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Urban Exploration for Small Town Girls (and Women)

Updated on December 12, 2014

When you don't live in the city you can call yourself a rural explorer.

Chances are you already know the first place you want to explore. There's something that catches your eye on the way home from work every day, each time you drive to visit your Mother, when you go on the backroad into the next town... There's a place out there which you'd like to stop and get a look at, if only you dared. Let's not say you need to find the time. The time is there. It's not easy to stop the car, get out with your camera and make that first step into being an urban explorer.

Or, a rural explorer, as I see it. I don't live in the city. I've lived in the city, in a small city and a range of towns around Ontario. I started exploring abandoned farm houses with my Mother and my Aunt, before I ever knew other people were doing the same thing. I didn't go looking for antiques, old hardware or anything like that. I wasn't hoping to see a ghost or wanting to get creeped out. I wanted to see a relic from the past, the old woodwork, the way the bricks had weathered and whatever mysteries might be lost, forgotten and buried under dust, debris and wild plants. The best thing I found myself was an old iron key. I still have it in my jewelry box.

The first time I explored on my own was years later. Right after I got my first digital camera. No co-incedence there. The digital camera is a wonder for anyone into exploring. Now you can take all the photos you want and not think twice about the cost of getting them developed or how many rolls of film you had packed into your purse.

The photo in this introduction is the very first house I explored, alone. Just my digital camera and me. That was the year 2006.

Photo taken in 2007. This house is now gone. Burned down by vandals, then demolished.

Photo taken in 2007. This house is now gone. Burned down by vandals, then demolished.
Photo taken in 2007. This house is now gone. Burned down by vandals, then demolished.

Taken outside of Barrie, Ontario. 2011.

Taken outside of Barrie, Ontario. 2011.
Taken outside of Barrie, Ontario. 2011.

The Real Dangers of Urban Exploration

You may expect the top danger for explorers to be people. It's not!

I've been exploring, often alone, and the biggest danger I've found is from wild animals. Not that I have been attacked by wolves, raccoons, rabid squirrels... no. I've been threatened by birds and attacked by bees. I've had toads and frogs scare the pee out of me - I still think I stepped on one poor toad when I was walking through very long grass and couldn't see where my feet were stepping.

Birds can be territorial and may dive bomb you. The only solution is to tolerate it or hide. I've yet to have one actually strike me. But, the closest to do so were blackbirds (those smaller versions of crows) and hummingbirds. Don't laugh!

Bees are pretty self explanatory. Rule number 1: don't step in between the flight path of two beehives. Just don't do it. If you really must, duck down low and make sure your hair is covered. There is nothing like having a bee lost in your long, curly hair - near enough to your ear so you know you're in danger of being stung and you're not really keen on finding it with your fingers.

People will sometimes ask you what you are doing. In all but one case I have never had any trouble at all with people. They are curious. If they know something about the history of the house/ bulding/ location they will usually tell you about it. Volunteering all kinds of historical information. Which is great. I do like to hear it. Sometimes people want to talk more than I want to keep listening, but I do appreciate their time, their interest in the place I'm looking at and... the fact that I'm a woman and they are likely telling me all this because I don't seem like someone who would be getting into trouble, or making trouble.

Only once, I had a woman who was suspicious. But, it turned out she was the owner of the house I was photographing - it was a ruin but not abandoned. In that case I liked it for the ruined look. But, there are cases where you will find out (later hopefuly) that the abandoned house your're photographing isn't actually abandoned after all. It's kind of funny, later.

Getting back to animals... watch for animal holes. You might hurt your leg if you step into one. It is a good idea not to go alone just in case you do get hurt and need help. I do not explore inside the houses, hardly ever actually. I will go inside if I'm with a group, or at least one other person. Safety in numbers, when it comes to injury or... getting caught as a tresspasser.

This has not happened to me. But, it is on my mind each time I stop and get out of the car at a location I want to explore. I feel I am keeping myself out of trouble by not entering the premises. If I just walk around outside taking my photos I'm not breaking into the property. Also, I just don't feel right about entering a home this way. Most often they are pretty gutted by other explorers or people looking for hardware and such to steal and sell as vintage. So, in theory, I feel I am not tresspassing, or really missing much.

I was asked to leave one location by the security people. This was a time I was not alone so that was nice for me. I had already taken the photos I wanted too. I think they left me alone to wander around for awhile before they finally approached me. But, I'm sure they would have come on the run if I had been trying to do more than take outside photos.

