't.

It's possible to photograph something that is quite boring and create a photograph that is very interesting. It requires interesting light. If the light is interesting, the photograph has the potential to be interesting no matter what the subject might be. And if the light is boring, the photograph has a pretty good chance of being a snoozer no matter how interesting the scene might be.

In photography it is more important to find good light than to find good subjects. A fence that no one thinks twice about could make a great photograph if the light is great.

The opposite is also true. A photograph of Yosemite National Park under ordinary light will produce an ordinary photograph. Boring light makes boring photographs.
The Sound of Silence - Mojave, California
The key to great photography isn't about owning the right gear. It's not about visiting the right places. It's about seeing the right light. It's about finding great light. It's about knowing light.

Your photographs will only be as good as the light that exists when the images are captured. Forget looking for great subjects, look for great light instead! Embrace light. Love light. Know light. And, whatever the subject is, you have the potential to create great images.

Once you understand light, you can go about creating your own light if you'd like. No one says that it has to be natural. You can artificially illuminate a scene. You can add your own illumination to the existing light, or you can use artificial light exclusively. You can make your own great light when it doesn't exist naturally. You have the ability to control it.

Photography isn't so much about seeing what nobody else sees. Instead, it's thinking differently about the things that everyone sees. It's understanding light at an intimate level when others don't. It's showing people what was right in front of them, but they couldn't see because they couldn't read the light.
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
Photography is about seeing and thinking. It's not about thoughtless snapshots. It's not about having a certain brand of camera. It's not about placing a watermark on your images. Anyone can do those things, but not everyone can see and think photographically.

Seeing and thinking. That's photographic vision. It's using your creative mind to capture something that only you could create. It's making your own unique interpretation of the scene.

To summarize all of this into a simple and practical application, the next time you are out with your camera, make an extra effort to find interesting light. Forget whether the scene is interesting or not, focus on capturing great light no matter the subject. An ordinary subject can make an extraordinary photograph if the light is right. It's your job to find it.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Art of Compromise - Consider Highlights & Shadows When Determining Exposure

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Dynamic range in camera speak is the ability to retain details in highlights and shadows. Cameras have a limited dynamic range, and often are not capable of recording the scene without losing details in the brightest and/or darkest spots.

Every camera has a different dynamic range. Some cameras have a larger dynamic range while some cameras have a smaller dynamic range. According to DxOMark, the Nikon D810 has the largest dynamic range out of all the cameras that they've tested, while my Nokia Lumia 1020 ranks 278th.

Cameras have their largest dynamic range at their base ISO. As the ISO increases the dynamic range decreases. Any camera will have a noticeably larger dynamic range at ISO 100 than at ISO 1600.

Some cameras have more tolerance in the shadows and some in the highlights. The Sigma DP2 Merrill, for example, can retain details a little better in the highlights than in the shadows, while the Sony RX100 II can retain details a little better in the shadows than the highlights.
Web of Neglect - Mojave, California
Unless the light is soft and even, the scene you are photographing likely has a greater dynamic range than that of the camera you are using. Your camera is simply not capable of recording it all. You will have detail-less shadows and/or highlights.

This is a part of photography that drives me nuts, but it is a reality that all photographers must deal with. You will lose details in parts of your images. You will have blown highlights and deep black shadows. It's inevitable. You've just got to live with it.

This is where the art of comprise comes in. You've got to decide what is most important and find the best exposure to achieve it. Is it a big deal if the highlights are blown? Does it matter if the shadows are deep black?

It might be that you are more concerned with highlight details than shadow details, so you underexpose the image slightly to retain the highlight details at the expense of shadow details. Or perhaps you are more interested in retaining shadow details so you overexpose slightly.
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
You might decide that you will have both blown highlights and deep black shadows in an image. You carefully balance the exposure so that neither are particularly bad. This is very common, but difficult to determine just what the balance should be.

Ideally, in a perfect world, you don't want blown highlights or deep black shadows in a photograph. But the world isn't perfect and ideal is rare. Besides, limitations can be good if you creatively use them to your advantage. Think about how the limited dynamic range can benefit your photograph.

Each photograph must be considered uniquely. No two photographs are just alike and what works for one image may not work for another.

Exposure is a careful balancing act. Too much light and your highlights are blown. Too little light and your shadows are blobs of black. Often you have to make small compromises to get it right. Carefully and thoughtfully consider the highlights and shadows when determining what the exposure should be.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Two Years With Nokia Lumia 1020

If you were to ask on a camera forum what gear you need to be a photographer, you'll likely be told that a DSLR is essential. Some will suggest a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, but that's essentially the same thing. What you probably won't find is someone suggesting that you use your cell phone.

