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

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

Camera Porn: Yashica Electro 35 G

I loved this heavyweight rangefinder. Note to self: don’t sell your old cameras! Spent a few months with this camera back in 2013 when I was exploring analog camera options. It was a bargain on eBay. Not even too sure why I got rid of it, probably so I could by another camera. But I do regret selling it.

Yashica was a Japanese camera manufacturer, active from 1949 until 2005 when they ceased production after their acquisition by electronics company Kyocera. They made so many beautiful and iconic cameras in their time. They tried to make a comeback with a digital camera which was an absolute disaster. (you inserted preset ‘cartridges’ of ‘film’ and there was even a digital film winder). Major flop and the most stupid design ever. Crowdfunded disaster.

Anyway, that was a few years ago. Back to the beautiful Electro 35G.

Here’s the spiel from the manufacturer:

The Electro 35 G was introduced in 1968 with largely cosmetic changes (from the Electro 35). The range of usable film speeds was extended a little up to 500 ASA. The lens was labelled a “Color Yashinon” to reassure the buying public that it was colour corrected at a time when the use of colour film was growing quickly. The Electro 35 GT was released in 1969 with a body painted black instead of the satin chrome finish.

Dudes. Newtown, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Dudes. Newtown, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Activist Danny Lim. Newtown, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Activist Danny Lim. Newtown, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76

A compact rangefinder film camera, the Yashica Electro 35 G lets you capture beautiful moments of your life, even when you’re on the go. Bright and sharp pictures are what you’ll get with this Yashica camera, thanks to its f/1.7 aperture and 45-mm focal length. (f/1.7!)

Yashica Electro 35 G
Yashica Electro 35 G

Moreover, this rangefinder film camera has a fully automatic exposure system that lets you capture pictures in various lighting conditions. And featuring a stepless automatic shutter with speeds from 30 seconds to 1/500s, this Yashica camera lets you capture moving subjects beautifully. The Yashica Electro 35 G has ISO/ASA range of 15 to 500, ensuring you get bright pictures even in low light environments.

The Bird Woman of Kings Cross. Kings Cross, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
The Bird Woman of Kings Cross. Kings Cross, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Bus Drivers. Newtown, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Bus Drivers. Newtown, Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76

This is one tough, brick sized camera. It has a very audible shutter. People would turn around in the street. So, not very good for more candid street work.

A real heavy duty workhorse. Focussing is a snap with a really bright viewfinder.

I have included a few images I took with this camera. At the time I was developing my own negs- which is fun, time consuming and also worthy of its own blog post.

Young Love. Newtown Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Young Love. Newtown Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Young Love. Newtown Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Young Love. Newtown Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
CBD. Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
CBD. Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Bruce. Stanmore Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G  Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76
Bruce. Stanmore Sydney 2013
Yashica Electro 35G Ilford HP5 400 Dev. Kodak D-76

Final Word: If you see one of these for sale, go for it. They are a lovely camera to hold and use. You can find out more about Yashica here: https://www.yashica.com/

Let me know if you have used one, or own one. I would love to hear from you!

Best wishes until next time.

Don

I’m Entering The Dog Photographer of the Year Award!

I have decided to enter The Kennel Club’s Dog Photographer of the Year Award. This is the first year of entering my work into competitions.

Boofy. Alexandria, Sydney. 2019.
Nikon D750 50mm. 1/60 sec at f/5.6 ISO 800
Unedited RAW file. Boofy. Alexandria, Sydney. 2019.
Nikon D750 50mm. 1/250 sec at f/5.6 ISO 800
Unedited RAW file. Boofy. Alexandria, Sydney. 2019.
Nikon D750 50mm. 1/60 sec at f/5.6 ISO 800

Here are some unedited and edited images I took yesterday of our sweet boy. Bruce, or as we call him, Boofy, is an American Staff X that we rescued 8 years ago. He is now 15 but acts like a puppy. He is such a beautiful dog. People stop in the street and say how gorgeous he is. My partner and I agree.

THE POWER OF EDITING RAW
Unedited file and Edited RAW version.
Boofy. Alexandria, Sydney. 2019.
Nikon D750 50mm. 1/60 sec at f/5.6 ISO 800
Exposed to the right to retain detail. Decreased brightness, increased contrast, desaturated, increased blacks, brought down brightness of grass and changed the green.

