Essentials: The Urban Explorer

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Essentials is a brand new series where we round up specially curated kits for different photographers in different situations. Other items could surely be substituted, but these are what we personally recommend.

There are a couple of major things that you need to keep in mind when you’re exploring abandoned places. First off, you’ll need to pack light–especially if you’re going to take pictures. What I’ve discovered once when exploring an abandoned tug boat graveyard is that some of those floors aren’t so sturdy–and they can give way at any time. Second, you’re going to need to go in a group or a two person team. Plus, you need to do your research.

And whatever you do, don’t be seen.

Not that we condone breaking into abandoned places, but photographers are bound to do that. And if it’s going to happen, we recommend sticking to just a couple of core essentials.

Canon T5i

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Canon’s T5i is pretty much the exact same camera as its predecessor: the T4i with a couple of ergonomic changes and new modes. And if you need and prefer those changes, this might be the one to spring for. With an 18MP sensor at the heart, a vari-angle LCD screen, portable body, wireless flash control, and a ton of features built in this camera is really all that many will need to get the job done of capturing and documenting abandoned spots.

Plus, the camera’s high ISO performance is also quite incredible for being an APS-C sensor camera.

Pro Tip: Always be aware of your surroundings. Try to get your photos as quickly as possible--then get out.

Pro Tip: Always be aware of your surroundings. Try to get your photos as quickly as possible–then get out.

Samyang 16mm f2

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Samyang’s 16mm f2 lens is an all manual focus optic, and it is sharp and super affordable. When using it with a Canon T5i, it will render a 28mm field of view. The lens has a manual aperture ring around it, so when you use it you’ll need to ensure that your camera is in either A or M mode.

We recommend the Samyang because if it breaks, you can easily buy a new one and you won’t feel terrible about having to replace more expensive gear.

Besides, you’ll need a wide angle to work with the vast scenes you may encounter anyway. The reason why we’re recommending a manual focus lens is because in dark spots, your camera might not autofocus at all.

MeFOTO DayTrip Tripod

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Though we wouldn’t typically bring a tripod with us, sometimes a person wants to do long exposures. For a time like that, we’re not only going to stick to our philosophy of staying light, but we’re also emphasizing compactness. The MeFOTO Daytrip tripod collapses down into a really small and convenient size that literally can be stored away in your camera bag with no hassle.

To be honest though, if you don’t feel like you’ll need a tripod, don’t bring it.

Peak Design Capture Clip Pro

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Peak Design is a brand new company that sprouted its legs on Kickstarter and created what is essentially the single clip that every adventure photographer wants. Then they improved on it–and released with Capture Clip Pro. The Pro clip has some seriously sturdy build quality, will securely protect your camera, and will allow you to have quick access to it whenever you want.

Many photographers choose to wear their around their hip on their belt, but others prefer to clip it onto their camera bag.

Whichever you do, make sure that it’s secure when you go exploring.

Two Flashes

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If you’re not much of a flash photographer, then we’re going to encourage you to leave them at home. But in some very dark places, you may want to need some extra illumination in right spots to create a more interesting image. So why two flashes then?

The Canon T5i has built in infrared wireless flash control. All you need to do is set your flashes to slave mode and it will set them off for you. This keeps your package lighter than needing to bring radio triggers. For the best results and the quickest workflow, buy flashes with E-TTL support–like those from Canon. However, there are many third party alternatives that you can use.

For this post (in in our adventures) we recommend using the Canon 580 EX II and 430 EX II.

Pro Tip: This should really go without saying, but don't leave your camera alone...ever

Pro Tip: This should really go without saying, but don’t leave your camera alone…ever

Twine/Rope

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Twine and rope aren’t exactly photo items, but more for extra assistance. It can help you when you need to jump across something and you want to pull your camera bag over next, post flashes in different spots securely, navigate back out of an area, or tie your tripod down securely.

Trust us, you’ll at least want a little pack of twine with you.

Pro Tip: Wear boots. The thick soles on boots can protect your feet from anything sharp and they also usually have good grip. We prefer to spring for ones with thick soles and that help you move around silently.

Pro Tip: Wear boots. The thick soles on boots can protect your feet from anything sharp and they also usually have good grip. We prefer to spring for ones with thick soles and that help you move around silently.

Flashlight

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We’d be stupid if we didn’t tell you to take along a flashlight of some sort. Some places can be dark and creepy–and using the light from your phone means that you’re killing your communication device. Instead, use an actual flashlight and pay attention to your surroundings. If you hear something disturbing, turn it off.

Pro Tip: Keep your eyes and ears open. And keep you and your companion paying attention at all times.

Pro Tip: Keep your eyes and ears open. And keep you and your companion paying attention at all times.

Utility Knife

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Need something to cut the rope? Bring along a small utility knife. Once again this is one of those items that can be used for loads of different situations like getting jammed batteries out of your flashes, being used as a marker, cutting through something thick, etc.

But if you don’t feel comfortable with a knife, leave it at home.

Think Tank Retrospective 7

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The bag that will sling around you, keep everything safe, stay compact, and force you to pack light is one of Think Tank’s finest in the retrospective series. It can be set up to carry lots of gear (we’ve even stuffed monolights in here) but for this adventure, you should really be as nimble as possible.

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