Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Unlikely Hero

Last night in my life group we were talking about how God wants to use our time, talent, and treasure to build His kingdom. We talked about which one was the easiest to give, and which one was the most difficult to give. The answers covered all the possibilities, but there was one thing that was common. We all had something in which we felt we didn't have enough.

We looked at a story in the Bible where Jesus did one of His most amazing miracles. He fed 5,000 people from a little boy's happy meal. Now really it was more like 20,000 because Matthew records that there were 5,000 men, besides women and children. No matter what, it was a ton of people.

Not much was said about the unlikely hero of the story, except that he had a 1st century happy meal, and he was willing to give it to Jesus so he could do some big-time math. But it struck me that the unlikely hero was a little boy...not Jesus' disciples, not someone important in the crowd, not the owner of the local market, just a little boy.

From the little boy's perspective, what could he possibly do to satisfy everyone's hunger? It seemed like a drop in the bucket with his little lunch. But he didn't let the smallness of his lunch keep him from doing something that he could do. He could for sure share what he had. He was cool with letting Jesus do the rest. You see, Jesus is really good at multiplication! We do the simple math, He does the complicated multiplication.

So, what do you have that God might use to build His kingdom? Time? Talent? Treasure? It may not seem like much to you, but when you give it to Jesus, He can turn it into a big time multiplication miracle...with leftovers!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fighting the Funk

It's going to happen. No matter who we are, there will be times in our lives where we get into a funk. Our motivation takes a back burner and we just get funky.

I find that most times when I am most like this, it's because I haven't built exercise into my schedule. Isn't it weird that the more you don't exercise, the worse you feel, the less you are motivated to go to the gym, and you just start feeling funky.

The opposite is true too. The more you exercise, the better you feel, and the more motivated your are to keep exercising. That's because when you exercise, your body produces endorphins that cause your body to feel good.

Usually my exercise cycle gets broken by too busy of a schedule, or catching a cold or something. I'll be cruising along, working out, and feeling great...then something comes along to break my rhythm and and I skip a few days. It doesn't take long before the funk sets in...I don't feel like working out...and the funk goes on.

I learned a long time ago that when I begin to feel like this, I have to push myself past my "lack of desire" and just go workout! Immediately I start to feel better! It's a discipline thing.

Can anyone relate to this?

For more ideas on "Fighting the Funk", check out this blog.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Relax and charge your batteries...

Today was going to be a day of relaxing...quiet time with God early this morning, an allergy doctor appointment at 9am, then off for a day of visiting with my dad, and my wife's mom in Oceanside. I decided to grab my camera before I left. I new it was supposed to rain, but sometimes storms can produce some great photo opps.

One of the things I always do before I take my camera is check my batteries to make sure they are charged. Not today however, and when I got to my dad's house, my camera batteries were completely dead. You know it's impossible to take a photo without your batteries charged.

The good news was, I actually did have a good relaxing day off. The bad news was, it would have been more fun if I had paid attention and charged my batteries before I went out.

Life and my camera have a lot in common. Relax and re-charge your batteries, then go out and create and capture an awesome memory. It doesn't work the other way around!

A word of advice...Don't leave your batteries sitting in the charger too long after they are charged. They won't do you any good in there. They were meant for action and purpose...just like us!

Friday, February 24, 2012

This is how we change the world

I've been working for a while with our global mission's team at Newbreak to define who we are, and where we are going in the next 10 years. I have to tell you...I'm super excited! With God's help, we will be a part of some amazing ministry!
Here is what we're about: Capturing and connecting people to God's global heart.
We're committed to living out the heart of God in sustainable, justice seeking missions, with a cultural sensitivity and adaptability that will eternally change our world
We have some God sized goals. 10K in 10 years is Newbreak Church's drive towards eradicating social injustices around the world.
10K families in Fiji receive clean drinking water.
10K children rescued from sex trafficking.
10K children educated in Latin America.
10K houses built for the homeless.
10K families receive the Bible in their own language.
Let's change the world together! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Easy Panoramic Photos

I love panoramic photos! There are many ways to make them. Some cameras have built in stitching that pieces different shots together into one panoramic photo. Some software can do this as well. One of the easiest ways to do it is take a regular shot and crop it to a panoramic measurement.

