Urban Exploration, more commonly known as urbex is the act of exploring empty and abandoned places. One young student, 16 year old Daniel Howell, not only enjoys exploring abandoned places, but records his findings, too using his camera.
Daniel then shares his findings with the world via his Instagram @dan_urbex, and his YouTube channel, which goes by the same name.
What is Urbex photography?
So urbex stands for Urban Exploration, which is the general term used for exploring abandoned places or roof topping tall buildings. The photography side, if done successfully, documents the natural and human impact on the building. This normally includes ripped walls, black decay on the walls and collapsing floors, or graffiti and smashed windows.
Wait, what’s roof topping?
Roof topping is essentially free climbing up a skyscraper or tall building. Popular roof toppers include nightscape and ally law.
How did you get into urbex photography?
Since I was really young, I was always interested in empty buildings, being alone in massive buildings. I decided to take a step in this direction at the beginning of a new GCSE photography topic, and since then I’ve been exploring almost every weekend for over a year.
"It was a bit of a risk at the time as I'd had no experience with photography in my life."
Did you get into photography during your time at school?
When it came to my options for my GCSEs, I wanted to take an art subject, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t really like drawing and painting, and I really didn’t like textiles. That then left photography. It was a bit of a risk at the time as I’d had no experience with photography in my life, but it’s that decision which has really built up my confidence as a person and it’s allowed me to meet loads of other photographers. It was probably the best decision of my life.
Since then, who has inspired you?
My main inspiration and essentially the reason why I push myself to explore every weekend is a YouTuber and photographer called nightscape, or Harry Gallagher. His positive attitude along with his incredible film making and exploring videos really inspires me to create and push myself to my limits. Funnily enough, his motto is “No Limits”, which alone makes me think a lot about where I could be in the near future and how I could get there. He has noticed my work a few times, and replied on Instagram messages, which felt incredible. Apart from him, I have the whole urbex community on Instagram, in which I get new ideas for shots and interact with other community members. The best thing about urban explorers that a lot of the public don’t get it that we always respect the places we enter. Never take anything from there, never cause any criminal damage, never break anything. Just take photos. Huge groups of people that go in and cause havoc are not true urban explorers in my eyes, they don’t understand the true beauty of locations that I and many others see.
Okay, so linking to that, what do you think are the main characteristics that an urbex photographer should possess?
It’s important to be respectful of the locations and to avoid breaching the laws as much as possible, as trespassing is. I think it’s important that urbex photographers, or any photographers, should be positive and confident with what they create. The should know that they are good and generally by optimistic. Pessimism can take over and won’t help with motivation. Overall, all photographers should be optimistic, motivated, respectful, and open-minded.
How do you find these abandoned places?
I find my locations mainly from other urbex photographers on Instagram, we normally share locations whenever we come across any. I also use the website 28dayslater.co.uk, where explorers post reports on their explorations. Reports normally include photos taken from the building, and sometimes the history of the place, too.
What camera equipment do you use specifically for urbex?
My urbex kit is constantly changing as I get rid of the old and bring in the new. Currently, I use the Canon 1300D, which will hopefully change to the Canon 77D. I mainly use the 10-18mm lens along with it, but I also have the standard kit lens it came with, the 18-55mm lens. In terms of other equipment, I have a large tripod normally used for much more advanced shooting, and comes in handy for a lot of shots that I’m in as I explore alone most of the time. I also have a small tripod for much more simple shots and is a great size. As a lot of abandoned places are really dark inside, I carry a ring light which I use for shooting sometimes, but mostly for visibility. Finally, a new arrival into my kit is a lens ball, which acts like a raindrop and flips the image over, It works well with landscape shoots, bit I’ve been trying to make it work in urbex shoots, too. I occasionally use filters as well for lighter areas.
Can you give any advice or tips to photographers who want to get into the field of urbex?
My biggest tips for any any aspiring explorers or urbex photographers would be to always respect locations and to really enjoy it. Also, for any aspiring photographers in general, don’t necessarily think that using a phone camera or a cheaper DSLR camera will hold you back. If you have a great idea for a photo, that can still be documented through a phone really well. Photography isn’t just about the overall quality of the image, it’s mostly about the content and the story it tells.
"I'd love to continue urban exploring, but hopefully on a national scale."
What are your own career goals?
My goal in the future is simply to be earning a living from photography. I’m not bothered about earning a massive monthly wage, as long as I’m working in my dream job, I’m happy. I do believe that money does the opposite of bringing happiness and that what you do with your life is what creates happiness for yourself and others. As I'm also studying film at A level, I would also consider working as a freelance filmmaker as soon as I believe I’m good enough. Obviously, I’d love to continue urban exploring, but hopefully on a national scale. I’ve got plans to go to Chernobyl in the very near future. Perhaps on a gap year, with some friends, with it being the biggest abandoned location on the planet.
Tell me more about Chernobyl? What attracts you to it?
I've looked a lot into the history of the place and watched plenty of people enter the exclusion zone. With it being an entire abandoned town, it's got a bit of everything in terms of buildings; there's huge flats, the famous playground and the nuclear reactor where the nuclear disaster happened. However, the main reason why I want to go there is to do photography there. The rooms are still full of the original beds and such that were there when everyone had to evacuate immediately. Nothing could be taken with them. The abandoned leisure centre would also really interest me as I really like photographing abandoned pools. I definitely want to go there soon.
Finally, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face as an urbex photographer?
I will say my biggest challenge has been myself. I find sometimes when I've been going through Instagram or just generally looking at other photographers work, I compare mine, which initially demotivates me as a lot of the time, I'll think their work is better than mine. It's a natural thing for artists and photographers to compare work to others, it's all about how you analyse and compare. I find nowadays when comparing my work, I use that as my push to get better photos and become a better photographer. Definitely changing my attitude towards other peoples work allows me to appreciate it a lot more and I will support them. Most of the time, they'll look at my work and sometimes they'll support it too. I'd say it is important to continue to help and support other photographers and to not allow negative emotions demotivate your desire to create.