The Worst Photography Tips Ever- Part 1

FIll the frame

Cram all your information into the frame. Don’t leave ‘breathing room’. Negative space is so negative, man. Grrrrr. This one gets on my nerve. Fill the frame? Er, no. Woops, looks like nobody told (master) Fan Ho to fill the frame. Negative space is king.

Fan Ho. Hong Kong Memoirs.

follow the rules

Rule of thirds? Check! Centre your subject? Check! Golden Ratio Spiral? Check! Ahhhh! Half of those Golden Spiral images you see are just a spiral placed over an image. You can make the spiral fit most images. I say, don’t follow rules. I say do what you feel. Rule of thirds seem to make very ‘appealing’ and ordinary images. Our brains have seen it so many times we are immune to harmonious. Following rules does not lead to innovation.

Someone trying to tell me that this Ansel Adams images conforms to a Golden Ratio. That mountain on the right ain’t the focal point. (the clouds are)

Buy gear!B

Saw an article saying you should buy more equipment if you wanna shoot like a pro. Links to affiliate Amazon links follow. Buy equipment you need. Buy something that will help you take photos. Want to do long exposure? Okay, you may need a tripod if you have been struggling for weeks with putting your camera on a rolled up jumper. (Ask me how I know?!)

Megapixels are everything!

Megapixels are the most important thing when buying a new camera. Everything. Less than 24 megapixels? Haha. Out of the game buddy. Haha! If only it were that simple. Many factors go into what makes a great camera. What made me buy mine? Holding it in my hands. It just felt ‘right’. If your camera doesn’t feel nice to hold, well, you won’t hold it so much.

Instagram is super important

No. No. And no. Shoot for yourself, not a square.

More here

Best wishes until next time,

Don

SAMMY-JOY GAJETZKI

SHOOTING BEAUTY PHOTOGRAPHY

Yesterday I had the pleasure of working with a young and aspiring model called Sammy-Joy Gajetzki. I found Sammy through Star-Now, a website dedicated to connecting models, photographers, actors and makeup artists.

Sammy came like this to the shoot- minimal makeup and a few pieces of clothing. She was such a natural, with a lovely raw beauty.

All photos here are taken in natural light, and shot everywhere from my lounge, to my studio to my bathroom. I did shoot with continuous and flash lighting, but selecting just twelve for this post, only the last one was chosen that used flash.

This is my third month of shooting portraits seriously, and I feel I am getting better, and finding myself happy with the results.

If you are in Sydney, and interested in having your portrait done, please drop me a line- I am always looking for sitters!

Best wishes until next time,

Don

What the hell is lifestyle photography?

Not portrait, not journalistic, not commercial. OR NOT.

Somewhere between portrait and documentary photography is a style called Lifestyle Photography. Telling a story in a creative, fly on the wall manner that may or may not be staged. Sometimes a little suggestion from the photographer and sometimes not. Not posed, but perhaps a little. A little structure, but not too much. Clear enough? Hahaha.

The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield.  #portraitphotography #lifestylephotography
The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield.

Luckily I have been called into action a few times over the past couple of years to shoot this style for my partner. The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield. She likes to keep her website and marketing photos fresh and up-to-date. She loves having dozens of images to choose from too. Luckily she has a boyfriend who is a photographer! Luckily, I am always looking for people to sit for me!

For the past few years I have been her personal photographer, so it’s been interesting to see the development of my own skills and our partnership connection when shooting. Denise is very specific about way she wants in terms of exposure, lighting, brand colours and the overall feel and look of the photos. That takes a lot of pressure of me! She also requires large negative spaces to put texts and call-to-action links in. Very specific.

All this can really help you as a photographer because once those constraints are in place, you can be free to explore and play.

The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield. #portraitphotography #lifestylephotography
The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield.
The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield. #portraitphotography #lifestylephotography
The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield.

Luckily my partner is super-relaxed in front of the camera, and I give her no direction at all. She is playful and fun and I think her personality really comes across in these shots.

The key to great lifestyle shots is relaxing. Shooting loosely, with little direction, I think they are the cornerstones of this style of photography. Fun, playful and telling a story is what you want to achieve. I think one of the keys is to embrace the imperfect shots- sometimes you don’t ‘nail’ the focus or whatever, they can still be great shots too.

The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield.  #portraitphotography #lifestylephotography
The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield.
The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield. #portraitphotography #lifestylephotography
The cake eating, no BS Clairvoyant Denise Litchfield.