Here is a shot I took of the OB pier in San Diego. I liked the look of the pier, but there was a lot of plain sky and plain water, so I decided to crop it into a panoramic photo. I liked the result. I had this one printed from my website on metallic paper and it really popped!

You should give it a try some time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Afraid of the crosswalk?

Everyone lives by faith every day. By faith, a person walks up to a crosswalk, presses the crosswalk button, and crosses the street when the light turns green. Besides maybe looking left or right, nobody gives much thought about crossing. We just do it and assume that we'll make it across safely.

Now here is an interesting fact. In 2009, 4378 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, mostly in crosswalks. 69,000 pedestrians were injured in traffic crashes. 80% of those were in crosswalks. A pedestrian is injured in a traffic accident every 8 minutes. With those kinds of statistics, you'd think nobody would ever want to cross the street. I'm surprised there is not a National Travel Advisory to not cross the street. Yet...people keep living in faith every day and crossing.

Why does this matter? There are lots of places in the world that have problems with crime, including our own city of San Diego. Every night there are shootings, car jackings, gang violence, burglaries, and more. Yet, San Diego is one of the best places to live and visit in the world. If people were freaked out by the news, nobody would ever come to San Diego, or any other big city.

The truth is...San Diego is a big place, and most parts are perfectly safe to travel in. There are certain parts and times of the day where you use more caution, but in general, one moves very safely in the city. Now imagine the whole USA. You can move very freely and safely in most of the USA. We live by faith every day on this fact.

So why is it that a giant country like Mexico gets a bad rap. Yes, Mexico has big cities just like the US where crime happens, but most of the country is fine to travel through. Ask my buddies who rode their bikes across Mexico last year. They said the people were awesome!

Now take a big city like Tijuana. It's as big as San Diego county. Does Tijuana have crime? Yes...just like San Diego. But Tijuana is a BIG place! I just got back from a mission trip to Tijuana and I still had people tell me they couldn't believe I'd go there. When I hear that, my reaction is always...really?...I do it all the time and never have a problem.

For me, Mexico is my crosswalk. I look at the crosswalk, push the button, and walk across the street. Thousands of times... never an incident... it's about faith, not fear. We all do it every day if you think about it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Did you earn the right...?

This past weekend as we drove up to the work site where we would build a new house for an impoverished Mexican family, we were greeted by one of the local Mexican Pastors who works with Amor Ministries. Pastor Haros was pulling off the concrete forms from the slab that he and a few others had poured the day before. Martha, the single mom who owned the property, and her two little girls looked on in eager anticipation for the rest of the house to be built.

Martha, Alexa, & Daniela
The house we were building for Martha was a gift from the local church in Mexico. Pastor Haros had recently visited the community to identify families who were in the most need of a house. Martha's family met the criteria. Now...she would be the recipient of a new of charge...from the church in her neighborhood. Pastor Haros told her about a group from the US who would build her house. What Martha didn't realize, was that Pastor Haros would come back and pour the foundation for her new house.

It was quite amazing to me that Pastor Haros was not only laying a spiritual foundation for Martha's family, but also laying a physical foundation for her family's house. Martha's first memory of her neighborhood church was of a man of God who didn't just talk about God's love, but he first demonstrated it. Pastor Haros was "earning the right to be heard." That was inspiring to me!

Each of us would do well to follow in the steps of Pastor Haros. Will we be the ones who will not only speak of God's love to someone this week, but we'll model it as well? What foundation will you lay in someone's life?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Weekend Transformation

I just got back a couple of hours ago from a weekend trip to Tijuana, Mexico. Twenty people from our church loaded up tools, tents, sleeping bags, and a few days of clothes so we could build a house for a single mom and her two little kids.

The neighborhood we were in was on a hillside that overlooked a dairy with hundreds of cows. It was a picturesque setting, but one full of poverty everywhere we looked. Martha and her two girls, Daniela and Alexa, were super sweet! As we worked, they looked on with excited anticipation as they were seeing their new house being built right before their eyes.

Each day as we finished working, Martha would clean up the exterior and interior of the house, already taking such pride of ownership. This morning, we finished up a second coat of stucco and then had a house dedication. We presented Martha with the keys to her new house, and prayed a blessing over her and her kids. It was an awesome moment!

Last night it was freezing cold in our camp. It had to be in the 30's and our tents were like refrigerators. I can't imagine what it would have been like this weekend if it would have rained. I'm sure we would have handled it, but it made me think about families like Martha who struggle every day without proper housing to live in. Tonight will be a different story! Martha and her kids will tuck themselves into their house for a great night of sleep!

