Urbex Ethics: Photos and Footprints

Ruined Barn Interior

The big motto for urbex is “Take only photos, leave only footprints.” A great tagline that promotes a non-destructive approach. But there is a potential problem in spite of these high ideals.

Now, I love urbex. It’s part of my identity as a photographer. And I confess that I’ve been enticed many times to throw caution to the wind and sneak into a juicy abandoned property. But I’m also a professional, and that means acting like one. Is there a way to get into abandoned areas legally?

As a matter of fact there is.

Take the photo above. It’s part of an abandoned farm complex I ran across recently. And not a “Posted” sign to be seen! Tempting as tempting can be. Fortunately, I was saved from tearing my hair out in ethical frustration when I saw a guy operating some heavy farm equipment on a neighboring property. I asked if he knew who the owner was. And, joy of joys, he did! I made a beeline for the owner’s main property, presented a business card and my most winning smile, and asked for their indulgence of an oddball photographer.

The next day, I was happily snapping away guilt-free. The takeaway? For the sake of your profession, it’s much better to ask permission than forgiveness.

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/16, 2″/1″/4″

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Reader Poll: Vote on Your Favorite and Win a Prize!

It’s time for a reader opinion poll!

I recently took some HDR shots of this old peak-roofed barn but in trying two subtly different views, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go for a traditional look or something a bit more surreal. So… you get to decide which one will go into my gallery!

You can choose photo #1 (on the top) or #2 (on the bottom). In a week’s time, I’ll tabulate the results and the winner gets posted to my gallery. But that’s not all!

Whoever winds up voting in the winning category will get a special discount code emailed to them. The code will be good for 50% off anything in my online store! Happy voting, everyone!

Lonely Barn

^^ View #1: The Lonely Barn ^^

Surreal Barn

^^ View #2: The Surreal Barn ^^

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Construction Site: To B&W or Not to B&W?

Construction Rig

Immediate apologies for the Shakespeare pun (couldn’t resist).

Here’s a blast from the past. Does anyone besides me remember that old children’s story about Mulligan and his steam shovel? I think it might be the art in that book that gave me a love of industrial sites.

And speaking of the past, on the way back from Providence after our honeymoon JoDee and I stopped at a rest area to take a breather from driving. This site was right across the street from us, and whether I was tired or not, I meant to shoot it. The sun shone brightly through the spotty cloud cover and contrasted sharply with the iron and steel structures.

When considering whether or not to make any photograph into black and white, always make sure that the scene has a very distinct and sharp balance between light and dark. Those make the best monochrome shots. Scenes with less contrast generally rely on their color to give them character.

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/8, 1/80

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A Cell of My Own – The Fisheye Effect

Fisheye Prison CellFairly early through my recent tour of Eastern State Penitentiary, I was allowed to enter this cell. The fisheye lens I used makes it appear larger than it was. In reality it wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet. To think that someone actually lived in here once. To be fair, the door at the far end actually used to open up on a small enclosed outdoor area where an inmate could get some sun and fresh air. A good thing too, considering the toilet was only able to be flushed once a day!

Charles Dickens once said that the solitary confinement of this prison was enough to drive a man insane. It’s easy to agree with him. No one should have to live like this. But boy, does it make for a great photo opportunity!

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/16, 4″

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Event Photography: A Look Into my Workflow


I’m always up for event coverage. And this past weekend, I was retained by a local community church to photograph their Easter activities. In addition to the usual that you’d expect for this holiday, there was a great neighborhood function they call the “Eggstravaganza.” Basically they put about twenty thousand plastic eggs into a roped off area and offer free bags of Easter candy and toys to every child who can fill their basket or bag with the multicolored treasures!

Chasing400Free stuff? That was the magic phrase. The minute that tape was lowered, I knew to use a very long lens if I wanted to stay out of the line of fire! That being said, I stationed myself more or less in the center of the quad and panned my 7D around to get as many candids as I could.

This brings up several interesting points about event photography. In order to be successful, a good capture technique and an efficient workflow are essential if you want repeat business.Worship Team400

First, try to arrive early if you can to allow yourself time to scope out the location and find the best opportunities for shots. Pack extra batteries, memory cards and your flash (for those poorly lit situations). Have two camera bodies, one with a normal or wide-angle length, the other with a versatile telephoto zoom. For bright outdoor scenes, set your mode to shutter priority between 1/100 and 1/200. Or go to manual for indoors, being sure to set shutter speeds at or below your flash’s sync speed (usually around 1/250 or slower). Then get to your selected spots and look for opportunities.It's Cold!400

As for post-processing, try to keep this to a minimum by getting it right in the field as much as possible. Most event clients want a turnaround time of 24 hours or less, because they want the event to still be fresh in everyone’s mind. So have a simple post workflow. Cropping and basic filters only are what I use.

