In this guide, I’ll be touching on everything you need know about urban exploration, or urbex for short.
I’ll be covering the definition of urbex, some terms should should know, why urbexing is popular, when it started, how to urbex, and lots more.
With that being said, let’s dive in!
What Is Urbexing?
Urbexing, a shortened term for urban exploration, is an exciting endeavor that combines adventure, art, and a hint of danger.
Imagine yourself in a long-abandoned factory, walls marked with decades of decay, every shadowy corner offering a glimpse into the past.
Maybe you’re standing on a rooftop that haunts the skyline of a bustling city, gazing down, the hum of life echoing faintly in your ears.
Or you could be deep in the maze of a dilapidated tunnel system, the earth holding its breath around you.
This is what urbexing is about – entering and documenting such forgotten places that time has left behind but holds an inexplicable allure.
The thrill of urbexing is not only in exploring these deserted structures but also in capturing their silent narratives in evocative photographs.
Each decayed beam, shattered window, or the peeling layers of paint speak volumes about what once was.
Your camera becomes your journey’s journal, collecting stories written in rust and dust. But remember, this isn’t just about snapping a few pictures.
It’s comparable to being a visual archaeologist, where we respect and protect our subject, the same way we’d handle precious, ancient artifacts.
However, some key safety principles are like the compass in this adventurous journey. Urbexing might be akin to some ‘Indiana Jones’ style adventure, but unlike our famous movie hero, we don’t indulge in reckless risks.
Always inform someone where you’re going and preferably, have a partner accompany you into these potentially hazardous abandoned places.
Remember, urban exploration walks a fine line with legality, almost like a mischievous cat nimbly navigating a fence.
So, obtaining explicit permission to enter these sites, or possibly even become new owners of such places, will keep us from trespassing.
You wouldn’t want to run an obstacle race in flip-flops, right? It’s the same with urbexing. Wearing the appropriate gear – sturdy boots, protective clothing, gloves – is as vital as a surfer’s wetsuit at sea.
Let me assure you, though; urbexing is as wonderfully addictive as piecing together a captivating mystery novel. And once you start, you’ll find yourself constantly looking for more hidden treasures. Online resources, local tips, even satellite images can lead you to your next adventure.
Remember, every abandoned corner holds a story waiting to be told, and as an urbexer, you’re the storyteller.
So safe exploring, and bring us back some spellbinding tales from the corners of our urban jungle!
The Dictionary of Urban Exploration Terms:
Here’s a list of common urban exploration (urbex) terms you may come across:
Urban Exploration Location Terms
- Abandoned: Left unused, neglected, or deserted, often referring to buildings, structures, or areas.
- Access: Refers to the act of gaining entry to a specific location.
- Admin: Designates the area within a building where administrative functions are managed, often involving security as well.
- Amusement Arcade: An abandoned entertainment venue with arcade games.
- ARTS: Stands for “Abandoned Rapid Transport Station,” with the final ‘S’ also potentially signifying the system in use.
- Asylum: An abandoned mental institution or hospital.
- Bando: Slang term for an abandoned building, derived from “abandoned.”
- Bricked up: Describes an access point that has been sealed off using bricks and cement.
- Bunker: An abandoned underground military or civilian shelter.
- Cave: An abandoned natural or man-made underground cavity.
- Cemetery: An abandoned burial ground or graveyard.
- Church: An abandoned religious building, such as a church, chapel, or cathedral.
- Cracking: The process of accessing a location that has not been explored by others, or very few people, previously.
- Crash bar: Found on exits, these are devices triggered by opening and often linked to alarms. Primarily used to exit buildings during emergencies.
- Decay: The process of deterioration and degradation over time in abandoned places.
- Derelict: Abandoned or run-down structures that have fallen into disrepair.
- Drainage System: Abandoned tunnels, drains, or sewers.
- Factory: An abandoned industrial facility where goods were once produced.
- Ghost Town: An abandoned town or settlement.
- Holy Grail: Denotes a challenging-to-access yet highly coveted location.
- Hospital: An abandoned medical facility where patients were once treated.
- Hotel: An abandoned lodging establishment where guests once stayed.
- Hot: Pertains to a location with heightened security measures due to past instances of urbexing discovery.