Today as we were finishing, another church group from Washington state came and started 5 more houses. Right around the corner, a Chinese church was finishing up their houses. We were all right in the middle of a complete community transformation. These houses were all practical expressions of God's love to this community and a gift from the local church in Tijuana. Amor Ministries made it all possible! It was an AWESOME weekend!

Several transformational things happened this weekend. Martha's family's lives will never be the same. Now Martha can focus what little money she has on feeding, clothing, and educating her kids. The next rain storm will no longer be a fear for her. In addition to that, our team's lives were totally transformed. We saw God through the eyes of the poor. It's not every weekend you get the privilege of building a house for someone. It's amazing what God can do through us when we work together to accomplish something bigger than we are! I'm praying that this was just the beginning for our team to make a difference in the world!

Now for all you Mexico haters who can't believe anyone would go to MEXICO because you think it's way too dangerous. Well...once experience tells me something VERY different! Just like all of the other hundreds of times (probably into the thousands now) I've been in Mexico, we were completely safe the entire time! So my challenge for you is this...quit living your life in fear and start living your life in faith! God shows up big time when we live in audacious faith, not fear!

As for me and our Newbreak team this weekend...we can't wait to go back and do it again! You should join us!

Friday, February 17, 2012

When Helping Hurts...The world's view of time

We are very time conscious in America. Efficiency, timeliness, and getting a lot done is how we do it. After all, time is money. Now I'm a firm believer in a great work ethic, but when our views of time cross into other cultures, a major collision occurs. That's because most other countries look at time very differently.

Americans tend to have a monochronic view of time and see it as a limited and valuable resource. The majority of the world has a polychronic view of time and sees it as somewhat unlimited. "There will always be more time" is most people's view of time. These two views are explained in detail in the book When Helping Hurts.

Monochronic people are kind of "get 'er done" types. Polychronic people focus more on relationships and will get it done when they get around to it. That's why most of the world has "Fiji Time", or "Mexico Time", or "Tobago Time." They don't really watch the clock. They care way more about relationships! does this play itself out on a mission trip. Let's use our church's 3 day house build trip this weekend. It would be very easy to put our heads down, work like crazy people, and BUILD THAT HOUSE! But a big price could be paid if we do it that way. We could miss out on the relationship with the single mom and her two kids who we're building the house for. We could miss the larger picture... that we are partnering with the local church in Mexico to build this house. We could miss building relationships with people on the house building team. Worse yet, we could miss seeing God through the eyes of the poor that he loves so dearly.

So, although I want to build a house this weekend for Martha, Daniela, and Alexa, I vow to do my best to take it all in. That might require me putting down my hammer or camera, but I don't want to miss all God is doing this weekend! I'll be a little more flexible and enjoy Mexico time. I'm going to make some new friends!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When Helping Hurts

I just finished reading a great book on helping the poor. The title of the book is: When Helping to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself. It's written by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and is a must read for anyone who has a heart to help the poor. Hopefully that is all of you! :)

One of the key concepts of the book is discerning when Relief, Rehabilitation, or Development should be implemented. Getting this wrong is often why poverty alleviation efforts do more harm than good.

Relief is the urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce suffering from a natural or man made crisis. Not very many people are trained to implement this well, although most opt for this method.

Rehabilitation begins as soon as the bleeding stops, and works with victims. This takes time and is often avoided.

Development is a process of ongoing change that moves both the "helpers" and the "helped" closer to being in a right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation. Development is not done to people, it is done with people. This takes even more time and is often avoided.

All of these methods are important, but each one is very specific in its function. For instance, relief is appropriate for immediate Tsunami relief, but can be more hurtful than good for people who really need rehabilitation or development.

If we are to really help the poor, we must choose methods well. This book is full of specific ways to do it. It will really challenge us to rethink some things we might believe are true. Read it, and let's lead well! Let's be a part of the solution to eradicating poverty, not contribute more to it!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Portrait Photography Secrets...Nobody is that perfect

Did you ever find yourself in the check out line of the grocery store staring at the magazines? Most of the time the covers are filled with perfect looking people. Well...just like in real life, there is no such thing! I want to let you in on a little secret. If you are a portrait photographer and want to get that perfect, airbrushed look from everyone you photograph, you'll need a piece of software. It's called Portrait Professional and it is a miracle worker.

