Urbex Shoot Part 2 (when its hot and the model is melting… take a cigar break)

Cigar Break 1/200 sec at f/2.8 ISO 160 145mm natural light.

Cigar Break
1/200 sec at f/2.8 ISO 160 145mm natural light.


Part 2: So for this particular shoot it started off as an Urban Exploration shoot of some sort, but ended with more of a “Street Photography” feel. Finding this location was rather easy as Reese (model) and her boyfriend were very familiar with the Moravian ruins in this park because this is a place they have frequented many times. This obviously made finding the location almost too easy. Key thing here is many people sometimes overlook the obvious. Many times we have great locations to shoot all around us and close to us, but we fail to see it or realize it because the “everyday” can seem so common place. I say “kudos” to Reese and her boyfriend for seeing this location for what it was. The crumbling plaster, stone & bricks made a wonderful setting for this type of shoot.

Now another “must” have for and urban shoot is a model that is not afraid to get into it and climb up, over or on stuff such as walls & windows. Reese is just that. Without asking she will find a spot and I just let her do her thing. I don’t want her to get hurt of course, but she is in great shape and takes it all in stride. The goal when setting up your shot is to try and get something different. With that I mean; most any place you go on the planet earth has already been photographed with or without a model. So try to get a different angle, look or feel. Go and do an image search on Google for “Golden Gate Bridge” and see how many images come up that were all shot by different photographers at different times/years and they all look the same. So getting that unique shot is the goal, but not always easy.

Now as I said this photo shoot started off as an Urbex style, but after taking a short lunch break we found ourselves in the streets of historic Bethlehem, PA. See the location of the Moravian ruins was located just a stone’s throw from all the activity of the city. So now we move along to locations that again were very familiar to the model and her boyfriend. Once at a location I look for even light and a nice background. Maybe some texture to the background or color that will play off the models wardrobe. With the shots taken at the ruins the orange in the broken bricks played well with the colors in the model’s skirt. Sometimes things work out this way and other times not, but great when it does. So as we moved around, keeping in mind to stay rather low key because after all we are in public and at any time a policeman could nix everything and chase you away. Key thing is be courteous, polite to the public and non-intrusive. We shot at the Sun Inn, a location that has a lot of history dating back to George Washington and other notable dignitaries. Moving on and suffering from the heat of the day I could see Reese starting to melt and I know when the model melts it’s a “wash” and you call it “a day.” But before that happened I look across the street and seen a cigar shop in shaded/even light. And it just so happens I had my cigar props with me. So now it’s “game on” and we’re going to shoot a model in front of a very well-known cigar shop, with permission of course. So I go in and meet with Nate and tell him what I want to do and I show him my fake hand carved wooden cigars. He is so impressed and we joked and talked a bit. Of course I offered to give full credit to the cigar shop and I will send them some photos.

Out front, shooting from a tripod I captured some really great images of Reese with the cigar in hand. With people walking by looking at a very pretty young lady with a lit cigar, it was interesting to see the looks on their faces. I was extremely courteous and stopped every few seconds to let people pass by; I really don’t think we bothered anyone at all. Total time spent was seven minutes although it seemed a lot longer. Then we moved on and I did have one micro intrusive moment when I see a senior couple getting ready to dive into a gorgeous lunch at a street side café. I asked for permission to shoot the food and not their faces. The lady was happy and agreed, the man looked as if I was going to eat his lunch, and he looked mortified. But I shot two clicks and moved on.

So now the shoot is winding down we’re headed back to the parking area and I see a window. I think by now you what is going to happen… sure Reese is up in the window and we get a shot that got raved reviews from the Facebook crowd. I posted from the camera to Facebook with no edits and people loved it. I loved the fact the model had that much energy at the end of the soot on a very hot day. Reese you killed that soot for sure.

