Thursday, March 31, 2011

Photo Tip #7 - Tell your camera what to do

There is nothing more tempting than the "Auto" or "P" button on a camera, especially when you are getting to know your camera. You know what happens...every time you try a manual shot, you don't like the shot, and you switch over to "auto" or "P" mode to save the day. "At least my shot turned out better"...is what we'd normally say.

The problem with this is, your camera is pretty smart...but not that smart. Sooner or later you have to quit letting your camera tell you what to do, and you need to start telling your camera what to do. I want to teach you a tip in the manual mode.

ISO 200, 1/200, F13 
Seems like everyone wants to take a photo with a good sunset in the background. You usually start by putting your camera in auto, pop up the flash, and take your shot. The problem is, you never seem to capture the rich colors of the sunset while properly exposing the subject. Or you expose the subject properly and blow out the sky, totally missing the beauty of the sunset.

Try this. Close or turn off your flash. If you have a DSLR camera...put your camera in the "auto" or "P" mode. Now point your camera at the subject with the sunset (or any backlight) in the background. Now press the shutter button down half way and look through the view finder. You'll see your camera's shutter speed and aperture settings...usually at the bottom of the view finder. Memorize those numbers. This is a quick way to meter the light.

Now switch your camera to manual mode (M). Set your camera to those numbers as a starting point, then take the photo with your flash on. You will see your photo is better exposed. Now that you have a starting point in the manual mode, try adjusting either the shutter speed, or the aperture (F-stop) until you get a perfectly exposed shot. The higher the shutter speed, or the higher the aperture value, the less light you'll let into your camera. Experimenting with these numbers will help you bring out the colors of the sunset.

If you have a point and shoot camera, try setting your camera in the "sunset" preset and turning on your flash. You'll accomplish the same thing. :)

Have fun experimenting!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A new GPS map for Fiji!

I've entered the exciting count down to the next Give Clean Water trip to Fiji. A team from the USA will leave on April 30th to work with the great people of Fiji Water. I'll catch up with them as I'm leaving a day later. The village of Tavua is about to have their lives changed forever...clean drinking water at last!

This past week, I was looking at Google Earth and all the houses that have clean drinking water filters in Fiji. It's kind of freaky to see them all on a map! Over 10,000 people! My heart is starting to race with excitement to do it all over again in 30 days.

One cool new addition for this trip is we'll have a brand new Garmin GPS map of Fiji to load in our handheld GPS units. This map was custom built from a company here in the states. We supplied some track information to them the and they are giving us the map for FREE! We'll be the first to use it. Until this map, we had to basically make our own map by using the tracks feature in the GPS units. This is kind of like making a bread crumb trail that helps you find where you are going. Navigating with the new map will be AWESOME! Real streets in Fiji on a GPS map! I'm diggin' the technology we use for this great work!

Who will join us in July?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Photo Tip #6 - Crop to the Third

One of the most important parts of any photo is composition.

You must learn the rule of thirds as a starting point. Think of a tic tac tow game. Each line represents a third in your photo. Some cameras have a grid built into the view finder or live view function. This is a handy tool for lining up your shot. You will want to draw attention to your subjects by placing them in the third. I like to line up as many things in the third as possible.

As you can see in the first shot, the top and left of rock formation falls on the third. This makes the rock formation really stand out.

The second shot has several things going on. The birds are on the third. The sun is on the third. The water/sky horizon is on the third. The bottom water line is on the third. The seaweed on the shore is on the third. This is what I'm always looking for.



Most of the time, I don't completely nail this with my original shot, so I'm always looking to crop my photos to nail the rule of thirds. Use your cropping tool to experiment until you get your photo just like you want it.

Don't forget to straighten your horizon first, like we talked about in Photo Tip #1. Next, crop to the third. Have fun practicing! Keep those photo questions coming!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Awesome 2 days...

What an awesome two days it's been. Yesterday was great at the Scripps Mesa campus! All the fellas did a great job getting their kids ready for church as their wives were up at the Newbreak Women's Retreat in Ramona. My wife got back yesterday afternoon and she said it was the best ever!

After speaking at the Scripps Mesa campus in the morning, I got to play drums in the worship band for the Sunday evening service. DJ Marx & Lisa Rountree, the new worship leader at the El Cajon campus, led worship. What an amazing night of worship! If you haven't heard Lisa lead worship yet, you'll have to visit the Newbreak El Cajon campus! Off the hook good! Pastor Eric was his usual stellar self, especially how he worked in the word "hemorrhoids" into the message. He had the whole place rolling! (See 1 Sam. 5:6)

After services, several of us went over to the San Diego Rescue Mission for their Sunday evening service. It was great to see all the guys who are going through the program. God is doing some major life transformation there!