Go ahead and click on the link and that will take you to their home page. Run your cursor over the photo and watch the dramatic results! And yes...these are real results. This software is amazing and very easy to use. You have complete control over every part of a person's face. You can whiten eyes and teeth, take out wrinkles, take off shine, pucker the lips...I mean you can do everything!

So the next time you see that perfect person on the cover of a magazine, be assured they don't look that way in real life. Now that said, most everyone who gets the VIP treatment with Portrait Professional loves the results! I've never had anyone say, "Oh...I look too good in that shot!" LOL!

I don't mean to cost you money when you read my blogs. I'm just trying to keep it real! Real is where it's at! But if you need to dress up for the party and you can't afford your own makeup artist, don't worry...there's always Portrait Professional.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What I got to do for Valentine's Day...

Today was Valentine's Day and I got to be a part of two really great expressions of God's love going out from Newbreak Church. Here are some of the things I loved.

This afternoon, the Scripps Mesa campus of Newbreak was up at Hage elementary school doing a Valentine's outreach for the teachers and kids. I love it that our campus meets at a school on the weekends. I also love the awesome missional space God has placed us in all during the week. I love it that our campus gave a carnation to every teacher and kid at Hage today. I loved it when we walked into each classroom and all the kids and teachers knew that Newbreak Church was there! I love it when the teachers introduce me to the kids as "Pastor Darrel". I loved it when the 1st grade class sang me a Valentine's song. I loved it when one kid asked where the flowers came from and another one yelled out...NEWBREAK CHURCH! I loved that we got to invite the kids and their parents to two more upcoming outreaches. I love it that families from Hage are now a part of our church!

Right before Jesus died for all of us, he told his disciples this. He said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

I love being part of a church that loves each other, our city, and our world!

The other highlight of today was knowing that on Valentine's day, our church was writing a check to an incredible organization called Project Rescue. They rescue girls in India from the sex trafficking trade. I can't think of a more awesome Valentine's gift than to show these girls God's amazing love by literally rescuing them from the abusive life they are currently living in. Dozens of girls will have their lives and their dignity given back to them. Their current nightmares will be turned into bright futures as God's children! That is awesome!

So tomorrow when people ask me, "What did you do for Valentine's day?"...I'm going to tell them that me and the rest of our awesome church got to radically love a bunch of people in Jesus' name! We loved the kids and teachers at Hage, and we got to rescue dozens of girls from the sex traffic trade in India!

Come have some fun loving our city and the world with us!

Monday, February 13, 2012

No longer Homeless

This coming weekend, I'm leading a team of 20 to build a house for a family on the East side of Tijuana. Martha Urena is a single mom with a 3 year old named Daniela, and a 2 year old named Alexa. She makes $25 per week when she can find work. She currently lives in a make-shift shelter where the roof is inadequate and the floor is unstable. They don't have a bathroom of their own, have no electricity, car, telephone, or refrigerator. They do have a gas stove, but that's about it. This is quite common in the poor communities of Tijuana.

This weekend, life is about to change for her family. In just 3 days, we'll build Martha and her children a brand new house with a concrete floor, stucco finish, and a brand new roof that doesn't leak. They'll have doors and windows for added security. This house won't cost her family one dime. It's a tangible gift of God's love from Newbreak Church, the local church in Tijuana, and Amor Ministries.

I LOVE these trips! They are so life changing for everyone involved. Not only will Martha and her family have their lives changed, but our team's lives will be changed forever! It's something that never gets old for me. Now Martha will be able to focus her attention on feeding and educating her children, instead of fighting off the rain and the cold every day. I can't wait to present her with the keys to her new home!

Friday, February 10, 2012

How we hit the finish line...

Today I had a day off and went to the Pomona drag races. I love NHRA drag races! You can't believe the energy of 8500 horse power!

We decided we'd watch the fastest cars from closest side of the track. I mean...we were right up on top of these monsters. The mechanics had worked all day for this moment, when these cars (rockets with wheels) would travel down a 1000 foot track at speeds of 310 mile per hour in less than 4 seconds. It takes your breath away!


This particular race looked like it would be awesome. Both drivers were ready to go. The countdown began and both cars took off like rocket ships. At about 800 feet, both of them blew their engines. All that work...all that hype...and they could barely limp to the finish line in a cloud of smoke...Fail!