If you do enter any abandoned, derelict or ruined building you must know you are at risk. You can not be 100% sure about anything in that building. Even a place which does not look badly derelict can have structural damage. Don't be an idiot about exploring inside. Wear decent footwear, bring a flashlight (even in daylight). Have someone with you or at least make sure your phone is charged and with you so you can call for help.

Shipwreck on Lake Ontario, 2007

Shipwreck on Lake Ontario, 2007
Shipwreck on Lake Ontario, 2007

How to Find Locations for Urban Exploring

I find places to explore by driving around and looking out the car window. These are the times it's important to have someone else driving the car. You can't navigate the car and have most of your attention focused on catching sight of weathered wood, boarded windows or a driveway overgrown with plants.

Another idea is to join Flickr. You can get a free account. Search for local groups with explorers who are already adding photos. Some of them will put directions and locations on the photos. Not everyone will. I tend to leave it ambiguous. I like to protect the places from vandals and people who just want to grab whatever they can sell. So, I am cautious about giving directions. But, that doesn't mean I hoard them all. If you can join the local group, get involved in a discussion, share any photos from old places you already have - you might find a place in the group. Try to attend when people plan an event - meeting at one site. It's a lot of fun plus you make real contacts and become someone they will share information with.

Flickr has a lot of local groups but it isn't the only source. Search online and see what you find.

Read local history. Read the news. See which buildings in your own town are historical and may be in danger of being demolished. Read about the history fo your area and see what has already been lost and what is still left.

Check real estate listings. Some places have been for sale for years, empty. Some of them are being sold due to fire or damage from something else. Some are being sold in order to be knocked down so the land can be farmed or have housing developments built over them.

On a busy road into the town, in 2008. A baby deer was also at the house when I began photographing.

On a busy road into the town, in 2008. A baby deer was also at the house when I began photographing.
On a busy road into the town, in 2008. A baby deer was also at the house when I began photographing.

Urban Exploration Photography Tips

My new (new 2 years ago) digital camera has a great feature for urban and rural explorers, zoom. I've got 10x zoom. This makes a big difference in what I can get into a photo without having to be physically closer. You can't always get close up when there are fences, animals, and etc in the way.

Frame your photo and use the rule of thirds. I like to photograph a foreground of weeds/ wildflowers in front of a house. Sometimes I scoot down to the ground so the house appears to be on a hill. (It helps if it actually is on a bit of a rise). I like to get trees on the sides of my photos. It gives the photo a real, living edge. Then I take a photo where the house fills the frame.

Be creative, try different angles, try getting high (the roof of another building, a tree?) then get down low for a different view. Using a tripod is nice, if you have one. I did buy one but I have yet to actually take it with me.

I do have a camera strap. I always keep it on my wrist when I am using the camera. It is so easy to have some little thing trip you up and next thing you drop the camera. If you have that strap over your wrist, your camera has a much better survival rate.

Focus on details. There will be little details you miss, You will notice them once you upload the photos from your camera. As you get practice you start noticing details easier, while you are still on the site. Train your mind to look for small things, the trimmings, the cracks. There will be details which especially appeal to you of course.

Don't be stingy with your photos. Take extra. You can delete any you don't need later. Or, you might find one of your extras just happened to catch the light and the angle just right.

Try different times of day, different seasons too. Sunset adds a glow to your photos outside. Winter makes everything look mysterious and silent. You should explore night photography too, what works for taking photos in darkness. Bring a flashlight, shine it on a window and get a photo of the beam inside the house.

From 2009. Car and house in the background. Ruined by fire.

From 2009. Car and house in the background. Ruined by fire.
From 2009. Car and house in the background. Ruined by fire.

Painting by Michelle Basic Hendry

This is a painting based on a house which is still standing along the highway, but looking more weathered years later.
This is a painting based on a house which is still standing along the highway, but looking more weathered years later.

Women Urban and Rural Explorers - I have met the women explorers on this list through my years of running the Flickr group: Ontario Rural Ruins.

If you are a woman urban or rural explorer send me a note and I will check your links and photos and add you to the list.

  • Flickr: Female Urban Explorers

    "This group is a place for UE girls to get together to talk about our explores and experiences and a place to share our images. Let's celebrate the fact that we are female Urban Explorers....and proud of it!"

  • msDeKay

    Ontario urban and rural explorer. Lots of photos, not all locations in Ontario.

  • KateKnevil

    Ontario rural explorer. Not a lot of photos but very good photos.

  • Lee-Ann Licini

    Ontario rural and urban explorer. She also runs the Creepy Ontario group on Flickr.