There are just the first round. I haven’t even looked at today’s shots! I’m not too sure which image I like the most.

Can you guess how many treats this took to get the shot?

Check out the exhibition here

https://www.dogphotographeroftheyear.org.uk/

Let me know if you are entered, or going to. I’d love to see your work!

Best wishes,

Don

100 Images, 1 Subject: A Creative Photographic Exercise

Recently I shot one hundred images of the same subject: a lily. Why? I wanted to explore the lily as much as I could, to examine it closely.

I rotated the flower, changed backgrounds and lighting. Changed my exposure setting and aperture. The repetition of shooting the same thing over and over is a great exercise in truly seeing a subject.

I explain it more on this video. Enjoy.

Thanks for visiting, and best wishes until next time.

Don

Vegan Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

Nothing warms the heart like a hot crumble with lashings of coconut ice cream. This rhubarb and apple crumble does the trick superbly. Perfect for those cold and wet days.

This is SO simple to make and can spawn multiple variations depending on what fruit you have laying around. Swap out the apples for pears, swap out the rhubarb for nectarines.

Vegan Rhubarb and Apple Crumble. Food Photography by Don Urban.
Nikon D750 w/Tamron SP 90mm Macro Lens. 1.3 sec at f/8 ISO 100. Natural light.

All the ingredients I use in this recipe (and everything I make) is locally-produced organic as much as possible. We live in a world surrounded by toxic paints, chemicals, fumes and pollution, so anything that goes into my body is free from chemical pesticides. Of course, organically grown produce is better for the farmers, and the planet.

Vegan Rhubarb and Apple Crumble. Food Photography by Don Urban.
Nikon D750 w/Tamron SP 90mm Macro Lens. 1/20 sec at f/4.5 ISO 100. Natural light.

Please note I cannot be held responsible for dietary issues, burns or unsatisfactory results arising from this recipe. I have tried to be as accurate as I can with measurements, but feel free to add more or less ingredients according to taste. 

Vegan Rhubarb and Apple Crumble. Food Photography by Don Urban.
Nikon D750 w/Tamron SP 90mm Macro Lens. 1/20 sec at f/4.5 ISO 100. Natural light.
Vegan Rhubarb and Apple Crumble. Food Photography by Don Urban.
Nikon D750 w/Tamron SP 90mm Macro Lens. 1/20 sec at f/4.5 ISO 100. Natural light.

Please let me know if you make this up and love it/hate it.

Enjoy!

Vegan Rhubarb and Apple Crumble. Food Photography by Don Urban.
Nikon D750 w/Tamron SP 90mm Macro Lens. 1/20 sec at f/4.5 ISO 100. Natural light.

RECIPE

FOR THE FILLING

  • 5 medium/large apples
  • 1 bunch of rhubarb***
  • 2 Tbsp or 30 ml lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup fresh apple juice (or water)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger 
  • 1 pinch nutmeg 

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut or cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup muscovado or brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup toasted museli or mixed unsalted nuts
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil or non-dairy spread

***Oxalic acid is found in rhubarb leaves. Do not eat the leaves as it will make you incredibly sick or cause death.  Only use the stems. 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (176 C).

2. Wash apples and rhubarb. Cut leaves of rhubarb and chop stems finely. (don’t use leaves!!)***

3. Quarter, core and cut apples thinly. Discard cores. (do i need to say that?!)

4. Put apples and remaining filling ingredients in a bowl. Toss to combine. In another bowl, add all topping ingredients and mix well.

5. Place apples and Rhubarb mix in a glass baking dish. Top with the crumble topping.

6. Bake for Bake for 45 minutes. You should see the filling bubbling through the side if you are using a glass baking dish.

7. Allow to cool down a little before serving. Hard to do, I know!

8. Serve with coconut (vegan) ice cream- vanilla works best! This will be best when fresh, though leftovers keep covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days, or in the freezer up to 1 month. Reheat in a 350-degree F (176 C) oven until warmed through.

Hope you enjoyed this recipe!

Best wishes,

Don