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The Sweet Spot of Photographing Abandoned Places

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Todd Sipes, author of Urban Exploration Photography, walks through the specific characteristics of abandoned buildings that he thinks create the "sweet spot" for photography. These qualities will help any budding Urbex photographer identify the places that will almost always look great on camera.
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Taking photos of abandoned places is an incredibly unique type of photography. Not only is it tough to execute on a technical level, but finding abandoned places in various levels of disrepair directly correlates with the appeal of your final image. Some places can look like someone locked the doors yesterday, while others can look as if they’ve been hosting parties for graffiti artists and vandals for decades.

Some Urbex (urban exploration) photographers couldn’t care less—they’re just stoked to find a new abandoned place to shoot. Others can be very meticulous and won’t even bother taking out their cameras in a new abandoned place unless it’s just right.

I like to think I fall somewhere in between. There are certain qualities I look for that create the “sweet spot” for abandoned buildings that I like to shoot. Beggars can’t be choosers in this genre of photography, but that certainly doesn’t mean we can’t have preferences. What factors into my preferences?

  • Age
  • Artifacts
  • Decay


The first thing I look for is age. The older a building is, the more interesting it is for me to shoot from an architectural standpoint. The age of the building will also usually determine if some of the other elements will be there. If the building is too old, chances are that the artifacts will have all been stolen and every window will be shattered. If the building has shut down recently, it will most likely look too stale or uninteresting. If you’re taking a picture of a school that was shut down last year, it’s just going to look like a regular school on a Sunday instead of an abandoned school. When buildings are really old but well-guarded, this theory flies out the window. However, this has been my experience 95% of the time.

This abandoned hot springs resort was a little too far gone for my taste.

The whole place was crumbling, and there was more graffiti on it than the worst neighborhoods in Oakland. It was still great to see and shoot because of its historical value, but it wasn’t my favorite because of the “unnatural decay.”

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