There were other races where cars zipped pass the finish line at full speed and needed to be slowed down by 2 parachutes. The blown engine race lacked something the winners had...a great finish!

Life can be like that sometimes, especially our relationship with God. We may start out well and have the promise of a champion, but somewhere along the way, we have a blow out and find ourselves barely limping to the finish line.

God never meant for any of us to limp through life to the finish line! He wants us to use all our time, talents, and treasures for His purposes. He wants us to hit the finish line of life at full speed, having lived a life of planet shaking faith that changed the world by connecting it to God's love!

The question is, will you be a good finisher? Will you live a life of planet shaking faith?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lessons from the homeless - Part 3

A couple of days ago I wrote about different things we can do to help the homeless. In one section, I shared about not giving the homeless "Crunchy Bars" because most of them don't have any teeth. I got so much great feedback from that post.

I totally forgot to tell you one more piece of important information about those kinds of bars. Although crunchiness is one problem, "fiber" is a whole other issue. Even as I write this, I'm cracking up! One of my homeless buddies (he's spending the night in my house tonight) told me "please, no fiber one bars!" He followed that up with, "if you're going to give me a fiber one bar, you'd better give me a roll of toilet paper to go along with it." I about fell out of my chair laughing!

It's true! Can you imagine living in a tent in the middle of nowhere, a mile away from the nearest restroom, and you ate something with hi-fiber content. Oh boy! You might as well give them some ex-lax and tell them it's chocolate.

Now you have a little more info on how to help the homeless. Have fun loving them with God's love!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lessons learned from the homeless - Part 2

Working with the homeless is filled with a range of emotions that include hope, discouragement, frustration, anger, and more hope. It can be like a roller coaster sometimes.

In a world where one can buy a 59 cent beer at the local liquor store, $2 for one that will sedate an elephant, or call the "pizza man" and get any drug delivered right to your tent, the surroundings of the streets present many challenges and temptations for the homeless. Match that with a desperateness that is always looking for a next meal, and you've got a recipe for a crazy cycle of wanting to "break out" and "trapped" all in one.

I recently learned of the desperateness that leads one to the "Hamburger Drop". That's when a homeless person buys a cheap hamburger at McDonald's, takes a bit out of it, wraps it back up, places it in a garbage can downtown, then proceeds to pull it out and take a bite in front of the crowd passing by. They know that there will always be someone who will stop them, tell them not to eat it, and give them some money instead. Those are sad, but true stories of desperate lives on the streets.

Some of the best things I've learned about helping the homeless are the great programs available to them, like the San Diego Rescue Mission. They have a one-year, live-in program designed to take someone off the streets and mainstream them back into society. Program graduates will be clean and sober, moved into transitional, sober living housing, and helped with finding jobs. Most importantly, they'll find out about a God who loves them, died for them, forgives them, and has great plans for them!

Our job simply is to be the ones who point them to the God that loves them. With much frustration, I've learned that the homeless have to be ready to change. They usually have to get "sick and tired of being sick and tired." But through consistent love, and always pointing them toward help, LIVES DO CHANGE!

So...don't give up on loving them and pointing them in the right direction. When they are ready, they'll know where to go because you will have consistently shown them God's unconditional love. Maybe it will be the Rescue Mission, or some other great program like it. I'll tell you one thing...when you see them change from where they were...most days being where they are after graduating from Rescue Missions...saved, and most days being'll know it was all worth the roller coaster!

Have fun loving with God's unconditional love!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Lessons from the homeless

Over my lifetime, I've learned so many lessons about serving the homeless. Many of those lessons have come from having them stay at our house from time to time. Yes, call my wife and I crazy, but it's true. Some of them are some of my best buddies.

I thought it might be fun to share some of the things I've learned by hanging out with them. For one, they are just like you and me. Sure, they might have lived harder lives, but they are all God's children. In our own way, we're just as banged up as they are, just in a more "tidy" and "socially acceptable" way.

So here is tip number one for helping the homeless. Most of us drive by at least a few on any given day. You might see them in front of a store, or on the corner. We have all kinds of thoughts that go through our heads as we pass them, but occasionally we come up with a brilliant idea and actually try to help them! That is a good thing. God loves the poor!