- Infiltration: The act of accessing a site that is otherwise off-limits.
- Landmark: An abandoned iconic or historically significant site.
- Mansion: A large, often luxurious, abandoned residence.
- Manor: A large, often historic, abandoned residence.
- Mineshaft: An abandoned entrance to an underground mine.
- Morgue: An abandoned facility where bodies were once stored.
- Portal: An entrance point into something like a subway system, often marking the transition from aboveground to underground.
- Power Plant: An abandoned facility that once generated electricity.
- Picked: Indicates that a place has already been accessed through the use of lockpicking.
- Prison: An abandoned correctional facility where inmates were once held.
- Quarry: An abandoned excavation site for mining or quarrying.
- Railyard: An abandoned area where trains were once stored or serviced.
- Recce: The preliminary exploration of a site before photography, involving identifying entrances, security presence, and camera placement.
- Resort: An abandoned vacation or recreational complex.
- Rinsed: Describes a location that has been extensively explored and photographed.
- Ruin: A destroyed or decayed building or structure.
- Sanatorium: An abandoned facility for long-term medical treatment.
- School: An abandoned educational institution, such as a school or university building.
- Shipwreck: An abandoned or sunken ship.
- Silos: Abandoned storage structures, often used for grain or other materials.
- Silent Theater: An abandoned drive-in movie theater.
- Subway: An abandoned underground railway system.
- Sugar Mill: An abandoned facility where sugar was processed.
- Theater: An abandoned entertainment venue, like a movie theater or concert hall.
- The Fresh: Refers to raw sewage, typically encountered when exploring sewage systems.
- Theme Park: An abandoned amusement park or entertainment complex.
- TOADS: Acronym for “Temporary, Obsolete, and Derelict Spaces,” indicating spaces that are no longer in use or have fallen into disrepair.
- Tunnel: An underground passage, often for transportation or utilities.
Urban Exploration Gear Terms
- Backpack: A bag used to carry equipment and supplies during exploration.
- Flashlight: A portable light source for illuminating dark or dimly lit spaces.
- Headlamp: A light worn on the head, leaving hands free for other tasks.
- Gloves: Protective hand coverings for safety and hygiene.
- Mask/Respirator: Equipment worn over the nose and mouth to protect against dust, mold, and other contaminants.
- Boots: Sturdy footwear designed for walking in rugged or hazardous environments.
- Climbing Gear: Equipment such as harnesses, ropes, carabiners, and ascenders for climbing and rappelling.
- Camera: Device used for documenting exploration and capturing images of locations. Most common types are DSLR cameras or mirrorless cameras.
- Tripod: A three-legged stand used to stabilize cameras for long-exposure shots.
- Notepad/Pen: For jotting down notes, sketches, or observations.
- Batteries/Power Bank: Power sources to keep electronic devices running.
- First Aid Kit: Supplies for treating minor injuries or medical emergencies.
- Navigation Tools: Compass, GPS device, or maps for finding and tracking locations.
- Multi-Tool/Knife: Versatile tool with various functions, including cutting and opening.
- Lockpicks/Locksmith Tools: Equipment for bypassing locks on access points.
- Rope/Rigging Gear: Used for creating anchors, belays, and safety systems in challenging environments.
- Radios/Walkie-Talkies: Communication devices for staying connected with exploration partners.
- Climbing Helmet: Protective headgear for safety during climbing or exploring areas with falling debris.
- Protective Clothing: Specialized attire, like coveralls, designed for safety in hazardous environments.
- Camera Accessories: Lenses, filters, and other attachments to enhance photography.
- Duct Tape: Strong adhesive tape for quick fixes and temporary solutions.
- Carry Bags/Pouches: Small bags or pouches to keep gear organized and easily accessible.
- Climbing Shoes: Specialty footwear with grip and support for climbing.
- Hydration System: Water reservoir worn like a backpack for staying hydrated during exploration.
- Compass: A navigational instrument for determining direction.
- Measuring Tape/Ruler: For documenting dimensions and sizes of spaces or objects.
- Glow Sticks: Chemical light sources for low-light situations.
- Emergency Whistle: For signaling for help in case of an emergency.
- Trekking Poles: Walking sticks used for stability and support while hiking or traversing uneven terrain.
