That Abandoned Aesthetic – Part 2

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Abandoned barn
Found on a road trip through Central Oregon.

If you missed the previous article on abandoned places, check out That Abandoned Aesthetic Part 1. I cover the challenges of finding good places to shoot and the difference between having the abandoned aesthetic and actually being abandoned.

Abandoned places and the stories we tell

Is this Stone House, a bathroom for hikers that got wrecked and left abandoned after the The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 or is it Witch House, site of ritual occult psychic murders? You decide!

In addition to fake addresses for abandoned places, fake history abounds. Stone House, above, has many urban legends about it. People snark at me for posting photoshoots of the ruin labeled as ‘Stone House’ instead of the local local nickname of ‘Witch House’. Atlas Obscura was full of fun facts about it being the site of psychic occult murders when I shot these pictures. I don’t know what it says now. It’s a wiki and some people use it to publish their first tries at creative writing. I only know what Atlas Obscura said at the time because some guy was so offended at me calling it a bathroom that he read the ‘truth’ to me while I shot.

Local lore claims that MacGuffin House was a boarding school for girls back in the 1800s. It wasn’t. It’s fairly new and construction was never finished. I like knowing both the real deal and the local legends. You can use Atlas Obscura as inspiration to get get leads on places to shoot, but don’t let it lead to you think Portland has a seekrit tunnel system you can use to wander around the city, like some sort of hipster London Below.

Stay safe out there

I’ve yet to get any static for shooting abandoned places but I have had some interference driving around Oregon looking for Instagram fodder. If challenged in any way, I leave. It’s just me by my lonesome with no cell signal in a highly distinctive car. Locals can tell from way off that I am not a resident and some even cut me off or blow stop signs to assert right of way in their giant trucks. I hate people blocking me from public spaces but I am not going to be a lone vigilante.

Abandoned places and finding them carries some risk. Make sure you are managing that risk within your own personal limits. Me? I am a wimp. I have yet to find a shot that is worth putting myself at risk.

Scoping the scene

Abandoned gas station in Central Oregon. Finding a place with old-style gas pumps partially intact is always nice. If I posted the location, the pumps might not be there much longer.

I try to not spend long at abandoned places. If possible, I do a quick dry run and get a few cell phone pics. Then I go back taking weather, what lens I want and time of day into account. When I get the shot I know the angle, the focal length, aperture and more. I hang around and take more pictures if everything seems chill, but if I need to snipe, I can.

Shooting tips and post processing of abandoned places

If you don’t typically shoot houses or buildings, get some practice in. I mostly shoot landscapes and my wide angle lenses don’t necessarily do buildings any favors. Practice composition and angles on more accessible buildings. Leading lines can draw the viewer into the image. I prefer prime lenses and smaller focal lengths as they have less distortion.

Texture is everything in an abandoned building. Peeling paint, cracking wood, moss are all fantastic elements to include. People like to see the details. Shoot and process with that in mind. Make sure the structure itself is in sharp focus. If you can set up an HDR multiple exposure shot, go for it.

Having a dramatic, cloudy sky behind the building is popular. I prefer a more neutral backdrop to contrast my find. Using a polarizer and/or turning down highlights is how you bring out detail in a sky. When clouds are moving, executing a long exposure shot creates an otherworldly atmosphere.

If I am at a shoot and people are watching me, I stick headphones on. It keeps me focused on what I am doing. Socially awkward situations make me want to rush my shots. Even if I am fully within in my rights as a photographer to take a shot, it can still be awkward to be highlighting a decayed part of a town.

Outside the old mill in Vernonia Lake City park. The composition is simple, yet dramatic and showing lots of detail.

What is your approach to shooting abandoned places? Are they easier or harder to find in your area? Do you list locations or do you keep your cards close to your chest? Do you shoot from public areas like the street or do you sneak in at midnight when the moon is full?

You can find more of Dawn Hewitt’s work, exploring all corners of Oregon, at her Instagram or personal website.

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