Abandoned buildings, disused plants, ghost towns, old mines and gas stations, attract the attention of photography lovers who, in addition to exploring the potential of traditional landscapes, want to take unusual shots to surprise not only themselves but also their friends and maybe even followers on social networks.
If, besides being a photo junkie, you are also an explorer, or if the idea of visiting abandoned places appeals to you, first of all I suggest that you always proceed with the utmost attention, both for your safety and in order not to violate the laws in any way by accessing forbidden areas. Adopting adequate protections is the best way to proceed first and foremost.
Having said that, landscape photography of abandoned places has its long-standing charm, it has the potential of generating strong emotions. In North America, ghost towns are generally associated with the wild west frontier. Given the presence of old mines and oil towns, states like Texas and California are among the first visited by amateurs of this photographic genre. Not to mention states like Kansas and Oklahoma where there are many ruins, including old disused farms that date back to the Dust Bowl period.
Obviously then there are all these places full of charm along US1 and Route 66.
The city of Detroit has always been one of the destinations sought after by explorers for the variety of sites, especially former industrial plants, but also public transport lines and old abandoned neighborhoods.
But what is the best way to portray these places in photography?
You may happen to see a place full of charm that immediately catches your attention and then, reviewing the photographs, you realize that they do not give the same feeling. They do not depict the essence and the atmosphere of that abandoned landscape.
This happens when you don’t pay enough attention to important aspects and photographic technique such as exposition, but also, and above all in the case of abandoned sites, the composition and the choice of the ideal observation point.
You must also keep in mind that these landscapes of abandoned places and towns, like traditional landscapes, vary according to the time of day (i.e. light) and weather conditions.
To capture the essence of a landscape, you need to know how to tune into the environment that surrounds it, feel its peculiarities and understand what makes that place, that subject, so unique. Once you have identified this aspect, you will know exactly what to emphasize and then convey the same sensations through your photographs.
Always keep in mind that the camera does not pay attention to one detail rather than another, that is your job. Take your time, do not hurry because, at the moment of shooting, you must have already understood what are the compositional elements that you like most in a given scene.
Chain of rocks bridge – Missouri
Before even going to photograph the abandoned place you want to visit, I suggest you practice with light and photograph the landscape closest to your home at the most varied times. In this way you will have practiced enough to understand how light affects a landscape subject.
Photograph the same landscape at all times of day, in all weather conditions, trying to convey, in your shots, what you felt in front of that given view. If you notice that your photos do not convey your concept, try to understand what didn’t work, ask yourself what you could do differently next time. This is the best way to learn how to photograph landscapes.
Also, when it comes to abandoned places, old railroads or gas stations, avoid placing the subject in the center of the frame to make the image less obvious, and therefore more interesting. For this reason, it is best to observe the site from different perspectives in order to choose the best possible view point.
When composing the image, respect the rule of thirds and balance the spaces adequately in order to avoid too many empty areas in your shots.
Another tip that will be useful to you, when photographing a landscape, is not to divide the photo into 50:50 between the sky and the earth. There may be exceptions, but in most cases the result is more pleasant when the proportion is 1/3, based on what you want to highlight.
When it comes to landscape photography, especially abandoned sites where there are various elements that can capture your attention, you will find that every time you look, you will see new elements that you had not noticed during the shooting phase. They are often elements that somehow tell the story of that landscape.
Calico – California
The advice I give you is to always seek simplicity, in order to represent a certain place, a given subject, in the most direct way possible. Do not try to overdo it and include everything otherwise you will not be able to capture the essence and narrate your photographic story in a clear and comprehensible way.
A trip to a ghost town, along route 66 or some traits of the US 1, a visit to a disused gas station, an old railway or an abandoned mine is a journey through time.
Each of these places has a story to tell. These are often stories full of hopes and dreams but also of families looking for a better future. Stories of economic change and unpredictable weather conditions.
All of these places has its own atmosphere and charm something that you can capture with your camera.