Hope you have enjoyed a look at how I shoot lifestyle photography. The great thing is everyone will have a slightly different approach, and thank goodness for that!

Best wishes until next time,

Don

self portrait: the reality of photographing a photographer

Oh boy! Self portrait time. I really needed to update my about page with a better portrait. The last one was a year old and really wasn’t that good. For a photographer, I take the worst selfies and even worse studio portraits. Maybe they are okay, but I always look so serious because I am concentrating to hard. So I asked my girlfriend to take some.

I still consider them self-portraits as I set the camera up, did the lighting, hair and styling and was clear about what I wanted. All she had to do was press the button. The button! The one on the top of the camera. No, the other one on top of the camera!

We finally succeeded in getting some good shots and having a laugh (after the shot, after buying her lunch, while having a drink, an hour later, after I praised her patience and told her I loved her photos).

Self portrait time. Don Urban Photography portrait session. Inner West, Sydney
“The button! The shutter button!”
Self portrait time. Don Urban Photography portrait session. Inner West, Sydney
“It’s called auto-focus!”
Self portrait time. Don Urban Photography portrait session. Inner West, Sydney
“Don’t tell me to smile.”
Self portrait time. Don Urban Photography portrait session. Inner West, Sydney
“Should have done it myself.”
Self portrait time. Don Urban Photography portrait session. Inner West, Sydney
“I can fix it in Photoshop, honest.”
Self portrait time. Don Urban Photography portrait session. Inner West, Sydney
“Last shot before I start crying.” (This was really the last shot of the session and my favourite)

Best wishes until next time,

Don

Moody Seascape Photography in Culburra Beach

Sometimes the weather just isn’t what you want it to be. Sometimes you just have to go with it. My partner, dog and I have been on holidays 3 hours south of Sydney. The weather has been blah: drizzling and overcoast. Time for some moody seascapes.

Neutral density filter, tripod and raincoat, I braved the wet to capture some coastal images of the little town of Culburra. Stay warm.

Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 1.3 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.8 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.4 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.4 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.8 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.8 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.5 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.5 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.8 sec @ f/22 ISO 100
Culburra Beach N.S.W Australia. Autumn 2019. Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens and 2 stop neutral density filter. 0.8 sec @ f/22 ISO 100

Best wishes until next time,

Don

How I became a Photographer

Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris 1984. Canon T70.
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris 1984. Canon T70.

I have been a photographer for 30 years. My first camera was a Canon T70. A film camera of course. I thought that thing was the bees-knees. It was actually a very advanced SLR for the time with styling not too dissimilar to today’s DSLRs. That was 1984. I shot my girlfriend when I was living in London. I was eighteen and I was going to be a photographer!

Dhana, London 1984.
Dhana, London 1984. Canon T70
Kate and Dhana, London 1984
Kate and Dhana, London 1984 Canon T70

By the time I moved back to Sydney my priorities had changed, I was also broke and had to sell that camera. That was almost the end of my photographic career. Not too sure where from, anther camera came into my life and I was back shooting- mainly girlfriends.

Creating painting and sculpture became my bag soon after that, and every painting of piece of art I made had to be documented for my folio. From then on I always had a camera- even if it wasn’t very good.

Lara, Sydney 1985 Canon T70. Kodachrome.
Lara, Sydney 1985 Canon T70. Kodachrome.

But the camera was just a tool. Just a practical tool.

The last roll of film I took before digital came along was shooting on the streets of New York. The photography bug was back! That was the year 2000.

Later that year, or maybe the year after, I purchased my first digital camera – a Panasonic Lumix DMC-F7. With a whole 2 megapixels, I was the coolest dude on the block. Welcome to the space age- digital cameras! But, again, I was mainly using a camera to document other artwork and not using it much as a form of expression.

Berlin, 2009 Panasonic Lumix DMC-F7
Berlin, 2009 Panasonic Lumix DMC-F7

I had a fashion label (Urbandon Menswear) then, so again my camera was used to document the clothes I was making. I would style, model and often photograph myself as well. A one man band. I bought a Fujifilm X10. Lovely digital rangefinder.

Me in Urbandon Menswear, Sydney 2014
Me in Urbandon Menswear, Sydney 2014

I was shooting in Paris and Berlin (and Sydney) on Fujifilm cameras: first the X10 and then the X-E1) and got hooked on photography again. Around September 2017, while on holiday, I was struggling with a way to express myself visually, in a more powerful and immediate way, (I was making electronic music and doing collage on paper) when I decided to commit all my creative time and energy into photography.