  • The Navigator

    Ontario urban and rural explorer. I've actually met Carla, face to face once.

  • Michelle

    Ontario rural explorer and artist. Now moved away from Ontario and living in the US. Her paintings of rural ruins are available on her site.

Abandoned on a Lake, 2010

Abandoned on a Lake, 2010
Abandoned on a Lake, 2010

Take only photos; leave only footprints.

Reader Feedback

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    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @minababe - She was my Great-Aunt Alice and would have been at least 50 I think. I still have the old key to the front door of that house and it still reminds me of our day there. My Aunt is deceased years ago. She loved adventure all her life. Not extreme adventure but she had a life of exploring and trying new things.

      I wish more people would understand the dangers and risks too. Also have the respect for the old places and their history. On the other hand, I wish more people would take a better look and see more of these places before they are gone.

    • profile image

      minababe 3 years ago

      Wow, I can't believe you went exploring with your mother and aunt. I'm so jealous! All the women in my family were a bunch of fraidy cats who wouldn't even walk in front of an abandoned house, let alone explore one. It's awesome that they nurtured a sense of adventure in you.

      Great job explaining the dangers of UE. Many people seem to underestimate all the legal problems and physical dangers they can encounter when exploring. Hopefully, someone who's thinking of jumping in with both feet will read this hub and take their safety more into consideration when they finally explore.

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 3 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      Enjoyed your photos.

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 3 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      You've had some grande adventures.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I've never heard of UE, interesting that's for sure. There are a lot of old and abandoned places where I live, however, I would be afraid of someone bringing out the shotgun, lol.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Blonde Blythe: Thank you. I really enjoyed your book about the big eye girl art. :) I had it out again this weekend.

    • Blonde Blythe profile image

      Blonde Blythe 5 years ago

      Extremely fascinating lens! I really enjoyed the photos of abandoned farm houses, and your wonderfully described experiences in urban exploration.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @LiteraryMind: I live in a small city in Ontario. I prefer the farmhouses and such around the rural areas in Ontario. But, it became known as urban exploration so people tend to stick with the name they know. I sometimes call it rural exploration.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Interesting. I never heard of urban exploring. These houses don't look as if they are in urban areas though. They look like country. Hmmm! I grew up in New York City so that's my idea of an urban area...but not for exploring abandoned buildings.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @JoleneBelmain: I think of them as mysterious too. Sad sometimes but mostly mysterious - like potential waiting to happen, or hoping to happen.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 5 years ago

      I love abandoned places too and the way you've presented this lens. It's like a story, plus you have great pictures. I've always wanted to photograph that shipwrecked boat on Lake Ontario. I will someday soon. Great work!

    • JoleneBelmain profile image

      JoleneBelmain 5 years ago

      We have a few abandoned places around where I live too... they seem so mysterious.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @kimmanleyort: I took the photos of the ship a few years ago. I've heard it's not standing up well these days. It is still in the water so I guess that's not helping. Poor thing has had a tough time with vandals and arson too.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Michey LM: They don't have to be an environmental problem. I've been reading about how some abandoned places have become reused in some ways. My favourite so far is using them as an aviary. (Apiary/ aviary - I mean the one for birds).

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
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      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @vetochemicals: Too bad you didn't get photos of the church. But, it was really nice that you and your sisters and friends helped so much to give it a second chance.

    • profile image

      grannysage 5 years ago

      Not only is this a great hobby but it saves the building for history. There was an old barn in a vacant lot next to us when I grew up. My dad took lots of pictures of it. The barn has been torn down but it lives on through the pictures. I love the photo of the old boat.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      All of those "abandoned" places are a shame, and an environmental problem as well. Thanks for a good awareness lens.

    • vetochemicals profile image

      Cindy 5 years ago from Pittsburgh Pa

      I was a rural explorer when I was younger and this article reminds me of an old little white church that was abandoned in our neighborhood and I loved it so much, had to get inside. I took my sisters and a few friends in and then we all decided to clean it up. We spent lots of time there, never took photos:( but, years later someone restarted it as a church - it was great to see it come to life again! Your photos are great. xoxo

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 5 years ago

      Now THIS is my kind of activity. I love being the passenger rather than the driver in the car, it allows me to check out all of the treasures you see along the way. I always imagine what a home or car was like before it got into it's present condition. Just love poking around!