This morning, my buddy Mike and I went to help my dad paint the inside of his house. We knocked that out and it looked like a new place. My dad has been in that house for 47 years. It's the house I grew up in and was in much need of a makeover. We laughed a lot and got it done!

Costa Pool from my iPhone
Tonight was the capper! I got to baptize Michelle Jackson from my Newbreak Life group. Our whole group was there and went to dinner afterwards. It's been an amazing 2 days!

Hmmm...I wonder what photo tip I'll feature tomorrow. Any photo tip questions out there that need to be answered?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Photo Tip #5 - Can you purchase your way to better photos?

One of the questions I get asked all the time is...How did you get that shot? It's a common thought that because I have good gear, I get good photos. There is a little truth in that, but just a little. Good photos come from knowing how to use your camera and software.

It's kind of like golf. Sure, golf technology has come a long way, so if you are still using 25 year old clubs, you probably will see some improvement as newer models are way more forgiving. That said, if you have a bad swing, you will still play bad golf with awesome golf clubs!

You'd be surprised to know how many people NEVER read their camera manual. Oh...no you wouldn't because you didn't either. LOL! That would be the first place to start. Or...you can just subscribe to my blog and get a few nuggets to practice on each week. :) I'll try my best to break down some simple tips on gear, software, and technique that will help you improve your work.

Some of my favorite photos were captured on cheap "point and shoot" cameras. This first one was taken on the North Shore of Oahu. We were driving along the highway and came across a beach nicknamed, Turtle Beach. Sometimes you are just at the right place at the right time to get a good shot. While walking on the beach, we spotted a giant sea turtle coming ashore. Now turtles are slow movers so I had plenty of time to set up for this shot. I got right up on him with my 5 mega pixel Gateway point-and-shoot, and waited for the wave to hit him, then took the shot. I have just lowered the bar for everyone on camera gear. There is no way you own a worse camera than this. :)

The second shot was taken in Pacific Beach, right in front of the Beach Cottages hotel. We were visiting some friends there and the clouds were looking spectacular at sunset. I ran down to the beach, and set up for this hand-held shot. It's quite common for seagulls to be very active at sunset, so I waited for one to get in my view and pressed the shutter button. Again...the right place at the right time.

So...can you "buy" a better photo game? Well...sort of...but if you just learn to use the camera you have, you can get some great results. Hit the subscribe button on my blog page and let's journey together at improving your photography.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Call A Time Out!

When a basketball team starts making bad passes, throwing the ball out of bounds, and making dumb plays...call a time out. When you are the visiting team, and the home team crowd is so loud and in your face you start to lose your composure...call a time out. When a football team has the ball on the 2 yard line with 3 seconds left in the game, and it's 4th down, AND you've got to score to win...call a time out. When the pitcher has gone wild and starts walking people and giving up hit after hit...call a time out.

The coach is the coach for a reason. They've been there before. They know how to bring sense to the midst of the chaos. A good coach always knows the right play to call for every situation. God is the perfect coach for every situation.

The game of life can get crazy sometimes. Your kids are driving you nuts...your co-worker is getting in your face...your roommate is driving you crazy...the chaos in your family is so loud, you start to lose your composure. Sometimes you need to call a time out and talk it over with your coach.

God is there in the midst of the chaos. He never left. We just got so distracted in the game of life that we forgot to listen to His voice. When life gets like that, call a time out...listen to God's voice...and get back into the game with God calling the plays. He's much better at it than we are, and His team never loses.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Photo Tip #4 - Move around for different perspectives

One thing I've learned about landscape photography is you need to move around to capture different perspectives. You'd be surprised at how many different photos you can get from just one spot. La Jolla Cove alone can produce hundreds of shots!

One day, as I was driving along the coast in Oceanside, I came across a spot I'd often seen. This particular day, the sun was just right, getting ready for another beautiful Southern California sunset. When I looked down the street I saw some drain pipes leading to the beach. I could see the sun lighting the inside of the drain pipes so I decided to stop and snap a few shots.

I first set up outside just outside the drain pipes with my wide angle lens. I was only a foot or so from them to capture the first shot you see. This is still one of my favorites.








I snapped a couple and then thought, what the heck, I'm going to crawl inside those pipes for a different look. I took photo #2 from just inside the pipe. Kind of a fun look.






Of course, that wasn't enough for me so I crawled all the way in to get photo #3. There was no way to get a tripod inside the pipes, so I just used my arms as a tripod and got as low as I could.

