Saturday, April 30, 2011

T-Minus 24 hours

I'm super stoked that tomorrow night at this time, I'll be in the LAX airport getting ready to go on a Give Clean Water trip to Fiji. We'll be following up with some villages we installed filters in last year, documenting their change in health and verifying proper filter use. That will be such a fun time as we always get good reports on how these simple water filters are changing lives!

Tuesday I'll be meeting with the Health Minister of Fiji. I can't wait to catch up with him and discover the new places we'll be working this year. The Health Ministry helps us locate the "hot spots" in Fiji that are in the most need of clean water.

Thursday and Friday, we'll be installing water filters in Tavua village. They were recently plagued with a Typhoid outbreak due to dirty water. Our water filters will be life changers for this village. Every one of the 164 houses in this village will get a filter! What a great way to spend a vacation week!

I'll do my best to blog while I'm there. Of course I'll be taking my camera so I'll do my best to post photos of the work days. I'll also put out some photo tips, so stay tuned for that. Of course all of this is "Internet Permitting". Sometimes internet can be spotty there, but it's usually decent.

Check the Give Clean Water website for future trip dates. You should come sometime. All trips are 100% tax detectable! Most importantly, you'll be changing the world!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Photo Tip #23...Tagging...

When posting photos to your favorite photo site like Flickr, or Picasa Web albums, make sure you tag your photos with key words that describe your photo. There are millions of people who browse these sites every day. Many businesses are now browsing these sites looking for shots to use in their publications. 

I've had several of my shots published by businesses, magazines, and newspapers who found one of my photos via Flickr. You never know which one they'll choose. They are usually never the ones I thought they'd pick.

This week, Charleston magazine asked to publish this shot. It's from a night when I was out to dinner with some great friends at a restaurant called "The Wreck." It's an awesome seafood restaurant with a cool boat dock outside. 

The key is...tag your photos!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Continuously Improve

Continuous improvement is a big factor in my life. I'm always looking for the next challenge. I'm always pushing myself to be a great learner. This works in being a pastor, leading a non-profit, taking better photos, serving better, loving better, you name's always good to continuously improve.

I was inspired by 3 great people from my church this past week. Each of them have been working hard to receive their ministry credentials. They all are involved in different things in our church, but all worked hard to get better in their knowledge and practice of ministry.

JP has served in all kinds of capacities in our church... children's ministry, community outreach, and facilities. He's a class act who just received his Level 1 Ministry certification. Way to go JP!

Carrie is a faithful director in our children's ministry. She is one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet. She just received her Level 2 Ministry Licensing. Way to go Carrie!

My good buddy Pastor Eric was officially ordained last night in a very cool ceremony. He's been serving in ministry for years and has studied and worked hard for this achievement. Way to go Eric!

You all inspire me! You make me want to do and be better at everything in my life. Keep up the great work!

What will YOU tackle next? What ways will you continue to improve? Maybe it's time to break out the rut and take yourself to a new level of excellence. Don't forget to do it with God, and use it for Him!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Photo Tip #22...Auto Exposure Bracketing & HDR

Many of you have asked me to post some tips for HDR photography. That is the kind of landscape photography I normally do. It's how I get my photos to look like paintings. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range photography. The basic idea is that you take 3 shots at different exposures and combine them into one image. I'll explain that process in future photo tips. For now, you'll need to get familiar with a couple of features on your camera.

The first feature is Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB). You can find this setting in your camera's menu. This feature usually works by controlling 3 consecutive shots at different exposures. Some Nikon cameras allow you to control 5 consecutive shots at different exposures. My Canon cameras only control 3 shots at a time.

When you choose the AEB setting, you will be able to control your exposures in 1/3 f-stop increments. For our purposes, let's choose a -1, 0, +1 setting. The first photo you take will be a -1 exposed shot, the second photo you take will be a normal exposed shot, and the third photo you take will be a +1 exposed shot. This sequence will keep repeating every three shots.

To automate this feature, set you camera to the high speed burst mode instead of the single shot mode. In addition to the high speed burst mode, set your camera to the automatic timer mode. My camera has a 2 second timer and a 10 second timer. Most of the time I use the 2 second timer.

The combination of choosing AEB, burst mode, and auto timer mode is the basic set up for taking HDR photography. HDR photography also requires you to shoot in the RAW mode of your camera, not JPEG. You will also need some HDR software to combine your images, but we'll talk about that in a future photo tip. For my HDR shots, I use the AEB setting of -2, 0, +2 to give more dramatic looks in my final HDR image.

I typically don't use the AEB setting for anything but HDR since I can control exposure very well in Adobe Lightroom with my RAW images. When preparing for HDR images, AEB is a must!

I'll give you a little time to practice this before we start learning HDR photography. Have fun practicing!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Photo Tip #21...Intelligent Focusing

One of my favorite things to shoot is a moving target. Whether or not it's pelicans flying at La Jolla Cove or NHRA nitro funny cars, it's always a challenge to get things in focus. When I discovered the intelligent focusing feature on my camera, things got a whole lot easier.