- Digital Recorder: Device for capturing audio recordings and notes during exploration.
- Binoculars: Optical devices for observing distant objects or locations.
- Portable Charger: Battery-powered device for recharging electronic devices on the go.
- Climbing Harness: Safety gear worn around the waist and legs during climbing activities.
- Handheld GPS: Portable device for accurate navigation and location tracking.
- Geiger Counter: Device for detecting radiation levels in certain environments.
Urbex Photographer Types
- Asylum Seeker: A photographer who explores defunct asylums, which are now devoid of active use.
- Aesthetic Artist: A photographer who emphasizes the artistic and visual appeal of abandoned locations, focusing on composition, lighting, and mood to create captivating images.
- Adventurer: An urban exploration photographer who seeks out challenging and remote locations, often involving high-risk exploration to capture unique and daring shots.
- Archivist: An urban exploration photographer who meticulously documents the layout, features, and architectural elements of abandoned sites for archival and research purposes.
- Buildering: Individuals who scale the exteriors of buildings to access their interiors.
- Catophiles: Photographers with a passion for delving into the subterranean catacombs beneath Paris.
- Cinematic Shooter: A photographer who composes images with a cinematic quality, using angles, lighting, and framing to evoke a cinematic atmosphere in their urbex photographs.
- Collector: A photographer who focuses on cataloging specific types of abandoned locations, such as schools, hospitals, or industrial sites, aiming to create a comprehensive collection of images within their chosen theme.
- Detail Seeker: A photographer who concentrates on capturing close-up shots and intricate details of decay, textures, and forgotten objects within abandoned locations.
- Drainer: One who finds fascination in navigating the subterranean labyrinth of sewers and drainage networks beneath urban areas.
- Environmental Advocate: An urban exploration photographer who uses their images to raise awareness about environmental issues, such as urban decay, pollution, and the need for preservation.
- Experimentalist: A photographer who pushes the boundaries of traditional urban exploration photography, experimenting with angles, perspectives, and techniques to create unconventional and thought-provoking images.
- Explorer-Model: An urban exploration photographer who not only captures images of abandoned places but also features themselves or other explorers as subjects in the scenes, adding a human element to the photographs.
- HDR Enthusiast: A photographer who utilizes high dynamic range (HDR) techniques to capture and combine multiple exposures, resulting in detailed images that showcase a wide range of tones and textures in abandoned locations.
- Historian: A photographer who delves into the historical context of abandoned sites, capturing images that tell the story of their past and cultural significance.
- Interactive Storyteller: A photographer who combines photography with multimedia elements, such as videos, audio recordings, or virtual tours, to create immersive and interactive narratives of their exploration experiences.
- Lift Surfer: An individual who boldly rides atop a moving elevator, reminiscent of scenes from action movies.
- Minimalist: A photographer who employs a minimalist approach, using simplicity, symmetry, and clean lines to create powerful and striking images of abandoned spaces.
- Ninja: A proficient master of stealth and evasion, often employing climbing techniques to infiltrate locations unobtrusively.
- Noob: An abbreviated term for a newcomer to the world of urban exploration photography.
- Portraitist: A photographer who incorporates models or human subjects into their urban exploration images, adding a sense of scale and a personal touch to the scenes.
- Prohobo: An individual who sets up camp at abandoned sites, utilizing premium camping gear for their stay.
- Retro Visionary: A photographer who applies retro or vintage aesthetics to their urbex images, creating a nostalgic or time-traveling feel through post-processing techniques.
- Rooftopper: An enthusiast photographer who revels in attaining elevated vantage points atop tall buildings, often involving the ascent of fire escapes.
- Social Commentator: A photographer who uses abandoned places as a backdrop to comment on societal themes, such as urbanization, gentrification, or economic decline.
- Storyteller: A photographer who weaves narratives through their images, often combining photographs with accompanying text to provide insights into the history and experience of exploring abandoned places.
- Trojan Horse: A person who enters a structure attired in a way that allows them to blend in, subsequently facilitating the entry of others into the building.
Urbex Photography Terms
- Abandoned: Refers to locations, buildings, or structures that have been left unused and neglected.
- HDR (High Dynamic Range): A photography technique that involves capturing and combining multiple exposures to showcase a wide range of tones and details, often used in capturing the intricate textures of abandoned spaces.