I shared a photograph on social media, and someone commented that the image made them want to buy a DSLR. They were using the camera on their cell phone to take pictures, but were dissatisfied with the results. The funny thing is that the photograph I posted was captured with my cell phone. The person obviously didn't realize this.

If your photographs stink, it's not the camera's fault! Any camera in the hands of a skilled photographer is capable of capturing great images. A cell phone is just as legitimate a photographic tool as a DSLR is. So if your photographs aren't good enough, it's not a change in gear that's needed.

I've owned my Nokia Lumia 1020 cell phone for two years now (as of yesterday). It's never been my "primary" camera, but I do always have it with me. The best camera you own is the one that's with you when you need it. Often that's the one in your pocket, the one that's also a phone.

A couple of these photographs have been published in magazines. Some have been sold as stock images. All were captured using my Lumia 1020.

Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Boss Hog - Tehachapi, California
Better Days Behind - Tehachapi, California
Oven - Cuddy Valley, California
Crumbling Commode - Cuddy Valley, California
Fame - Mojave, California
Forgotten Folding Chairs - Cuddy Valley, California
Yellow / Blue - Mojave, California
Dips In Pavement - Mojave, California
Old Broken Hinge - Mojave, California
Boarded Up Window - Mojave, California
Blue Chair - Tehachapi, California
Purple Beretta - Tehachapi, California
The Compaq Desert - Mojave, California

Forgotten Cans - Mojave, California
Knob - Mojave, California
Cassette Player - Tehachapi, California

Abandoned In The Tehachapi Mountains - Tehachapi, California
Shadows of Abandonment - Mojave, California
Ghosts of the Past - Mojave, California
Living Room View - Tehachapi, California
Tire, Abandoned Ranch - Tehachapi, California
Home Love - Cuddy Valley, California
Cactus, House - Mojave, California
Roof - Mojave, California
Broken Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Abandonment Engagement Portraits

Chairs - Tehachapi, California
I don't generally like photographing people, and I think it's mostly because people have an unrealistic idea of what they should look like. People want the pictures of themselves to be perfect--that is, they want to look perfect in the photos. But everyone has "flaws" and scars and such. Nobody is perfect.

I think it is our imperfections that make us beautiful. I find photographs of "broken" people to be far more interesting than pictures of "perfect" people. It's the photographer's job to highlight the beauty that other people miss in the brokenness.

If I were to say that to a potential client I would not get hired for portrait work.

While I don't like photographing people, I do have experience photographing people. I've done weddings and portraits and even some corporate work.

Recently I photographed Christina and Christopher's engagement portraits. I tried a few different styles and went to several different locations. I also convinced them to go to an abandoned place nearby that I've photographed before.

What I like about this concept is that people are imperfect and broken, and so their relationship is going to be imperfect and broken. Most engagement photographs show a beautiful seemingly perfect location. But that's not truth, it's not genuine. It's unrealistic.

The abandoned site is symbolic. These two people love each other despite the problems and scars of life, despite the imperfections. That's real.

I used a Sony RX100 II to capture these images. They were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure X.
Purple Car - Tehachapi, California
Yellow Oven - Tehachapi, California
Mobile Home - Tehachapi, California

Monday, February 22, 2016

Getting Yelled At For A Photograph

Trash Mover - Tehachapi, California
This driver was upset that I took his picture.
Have you ever been yelled at for photographing? Ever had someone act aggressively towards you for no other reason than taking a picture?

I have.

The first time was about five years ago. I went to Starbucks to get some coffee. I pulled into the parking lot and, since I had a Holga 120N medium-format film camera with me, I decided to snap a picture before heading in.

Just as I clicked the shutter open I heard a voice, "You can't take pictures here! Put your camera away!" I took the camera down from my face and looked to see a Starbucks employee (perhaps the manager) coming towards me.

"I can't take pictures here?" I asked.

"No! It's against our policy," he replied. "Starbucks does not allow people to take pictures on our property. No photography!"

I wanted to point out that where I was standing was not likely Starbucks property, but the property of the shopping center where Starbucks was leasing space. But I decided to let it go and simply answer, "OK."

With that I left. I didn't buy coffee, and I never again returned to that particular Starbucks.