If you have a DSLR camera, you probably have this feature. On a Canon camera it's called, "Al Servo" mode. You'll have to look in your user manual to find the setting on your camera.

The first thing you should do in this setting is choose a focus point. If you don't know how to do this, read your manual. This is a "must learn" feature! Most cameras use the center focus point as the default setting. You can manually select other points if you wish. Let's use the center focus point for this example.

The basic idea is this. Aim your focus point at the moving target and push the shutter button down half way. Your camera will continuously auto focus on your subject as it moves. You'll have to practice this, but the better you become at panning with your subject, the more shots you'll have that will be in focus. Set your camera to the high speed burst mode and fire away. Start with turtles, move up to pelicans flying, and if you're really in for a challenge, try a Nitro funny car. Anything that travels a quarter mile in less than 4 seconds is a bit of a challenge, but doable.

Have fun capturing lots of moving targets!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Photo Tip #20...Get Close & Get Wide

Getting close and getting wide is a great way to create a dramatic landscape.

I'm always looking for good foreground objects to include in my landscape photos. Sometimes, there are things right in front of us we can overlook if we are looking far away at our main subject. 

Here's a shot from Catalina Island. I used the rail in my foreground to create something more interesting than just shooting across the water. Get close to it with your wide angle lens. I'm pretty much on top of it in this shot. Don't forget to think about the rule of thirds. Make sure your depth of field is of large enough, probably around f10...maybe higher to get everything in focus. Make sure your foreground object is in focus. Now take the photo. You will get a much better composed photo this way.

To me, it's all about the foreground object when shooting landscapes. It can be a piece of seaweed in the sand, a flowery bush, or some other unique object...always look for something.

Have fun practicing!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Cruise Into Easter"

What a day! You can't go wrong with an outreach that involves San Diego Harley Davidson, Give Clean Water, and Newbreak Church! We had a blast throwing a big Easter party for the City of San Diego! We had bands, jumpies and a Rock Wall for the kids, 2 Easter Egg hunts, Water Filter demos, and everybody who came got invited to Easter services at Newbreak!

Here are a few photos from the event, but for more, visit my facebook page.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Give Clean Water and Harley Davidson Motorcycles...

Yesterday, Give Clean Water was featured on the Channel 6 morning show along with San Diego Harley Davidson, promoting Harley's "Cruise into Easter" event. Join all the fun this Saturday, April 23rd, from 11am to 3pm. All the proceeds from the event go to Give Clean Water. Newbreak Church is one the big sponsors of this event!

See the story by clicking here.

On the right side of the screen, scroll to the Give Clean Water story.

Maybe they'll trade me a water filter for a Harley!....In my dreams! :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Padres Win!

No...Not those Padres.

Yesterday, The Scripps Ranch Little League Padres won a thriller, 8-7 behind some great pitching, catching, and hitting by Nathan Kuypers of Newbreak Church Scripps Mesa. Newbreak is the team sponsor of the Padres and it was super fun seeing them play!

After the game, Newbreak church presented each of the kids with their very own Bat Bag, complete with their name and number embroidered on the bag, as well as the Newbreak Church logo embroidered on the bag. I wish you could have seen the kid's faces! They were cheering so loud. I heard several of the kids yell out..."It's got rollers!" Translated that means, "We got the cool bags!"

There was definitely a great vibe in the air at the presentation ceremony. It was a proud moment for Newbreak Church to partner with such a great kid's organization in our community! This is just one of many ways our church is becoming known as "the church that loves its city!"

Saturday, we're partnering with San Diego Harley Davidson as a sponsor in their "Cruise into Easter" event, benefiting Give Clean Water. The is a free event for the whole family and runs from 11am to 3pm. There will be live music, Easter Egg hunts, a silent auction, jumpies and a rock climbing wall! The event is at San Diego Harley Davidson off the 163, on Kearny Mesa Road.

The following Saturday, we're partnering with Mira Mesa Heroes to sponsor the makeover of Fire Station 44! These are all great ways for our church to love on our city, working side-by-side with the great people in our communities! I love it that our church is all about BEING the church!

Way to go Newbreak!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Photo Tip #19...Using Exposure for color boost

Here's a trick for colorful sunset shots. Pretty much every camera has a setting called "Exposure Compensation". This is usually identified by a button or setting with +/- as the symbol. Selecting this button allows you to increase or decrease your camera's exposure. If you are not sure where your exposure compensation setting is located on your camera, check your owners manual.

Increasing your exposure is another way to get more light into your shot. This is helpful as light is fading during the sunset hours. I rarely use this setting, but it's there if you need it. Don't forget that increasing your exposure makes your shot more prone to digital noise.