As you can see, moving around helped me capture 3 different looks. It's like that almost anywhere you shoot.

So move around. Shoot up high....shoot down low... crawl around...climb up...and don't be afraid to get a little dirty. In the end, you'll come up with endless possibilities!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Give Clean Water - Tavua Village in Fiji eagerly anticipates clean drinking water in May 2011

One of the greatest thrills of my life is to look at each household in Fiji that has received clean drinking water filters from Give Clean Water. I can't believe I can actually look at Google Earth and locate each of the houses and schools on a map! There are over 2,000 households in Fiji alone that have received filters, not to mention all those in Haiti, Ecuador, Tijuana, and Nicaragua.


Each dot on this map represents a home in Tavua Village with documented biographical data of all the family members. This data includes names, ages, schools, occupations, and health status of each person.

The first week of May 2011, the people of Tavua Village will all receive clean drinking water filters. Recently their entire village was inflicted with a Typhoid outbreak due to dirty water. The Fiji Health Department identified Tavua as one of the most "at risk" villages for a repeat of a Typhoid outbreak. This Google Earth snapshot shows the 164 houses of Tavua Village, representing nearly 1,000 people who will all have clean drinking water in May! A team from the USA will partner with Fiji Water and its employees on this grand adventure! 

It's exciting to see these houses on a map, but nothing like the thrill of meeting each family in person! You see...these dots on the maps are much more than a cool photo...they represent real people whose lives are about to be radically changed!

What if you could change the world?


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Photo Tip #3 - Get low for more dramatic landscapes

For more dramatic effects in your landscapes, remember to get low. I'm a tall guy, and in general, I don't like bending much for anything. I don't enjoy squatting down, picking stuff up off the ground, bending down to tie my shoes....etc. Unfortunately, this is not helpful in photographing dramatic landscape shots.

One piece of equipment that will help you get low is a good tripod. You don't need to go crazy and spend hundreds of dollars on one, but it is helpful to get one that lets the legs adjust to where your camera is barely off the ground. A tripod will also help you capture sharp photos...especially if you are taking shots in the best light of day...the first and last hour of daylight.

Sometimes laying on the ground and steadying your camera can work. The key is getting low.

Regardless of how you get low, doing so will help create dramatic scenes. Piers look bigger. Flowers and other foreground objects will help enhance the photo. So figure out how to oil those bad knees and sore back, get low, and capture some awesome, dramatic photos!

Life Transformation at the Rescue Mission

The first time I went to a Sunday night service at the San Diego Rescue mission, I went to visit my friends. My friends were real people, with real stories of how life had got the best of them. All of them were homeless at one time, came to my church campus, and were unconditionally loved by the people there. Most of them would tell you they don't like being around people much, yet the reality is...they really enjoy it when they are. They are some of the most talkative, interesting people I've ever met.

Before the service started, I was introduced to all the new friends that my friends had made while in the Mission. They were so happy to have guests! They shared stories, we worshiped together, and then shared more stories. I could tell God used these visits to give encouragement and strength to those whose lives were being transformed in the Mission. That night, mine was one of them. Sure, I was one of God's resources of hope and encouragement to my friends, but they were the same for me. That's how God always does it!

The journey of transforming lives is always worth it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Newbreak Generates Hope

I love it when I discover the gifts and passions of the great people of Newbreak Church. About a month ago, Dolores approached me after a service and wanted to share about a ministry she was involved with, right here in San Diego. It is called "Generate Hope" and is a ministry that provides safe housing and long term recovery for victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. (www.generatehope.org)

I had no idea this was such a huge problem in San Diego, but the sad truth is, it is.

This past week, I toured one of the safe houses where these women live. The girls were all at school, so I got a tour of one of the beautiful homes provided by Generate Hope. I found out the girls that live there range from 18 years old to 32...6 girls in a home. During the day, they go to a specialized school that not only helps them with their education, but also teaches valuable life skills, as well as providing counseling. Their lives are being transformed every day!

I learned that Dolores has been volunteering her time for about 2 years, providing much needed mentoring for the girls. I was blown away at her dedication to such a great cause! That day, Dolores and a friend were picking up the girls to take them out to lunch...a simple act of love the girls treasure!

I love it that Newbreak is a church where these types of things go on all the time! There is nothing more inspiring and exciting than to be a part of something that is bigger than us, making a real difference, being God's hands and feet to changes lives! Dolores and Generate Hope are a great example of what it's like to BE the church!

How will God use you?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Photo Tip #2 - Straighten Your Horizons

Ok...remember that software we talked about on Tuesday? Well it's time to put it to use on one of the most common fixes for a photo.

