Can you tell me if urban exploration by photographers is legal?
QI want to start using some more interesting locations for my fashion shoots and know there’s a stunning stately home that’s deserted nearby. A few of my friends have visited it before, and it’s not fenced off, but I wondered if walking around it with a model would be illegal? Malcolm Tunde
Matty says Abandoned property still belongs to someone, and exploring these private places without permission is illegal. That said, as long as your access and presence on these (non-military) sites causes no damage, and you leave things exactly how they were found, the only offence you are committing is trespass. As a saying that’s popular among urban explorers goes “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”. Trespassing is a civil offence in England and Wales, not a criminal one, so for that crime alone you cannot be arrested, only asked to leave a site. For this reason, some photographers are willing to accept the risk of being caught in the hunt for unique locations.
However, many of these sites do have restricted access as they are potentially hazardous, and by entering them you may run the risk of being harmed due to things like structural instability, broken glass and asbestos. For this reason we would recommend that you only ever visit places that you have acquired permission for in advance from the properties’ owners.
There are several websites dedicated to urban exploration with further advice, forums and techniques for the photography of abandoned places, which can be a great source of further information and discussion on the subject. One of the most popular websites for anyone interested in the genre is www.28dayslater.co.uk.
The decay of spaces that were previously buzzing with life can be great for photos.