Michael Schwan documents the beauty of dilapidated buildings

For Freiberg, Germany-based photographer Michael Schwan,  exploring abandoned homes and buildings is like searching for hidden treasure. His personal project and series “The Beauty of Decay” chronicles the lovely chaos of lost structures. 

Finding abandoned places: It’s not so easy, he says. He gets tips from colleagues and lucks upon places through Google, newspapers, old postcards, and books. Sometimes he spots an abandoned place coincidentally. “Keep your eyes open when driving and you’ll wonder how much is really empty,” he says.

Challenges: Not to get caught, he jokes. In truth, the first rule is never to break in. “If something is closed it stays closed.” The light can be difficult. “There are often too-bright windows and too-dark shadows,” he says. Creating a photograph that appears naturally lit can take a lot of work.

Compositions: “I think of the people who lived here,” he says. “How did people see their own home? What did they see before they left everything behind and went away?” He wants to capture the unique architecture of the location.

Equipment: Schwan uses a Sony a7R III with an ultra-wide-angle lens like the Samyang 14mm F2.8 ED AS IF UMC or the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM. He also uses a Gitzo tripod. Editing is done in Adobe Photoshop.

Motivation: “I love the silence in the place. In such places, I can leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind me and relax. Often you hear nothing more than the chirping of birds,” he says. The adrenaline rush is another factor. “You don’t know what is hidden behind the next door. You feel like a discoverer in an abandoned and past world.”  

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.