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

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

Still life photography with plants around the home

Create The Space

I see decorating like a big Ikebana. Size, shape texture and colour to be balanced. Arrangements tell are story or are harmonious.

Found objects and vase of poppies
Found objects and vase of poppies
Succulents in pots and old timber board
Succulents in pots and old timber board

I’m going to show you how I decorate and photograph flowers and plants.

Poppies in vintage bottles with linen and birds nest
Poppies in vintage bottles with linen and birds nest
Succulent collection
Succulent collection

Since I started taking more more photos of flowers, I have discovered the true value of having them around the house. Not only bringing beauty inside, but colour and scent too. 

Pot plants, succulents in jars, bonsais, a few flowers picked, from the garden or a bunch from the markets. Everything comes in.

Our house is very neutral-toned, so it’s a perfect canvas for the explosion of colour a vase of pink lilies or poppies bring. Even just foliage brings warmth and charm to the house. 

Succulents wrapped in Japanese news paper on old stool
Succulents wrapped in Japanese news paper on old stool
Simple arrangement
Simple arrangement

It’s so nice to bring nature indoors, especially in winter, when you don’t get to sit in the garden. I’ll just drag plants indoors for a week and rotate them around the house. Instead of planting, I’m moving towards more potted plants just for the convenience of bringing them inside.

As an added bonus is, when plants are in pots, my dog can’t dig them up. Bruce!

I love collecting old bottles and props (although I have to move something out of the house if something comes in– it’s our minimalist rule!) so I put everything in old pots and bottles now. If something is just in a plastic pot, I stick the whole pot in a old paper bag, or wrap Japanese newspaper around the pot and tie it with some string. Super simple and effective.

Lilies in a simple glass vase
Lilies in a simple glass vase

Photographing Plants Indoors

  1. All photos here were taken in natural light. Find the best part of the day to shoot in each room of your house. For me, it is morning in the lounge room, lunchtime in the kitchen and late afternoon for the bathroom.
  2. Take your time to arrange all your items, pots and vases
  3. By deciding on the time of day, you can then know if you are going to shoot dark and moody or bright and fresh.
  4. Use a slower shutter speed or just ramp up the ISO. Most cameras will not introduce noticeable noise until you get to ISO 8000.
  5. Use a cable release and a longer shutter speed. It is also handy when you are arranging items and don’t have to move behind the camera for every shot.
  6. Think like an home/ lifestyle magazine photographer or a set decorator.

I hope you have enjoyed having a look at our cute home and given you some ideas for decorating and photographing flowers and plants. 

Get those plants inside!

Thanks for joining me and best wishes until next time.

Don