Many of you like to take landscape shots, especially if you live in a beautiful place like San Diego! If you want to take that landscape photo to another level, consider straightening your horizons. This can be done in any of the software choices from last Tuesday, Picasa, Photoshop Elements, PS CS5, or Lightroom. Below is an example of a crooked horizon.
As you can see, the horizon slopes down to the right. To fix this problem, use the "straighten" button in your software. Each brand of software works differently. Picasa makes it easy as you just move a slider to the left or right until your horizon is straight when compared to the grid.


The result will give you a result like the second shot...a much better look. :)


And it's that easy! I do this for all my landscape photos!

Now there are many more tricks to take your photos to even greater heights, but you'll have to keep checking in for more tips.

Have fun playing with this new tool! Keep those photo questions coming!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Give Clean Water

What if you could change the world?

I love world changers...people that do something to make a life-changing difference! I love that the next Give Clean Water team heading to Fiji in April will provide clean drinking water to the 2,000th family, representing over 10,000 people! The village of Tavua, located in the Northwest section of Viti Levu, will be the recipients of these filters. Just think...children and parents who recently became ill due to Typhoid in their water, will not get sick anymore from waterborne disease, all thanks to a tiny, lifetime, clean drinking water filter.

To all the world changers out there...thanks for being part of the solution!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Photo Tip #1 - Basic Software

Each week, I'll bring you a photo tip that will help take your photos to another level. The most common question I get about my photography is..."How did you do that?" Eventually, I'll share that secret, but there is much to learn along the way.

Whether or not you own a "Point and Shoot" camera, a DSLR, shoot Canon, Nikon or other brands, there is one thing in common...no camera takes a perfect picture all the time. There are many variables that determine a good shot. Lighting, weather, camera type, lenses, and many more things that can all play a part in how images turn out. No matter what kind of camera you have, owning some basic editing software is a must! 


You don't have to spend a lot of money to get some good editing results. Here are a few good options.
1. Google's Picasa (http://picasa.google.com/)
This is a free download and does a good job of organizing your photos, while giving you many basic editing features. It is a great program to email photos, and you can order prints online right from Picasa! You can also share your photos online using Picasa Web Albums.

2. Photoshop Elements is a "baby" version to the CS family of Photoshop. Don't let "baby" fool you. You can do lots of great editing from this program. As a matter of fact, this is what I use. I tried the big version of Photoshop, but Photoshop Elements did everything I needed it to, so why spend hundreds of dollars more. You can pick up Photoshop Elements for $79 to $99. I believe Costco sells it for $79. You can download a free 30 day trial from the Adobe website at http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshopel/.

3. Adobe Lightroom 4.x is a great program for editing, especially if you shoot RAW images instead of jpeg. It does a great job on jpeg too. You have tons of editing control in this program! You can edit individual colors, spot edit certain portions of a photo, and a ton more! I own this program too and it is simply AWESOME! You can download a free 30 day trial from the Adobe website at http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/.

4. Photoshop CS4 or CS5 are the big players in photo editing. They are expensive and you'll probably need to take a class to learn how to really use them well. That said, if you are a serious graphics person, you'll eventually buy this. I don't own these programs as I can do most everything I need with choices 1, 2, and 3.

So, if you don't have any of these, you need to get some software, even if you just start with Picasa!

Stay tuned as each week we'll learn more about your camera, and your software. It's my goal to help you really enjoy your camera and your photos! You can ask questions in the comments section of this blog. I'll do my best to answer them.

www.tropicalphotosbylarson.com

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sheep or Goats? - Misc Monday

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Matthew 25:31-46. We are either the sheep or the goats in this passage, and Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats when he comes again in His glory. The way he'll separate them is shocking. You are a sheep if feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit those in prison. You are a goat if you don't. The sheep go to heaven. The goats...well let's just say you don't want to be a goat.


The hard part is, the work of the sheep is messy, dirty, thrilling, disappointing, rewarding, and thankless all in one. This is not a wind sprint, but a marathon journey of dispensing God's love to those who need it. Sure, everyone needs God's love, but the work of the sheep is to bring God's love to those who are most times overlooked.


The shocking part is Jesus doesn't make this an option! So, get yourself a good pair of long distance running shoes and do the work of the sheep. Great will be your reward in heaven! Jesus says, "‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Outreach Core Team - Newbreak Scripps Mesa

Want to help others BE the church? Join my Core Outreach team and let's do it!
Click on the video below to find out how, or email me at darrel@newbreak.org.


video