-2 Exposure on a Panasonic Point and Shoot
My #1 Seller of all time. 1,594,734 views in Google
Decreasing your exposure is a great way to give colors a boost. This is really helpful taking sunset shots. If you have not mastered the manual mode of you camera and like to shoot in the P setting, decreasing your exposure might be a good option for you for bringing out rich color. You will have to experiment with this. Most cameras are set up to decrease exposure in 1/3 F-stop increments. Try decreasing -1 or -2 stops and watch the colors really come out!

If you have a point and shoot camera, you might have a "Sunset" setting in your scene controls. When you choose this setting, your camera is automatically decreasing your exposure for you, giving you a more colorful sunset.

Don't forget to change your exposure back to its default setting when you are done. Otherwise, you will be frustrated when your next photo session turns out dark. :)

Have fun with this little trick.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fish tacos and world changers

What do fish tacos and world changers have in common? I found them both in Tecate Mexico last night while I was volunteering with Amor Ministries.

Tecate Mexico is a beautiful, quaint little town about 30 miles East of Tijuana. For the past several weeks, thousands of adults and teenagers have been building houses for the poor there with Amor. I'm always blown away at people who would give up a week of their time to change the world like these guys! They are having the time of their lives too! There is something about getting out of our comfort zones and seeing God through the eyes of the poor that is life changing. Everyone should do this some time in their lives!

A lot of people have a totally inaccurate view of life in Tijuana and Tecate. Amor Ministries has been serving the poor in Mexico for 31 years with a perfect track record of safety! My new friends Kendell and Tim are living proof! They are from the San Fransisco Bay area. This is Kendell's second year to come with Amor. This year she brought Tim along. They are having a blast!

Of course, any time I'm in Tecate I have to stop for fish tacos. There is also an AWESOME bakery in Tecate, but that will have to wait till my lent fast is over. :)

So what do fish tacos and world changers have in common? They are both in Tecate Mexico and a part of an amazing Amor Ministries mission trip experience! You should plan on going some time!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Photo Tip #18...Another RAW tip

In the last photo tip, we talked about the difference between shooting in RAW and JPEG. I told you how I usually shoot in RAW to have more control. Here is another benefit to shooting RAW.

Since RAW files are uncompressed, you are working with the original, full amount of data. When using a program like Adobe Lightroom, you can edit RAW files in a "Non-Destructive" fashion. Editing in Lightroom lets you try limitless combos of editing without changing the original RAW image. In order to use your images from Lightroom, you must export them in a JPEG, TIFF or some other format. Your original RAW image is still intact in Lightroom. At any time, you can simply hit the "Reset" button and return your shot to its original form.

This is a very powerful tool! Have fun experimenting without fear of losing your original image.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Photo Tip #17...RAW or jpeg?

One of the most asked questions about photo quality is..."What is the difference between shooting in RAW or JPEG?" In this photo tip, I'll do my best to explain the difference.

I almost always shoot in RAW mode on my camera. I do this because I have much more control over editing than if I just shoot with JPEG. If you are just doing basic walk around photography and need minimal editing, JPEG is probably a good choice. If you really want control over the editing process to tweak images just the way you want them, RAW might be the way to go for you.

RAW images are uncompressed images, and can contain up to 10X the amount of digital information as a JPEG.

JPEG images are compressed images with up to 10X LESS digital information than a RAW image. This is not always the case, as you can adjust compression settings for JPEG, but for the sake of easy numbers, we'll use 10X in this photo tip.

Now let's say you set your camera to the RAW setting and take a picture, then set your camera to the JPEG setting and take the exact same picture...they would both look exactly the same. You would be hard pressed to tell the difference. But...there is a big difference in digital information!

Let's say the shot you took was of a sunset and you wanted to edit the shot in both RAW and JPEG. Let's also say you wanted to increase the saturation of colors in both images. Since the JPEG image has way less pixels to work with, you might see some noticeable "banding" in the colors of the sky. This would create a less than desirable look in your photo. When you do the same thing with the RAW photo, your colors would be smooth in the sky with no "banding".

Another way to think of this is...for every 10 pixels you can edit in a jpeg image, you'd have 100 pixels to edit in a RAW image. That is a lot more control.

If you have a camera that shoots RAW, you will probably get some basic RAW editing software with your camera. Canon and Nikon both supply it. I'm sure other brands do too. Adobe Lightroom is my favorite RAW editor for purchase. You can make some amazing adjustments with this software! You can try a free 30 day trial on the Adobe website.

There are a couple of downsides to shooting in RAW. First, the file sizes are much bigger than JPEG so you'll need more memory cards. Second, you'll fill up your hard drives faster with RAW images. And third, once you edit your RAW images, you will probably want to convert them to JPEG so you can get them printed at places like Costco. That will take up even more space on your hard drive.

Here's the deal, memory cards are cheep, and so are hard drives!

So...what should you do? Like I said before, if you don't want to sell your images, or don't need to do a lot of editing, shooting in JPEG is just fine. But if you want more control over the editing process, RAW might be the way to go. I'm a BIG RAW fan for most everything I do.

