Sloppystick: Photographing Abandoned Buildings

Jeff Hagerman is a photographer based out of Atlanta. He is a king of taking pictures of abandoned buildings and has brought High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography to a new level.

The following is an interview with Jeff Hagerman where he discusses his photography techniques, working process, and inspiration. The interview has been edited for brevity.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Thank you Jeff for taking the time to join us at eTalks. We are thrilled to have you.

Jeff: Glad to be here.

Niaz: For the people who don’t know about you, can you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Jeff: My name is Jeff Hagerman. I’m 34 years old. In my spare time, I explore and photograph abandoned buildings.  

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: You are sloppystick on Instagram. What is the story behind sloppystick? How did you come up with this name?

Jeff: It’s just an old nickname that sounded funny. My old roommate had a pool table, so I used to play a ton of pool. I usually started sloppy, using a cue stick, so my buddy Alex called me sloppystick. We laughed about it, I used it as an email address, and it stuck. Had I known I’d ever have more than 10 followers, I would’ve chosen something a little better for social media! I have so many people that call me “sloppy” or “slops” now, it’s way too late to change it.

Niaz: What does photography mean to you?

Jeff: Photography means a lot to me. It’s opened a lot of doors for me and has really changed my life. It’s led me to my girlfriend of almost 3 years and has introduced me to a bunch of great people, some that have become close friends. I can only imagine what will happen in the future. I have so many more places to see.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: How did you get started with photography? Did you go to school to study photography?

Jeff: I’ve always had a camera, but I only started to try to be artistic with photography since joining Instagram a few years ago. I’ve never gone to school for photography. I’ve basically learned everything I know from friends and YouTube. A lot of trial and error.

Niaz: What type of cameras do you shoot with and what is your favorite lens set-up?

Jeff: I shoot with a Canon 70D and sometimes Canon T2i. I don’t have a ton of money, so no full frame body or L lenses in my bag. Every once in a while I rent lenses, and really enjoyed shooting with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lately. I sometimes shoot with my Canon 50mm f/1.4, but my favorite lens is my Sigma 8-16mm. It’s unbelievably wide and very sharp in the center. It’s a little soft on the edges, but the Instagram crop takes care of most of that. I’m going to Colorado in a few weeks to watch the Pikes Peak Hill Climb (auto race), so I think I’ll try out the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L. I guess since I’m still learning and trying new lenses, I can’t say what my ideal setup is. Definitely looking to upgrade when possible.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Tell us about your favorites subjects of shooting?

Jeff: My favorite subject would definitely be abandoned buildings, particularly hospitals/asylums.

“Death has always been something that kinda freaks me out, so going somewhere where there’ve undoubtedly been a number of deaths really gives it a heavy feelin.”

Some of the stuff that went on at some of these asylums is just mind-blowing. I also love shooting abandoned churches, schools, and factories. The bigger, the better.

Lately, I’ve really been interested in shooting portraits of homeless people. I guess I just like to go where not many other people want to go, and I find beauty in it.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Where do you find the inspiration? Is there any specific book, movie, music, or something else that has been an inspiration for you to shoot abandoned places?

Jeff: That’s a tough question. I get inspiration from all over the place. Instagram is a great start. There’s endless photographic inspiration there. I also have a bunch of talented friends. Whether they’re a photographer, an artist, or a musician, they all inspire me in different ways.

Niaz: As far as I guess, it’s a complex process from finding those locations to composition to final processing. Will you mind sharing a behind the scene story?

Jeff: Well, finding the locations can sometimes be difficult. People aren’t very fast to give away locations that they worked hard to find, so you have to rely on google and do your research. Knowing the right people certainly helps as well. Finding a way inside without being detected is another challenge. Once you’re in, you can usually kind of just relax and settle in. I can normally see the way I want the final photograph to look as I’m taking it. Because of that, I’m pretty fast and don’t take as many alternate photos (angles, etc) as I should, but if I can get 5-7 decent photos out of 30-50 total, I’m pretty happy.

Niaz: When did you join Instagram? Why have you chosen Instagram as a platform for sharing your art?

Jeff: I joined Instagram in December of 2011. I didn’t exactly choose it to share my art as much as I was just using it to share a few vacation photos. The filters made them a bit more interesting and I started getting compliments. I didn’t realize I had naturally picked up on the use of the rule of thirds and it made me curious as to what other techniques I could learn. Before I knew it, I was obsessed.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: What are your favorite hashtags on Instagram?

Jeff: The only hashtags I regularly look at are #abandoned and #urbex, but I use several hashtags to support groups that have featured my photos in the past.

Niaz: Can you list some of your most favorite Instagrammers?

Jeff: I follow over 900 people, so to narrow it down is very difficult. I have many favorites for many different reasons. I mainly post abandoned places, but I love and appreciate portraits, nature, and landscapes just as much.

Just a few favorites are @evidence, @tonydetroit, @jamiebettsphoto, @valsdarkroom, @asteryx, @nevasatisfied, @jsun217, @_bokat_, @vanityandvinyl_, @novess, @cole_younger_, @richkern, @sendingstache, and many more.

The people I explore with in Atlanta are great as well – @rita_josephine, @bahamontes, @tripp_the_light_fantastic, @shannonwantsto, @foocow, @kathryn_nee, @wire_atl, @_sig_, @terminus_jk, @swsix.

Niaz: You are very skilled in terms of using post-processing softwares. Your final output is very impressive. Tell us about the software and tools do you use for post-processing?

Jeff: I shoot in 3 to 7-shot brackets, meaning I take (usually) 7 different exposures of the exact same picture. I merge them using HDR software called Photomatix. Photomatix is a very powerful application and it’s easy to get really wild with the edits. I try to tone my shots down a bit to keep it more realistic. I save the merged photo as a TIFF file to retain as much data as possible and open it in Lightroom. I do minimal touching-up, spot removals, and perspective corrections, then export it to my phone. For Instagram, I’ll usually edit it a bit more in the Snapseed app on my phone before posting.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: What is the one most important lesson that you have learned since you started taking photographs?

Jeff: Do/see what you can while you still have the chance. It’s pretty amazing how many places I have been that have since been torn down. I feel like I’m in a race against time to get to as many places as possible before they disappear. If they don’t get destroyed, they can become completely inaccessible or as I’ve been reminded recently, I’m not getting any younger.

“I’m not sure what I’ll have the ability to do in the coming years. The back of my left leg is completely black and blue as we speak. So that’s the most important thing I’ve learned, if you procrastinate, you may never get another chance to get that shot. I guess that kinda goes for anything in life though – you have to take your opportunities. I struggle with that myself.”

Niaz: If you were advising a young photographer today, what words of wisdom would you share?

Jeff: Take a ton of photos. There’s no better way to improve than practice. Take what you think are too many photos, then take more. Try different editing techniques and find what works best for you.

A photo posted by JΣҒҒ ΔTL (@sloppystick) on

Niaz: Where do people find you to know more about you and your works? (Website, Facebook, Twitter …..)

Jeff: My website is the best place besides Instagram. I post stories there to go with uncropped photos, many of which won’t be posted to IG.

Niaz: Any last comment?

Jeff: I just want to thank you for the opportunity to share a little bit about what I do!

Niaz: Jeff, thank you so much for sharing incredible ideas with us. We would like to wish you very good luck for all of your upcoming great endeavors.

Editor’s Note: You can follow Jeff on Instagram at @sloppystick. The interview has been conducted by Niaz. He is the founder and curator of eTalks. You can follow him on Instagram at @neohumanity. And I am Ava Madigan at @lavatl

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