- Long Exposure: A photographic technique involving a longer shutter speed, often used to capture movement or create atmospheric effects in low-light situations.
- Decay: The natural process of deterioration and disintegration of structures and objects over time, a prominent theme in urban exploration photography.
- Texture: The physical or visual feel of surfaces and materials, a key element often highlighted in images of decaying and abandoned places.
- Ambiance: The mood, atmosphere, or feeling conveyed by a photograph, often used to evoke the emotional essence of abandoned locations.
- Composition: The arrangement of visual elements within a photograph, including balance, framing, and focal points.
- Wide Angle: A lens or focal length that captures a broader field of view, often used to capture expansive interiors or dramatic architectural features.
- Close-up/Macro: Photography that captures subjects in extreme detail, highlighting intricate textures and decay up close.
- Silhouette: A photographic technique where the subject appears as a dark outline against a bright background, often used to create dramatic or moody effects in abandoned spaces.
- Contrast: The difference in brightness or color between the various elements in an image, often used to enhance the visual impact of decay and textures.
- Light Painting: A technique where the photographer uses artificial light sources to illuminate specific areas of a scene during a long exposure, creating unique and artistic effects.
- Golden Hour: The period shortly after sunrise or before sunset when the light is soft, warm, and diffused, often preferred for capturing the ambiance of abandoned locations.
- Bracketing: Capturing multiple shots of the same scene at different exposures, used for HDR processing or to ensure proper exposure in challenging lighting conditions.
- Perspective: The angle and distance from which a photograph is taken, affecting the spatial relationships and depth perception within the image.
- Framing: The use of elements within a photograph, such as archways or doorways, to create a natural frame that draws attention to the main subject.
- Leading Lines: Visual elements within a photograph, such as paths or railings, that lead the viewer’s eye toward the main subject or a focal point.
- Symmetry: A compositional technique where elements are balanced on either side of an axis, often used to create a sense of harmony and order in images of abandoned spaces.
- Rule of Thirds: A guideline where the frame is divided into nine equal parts by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, used to create balanced and visually pleasing compositions.
- Shadow Play: The artistic use of shadows and light to add depth, contrast, and mood to images of abandoned locations.
- Reflection: The use of reflective surfaces, such as water or glass, to capture unique and visually captivating images in abandoned spaces.
- Dutch Angle: A technique where the camera is tilted to create a diagonal and dynamic composition, often used to convey tension or disorientation in urbex photography.
- Foreground/Background: The elements in a photograph that are closest to the viewer and farthest from the viewer, respectively, used to create depth and context in images of abandoned places.
- Exposure: The amount of light that reaches the camera sensor, controlled by settings like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, crucial for capturing well-balanced and properly lit images in various lighting conditions.
- Post-Processing: The editing and enhancement of photographs using software, used to refine and optimize urbex images for visual impact and storytelling.
- Vignetting: The gradual darkening of the edges of an image, often used to draw focus to the center and create a vintage or dramatic effect in urban exploration photography.
- Depth of Field: The range of distances in an image that appear in focus, controlled by the aperture setting, often used to isolate subjects from their surroundings in abandoned spaces.
- Bokeh: The aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas in a photograph, often characterized by soft and pleasingly blurred background lights or highlights.
- Saturation: The intensity or richness of colors in a photograph, manipulated in post-processing to enhance or alter the visual impact of abandoned scenes.
- Candid Shot: A photograph captured in an unposed and spontaneous manner, often used to capture the genuine atmosphere and emotions of exploration experiences.
- Low Light Photography: Capturing images in conditions of minimal available light, often encountered in dimly lit or nighttime explorations of abandoned places.
- Frame within a Frame: A compositional technique where elements within the scene naturally create a frame around the main subject, adding depth and visual interest to urbex photographs.
- Ethereal Effect: The use of lighting and post-processing to create a dreamy, otherworldly, or ghostly atmosphere in images of abandoned locations.
- EXIF Data: The metadata embedded in an image file, containing information about the camera settings used to capture the photograph, valuable for analyzing and learning from urbex photography techniques.
- Dynamic Range: The range of tones from the darkest to the brightest areas in an image, often manipulated in post-processing to balance and enhance urbex photographs.