No crunchy bars!
Now when it comes to giving them something to eat, many of us think about something non-perishable, like a breakfast bar, or granola bar, of piece of fruit. That is all good, but I want to let you in on a little secret. Most homeless people don't have very many, if any, teeth. What they do have are usually pretty loose. So stay away from the Crunchy Bars. You know what I mean...those hard granola bars. They can't eat them. Matter of fact they usually give them away to someone me. :) If fruit is what you like, give them a banana, not an apple. :)

Gift cards are good, but not to a grocery store. You might as well just buy them a beer. Fast food gift certificates are good. They like subway too. Mac & you're talking!

Speaking of talking, that's what many of them like the most. Not many people actually talk to them. Not all of them are mentally ill. Many are quite nice.

Anyway, they'd want you all to know this stuff, so there you go.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cost-Effective Compassion

My wife brought home a copy of this month's Christianity Today magazine. The cover story is, The Best Ways to Fight Poverty - Really. In the article, economists rate the impact of 10 popular strategies of helping the poor. Number one on the list of cost-effective compassion...Give Clean Water to rural villages.

There are lots of awesome ways of helping the poor in the world. With water borne diseases being the number on killer in the world, I'm super stoked of what we're doing in Fiji through Give Clean Water! It's such a simple, cost effective, and highly effective way of solving the biggest health problem in the world!

Today I spoke with our team in Fiji, and three guys who will soon be joining the Give Clean Water team in Fiji for 8 weeks. We're planning out our next visit to Nanoko village. This village is the one recently on quarantine due to a typhoid outbreak. We'll soon give clean water to all 107 houses in that village. We're also planning on installing filters in 2 schools that have been shut down due to poor water quality. These schools are located on Fiji's second largest island.

With GCW teams scheduled for March, June, August, and October, we'll make a big dent in Fiji's rural water problem this year! If you'd like to go on one of these amazing trips, visit the Give Clean Water trips part of the  website for all the details. It will be a week you'll never forget!

What if you could change the world?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Flooding in Fiji...Water problems on rise

I always read the Fiji Times every day, especially in the stormy months of November through April. Right now they are in the middle of cyclone season. The past 2 weeks have been very bad, 2 cyclones in a row, and 2 more on the way. The Western side of Fiji is always the most hit and this year is no exception. Damage reports continue to come in. I spoke with the Western Division Heath Minister yesterday, and he said they are super busy trying to bring order to the flooding. I shared with him that Give Clean Water will soon bring relief to one of their most critical villages where a recent typhoid outbreak has the village on lock down. He assured me the Health Ministry would stand side-by-side with us in our efforts.

Recent Flooding in Fiji
Two weeks ago, our Country Director for Give Clean Water lost everything in the first cyclone of the year. As he and his family are trying to put their lives back together, more storms are on the way. I was just reading how there has been $5 million of damage to the fragile Fiji water system. Unfortunately, that is the challenge of living in the tropics.

When we started Give Clean Water 3.5 years ago, we knew we had a great challenge ahead of Give Clean Water to everyone in Fiji who needs it. Well...we are well on our way to doing that. New partnerships are developing as we speak that will change Fiji's water situation for family and one filter at a time.

I'm grateful to everyone who is part of this journey. What we are doing MATTERS, and IS making a difference!

What if you could change the world? No excuses! You can!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Photography Work Flow for HDR - Part 3

Today I'm going to let you in on my HDR photogrphy work flow. Most of my tropical and beach landscapes are HDR shots these days. The most common comment I get on my photos is..."it looks like a painting". That is all due to the HDR process. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range photography. It is made by taking at least 3 different shots at different exposures, and blending them together with some HDR software. For a great HDR tutorial, check out the Stuck in Customs website.

You will need to learn how to bracket shots in your camera. For that, consult your owner's manual. I always bracket 3 shots at -2, 0, +2 exposure. On some cameras you can bracket more shots, but I always use three. You will need to shoot in RAW mode for the best results.

Once I capture my shots, it's off to Adobe Lightroom again to import all my photos. Once in Lightroom, I flag the photos I like.

You will need to purchase some sort of HDR software. I have two HDR software programs. Photomatix Pro, and Nik's HDR EFEX Pro. For most of my photos, I prefer Photomatix over HDR EFEX Pro. I just like the way they turn out better. That said, I do get some good results from the NIK software package. I have the Photomatix stand alone package, and I have the HDR EFEX Pro plug in for Lightroom.