Another thing about RAW'll need shoot RAW for HDR images. Many of you have asked me how I get those crazy shots that look like paintings? Well...part of it involves shooting in RAW. I will teach you my HDR tricks some day soon. your free 30 day trial of Adobe Lightroom, shoot some RAW images, and give RAW editing a test drive. If you don't like it...don't buy it. Or...keep it simple and stick with JPEG. Have fun practicing!

Friday, April 15, 2011

30,000 Easter Eggs!

Tonight was a super fun night as all 5 Newbreak campuses got together and stuffed over 30,000 Easter Eggs. These eggs will go out into our communities, giving them a little touch of God's love, while inviting over 10,000 people to Easter services.

Our campus (Scripps Mesa) had a blast at Hage Elementary school. 76 people showed up to stuff 8600 eggs. 4200 will go out to the community around our campus tomorrow morning, 2400 will go to the students at Hage elementary school, and 2,000 will go to the San Diego Harley Davidson Easter Outreach on April 23rd.


I heard the other campuses knocked it out of the park tonight with volunteers! I love the way our church loves its city! The Scripps Mesa campus is partnering with Mira Mesa Heroes to do 4 community beautification projects in the next month...Fire station 44, Wangenheim middle school, Mason elementary, and Sandburg elementary. We're sponsors with Scripps Ranch and Mira Mesa Little leagues, and of course...we have lots of great outreaches at Hage Elementary school.

I love it that our church loves BEING the church to our community! You should check us out some time!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Photo Tip #16...Zoom

I love zoom lenses. I have a Canon 17-40, a Canon 24-70, and my favorite…a Canon 70-200 2.8 IS. I’ve owned several zoom lenses in the past. One of my favorite walk around lens was the Tamron 18-200. Tamron now makes an 18-270 with vibration control. This is a great, versatile, light lens to carry around…especially on vacations. If you own a point and shoot camera, an optical zoom of 10X or more can be a great option.

While zoom lenses can be useful, they can also make us lazy. It’s easy to stand in just one spot and zoom in and out on a subject. The problem is, you miss all the different angles and compositions that are available if you move around instead of just zooming. So be careful not to anchor yourself in one spot. Move around for lots of variety in your shots. Try to photograph a place from every angle possible. Try moving so you have different objects in your foreground. Don’t just rely on your zoom!

Sometimes your feet can be the best way to zoom…not your lens! This is especially helpful when you are debating on which fixed prime lens to buy. “Should you buy the 50mm, or the 85mm lens?” You could probably buy either and take two steps forward or backward to compensate. There are other factors when choosing a lens for sure, but using your feet to zoom can sometimes be an easy option.

So, get out there and move around for that great shot!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Last Night In Mexico

This is the time of the year that I love to go to Mexico. It's Spring Break time and there are thousands of people in Mexico camping and building houses for the poor with Amor Ministries. For the past 20 years, I've made the spring break trek down to Tijuana to serve with Amor. Last night, my wife and I headed down to the East side of Tijuana to work at the Amor camp.

I know what many of you are thinking. "You are crazy for going to Mexico!" I hear this all the time. But I want to ensure you, Mexico is not the crazy, "free-for-all" violent place you might have in your head. The fact is, Amor has been taking people to Mexico safely for the past 31 years. During those years there has been tons of hyped up stories about safety in Tijuana, but the facts are...hundreds of thousands of people have traveled safely to Tijuana and other parts of Mexico with Amor! There have been a few hammers hit thumbs, and nails in shoes, but there have been NO violence issues on any Amor trip. Let the facts speak for themselves!

Tijuana is a big place. It's as big as San Diego county. There is crime in Tijuana for sure, but there is crime in San Diego too! There is crime in La Jolla! That doesn't mean I drive around in fear all over San Diego. Let's keep it real people!

Now to be totally honest, there are some "more dangerous" parts of Mexico. Parts of the Texas/Mexico border are problematic right now for travel. That doesn't mean ALL parts of Mexico are dangerous! Mexico is a big country. Let's just say that some city in the US has a violence flare up. Let's pick Miami, Florida as a random illustration. If Miami became unsafe to travel in, would you quit going to San Diego? That would be crazy!


So here's the deal. While tons of people are living in fear of going to Tijuana, there are thousands of people who know the real deal and are going to do God's great work there. For 31 years Amor Ministires has taken hundreds of thousands of volunteers to Mexico, and brought every single one of them back safely to the US!

This year I've taken 4 trips of my own. My wife is down there regularly as part of the Amor staff. The rest of the Amor staff is down there every day of the year...all without incident.

I personally can't wait to go again! Will you join me on a future house build with Amor? Or maybe a trip to the Purple Palace orphanage in Tijuana? Perfect love (Amor) drives out fear!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Photo Tip #15...Whatever it takes

I still remember the day the giant sea turtle was making his way up on the beach on the North Shore of Hawaii, just as I was getting there with camera in hand. about the right place at the right time! Turtles move really slow so I went into full paparazzi mode. “That was easy” I thought, as I tucked my cheap Gateway point-and-shoot camera back in my pocket. One of my favorite images came from that moment. Times like that are great, but more often than not, I have to work hard to capture the image I want.