Who Practices Urbexing?
Just like restless birds that fly far and wide exploring new territories, urbexers are individuals consumed with curiosity, yearning to uncover secrets hidden within the cityscape’s crumbling structures.
They are photographers, capturing the poignant beauty of deserted buildings, roofs, and underground passages.
They can be history enthusiasts, eager to feel the past seeping through the cracks of these rummaged ruins.
They can also be adrenaline junkies, considering urbexing as an urban adventure that provides an offbeat yet exciting escape from the monotony of everyday life.
Just picture this: you’re standing on an empty street, gazing up at an abandoned mansion or industrial building. Its cracked facade and weather-beaten features give an uncanny sense of a story untold.
This suspense and allure drive urbexers to unmask the mysteries, much like detectives solving an age-old case. If this resonates with you, then you’re potentially an urbexer at heart!
But remember, urbexers share a common respect for the histories and stories that these forgotten spaces bear. It’s equivalent to going to your grandmother’s attic but on a larger scale – you wouldn’t want to ruin or take anything without permission, would you?
Following the urbex guidelines and safety measures is not only vital for your safety but for the preservation of these hidden urban treasures for the explorers yet to come.
So, whether you’re a photographer, historian, or adventure-seeker – for an ultimate urbexing experience always explore responsibly.
When Did Urbexing Become Popular?
When did urbexing become popular? You might be intrigued to discover that urbexing, short for urban exploration, truly started to gain momentum in the late 20th century.
However, its roots extend even farther back.
Imagine you’re a child, exploring an old, musty attic or a spooky forest on the outskirts of your neighborhood. The rumbling thrill in your gut, the adrenaline as you cross the unknown, the serene satisfaction in discovering new spaces. Urbexing is much the same, yet on a grander, more adrenaline-charged level.
It was in the 1970s and 80s when urbexing started to notice a significant surge. One of the reasons behind this was advancing technology.
As camera equipment became more accessible, explorers could document their findings and share the thrill of their escapades. Just as we love to swap stories by a campfire, these rare, unusual urban explorations became stories to be shared in our hyper-connected digital age.
Then, with the advent of the internet in the 90s, urbexing communities started to mushroom online. Like-minded individuals flocked to blogs and forums, posting photos and sharing locations confidentially.
It was like a secret club, filled with daring adventurers, the fearless discovery of forgotten past right within the borders of our urban infrastructure.
In recent years, social media and photography platforms have given urbexing a considerable boost.
Platforms like Instagram offer avenues for exposure, with photographs of abandoned sites piquing curiosity, attracting the eye with their unique beauty, simultaneously eerie yet profoundly beautiful.
So, as you can see, urbexing popularity has been a slow burn, not a sudden explosion. It’s like the gradual transition from ember to full-blown flame, stoked by the winds of technology and connectivity. It’s a wonderful reminder that even in our exhaustingly bustling world, there always lies an undiscovered, forgotten corner waiting for the thrill of rediscovery.
Where Can Urbexing Be Done?
Urbexing takes place in any urban environment with abandoned and dilapidated structures.
It’s like playing a detective in your own city, seeking out the forgotten stories of old buildings, underground systems, or forsaken rooftops.
Imagine yourself walking down a path less travelled in your hometown. You might stumble upon buildings that are no longer in use, closed factories that once flourished with activity, or maybe forgotten warehouses. These are the kind of places where urbexing can truly come alive.
Abandoned buildings and structures offer a unique canvas for your creativity. You’re an archaeologist exploring an ancient civilization, except it’s not a thousand years old, and it’s hidden in plain sight.
Sections of your city you drive by every day, places deemed as eyesores or hazardous, can turn out to be extraordinary locations for urban explorers like you.
On the other hand, you could also invade the vertical space – deserted rooftop areas. These often offer breathtaking views that, while at eye-level may look ordinary, from atop can reveal a unique perspective.
Underground tunnels offer another great opportunity for urbexing. Think of it as a hidden labyrinth under your very feet, where every turn reveals its secrets. It’s like digging through the city’s historic layers you weren’t aware of.
But, remember, while urbexing might sound exciting, it’s not without its risks. Always consider your safety and get the necessary permission to avoid trespassing. It’s like going into someone else’s house: you do want to make sure they’re okay with it first.