Culburra Beach, NSW Australia
Culburra Beach, NSW Australia 2018

I was was seeking an immediate form of creating without being bogged down in sewing machines, mountains of paper or boxes full of rusty metal junk. Something fast, clean and efficient to keep me stimulated.

Vegetables
Vegetables on Instagram. NikonD750
Market Finds, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750
Market Finds, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 1/2 at f/ 11

Since then, I have been seriously pursuing photography as an art form and developing my skill as a photographer. I shoot almost every day with my Nikon D750 or on the Samsung S7 (amazing camera).

Woollahra, Sydney. 2018 Samsung S7.
Woollahra, Sydney. 2018 Samsung S7.

I really look at the light now, set assignments for myself, set up still life arrangements, shoot on the street, read everything I can get my hands on and try and learn as much as I can.

Jude Paddon-Row. Model and actor, Sydney 2019. Nikon D750
Jude Paddon-Row. Model and actor, Sydney 2019. Nikon D750

Photography is ‘it’ for me now. I now know that this is my true means of creative expression. So perhaps I have been a photographer for 1 year, or maybe for thirty- it is hard to say.

Best wishes until next time,

Don

Night Photography Tips and Settings

Creating night photography

The most incredible thing happens when the sun goes down: Those subjects that were ‘nice’ or okay during the day, are transformed into something magical at night. There is no denying photos taken at night have a certain element of excitement. Why? Because they take a little more work to pull off.

There is something about shooting at night that moves your images beyond ordinary into something altogether amazing.

Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 3200

Cameras and equipment for night photography

All DSLR, Compact System Cameras and many point and shoot are going to have settings for longer exposures. But sometimes that is not going to be enough. Pushing your camera to the limit is what is going to set them apart from ones made to handle more challenging conditions. The challenge of long exposures or extreme ISO settings are going to test what your camera is capable of capturing.

What, however, is going to set them apart is a large dynamic range, high ISO range and a large sensor. I shoot with a Nikon D750 which ticks all those boxes. My small Nikon Coolpix 7000 may be great for during the day, but at night, with ISO over 1000, things are starting to look very ugly and noisy.

A wider dynamic range is going to allow you to draw more information from those shadows. Otherwise it is just going to be sensor noise. And there is nothing worse than noise. It is certainly not as romantic as film grain.

Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 1000
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 1000
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 8000

Camera settings for night photography

There are two approaches I take. One is to shoot on a tripod and aim for long exposure images. The other is to shoot at extreme ISO settings and shoot handheld. Both are interesting in their effect and feeling.

Most of the images here are shot at 8,000 ISO. Pretty extreme. I never thought I would need that high an ISO, but then, I had never shot hand-held at night either! Start with 800 ISO if it is twilight and move your ISO up from there as you go. A dark laneway at night is going to need 3200-8,000. Crazy numbers!

Something changes as you push your camera to the limit, and it is something I love- this incredible softness. The images become almost painterly.

The other approach is to set up your camera on a tripod and shoot long exposures. Most good cameras can meter to 30 seconds. Beyond that, you will have to use the ‘bulb’ settings and hold the shutter open as long as you want or need to.

Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 10,000 (!)
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 10,000 (!)
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 8000

Night photography tips

  • Use a tripod. Or not. Two approaches. Personally, I like moving around at night. Tripods are essential with long exposures. Spend as much as you can on a tripod. A good one is worth its weight in gold. Light, stability and compactness are the key features to look out for.
  • Shoot in Manual or Aperture-Priority. Gain more control of your camera. Auto modes just won’t work because your camera won’t know what you are trying to do. You do.
  • Shoot wide open. Get that light in there so shoot way open. An aperture of f/1.8- f/ 2.8 is what you should be aiming for. That big zoom you love so much, may not cut it at night. A nifty fifty (50mm) will do the trick perfectly. I use my Nikon 50mm f/1.8 or my Tamron macro 90mm f/2.8 all the time.
  • Be patient. Shooting at night is tricky. Take your time and experiment with camera settings.
  • If you use a tripod, then grab a shutter release cable or use the timer on your camera. (One less piece of kit to carry!) There is nothing worse than an unintentional camera movement. With long exposures, you don’t want any movement- and that includes touching the camera.
  • Shoot in RAW format. I know, everyone tells you to shoot RAW, but this is one time when it is really important. Digital noise can be greatly reduced in RAW software.
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 3200
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 3200
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 3200
Streets of Alexandria, Sydney 2018. Nikon D750 ISO 3200

I hope that has been helpful!