It is very normal to find myself at the beach before sunrise, or hiking up and down cliffs at sunset to capture something special. I always make it a point to be safe, but sometimes great images are all about perspiration.
Thomas Edison said it like this… “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”

Top floor Waikiki Sheraton Hotel - Oahu, Hawaii
Some of my favorite images have come when I hiked an extra distance to get into the middle of a field, instead of shooting from the side of the road. Taking the trail back a little further might allow you to capture a stunning waterfall. Taking the elevator to the top of the 40th floor might give you the stunning view that the ground floor could not.

So…without putting yourself in harm's way…do whatever it takes to get that great shot! A little sweat can bring great results!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Photo Tip #14 - Try something new

I had a great time today with my grandson at the zoo. We saw a bunch of cool animals, but when I asked him about the two things he liked most today, he said "my churro" and "the skyride". Of course he got the first thing right with churro. He is my grandson you know. :)

The second thing puzzled me. All he talked about all day was wanting to ride the sky ride. So at the end of the day, we road it to the bottom of the zoo. During the ride he started to get scared. He didn't like being up so high. I remembered having the same feeling the first time I rode it when I was a little guy. I told him papa would take good care of him and he didn't have to be afraid. I'll be honest...him getting scared on the first leg of the trip was not cool. I was picturing myself carrying him all the way up the hill if he didn't get on the sky ride for the return voyage.

We got off the first leg of the sky ride and he saw a churro stand. He asked if we could get one. Of course I said yes...if you ride the sky ride back up the hill I'd be glad to get you one. I am so pitiful! Well...we made a deal. This time though, he wasn't showing any signs of fear. When we got off, I asked him if he was scared. He said he was only scared the first time, but that he was very brave the second time and wasn't scared anymore.

That's the way it is for just about everything in life. The first time we do anything, we are a bit scared. The next time it's a little easier, and it keeps getting better. It's that way when you join your first life group at church, or photograph your first event. It's always a little scary the first time. The important thing is...don't be afraid to try something new!

In photography, don't be afraid to try something new! Whether it's a different technique, learning to use new software, or exploring new places, if you are willing to try something new you'll be guaranteed to get some great photos!

Today, I brought my point and shoot camera to the zoo. Here's something that might be new for you. Don't just settle for the photo your camera gives you. Spend a few minutes and let your software get you a better shot. One of the most common fixes I do is in Adobe Lightroom. Here is my workflow:

Correct white balance.
Add contrast to liking...usually about +45 in Lightroom.
Add Vibrance (like saturation) to liking...usually about +30 in Lightroom.
Add a little Black if necessary.

That's about it. You can do this in Picasa, PS Elements, or Lightroom. The point is, take the time to do it. Here is a before and after shot with my point and shoot. As you can see, just a little effort gives a better result in quality.The first shot is a little dull, but the second is richer and more vibrant. Like I said in a previous Photo Tip...your camera is smart, but not that smart...especially point and shoots!

Have fun trying something new!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Photo Tip #13 - Scope it out

I'm always looking for the exact right kind of lighting and angles when photographing landscapes. Doing your homework ahead of time will give you more chances to capture a good shot. What is the homework? Sometimes it's scoping out your shots ahead of time. Let me explain.

I like to photograph into the sun, at sunrise or sunset. I also like to capture big, full moon shots. The sun and moon both rise and set at different angles throughout the year, so good preparation will help you be in the right place for the best shot.

I'll never forget the time when I was going to photograph the San Diego skyline at sunrise and blew the shot. I was positioned at one of my favorite spots...Island Prime Restaurant, off Harbor Drive by the airport. It'a a beautiful view, and I had captured an awesome full moon there one evening. I got there early one morning before the sun came up, set up my gear, and waited for the sunrise moment. I was so disappointed to find out my angle was all wrong! I really needed to be on Coronado Island looking across the bay to catch the sun rise over the office buildings of downtown San Diego. At different times of the year, Island prime is a great location for a sunrise like that. Unfortunately, I didn't do my homework.

The good news is, I'm very patient when it comes to getting a good shot. I used my blown sunrise shot at Island Prime as my homework for the next morning. Although I had missed the best light of the morning...right when the sun was coming up...I went over to Coronado Island to scope out my location for the next morning. It paid off with a good shot. My miss the day before was a win the next day! There's a sermon in there somewhere. :) There are other times when the sun rising over the Coronado bridge is the good shot. It varies throughout the year.

So...get out there and do some homework. Check for good angles. Check for partly cloudy forecasts. Check for sunrise and sunset times. Check when the moon rises and sets. Check where the best flowers are, or other interesting things that might make good foregrounds in your landscapes. A few days before there is a full moon, go out and get your angles set up so when the full moon comes, you'll be in the exact right place. And most of all, don't get discouraged when everything doesn't line up for the perfect clouds...too windy...etc. Sometimes that happens. There will always be more good days ahead!