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      This is great stuff. I bet you like all those shows like the one they have now where they dig up the yard. I like them. I used to go in and out of old houses like these in Ohio, but was scared of them after dark. This is a very nicely done lens...and not just for women or girls! Squid Angel blessed

    • profile image

      linkreggie 5 years ago

      Very informative lens.. thanks for spending some of your time writing this topic.. It can really help me a lot in my study about Urban Exploration..

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love exploring old places like these, and they make wonderful photos. This is an interesting article. :)

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @anonymous: Thank you for all the comments.

      Yes, they do make great photos. It's kind of nicer than actually being there sometimes. But, having been there I can remember why I took the original photo and how I was feeling and thinking at the time. You can only pull so much of that into a photo for other people to feel and see it the same way you did.

    • JoolsObsidian LM profile image

      JoolsObsidian LM 5 years ago

      What an interesting lens, thanks for sharing your hobby!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Quite an interesting read - and thanks for sharing your photos! :)

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great photographs - makes me want to switch from flowers and nature to abandoned buildings for awhile...

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Scarlettohairy: Have you got your photos up online? Everyone has a different interest, like a specialty it seems. I have a friend who especially likes to photograph the old barns. Pretty rare to see an old outhouse left standing but I have seen a couple at the abandoned farms. I don't always get a close up of them. I focus on the farmhouse.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I love your photographs! This is just my style! I've been known to pull over and photograph outhouses or abandoned buildings.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @hobbity: Thank you.

    • profile image

      hobbity 5 years ago

      Great photography here and a very unique and unusual theme.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Very informative lens! Also, good safety information.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @flycatcherrr: I used to visit a lot of those when I was living in the US. Here they seem to get moved and sort of stacked into a monument, or be decently taken care of. I guess there are some on farms but they don't have much public access so only the family know they are there.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      I feel exactly the same way about old family cemeteries, those little half-grown-over old family plots in the back corner of farm fields. Nature reclaiming the monuments of man, blend of beauty and sadness.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is a unique and interesting lens you've created here. Great pictures and tips on rural exploration. I think I've seen that shipwreck on Lake Ontario a few times. Blessed! :)

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 5 years ago from So Cal

      Interesting lens and great photos.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Diana Wenzel: Don't wait too long to explore a place once it catches your eye. I've noticed places but took my time getting back to them. A few times they were gone by the time I did actually make the plan and go. There was a stone church right here in my town which I thought I would have more time. Then it was just gone from one day to the next.

      If you can send links on Squidoo send me one to your post when you make it. I haven't found a way to keep track of favourites here, yet.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @myraggededge: Thank you for the Squid Angel blessing. I just found out about that today but didn't find out more about it yet.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @anonymous: I agree there is a life to them. I never find anything spooky or haunted about them. Not in that movie kind of way anyway.

    • Seasons Greetings profile image
      Author

      Laura Brown 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      @Nightcat: In most cases I don't ever look up an owner. The houses I like to stop and photograph the most are those which are far gone, very weathered. There is a sadness to them. I think that's what I really like about documenting the really worn places. It sounds silly, but I feel like I'm giving them someone who still cares.

    • Nightcat profile image

      Nightcat 5 years ago

      I'm glad you pointed out people shouldn't enter these buildings. There is always an owner somewhere, and he or she won't be amused. I love taking pictures of old houses too but too often around here people vandalize abandoned ones, so you are right on about researching first. Most owners don't mind people who admire a house, and letting them know first if possible is always safest.

    • curious0927 profile image

      curious0927 5 years ago

      Great 1st lens! I love your photo's and all the interesting tips and information. I think you have found a niche here,,,keep going....Blessed by a Squid Angel!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Although, I'm not a girl, I have made a pretty good hobby out of urban exploration. Old abandoned buildings and homes just seem to have so much life to them.

    • myraggededge profile image

      myraggededge 5 years ago

      I've never heard of this but it sounds fascinating - a study of decay. Very interesting and I love your photos. Have a Squidoo Angel blessing on me.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I have always had a great curiosity about abandoned homes, buildings, and towns. There is an old crumbling ranch house not too far from where I live. I often wonder about the people who once lived there. What was their life like? When did they leave? Why did they leave? This fascination began in childhood. There are many wonderful old ghost towns in my state (Colorado). I'm looking forward to visiting as many of them as possible. You have inspired me to create a new lens as soon as I have visited my first abandoned town. Enjoyed learning more about your adventures.

    • profile image

      ratso 8 years ago

      Excellent lens 5* I hope you will consider joining my group Abandoned Places at http://www.squidoo.com/groups/abandoned-places