Event photography can be a lot of fun. Here’s hoping you’ll give it a try soon.


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Creepypasta: The Haunted Corridor

Haunted Corridor

He knew he was alone. He had to be alone. There were no voices, no living breaths in this place. Only the echoing drumbeat of his footfalls to beat syncopated time to the dripping accompaniment of the steam pipes. But he was about to learn that even dead places have a kind of life, and a way of disliking strangers.

Behind the ragged arias of machinery, leather and stone the lyrics of the past were sung by every pock-mark mouth in the crumbling walls. Strikes of the cane, clatters of tin cups, shouted orders and screamed protests devilishly documented by the traumatized chroniclers of history. He knew what had been done here and what might still lurk in the places where light still feared to pierce. He felt insubstantial tentacles of dead thoughts writhing out of every cell to clutch, pick and paw at him: dark dendrites from the mind of this place, given life by the nightmare stories he’d read. They made memories take form here, compelling glances over his shoulder, fearful of unknown presences that followed him but always just beyond the corners of his vision.

The more he lingered in this decaying spot, the more he felt the cold wind of a passing form. Something was coming. Coming for him. And if he stayed here long enough, it would find him. He cast widened pupils toward the distant light of the entrance, near and yet not near enough. Did he have time to reach it?

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My Day in Prison: An Urbex Adventure

Prison Chair

For those of you who are subscribers to my email list (you know who you are, thanks so much!!), you’ll know that we visited Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia last weekend. As of this writing, I’m still in the “wow” stage. What a place! Known as a “stabilized ruin,” the old prison seems frozen in the midst of its own death. Every cell block is filled with chilling reminders of a life spent in a tiny room.

The picture above was taken in a place in the women’s block where prisoners could get a haircut. Now it looks like a torture chamber. As I shivered before the cold wind blowing through Block 2, it wasn’t hard to understand why the place is reputed to be haunted.

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/16, 5″/1.3″/20″

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The Photo Biz: What’s Up with Watermarks?


You’ve seen them here and on other sites too. Little logos splashed across pictures in a (hopefully) tasteful way. But what are they for?

It’s confession time: I’m a little anal about my work. Just ask my wife, JoDee. She’ll tell you that each image is lovingly crafted, every business move agonized over. And more than a few of my hairs have been tugged. It’s all part of my efforts to get an awesome product into your hands. Honestly we photographers really work very hard because we love what we do. We want to deliver quality services and amazing images. So when we do our best, we want to protect that investment of time, effort and money.

That’s where watermarks come in. They get put on a picture somewhere to show who created them. Some put them in a corner, while others put them in the middle, reducing their transparency so they are only minimally disruptive to the image proper. A properly executed watermark makes it harder for pirates to steal images.

But watermarks aren’t only about theft. If they contain your company logo, they can also be a form of marketing. A logo is part of your brand and having lots of folks see that brand means making a memory. Everyone who sees your logo will be reminded of what you can provide for them. And that’s a good thing.

By the way, just in case you’re wondering: the watermark won’t stay on a photo forever. If you purchase something from me, the watermark is removed from the final image.

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Speaking of quality products, there’s a way for you to do some awesome work yourself. My ebook “Gaunt Dreams” is available for free to anyone who subscribes to my email list and is packed with useful tips on how to create your own photos. Click here to subscribe and get your copy today!

Creepypasta: The Revenant Past

Shed Interior Vogue

The crunch of grit under my boots, the rattle of an upset bucket, the clank of a disused lead pipe as it rolled from its ages-long resting place: these were the symphony to my thoughts as my eyes flitted among the clutter.

The breathy notes of far-off wind chimes barely chorused above the hissing grass outside while the wind blew a howling note across the mouthpiece of the broken windows. Whoever had been here before me had taken their life with them, leaving an engineered vampire of wood, tar paper, and detritus that longed to fasten itself onto a new soul and live again through another being. Memories lurked among the cobwebs: memories that were not mine, hidden from the callous observer, yet clawing at their confinement, eager to moan their tales of unknown things.

It had drawn me here, knocking at the gray gate of my thoughts. And as I pressed the shutter button, I felt the talons of the unknown hooking themselves into my spirit. A thousand words to reach a thousand lives. The dead rose again through me.

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/16, 1″

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Thank You, Peyo – The Lighter Side of The Twilit Lens

Thank You, Peyo - The Lighter Side of The Twilit Lens

Smurfs are a guilty pleasure for me. I have a modest collection that contrasts brightly with the somewhat desaturated look that defines most of my art. They’re fun to look at, so when I found some large mushrooms growing behind my RV after a sharp rain shower, my assistant took one look at them and said, “Smurfs!” What’s a photographer to do??

So enjoy this freebie from me to you. Here’s hoping it brightens your wall soon. Cheers!

Exposure Data: ISO 100, f/22, 4″

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