URBEX Photography. (when there is not much happening, put a pretty face in the scene) Part 1

1/250 sec at f/3.2 ISO 50 80mm

1/250 sec at f/3.2 ISO 50 80mm


Urbex Photography. What is it? Urban Exploration photography has a few definitions but for the most part it is the exploration of decaying and aging man-made structures. It can also be places were the everyday person may not travel such as under bridges, inside tunnels and the list goes on and on. In all my photography I had never really traveled down the road of this genera in a meaningful way. Sure I have photographed ruins and burned out houses and the like, but I have never put a model in the scene. I have seen it and admired it on 500px.com and again never really gave it a thought. That is until recently when I met a model who unknowingly steered me to this rather unique style. I love street photography and again street has a few interpretations but it is basically capturing life, not necessarily always shot on a street but in the streets is where a lot of life is happening. Urbex is kind of the opposite, there is not much happening. So when you incorporate a model into the scene you have something happening. The biggest thing you have going on is the contrast of the beauty of your model (you do have a pretty model… right) playing off of the decay or whatever the situation is around you. Now contrasting a model’s beauty against something plain, uninteresting or deplorable looking is not a new concept by any means. We have all seen what we may have deemed a “crazy” photo of a model in a Victorian style dress and she is in some sort of horrible background. The background by its self would most likely not catch our eye, however the beauty of the model would catch our eye or if it is a couture fashion shot her dress maybe the focal point. But put that beauty against a decrepit background and we get a contrast going that really sets things apart. Apart to the point that now we may even notice the background more so because of the beauty that is playing against it.

Where I was shooting yesterday in the historic section of Bethlehem Pennsylvania there were these Moravian ruins. If I had walked past and stopped to look at the location where I was shooting, and I was not there with a camera… I would have thought “just another old building in decay” and I might have wondered as to the history of the building, but other than that I most likely would not think any further. Now change things up… I approach the scene with a model (the beauty part) and it changes the whole game. Now I’m looking as to where and how I want to shoot her… with a camera of course. So now instead of just hiking along looking at old ruins, I have a reason and can turn it into a project.

Keep in mind it is not always about shooting a vast scene with a model in the middle. As I was shooting yesterday, we were under a huge and very high arched cement bridge. It was cool and there was a very nice breeze coming through, a nice place to take a break from the heat of the day. I looked around and noticed a cement wall that had several things going on. There was the age of the cement; there were huge water stains that were rusty colored to varying degrees, faded paint from old graffiti and mold. Looking at this I said to Reese (my model) “some photographers would give anything to have this background in their studio” and she agreed. So she went to work right away posing and we captured a nice series with this one of a kind background. Only thing I did wrong was I did not shoot the background by its self to use in Photoshop later. Oh well, now I have a reason to go back there.

Let’s talk about the camera & lenses; Ok so for this kind of photography I like to use available light when possible. I feel it gives a feel to the whole photo. I guess you could say it adds to the patina of the scene. But with that said, there are times when I could see myself setting up a 5 foot softbox for lighting the scene in a particular way. But available light is what I shoot most. I try to keep ISO in the 50 to 100 range when at all possible, although the newer cameras are really improving with a whole lot less grain in the higher ISO ranges. Just a few years back if I had to go to ISO 800 I would cringe. But now… last year I shot a bride in a hotel room at ISO 2000 & 5000 and had beautiful shots to work with and not much processing. The key to high ISO shots is; you must crop in camera, period. If you crop in camera the noise is to a minimum. As for lens choices; if I was just shooting the scene of the decaying building I would most likely shoot wide. But for faces, my 70-200mm is my favorite choice. I can zoom in for nice face shots of the model and if I want wide, I zoom back using my feet. …can you believe that “zoom out using your feet” what a novel idea? And lastly I must say I like to use a tripod whenever possible. The tripod will increase your score on “in focus” shots. Being on a lot of uneven ground and strange surfaces, it only makes sense to steady the camera the best you can.

In part two, I’ll talk more about an actual shoot, finding a location and more.