Best wishes until next time.

Don

Quick Seascape Photography Tips

I love the ocean. Growing up and living by the sea, I have great respect for the ocean- it can be incredibly dangerous and sometimes, surprisingly, safer than being on land. 

When I was young, I lived in Bronte Beach, Sydney and again lived there in my 20’s. It is one of my favourite beach in the world. It is also my closest beach to where I live now- a 15 minute drive on a quiet morning.

Bronte is a couple of beaches down from the more (in)famous, Bondi Beach. It is a more beautiful, family-oriented beach with big sandstone cliff faces, a rock pool and a concrete swimming pool. The surf is always way better than it’s famous neighbour.

This is where I bodysurf through the warmer months, and the surf can be incredible. I have had so many amazing days swimming here, so recently I turned my camera towards it.

These were taken just as the sun faded, and as families started packing up and heading home. Surfers started coming in and the beach grew quiet. I noticed, and you can see in one of the photos, another photographer enjoying the late afternoon light too. 

I was shooting with my Nikon D750, swapping between my wider 28mm lens and the narrower 90mm Tamron lens

Of course, a sturdy tripod is essential. I use a Vanguard Abeo 243AB. They are very durable and well priced for what you get. I also use a shutter release cable. Not a branded Nikon one, just a budget one- it does the same job without costing a fortune.


These are the main ingredients for successful long-exposure seascape photography:

  1. Camera. Any camera where you can take long-exposure photos will be suitable. Most modern cameras will allow you to do this.
  2. Tripod. I would go without many other pieces of equipment rather than skimp on a tripod. I have used junky cheap ones when I was younger and wondered why I was always disappointed with them. Heavy, flimsy, or badly-engineered tripods will just frustrate you. Spending a little more will give you years of enjoyment. A good tripod should be light but not weak, sturdy without being heavy, adjustable without having to curse at it.
  3. Shutter release cable. Don’t ruin your long exposure with movement from touching the camera. Cheap, non battery-operated cabled shutter release ones can be found everywhere. There are cool ones available where you can set timers, or set it to fire your shutter at intervals. These are both so cheap. I have one of each. In a pinch, just set your cameras inbuilt timer.
  4. Shoot at dawn or dusk. You will be rewarded with beautiful light.
Bronte seascape

Although this is a brief introduction, I will be exploring seascape photography more in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Best wishes until next time,

Don

A Little Social Media Goes a Long Way: Why Instagram is for Squares

Shooting for Instagram
Shooting for Instagram.

Social media, especially Instagram ‘likes’, is not your measure of success. There are incredible photographers with small followings. There are professional, well paid, highly regarded photographers with a few thousand followers. Followers and ‘likes’ is not a measure of success- it is a measure of popularity.

Don’t fall into the trap of linking followers to success.

A great example is Bill Henson, undoubtedly one of Australia’s most famous photographers, has less than 10K followers. A friend of mine, a leading Australian food, product and portrait photographer, Tanya Zouev, has just over three thousand followers. Tanya has worked with the biggest brands in Australia. Numbers mean nothing.

Horseshoe Bend

Instagram is addictive. It was designed that way. Nothing is free. You pay for Instagram with your time.

Even if you go on Instagram twice a day for half an hour (sounds pretty reasonable), that makes seven hours a week. What can you achieve in seven hours? How many photos can you take in seven hours? How many blog posts can you write? How many new techniques for shooting or editing can you achieve?

#camping

There is something else as well. There is an Instagram ‘look’. Photographers are now aiming for this particular look and are becoming generic in their image-making. A quick scroll on Instagram’s main page will show a repetition of center-framed, highly saturated ‘epic’ images. There is no room for calm or thoughtful photography. Those images are there, but it’s not what a most of Instagrammers want. They want at high-energy fizzy drink. They want ‘Red Bull Photography’. So people shoot more of the same. The same locations, the same poses, the same filters and the same presets.

Insta_repeat

Myspace was big. Now it is dead. Flickr was huge and was great for storing and sharing images. Now, almost dead. 500px? Dead. Facebook was huge for photographers. Not any more. You gotta pay to get any traction on they platforms. It is one of the ways they make money. Nothing is free.

Insta_repeat

I am not anti-Instagram. I am on Instagram and I enjoy it as much as the next person, but I do know that it will never make me rich or famous. I do know followers are not my currency to being a good photographer.

Small doses go a long way.

I also know it was designed to keep me, and you, on there as much as possible. And that, above all, makes me very concerned.

Until next time,

Don