Yes, sometimes you have to still do homework. Leveraging it to your advantage will help you capture better photos! Have fun!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Photo Tip #12 - Best Value Lens

In Photo Tip #5, we talked about getting to know your current camera and learning how to use it, instead of buying your way to better photography. Today I'm going to give you my opinion on the MOST asked question I get about cameras and lenses. "What lens should I buy next?" As always, that depends on what you want to do, but I will do my best to give you a couple of options.

If you are ready to step up to a DSLR camera from your point-and-shoot model, don't be afraid of any of the newer Canon Rebels (T1, T2, or T3) or their Nikon counterparts. If you own an Olympus, Pentax, Sony or something else, those can be good choices too...I just don't know that much about them...sorry! The lenses I'll show you can work for everyone.

The first question on buying lenses usually revolves around buying some sort of "kit lens" set up. That's because Canon, Nikon and others package these bundles at places like Costco and Best Buy to make things easy for you. I'm a fan of these deals. They can be good starting places. A common set up for a Canon is: a rebel, 18-55 lens, 55-250 lens. This is a good all around package. I started this way. The thing I didn't like about this package was changing lenses all the time. I found myself at places like La Jolla Cove wanting to take a wide angle shot with the 18-55 lens, only to find myself wanting to shoot a parade of flying pelicans, and needed to switch to my zoom lens.

If you find yourself in this situation, or getting ready to purchase a new DSLR, consider buying an all-around lens like the Tamron or Sigma 18-200, 18-250, or 18-270. These are great walk around lenses. There is not that much difference between the 250 and 270 in zoom. The biggest difference is price. One of these lenses can be a great option instead of the kit lens solution. You'll come out at nearly the same price. One store you might consider in purchasing is B&H Photo. They have great pricing, great shipping, and good customer service.

Most of you who already own DSLR cameras, have the above set up. But if you find yourself wanting to shoot in low light without a flash, and also wanting to take a nice portrait shot with the background blurred, there is good news! You don't have to break the bank for this lens. Both Canon and Nikon have a sub-$100 lens that will do the trick. It's a 50mm f/1.8 lens that will do all of the above. If you have kids and want to take great portrait shots of them, this is the lens for you! With a newer Rebel camera, you can shoot this lens in very dim light situations without using a tripod. I bought my daughter one for her birthday last year and she LOVES it!

You don't have to break the bank to have lots of fun with your camera! I hope these options will give you lots of great photo fun! Keep those questions coming!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Newbreak Church...Sailing Life Group

What? A sailing Life group at Newbreak? How did I miss that you might ask?

Well as a matter of fact, this will be the third quarter this life group has been around. This life group is all about using sailing to bring others closer to Christ. It doesn't matter your skill level, this group will spend time each week in God's word, in prayer, all while learning the details of how to sail a boat. So much of Jesus ministry was based around boats and fisherman, so what better way to draw closer to God and do life together in community.

To date, nearly a dozen people have become Coast Guard certified to sail the Newbreak Sailboat..."Ruwach". This boat was donated to Newbreak for ministry and recently refurbished. It's a real beauty. It comfortably sails 8 people (plus crew) and the sailing Life Group regularly takes the boat out each month. Sailing trips are a great "plus one" event to bring your friends to. It's great missional space to talk about God and what he's doing through Newbreak Church while you are sailing!

Is sailing something you've always wanted to learn to do? Have you ever wanted to just spend a beautiful afternoon sailing in San Diego? Did you ever imagine how you could do this, bring friends, and talk story, all for free? Dreams really do come true!

The first of their regular meetings will begin after Easter on Wednesday, April 27.  If you are interested in this life group, or interested in scheduling a day of sailing, please email Mara Mattia at or Mary Counter at for more information.

Here is the upcoming schedule:

Sunday, April 17  (6-7 more positions available)
Meet at the boat at 1:00pm.

Satuday, April 23  (open for 8 positions)
Meet at the boat at 11:30am

Satuday, May 7  (open for 8 positions)
Meet at the boat at 11:30am

Sunday, May 15  (open for 8 positions)
Meet at the boat at 1:00pm

Satuday, May 21  (open for 8 positions)
Meet at the boat at 11:30am
Sunday, May 22  (open for 8 positions)
Meet at the boat at 1:00pm

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Photo Tip #11 - Noise Reduction

Last Photo Tip, we talked about using higher ISO settings to get more light into your camera. The trade off for doing this is your photos will have more digital noise in them...a digital version of film grain. In this photo tip I'm going to show you how you can use some cheap digital noise reduction software to improve your photos.

There are several noise reduction software programs out there these days. Many of them do a good job at reducing digital noise. I have been using a program called "Neat Image" for quite some time. It's easy to use and does a good job for me. You can buy Neat Image as a stand alone software package, or a plug in that installs right into Photoshop Elements, or the bigger Photoshop CS programs. I use the plug in version for Photoshop Elements. Neat image is one of the best tools in the bag.