For this blog post, I'll talk about my workflow using Photomatix and Photoshop Elements.

In Photomatix, I open my 3 bracketed shots. I then choose my reprocessing options. I check the boxes "Align source images", "Reduce Noise", and "Reduce Chromatic Aberrations", then hit the "Reprocess" button. This may take a minute or so. Once you have an image on the screen, you'll have to experiment with the sliders to get the desired HDR effect. I never use the presets as I have designed my own "preset" as a starting point.

Once I get the image exposed the way I want, I hit "Process" again and I will have my HDR image. If you don't like it, you can go through the process again. The Stuck in Customs website gives you some basic starting points for your settings. Again, you'll want to experiment with this until you get it the way you like it. I personally don't like the over-processed, "cooked" look of HDR. I go for more of the "Painting" look.

Once I have my HDR image, I save it as a jpeg image to my hard drive. Some people like to save TIFF files...I usually don't. I don't need the gigantic TIFF files for most print jobs. From there, I open Photoshop Elements and do a little touch up. I will adjust the shadows, then brightness and contrast, then sharpening, then I run my Neat Image noise reduction software and BINGO...I'm done. Of course I could also do some spot editing with the magic selection tool. I'm all about contrast and saturation when I edit. I have learned to be careful though of "going too far" with these effects.

There are a lot of good HDR photographers out there to learn from. You can look around on Flickr for lots of great ones!

That's it! sounds easier than it is. You will have to practice a lot and be OK with experimenting to come up with your own style. Have fun with this really awesome photography style! Call it photography, or call it digital art...I call it AWESOME!

To see my gallery of HDR photography, visit my website at

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My Photography Workflow...Part 2

Yesterday we took a look at my photography work flow for people shots. I gave you a list of all the software I use. You can reference that list for my upcoming posts.

Today I will talk about my work flow for regular, non-HDR, landscape shots.

No matter what kind of photography I'm doing, I always import my photos into Adobe Lightroom as a starting place. Once in Lightroom, I flag all the photos to filter out the ones I want to work on. This is done in the Library mode. Once this is done I switch to the Develop mode.

In the Develop mode, I use the normal workflow on the toolbar located on the right side of the screen. I work from the top to the bottom, starting with White Balance, then working my way through contrast, blacks, and vibrance. This is all sounding familiar. Yes, it's basically the same process as when I work with people shots.

I should have said this from the beginning, but I always shoot in RAW mode on my camera instead of jpeg. There is way more data to work with in a RAW photo. For more on this, refer to my previous blog posts.

In Adobe Lightroom, I might adjust some individual colors or do some minor spot editing, but usually not too much. Once I get the photo pretty close to the way I like it, I "export" the RAW image and convert it to a jpeg image on my hard drive. Some people like to export TIFF images, but I generally don't find the need for it.

Once I have my jpeg image, I open it in Photoshop Elements (PE). The first thing I do is straighten the horizon. Sometimes I straighten in Lightroom, sometimes in PE. It really doesn't matter. I also might crop my photo a little to get as much composition on the thirds as possible. It's best to do this "in camera", but sometimes I adjust it a little more.

Once straightened and cropped, I usually edit in the "quick mode" of PE. I adjust the shadows a bit. Then adjust the brightness and contrast. Sometimes I spot edit brightness and contrast with the magic select tool in PE. This is a GREAT tool!

I then look for saturation. I like lots of color in my landscapes, so I might adjust the saturation. From there I sharpen my photos. You have to be careful with this slider, but I really like the way the sharpening slider works in PE. I usually zoom in close to make sure I'm not over sharpening the image.

Once I get the image sharp, I then turn to my best tool in the Neat Image noise reduction plug in. The plug in version installs itself into the filter directory of PE. I select the Neat Image from the filter menu. I select "auto profile" and Neat Image will usually grab a portion of the sky (which is what I want). Then I switch to the Noise Filter Settings tab. I usually use 70% as my settings for Luminance, Chrominance, and Sharpening amount. Sometimes I run this filter twice as I like to get rid of all the noise I can in the sky.

That's it. Click save and I'm done.

If you'd like to check out some of my non-HDR landscapes, you can do it here on my Tropical Photos by Larson website.

Check back for my next post on my HDR photography work flow.