One of my favorite photography subjects is urban exploration and abandoned building photography. Unfortunately, I am unable to do much, if any, urban exploration (urbex) because I live in such a rural location. I do occasionally get to some abandoned houses, but time only permits so much. So I approached photographer Chris Maskell, who is based in London to ask him a few questions and feature his great HDR work.
Briefly, before I start the questions, HDR is short for High-Dynamic Range. It uses a process of putting multiple brackets/exposures of the same image together to get a larger range between black and white. This creates more detail in the highlights and shadows. This is a pretty simplified explanation, I’ll probably do a post on it in the future to further detail it.
On to the questions!
When and what was your first creative moment?
A. Not sure I’ve had any really. I photograph what I see rather than trying to make something from scratch.
When did you start taking photographs?
A. Probably age 7 or 8 with an old Practika TLR, first photo I remember taking was of a Dartmoor Pony, it bit me 30 secs later.
Do you do the urban exploration for the photography or the photography for the urban exploration?
A. I think the Photography always comes first, but I love exploring so they kind of go hand in hand. The feeling of creating a great image from a building left to decay stays with you long after the explore is done.
How do you discover your locations?
A. Research is always important and keeping your eyes open. If I see a potential location while I’m out I photograph and geotag it with my Android phone, then I can research it in leisure later.
Do you only go through abandoned places or do you also go in places that are still used but off-limits to public?
A. Not only abandoned, I recently shot images at the Commonwealth War Memorial in Runneymeade, Surrey. If a location is interesting then I will want to photograph it.
Do you generally get permission or no? And how do you ask for permission to enter the grounds?
A. Never. Most Urbex locations are by their nature boarded up and getting permission would be counterproductive. Many have on site security so it’s a case of getting the shots but staying hidden.
Have you been in any particularly dangerous situations when exploring?
A. Dangerous situations? Yeah a couple, in West Park one day on the run from security, I dashed into a darkened Ward towards an exit when I felt the lino give underfoot. I stopped pretty quick and flicked the torch on to reveal the floor had gone save a thin strip of lino covered rotten wood with massive drops both sides. Sometimes you look at a place and think why am I here? Is it worth the risk?
What kind of equipment do you use (camera, fav lenses, lighting)? Do you bring any other particular equipment (or a friend) when exploring?
A. Pretty basic. Olympus e500 couple of zooms, 20 yr old velbon video tripod with manfrotto head, 1st aid kit, gloves, gas mask, dust mask, sometimes hard hat and hi viz oh and sandwiches (egg mayo is good)
Also My partner in both crime and work. She is always there pushing the danger button.
Do you have a favorite photo, and why?
A. Tough question. I don’t have a favourite maybe a few that I look at and think WOW did I take that.
Do you have a favorite location that you go back to over and over?
A. 2 months ago I would say West Park Asylum in Epsom, for Urbex but that has now been demolished, Avebury Stone circle always holds an attraction for me.
Is there one location you would absolutely love to go to but can’t, for whatever reason?
A. Several, too many to list. Some of the Urbex locations have either been demolished or are currently not possible to enter without causing damage.
Some locations, India, some of the Atolls and Islands of the Pacific may need to wait for a lotto win.
Are all of your photographs in HDR? Why?
A. No not all. Many of my favourite images I took on a Bronica Etrs using 50 ASA Fuji Velvia. I use HDR when it’s called for, if the contrast & EV range is too high or if a subject needs it. I find Urbex shots tend to benefit from HDR.
How do you market your work? Do you just post to flickr or do you have any gallery representation in London or elsewhere?
A. I don’t at the moment but that’s something I’m looking to change in the future. (When I think my work is good enough)
How do you increase your view numbers on flickr?
A. By a mixture of building up contacts and joining groups to get images out there. I have recently limited myself to uploading 1 image a day rather than rushing to upload a whole Urbex shoot in one hit, I think that’s helped.
What advice would you have for someone just starting in photography (or urban exploration)?
A. Learn the basic rules: Composition, lighting, aperture & shutter effects. Once you have perfected the rules, break them..
At least then you will know what you have broken and why it worked (or not).
Learn how your camera/lens/ flash works and how to keep them clean!
Whenever possible ALWAYS use a tripod and slow speed (especially for HDR / landscapes), when not possible, make sure you brace yourself to avoid camera shake.
Look at the work of others, try to see how they did it, keep looking at ways to improve but still keep a style of your own.
And most importantly, cake or pie?
Pie. Got to be pie. Cake that’s for the ladies surely?
If you have any suggestions for future interviews, let me know in the comments below. And of course any other comments are welcome as well.
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