The following photos were all taken with my point and shoot camera, a Panasonic DMC-ZS3. It's a handy camera when I don't want to carry my big boys around. As with any point and shoot camera, they all have a tiny sensor when compared with a DSLR camera. The tiny sensors are OK, but they get extra noisy at high ISO settings. I'll show you some examples.

Here is are 3 shots at ISO 400, ISO 800, and ISO 1600 with no noise reduction.

ISO 400 without noise reduction
ISO 800 without noise reduction
ISO 1600 without noise reduction

ISO 400

Now here are close ups of the noise in each of these photos. As you can see, the digital noise gets much worse in each photo.

ISO 400 with noise reduction

But, you can see the difference Neat image can make in each photo.
ISO 800

ISO 800 with noise reduction
If you have a DSLR camera, your photos will be significantly cleaner at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 to start with. This is because DSLR cameras have much bigger sensors and produce much better images. When you use Neat image on those, your photos really pop!

I will say this, be careful on what kinds of photos you use noise reduction on. It can work great for landscapes, but is a little challenging for portraits.

ISO 1600
ISO 1600 with noise reduction

Another way to get noise reduction software is to use Adobe Lightroom. The new version has it built in and works very nicely!

You can download a free trial of Neat Image at You can download a free 30 day trial of Adobe Lightroom at Adobe Lightroom.

Good luck practicing!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Give Clean Water ...over 30,000 people and counting!

Last night I was going through all our data from Give Clean Water. It's amazing to think that in a little less than 3 years, we've given clean drinking water to over 30,000 people! That is an area the size of Tierrasanta in San Diego. The cool thing is, I can see every house in Fiji on a Google Earth map that has received a clean drinking water filter! Give Clean Water has a family biography and photo for each household, and every family has had at least 2 follow up visits from the Give Clean Water team, ensuring their filters are working properly, while documenting improvements in their health.

The total population of the country of Fiji is about 2/3 the size of the city of San Diego. It's not hard to imagine giving clean drinking water to everyone in Fiji in the next 10 years! 

Although our primary focus has been in Fiji, Give Clean Water also has filters in Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Tanzania.
Thank you to all the world changers out there who help make it happen!

What if you could change the world?

Now you can.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Photo Tip #10 - More light

In our previous photo tip, we looked at how we can get more light into our camera using aperture. Today, we'll learn another light trick for your camera.

Adjusting your ISO setting higher is the easiest way to get more light into your camera. Your camera sensor needs light to properly expose images. The lower the ISO setting (ISO 100), the less sensitive your camera is to light. The higher the ISO setting (ISO 1600+), the more sensitive your camera is to light. That means you can shoot in lower light situations without using a flash by adjusting your ISO higher.

There is a trade off. The higher your ISO setting, the more digital noise you will get in your photos. Digital noise is like film grain. Most point and shoot cameras struggle with image quality when you boost the ISO past 400. Some of the new point and shoots do OK at ISO 800, but not the cheap ones.

Most of the newer DSLR cameras do a good job handling noise, even up to ISO 1600. All the new Canon Rebels and their Nikon equivalents are good at handling noise in this range. There are some software solutions for reducing noise. We'll talk about them in the next photo tip.

There is another cool thing about boosting your ISO setting. It makes your flash throw further! Experiment with this. You'll be surprised at the difference between ISO 100 and ISO 400 when it comes to your flash distance.

When it comes to landscape photography, especially HDR photography, low ISO is the name of the game! I always shoot landscapes at ISO 100 when I can so they are super clean. For HDR, ISO 100 is a must! That's why having a tripod for landscapes is so important. Since your camera is not very sensitive to light at ISO 100, your shutter has to stay open a lot longer to expose the photo....especially if you shoot at an aperture of f/10 like I usually do. 

In the next Photo tip, I'll introduce you to some noise reduction software. Later in the week, I'll introduce you to my favorite low cost, portrait lens. This thing is a steal! 

Have fun practicing with ISO! Keep those photo questions coming!

Back in the film days, you would buy different ISO film...ISO 100...ISO 400...ISO 800...for different

Monday, April 4, 2011

Photo Tip #9 - Aperture and light...

When I first started in Photography, it seemed like it took me forever to understand the difference between shutter speed and aperture...especially aperture. Quite frankly, it is one of those concepts you learn that seems exactly opposite of what it should be. I'll do my best to keep this simple.

When dealing with aperture (built into the lens), you are basically dealing with 2 much light comes into your camera, and depth of field. We already discussed depth of field in Photo Tip #8.

In this Photo Tip, let's take a look at our aperture graphic once again and see how aperture and light go together.

Picture a hose and water. The lower numbers (f2) to the left have a great big hole in the middle. The higher numbers on the right (f16) have smaller holes. That was always confusing to me. I would have preferred the big holes on the left having BIG NUMBERS! Oh well...I had to get over that. :)

Now let's imagine filling up a bucket of water with these different hoses. If you shot water through the f2 hose on the left, you'd fill up the bucket way faster than if you used the f16 hose, assuming the water pressure was the same. It's the difference between using a fire hose and a swizzle stick straw.

