Urban Exploration: #UAEOfflimits

Wouter Kingma, renowned photographer and avid Canon user defines the idea of Urban Exploration and shares some photography tips and tricks for enthusiastic shutterbugs…

“Urban Exploration means different things to different people. We spoke about this at length during the class room session, particularly in terms of access and location. My definition is this... urban relates to the urban environment and culture and exploration relates to the intention of discovery and being open minded about the outcome. Together, Urban Exploration means hitting the streets in a rich and dynamic place to randomly wonder and tell stories with photographs.

Exploring is all about spending time on the street, either on foot or on a bike. Strap on a backpack and hit the road. Trying to stay unnoticed is key. Depending on where you are in the world, that could mean looking like a local or a tourist. Ditch the tripod, travel light and keep your camera in your pack (lens mounted) until you really need it. Walking around with your camera around your neck would be a definite no no and simply draw attention to yourself.

Beat sunrise and shoot well beyond midnight. Remember the unexpected stories come from the out-of-the-ordinary. Every city bustles with energy 24 hours a day. Think bakeries, fish markets, bus stations, entertainment areas, ports... they all run around the clock and each one tells a story regardless of the time of day.

To get the maximum out of your time, do your homework first to see what the area has on offer. A simple Google search will have tons of ideas. Coffee table books are a great source of inspiration as are searches on a good image bank. Get a detailed map to plan a rough route. So have a wish list but don’t get too hung up on it. Be open to change. Take a left turn when you planned a right, just because the light looks better or you feel there might be a good story at the other end of the street. Follow your intuition. Listen to your gut. I've discovered the best places on random explorations. Remember what Tolkien said, “not all who wander are lost.’ Don’t be disappointed if your wish list isn't met. Instead, celebrate the lucky and unexpected encounters. Embrace the unseen.

Urban Exploring is only partly about taking photographs. It’s also about meeting interesting people and having unexpected conversations. It’s about having roadside food, whether a shawarma from a roadside vendor or some tea in a crowded joint. It’s about the mindset of choice and freedom and not chasing someone else’s wish list. It’s about the adventurer and explorer that lives in all of us. Its quality ME time and that’s so valuable.

Finally, it’s about getting out there. Don't be an armchair dreamer. Get out, do it and experience it. Explore first, brag later.”

Shooting the magical evening sky

“Most people stop shooting at sunset. Yet just after sunset there is a short burst of magical colourful sky, just before it goes pitch black. Often it’s hard to see with the naked eye but from the LCD screen on the back of your camera you can see the colours in the sky build up. Some days are better than others. Patience is key.

How I like to work it, is really think about the shot before the sun goes down. Think about the framing. Be aware that anything that sits low like bushes, low buildings and flat landscape will just turn black. What really works is having something that fills the sky and has height, in this case I worked with an arch but it could also be a tree, a buzzing city skyline, street lights etc.

If you don’t want it black, use a bit of flash to light up your subject. For this shot I lit up Jesse and the arch with one (off camera) flash, positioning it in a way that I also had a bit of light spill on the left side of the arch. A second light lit up the buildings in the background just to give the image a bit of depth and storytelling of our location.

On the tech side, always use a tripod as your shutter speed drops quickly and you don’t want to mess up your framing either. The shutter speed manages the intensity of the blue sky. The aperture controls your flash. It’s a balancing act between the two and constantly needs adjusting as your ambient light decreases. Work quickly as you may only have 5-10 minutes. Finally bring a head torch. I’m always so hung up working on a grand shot that when finished, I look around and everything is dark with gear scattered all over the place. Having a head torch seriously helps you to pack your bags and find your gear.”

1/100 sec at f/7.1 and ISO400

Group photos

“Everyone photographer from pro to aspiring will get asked to create a group photo. Might be friends, family or clients, small groups or big. There is no golden rule but following a few handy tips can help you really create something special.

Know how many people you’re shooting and allow for a couple people to be added or invite themselves into the shot (that happens so often). To start its all about the compositing. Based on the group size, what's an interesting setting? How important is the location? What needs to be included? etc. Think about light, let the sun do most of the work and side lighting works better than full on as the crowd will be squinting.

What really works is step one, mount your camera to a tripod. Frame it with an imaginary crowd. Move around and once really happy lock the shot. Don’t move the tripod. In our case I wanted to frame a bit of the old building of Jazira al Hamrah. I liked the arches and could see the team standing underneath them. Sun came in from the right of the camera with fill in flash from the left. Nothing too crazy.

A key element to group photos is energy. The crowd needs to spark and showcase the occasion, show why they are together. That may be a crazy jump, an intense look or a simple satisfying smile. Energy and engagement is so important, as is your role as a photographer to capture that feeling from the crowd. Look at the crowd, use a remote trigger if you can so you are not ducked into the view finder. Talk to them, direct them, entertain them. Trust me your energy level will reflect in their behaviour AND then in the final image!”

1/200 sec at f/8 and ISO100

Adding sun flare to your image

“We’ve all seen it, these great photos with a sun flare sparking off the edge of a building, person, tree or whatever. I love it because it is RAW, real life and powerful.

Here’s a simple trick to capture these. First it starts with strong composition. As always, storytelling with the image comes first. Once you’ve settled on a good frame take a quick shot (in AV or TV setting). What you may find is that your image will be massively over exposed and the sun is completely blown out. A super quick dirty trick is to dial down your exposure by 2 stops and hope for the best, I’ve done this many times with good results as times.

A smarter way is to take an image with the sun fully hidden. Once you're happy with the overall exposure remember the settings and change the camera to manual. Now dial in these settings. With your exposure locked, reframe and move left to right, playing with the sun flare edging your subject. Don’t be afraid to take lots of photos, its digital. Keep your hero shot and delete the others.”

1/80 sec at f/6.3 and ISO200

Think layers

“We walked around the village looking for shooting locations when I spotted these window arches. Normally I wouldn’t bombard into someone’s home but as it’s a deserted place and the front door had fallen out years ago, I could see no harm. Once inside the room there was a nice composition shooting through the windows, layering it as a foreground with stuff happening outside.

This image is a good illustration of thinking with layers and you can build further from here, like adding people passing through. The shot was taken without flash as there was another set of windows on the left throwing in a burst of natural light to fill up the room.”