Photographers all have a general love for aesthetically pleasing locations to take photos of.
Whether the photos focus on a person, an item, or something else, location is very important in all forms of photography.
With the importance of location in mind, one of the most interesting places to take photos of is abandoned buildings.
Abandoned buildings hold a certain unique look to them that makes them extremely appealing to both photographers and urban explorers.
Just about every photography style there exists can be enhanced at an abandoned building because of how remarkable and interesting these places can be.
The run-down look, destroyed windows, graffiti-laden walls, crumbling structures, decayed paint, and an atmosphere that is like no other can all be found at abandoned buildings.
Not asking for permission to enter an abandoned building can result in fines and even arrest in some extreme cases.
Nonetheless, if you love photography and urban exploration, continue reading as I’ll explain to you how to get permission to photograph abandoned buildings.
This is the exact process I go through and so do many other urban explorers and photographers. So rest assured knowing that this process works.
Start Off By Finding The Owner Of The Building
You found a location you want to take photos of, great. Now comes the part where you need to seek permission to enter the building to take photos.
First and foremost, the person who has the ability to grant you permission to photograph a specific building is the person who actually owns it.
Even though a building has been abandoned, it always has an owner. Always.
To find out who the owner is, there are a couple of different things you can do.
Start off by visiting the building in person. You’re doing this to see if you can spot a for-sale sign or something like that on the property.
A lot of the time, building owners who are looking to sell their property will have a sign with contact information posted somewhere around the building. Usually in the front door or entrance of the property.
If you don’t see a sign posted anywhere around the building, then your next best bet is to search online.
The internet is full of information. If you look hard enough you can usually find the owner of an abandoned building you’re looking to photograph.
You can start off by finding the address of the building using something like Google Maps.
Once you have the address, head on over to Google Search and see what information pops up about the building.
If you don’t find any information on Google, there is another thing you can do.
In the United States, you can look up who owns any property by using a public service called the Geographic Information Systems, or GIS for short.
To use this service, head over to Google and search for ‘GIS’ plus the name of the city where the abandoned building is located. (E.G… GIS Los Angeles or GIS Austin)
Do your search through the GIS database and you might just find the current owners of the building.
If you’ve visited the building in person, searched through the GIS database, and searched on Google but couldn’t find any contact info on the property, there is one last step you can take.
If you really want to get permission to photograph a specific abandoned building, you can try contacting the people who live near the building.
They might be able to tell you who the last known owners were or at least point you in the right direction.
Once you find the owners, now it’s time to ask for permission to explore their abandoned building. There are a couple of things you can do to maximize your chances of being granted permission to enter a building.
Explain To The Owner What You’re Wanting To Do
The most important rule to follow in this step is honesty. Always be honest whether you’re in contact with the owner through email, phone, text, or in person.
Especially in person. Lying will only cause more harm than good and most people will be able to call your bluff.
Just explain to them what you’re hoping to do and give them some of your background information.
Now if you’re more of an urban explorer than a photographer then you obviously can’t just say you’re an urban explorer.
Most people won’t know what that means. Try to think of other aspects of what you’re hoping to do that aren’t far from the truth.
If you’re a college student, tell them you’re a college student who is photographing certain things in society for a school project.
You can also call yourself an amateur historian, or a local news photographer if you have a blog or something like that.
Basically, you don’t want to lie, but you can make yourself seem more legit than you might be.
If you have business cards or some sort of credentials, bring them. These things will make you seem more professional as a person and they’ll be more likely to grant you permission.
Remember to always be kind, courteous, and appreciative no matter what they say to you.
The reality is that they don’t have to talk to you at all if they don’t want to.
If during your quest to find the owner of a building, you find out that the building is being sold through a realtor, you can utilize the photographs to your advantage!
You can explain to the realtor that you’d like to photograph the building as a hobby but that you’re willing to share your photos with them so they can use them to showcase the building to potential buyers.
Basically, just be thankful and have something to offer if they’re hesitant at first.
What If They Deny You Access?
If you’ve made contact with the owner of a building and you’ve asked for permission and they said no, then there’s not much you can do.
You can be persistent and continue asking over a period of time. Hoping they will eventually say yes. But I wouldn’t count on it working out in your favor.
There are a couple of reasons a building owner will deny you access.
For starters, if they know the building isn’t structurally sound then it makes sense that they will not want anyone going in. For obvious reasons.
There’s also the chance that they’re selling the building soon. So they might not want anyone potentially damaging the place.
There’s a number of reasons you could be denied access. Most of the time it has to do with the owners themselves not wanting to be liable for someone getting hurt inside their building.
They don’t want to run the risk of getting sued. Which makes sense.
No matter the case, don’t be rude to them because they denied you access to their building.
You have a couple of different options from this point forward. You can either find another abandoned building to explore and take photos of.
Or you can say screw it and explore the building anyway.
Now, without permission to explore the building, you might not be able to get those significant shots from the outside of the building, since you run the risk of being spotted and possibly caught.
It all depends if you want to roll the dice or not. But your best bet is to play it safe and not go through with it. It’s your decision of course. Just be aware of the repercussions.
What If You DO Get Permission
If you find the owner, ask for permission, and you’re granted access to the building, now the fun can begin.
The first thing you should do is thank them and ask about any specific information you should know pertaining to the building.
They know the building better than anyone else. They might be able to share with you secret spots in the building that would be perfect for taking photos.
Knowing some background information on the building itself can be of use to you.
It’s also useful to know of places to avoid or go to when you’re actually inside the building taking photos or just exploring.
Once you’ve gathered all the information you need on the building, now it’s time to plan your trip.
Set a day aside and ready your urbex / photography gear that you will be taking. Call a friend or two and invite them to explore with you.
Always bring a friend with you. Even if you’re urbexing legally. You never know if an accident can happen or what kind of people you could encounter.
I’d give you some photography tips for taking photos in abandoned buildings but that’s beyond the scope of this article. Maybe in the next one.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article on how to get permission to photograph abandoned buildings. Hopefully, by now you understand the process that I and so many other urban explorers, and photographers, go through when we want to legally take photos of abandoned buildings.
Urbex photography is a constantly growing form of photography.
Finding old and abandoned buildings, exploring them, and taking photos as you go is simply an incredible experience.
More and more people are drawn to it every single day.
Sites like Flickr, Instagram, and Reddit, are littered with urbex photos. People love looking at them, especially being the ones taking them.
Telling your story of how you found an abandoned building, its history, your time exploring it, and of course, the photos you took, is quite the experience.
But with the desire to want to take photos of abandoned buildings, comes the need to seek permission to do so.
I hope this article has helped you understand the process that you need to go through to get permission to enter an abandoned building.
If you go through the process of finding the owner, contacting them, and you’re denied entry, don’t worry too much about it.
Remember that there are thousands of abandoned buildings everywhere. You’re bound to get permission to enter some of them. You just have to be persistent.