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How To Photograph Models in Abandoned Buildings

One of the many things that make photography interesting is the fact that it does not stop evolving. As the years go by, it becomes more exciting, especially when new technologies, techniques and tricks are presented. New platforms for expressing artistry are introduced time and again.

An example of such is urban decay photography, which involves taking photos of abandoned buildings.


Photo by darkday

Photographing an abandoned building is not easy. First off, you have to think about security – yours and that of your crew (if you have one). Most abandoned buildings are either condemned or deemed dangerous by authorities. As such, entering one is strictly prohibited and against the law in many countries. So, when photographers bring in a model, which happens quite a lot nowadays, it becomes doubly dangerous. Therefore, it is important to know what to do before you decide to go and shoot.

What to Remember When Taking Photos in an Abandoned Building

One of the reasons why a photographer would want to shoot an, or in an, abandoned building is the sense of adventure and mystery that the place creates. Whether you include a person in the image or not, your photograph will still create a riveting effect. Viewers and audiences will still find different stories in your photo.


Photo by Xenja Santarelli

In order to this, though, you need to first know what you need to prepare or do when shooting in an abandoned building.

The first step, of course, is to try not to break the law; which means you should ask for permission to shoot in the building and in its premises. In most cases, this can be difficult to achieve, but there are places that really allow photographers to shoot in abandoned buildings, although it may involve a particular fee for some.

Other photographers love the sense of danger, so they prefer to go into the building on their own, without really seeking for approval or anything. We strongly advise against that, for obvious reasons.

Before proceeding with the shoot, make sure that you are already familiar with the place. Find the time to visit the building days before the shoot. Don’t go alone, if possible. Bring someone with you. It can be your second photographer or perhaps your stylist/wardrobe or makeup artist. If you familiarize the place before the shoot, you won’t have to waste time (and energy) trying to look for areas where you can do the scenes you want.


Photo by olavXO

If possible, take photos of the areas (or corners, if you wish) that you want to use during the shoot. This will allow you to further study your locations. In addition, doing so can help you better visualize what you want to happen.

The next thing you need to consider is your safety – and that of your model/models and crews’. Avoid going into the building alone; don’t break up your group. Moreover, be careful when walking around. Do not jump or fool around; abandoned buildings have a lot of dangerous materials.

Be sure that you are dressed appropriately. Don’t dress up in shorts or sleeveless shirts. You need to protect your body from possible cuts and scratches, so long sleeves and your favorite old pair of pants will do. Of course, if you’re shooting with a model, he or she has to be dressed according to the theme of your shoot. Just make sure, though, that the outfit won’t be too difficult to put on or get out of. Also, make sure your model/models get enough protection from harmful elements common inside abandoned buildings.

Once you’ve done all these preliminaries, you’re ready to shoot. First things first, though. You need to know how to shoot with a model inside an abandoned building.

Shooting with a Model Inside an Abandoned Building

The first few tips you need to consider when you shoot in abandoned building with a model are quite common; general tips that will help you come up with images that will attract the attention of everyone.

Number one, as always; you need to have the right camera and equipment. You can’t rely on a simple point-and-shoot when you shoot in abandoned buildings. So, of course, you have to use a good DSLR. For starters, use one that you are already comfortable with. You can go a level higher once you’ve adjusted to photographing inside buildings that have unpredictable interiors and lighting.


Photo by DualD FlipFlop

Speaking of lighting, it is also important to think about the amount of light available to you when you shoot in an abandoned building. To maximize whatever natural light you can get, position your model in an area that can be reached by ambient lighting – such as windows and doors. You can always use a Maglite flashlight, though; or your off camera flash. Another good idea is to use a reflector. Just be sure to experiment with where to position your light source so that the background won’t eat up your model.

Although you are photographing with a model, and you probably want to get a portrait shot of your subject, it is still important to consider the effect that the room or building will have to the image you are creating. So, you need to carefully choose the time of day you should shoot. Your decision will usually depend on what effect you want to create. If you shoot in the morning, you’ll create interesting photos with a soft light effect. At noontime, the soft light is still there, but it will slowly mix with the afternoon light. If you want a shadowy effect (and this is good when your models are wearing beautiful gowns in white), go for an early afternoon shoot. Dramatic photos are what will come out if you shoot at night.

Since you’ll be moving around a lot, be sure to bring a tripod to help stabilize your camera. This will also allow your models to play around with their movements. Even if you need to shoot in bursts, you won’t have problems with stability, and you won’t have to minimize the movements of your models.


Photo by CronoD

If you want your models to be as interesting as the abandoned building you are shooting, give them a unique personality. It can be with what they are wearing, or their makeup, or their poses. It can also be done by incorporating some elements or objects found in the building into the scene. For example, your models can wear Gatsby-inspired outfits and be fully made up. You can also give them props, like a broken water pipe or window frame. This can create a lot of interesting stories and elicit different reactions. Or, you can do a prom photoshoot in an abandoned building with pretty girls posing in graffiti-dressed walls. Test the limits of your creativity and see what you can come up with.

Finally, since you want to capture both your models and the mysterious element of the abandoned building where you are shooting, use a wide-angle lens. Wide-angle lenses are excellent for environmental portraiture. Think of poetic images like a young lady and a gentleman in the middle of a decaying, almost dilapidated room. Put them in the middle of the room and shoot in wide angle. This will give you an image where the room is dominant, but you’ll see your models also grabbing the attention of the viewers. Play with your imagination.

These are just some tips you can consider when photographing models inside abandoned buildings. Even if you follow these suggestions, you won’t go too far if you don’t find time to practice. In photography, practice is always important. So, never stop practicing and improving your craft. Even when it involves going from one abandoned building to another.