Q&A With TOAST:Urban Photography Fun

San Francisco is the most gorgeous city on this planet (sorry, New York.)

But if we’re being honest, the postcard views of the City are getting a little – dare we say it – boring.

Combating that is TOAST, a self-proclaimed urban explorer. We spoke to him on what he sees in between the lines and what draws him to beneath the city surface.

Learn his tips and pick up a few urban exploring tricks of your own!

Urban Photo Tips From TOAST

Who is TOAST?

beforeThoughts of bread and butter aside, TOAST is a Bay Area photographer and graphic designer who found an infectious gravity pull to photography in his taste for adventure.

Going where few choose to venture, TOAST and his fellow shutter-happy bandits have carved a niche out for themselves through daredevil treks to the city’s oft-forgotten, though primal locations.

Origin Story

beforeQ: How did you get involved in photography? 

A: Through my former roommate, Christopher. He’s been shooting for a long time and his work in particular brought out my engineering background. Through his pictures I started to see shapes and compositions in a really aesthetically appeasing manner.

Q: What do you shoot with?

A: Nikon D750. The two lenses I have are the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G and my 85mm f/1.4G. I used to shoot with a Pentax KR and the Pentax K5.

Adventure Time

beforeQ: How did you get introduced to urban exploring?

A: Through a San Francisco-based group called the Flask Mob. A friend told me about them and thought I’d be interested in what they were doing because they seemed to blend my love of photography and exploring new places/scenes.

Q: What drew you into urban exploring?

A: With Flask Mob, it was exciting because we were going beyond the standards that are normally laid out for us to follow. I get a thrill out of that – disobeying the rules just to get out of the norm. And I get to see a lot of beautiful things that I probably wouldn’t otherwise come across.


beforeQ: How does your engineering background play a role in your photography?

A: As of right now, shapes and symmetry have really been the leading point in my photography.

I tend to play with those mathematical elements in a lot of what I do, whether it’s strictly shapes and lines or with ratios and colors.

Q: What is it about urban spaces that makes them so photogenic?

A: I’m drawn to the textures. Most urban spaces aren’t always super clean but they are always tactile (bricks, chain link fences, etc).

There are certain elements of smell (like rust, dirty water, and concrete) that I try to bring out in the editing process by popping colors like brown and yellow. That adds a lot of life.


Q: How do you play with light in these dark spaces?

A: We usually have a continuous light mounted on our cameras or directed at different angles. So depending on where the light is, we can create a really deep shadow that gives it a more moody, dark feel.

Another way we play with light is with steel wool. We’ll place the wool in an egg beater and attach it to a string. We light it to create sparks and shoot it with long exposure while we spin it.

The stars are another really cool effect for when we do abandoned areas because it’s a cool contrast of industrial and natural subjects.

Location, Location, Location

Q: Name one of the best spots you’ve discovered while exploring.

A:  There was one where we explored the underground system out in Oakland. We got down into the underground and it was all dark but when I flashed my light on the walls, and I saw it was all bombed out (with graffiti.) We found a massive Gats piece and the entire system was basically an underground art gallery; there were so many pieces just everywhere. It was amazing.

Approach With Caution

Q: To what level of caution should people approach even the idea of urban exploring?

A: It’s hard to say because I can only speak for myself. I’ve always felt like I had a clear understanding of the risks going in, plus I was with people who knew what they were doing.

The reality is that you are trespassing. That comes with very real consequences if you were to get caught.

I think it comes down to this: you have to know your limitations, you have to think before you act, and you have to have common sense. If you have a solid grasp on those concepts, you really can do anything.

Keep in touch with TOAST