Now let's translate this illustration over to "light". Your camera needs a specific amount of light to properly expose photos. There are a few different ways to get light into your camera, but for now let's focus on aperture.

If you have a lens that can adjust down to f/2 or below, you'll be able to grab a bunch of light much faster than if your lens only has an f4 or higher aperture setting. Most kit zoom lenses start somewhere around f3.5 on the low end, and progress to f5.6 on the low end as you zoom in.

Let's make that a little more simple. If you have an 18mm-200mm zoom lens that has a range of f3.5 to f6.3, when you are zoomed out at 18mm, your aperture will be f3.5. If you are zoomed in at 200mm, your aperture will be f6.3. At 100mm, your aperture will be somewhere in the middle. As you can see, kit lenses will have some light limitations relating to aperture.

Now let's look at your camera's shutter. Your shutter is like a lid on a box that opens up to let light into your camera, then closes when you have enough light to properly expose your image. If you use an aperture of f2 (the big hole), you'll let a lot of light in quick and your shutter won't have to stay open as long when you take a picture. This is helpful for reducing blur from moving objects.

On the other hand, if you use a aperture like f4 or higher, your shutter will have to stay open longer to grab the same amount of light as an f2 setting. The higher your aperture number, the smaller the hole, the longer your shutter has to stay open to properly expose the image. The longer your shutter stays open, the more chance you have for blurring objects. Sometimes this is a good thing if you are looking to take a long exposure shot. Most times, blurry is not that helpful.

Let's look at the water illustration again. If you use an f2 hose, your shutter will open up and fill the bucket of water quickly. If you use an f16 hose, your shutter will have to stay open longer to fill up the bucket.

So, you've been wondering why your images always turn out blurry when you zoom in with a kit lens and don't use a flash? Well it's because your kit lens probably has a f5.6 aperture (at best) when fully zoomed in. As you can see from the diagram above, the f5.6 hole is pretty small so your shutter will have to stay open pretty long. If anything moves in the photo, or your hands move, your image will be blurry. You can work around the hand shaking thing by using a tripod, but that won't keep people or other things from moving in your shot. They will still turn out blurry if they move. Now you know why those f2.8 zooms are so expensive! F2.8 zooms are often used in sports applications, where there is always movement...especially in low light settings.

On a bright day with lots of sunlight, almost any lens will work. The dimmer the lighting, the more you need a lower F-stop lens. There are some work around as we'll discover in future Photo Tips so stay tuned in.

Keep sending those questions and have fun practicing!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Photo Tip #8 - Aperture and Depth of Field...

One of the first things I wanted to learn in photography was how I could keep everything in a landscape photo in focus. I also wanted to learn how to "blur" the backgrounds of scenes when I took a portrait. This is all accomplished by learning about the aperture settings on your camera and lenses.

I want to introduce you to an image we'll use in the next few photo tips. It is an image representing aperture.For today, we'll just talk about depth of field. We'll talk about aperture and light in our next photo tip.

For a quick intro to depth of field, setting your aperture to f2 (if you have a lens that can do go this low) will give you a "shallow" depth of field. That means if I'm taking a portrait of someone and I want their face to be in focus, but the background blurred, I'd use a setting like f2. If I'm using this setting, something that is one foot behind my subject will start to blur. Lower numbers like this are great for portraits, but terrible for landscapes, unless you WANT to blur the backgrounds of your landscapes.

90% of the time, I use f10 for my landscape shots. That's because f10 is the sweet spot of my lens for keeping things sharp. I can usually get foreground and background objects in focus with this setting. Use your aperture priority setting on your camera (AV on a Canon), and set it to 10. When you are in AV (aperture priority) your camera will automatically adjust your shutter speed for you.

As a general rule, I always use a tripod when shooting landscapes. At f10 in the early morning or late afternoon...(when lighting is best)...sometimes the shutter will have to stay open too long, so a tripod helps keep my images sharp.

Remember the light metering tip I gave in photo tip #7? You can do the same thing with the AV (aperture priority) setting. Try it out at f10 and see how your camera adjusts your shutter speed.

Have fun with f10 and your landscapes!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Photoshoot with the Rountrees

Yesterday was a fun day. It started with a Jog-a-thon outreach at Hage elementary school, home of the Newbreak Scripps Mesa campus. Our campus supplied water and volunteers for the 800 students of Hage, the parents, staff, and military who participated in this great event for the kids.

I love that our Scripps Mesa campus is such a big part of the Hage community. Showing God's love to our community is what we do best!

At the end of the day, I had the privilege of photographing Pastor Eric's family at Balboa Park. Pastor Eric has his pastoral ordination ceremony the week after Easter, and needed some photos for that. We had a blast! He has the funnest, funniest family I know! If you ever get a chance to hang out with them, you are in for a treat!

Here are a few shots from the session.