This thrill of discovery, fused with respectful exploration and a flair for creativity, makes urbexing more than a hobby—it’s a unique way to connect with the history and atmosphere of urban surroundings. So, wherever there’s an abandoned space or forgotten corner, there lies an opportunity for urbexing.
Why Do People Engage In Urbexing?
The thrill of discovery and inspiration is a driving force behind urbexing, or urban exploration.
There’s an eerie yet enchanting sense of history and stories untold surrounding you. This is what draws many to the practice of urbexing.
Urbexing provides a unique opportunity to create stunning visual narratives of spaces almost frozen in time. Each abandoned structure is like a forgotten book, and as an urbex photographer, you quite literally shine a light on its untold stories.
You capture images that make people pause, inviting them to speculate about the history, the lives, and events that played out in these hidden, deserted worlds.
Have you ever felt the exhilaration of discovering an unexpected site or the satisfaction of capturing the perfect image with your wide-angle lens, perfectly preserving the atmosphere of decay and abandonment?
That’s a typical day for these professionals, giving audiences an artistic glimpse into structures that have been left behind.
Moreover, urbexing promotes the preservation of these spaces. Think of yourself as a guardian of these sites.
Your photos encourage a shared respect for their historical significance and help deter harmful actions like theft and vandalism.
Think of it as leaving a trail in the wild – you want the explorers after you to experience the wonder and thrill just like you did.
Moreover, undertaking urbexing responsibly means adhering to specific guidelines – not stealing or damaging property, and acquiring the necessary legal permissions. Just like a hiker respects the mountain trails, the urban explorer respects the desolated buildings and structures they traverse.
However, urbexing isn’t just about the exploration and photography. It’s philosophically enticing too. Wander in these abandoned corridors and rooms, and you’re confronted with the impermanence of life, the ephemeral nature of civilization.
It’s like standing on the shore of a vast, deserted ocean, listening to echoes of waves that have long since receded.
So why do people engage in urbexing? For the thrill, the stories, the preservation, the stunning photographs, and also for the life-affirming philosophy it invokes. As an urban explorer ready with your torch and camera, you are a part of a poignant and mesmerizing dance with the echoes of the past.
How Is Urbexing Done?
Urbexing is all about stepping into the past, to places abandoned and left to ruin. Picture an old factory, its machinery silent for decades, or a once-glitzy theatre, now empty and ghostly. These are the realms where an urbexer ventures.
Your core equipment can be as simple as a reliable pair of boots, protective clothing and a sturdy camera. Imagine yourself as a modern knight, donned in denim armor instead of metal, your camera more valuable than any sword.
You need a tripod for stability, a flash to illuminate the decrepit corners, gloves to safeguard your hands and torches to drive away the shadows. These are your staple tools, contributing to the survival and success of your urban exploration.
Think of James Bond when it comes to navigation, smooth, discreet, and always careful. The key to urbexing is not damaging or stealing anything, and certainly not breaking into buildings. You’re an exploration diplomat, there to document and appreciate, not to alter or take possession.
Once you have located a suitable space, think of it like wooing a strict landlord. Often, you need to earn permission from the property owner or even consider buying the property to make your urban explorations legal.
The risks can be high in urbexing, so it’s crucial to partner up, like Batman and Robin, watching each other’s backs while navigating the urban jungle.
Staying safe and respecting the spaces are primary concerns – remember, these are time capsules, pieces of history too valuable to damage.
In this digital age, finding these urbex photography locations may remind you of playing a video game with multiple levels. It could be online research, quizzing locals, or studying satellite images – every method is a step towards finding your next urbex adventure.
The world of urbexing is like no other, my friend. It’s about the thrill of exploration, the wistfulness of history, and the artistic expression of forgotten spaces.
So, are you ready for your urbexing adventure?
FAQ About Urbex
What are the rules of urbex?
The rules of urbex (urban exploration) involve respecting the locations visited, not damaging property, and adhering to safety precautions while exploring abandoned or off-limits urban spaces.
What are the dangers of urbex?
The dangers of urbex include potential exposure to hazardous materials, structural instability of abandoned buildings, legal consequences for trespassing, and the risk of encountering dangerous individuals or situations.
Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business and photography blog called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.