When I got home I researched Starbucks' position on photography. Turns out that they once had a no-photography policy, but by the time I was confronted by an employee their policy had changed. This person apparently never got the memo.

I got the last laugh, however. Holga's are notorious for their light leaks, and somehow "666" managed to get burned into the image from frame six (or perhaps frame nine, I'm not sure). It was completely unexpected, yet perfectly appropriate for this scene.
666 Coffee - Avondale, Arizona
Starbucks didn't want me to capture this image.
A couple of years ago I stopped to photograph an abandoned house in the Mojave Desert. I got out of the car, camera in hand, and began heading towards the house. The place was obviously abandoned and the house was so dilapidated that nobody could live in it even if they wanted to.

Suddenly a voice came booming from behind me, "Hey! Get out of here! You don't belong here!"

I turned to see someone on the other side of a dirt road behind a fence. I didn't even notice the person when I drove up. I held up my camera and replied, "I'm just here to take pictures."

"Get out of here! I'll call the cops," he yelled back, looking quite angry and waving his arms around. "You don't belong here!"

I didn't stay to find out why he was so angry or if he really was planning to get the authorities involved. I left. No big deal. There are tons of other abandoned places in the desert to photograph.
Broken Gate, Broken Home - Mojave, California
An abandoned home near the abandoned place that I didn't get to photograph.
Last month I had to take a load of trash to the local dump. I had my camera with me. After emptying the bed of my pickup truck I decided to capture an image of this tractor that was pushing the garbage around.

As soon as I made an exposure the driver stopped his tractor and yelled down to me to stop taking photographs. "No pictures!" He looked quite upset.

With a smile, I simply responded, "Sorry!" I got into my truck and left.

I never attempt to anger anyone. I don't go around trying to get people mad at me and what I'm doing. I don't want to encounter aggressive people. But no matter how much one tries to avoid it, it's inevitable that someone will act angrily at one's photography. It's going to happen.

When this happens the first rule is to not exacerbate the situation. Don't engage anger with more anger. Don't push the person any further. Even if you are completely in the right and they are completely in the wrong. Have that argument when heads are cool.

A warm smile and calmly spoken polite words can go a million miles towards diffusing a hot situation. Show that you are friendly and intending no harm.

Finally, don't put "getting the picture" above your own safety or above your humanity. If you don't capture the image you want, that's fine. Let it go. It's not worth the risk. There will be other photographic opportunities. Don't be a jerk, even if the other person is being a jerk to you. Just leave. Get the heck out of there! You don't want to be around someone who is that angry.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Captured using JPEG format.
I've been asked many times which format should you use, RAW or JPEG?

Most digital cameras nowadays have the ability to save in RAW format, JPEG format, or both at the same time. It can be confusing to know which you should choose. What's the difference, anyway?

RAW files are unprocessed data from the sensor. Without the right software you cannot view these files. They're not even real pictures until they've received some processing. RAW files are like undeveloped film. The advantage of using this format is that you have more flexibility and control in post-processing. The disadvantage is that it requires more time (and editing skills) to achieve a finished picture.

JPEG files are photographs made by processing data from the sensor. Your camera will edit the image automatically based on how you and the manufacturer programmed it--no computer software required. The advantage of using JPEG format is that it's much faster than RAW because you don't have to do any further post-processing. The disadvantage is that you have less flexibility and control of the outcome.

In many ways it comes down to time and control. Do you have the time (and skill) to sit in front of a computer and edit thousands of pictures? Do you require complete control to achieve the look you want? The answer to these questions will dictate which format you should use.
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Captured using RAW format.
And the answer may vary from image to image. One photograph might require the use of RAW. Another might not require RAW so one shoots in JPEG format. I use RAW sometimes and JPEG sometimes, it just depends. Each situation is different.

There are people on camera forums that will tell you that only amateur photographers shoot using JPEG format. That's not true. There are many professional photographers who don't have time for RAW. Their clients require the photographs ASAP. They'd be out of a job if they shot RAW.

The key to successful JPEG photography is to make sure that all of the camera settings are just as you want them prior to opening the shutter. You must take a little more care in the field. There is less room for error, so it's critical that everything is set just the way you want.

If you are lazy like most photographers, it's better to shoot RAW just for some mistake breathing room. So what if the white balance isn't correct? You can fix that later. So what if the photograph is a little underexposed? You can fix that later. This is probably the #1 reason people use RAW format. You have more room to make errors in the field and still come away with a good photograph. But no matter which format you choose, a little care prior to exposure can go a long ways later.