Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Right Tool for the Right Job - Sleeklens Presets and Brushes

Hey my fellow photogs!

Wanted to share with you a great new set of tools that I think you should add to your post-production work flows.  The good people at Sleeklens have an amazing offering of Lightroom and Photoshop presets and brushes that will really bring some snap to your photos and help you elevate your photography skills to the next level.  They have a wide range of packages of LR and PS presets and brushes geared towards all types of photography and techniques such as portraits, landscapes, products, textures, moods, seasons and affects.

I've had the opportunity to use their "Through the Woods" workflow for LR and I can honestly say I've found my new set of favorite tools.  Wow!  The wide range of presets, from the dramatic to the serene, are simply fantastic.  I know the challenge for many of us landscape photographers is capturing the "feeling" we have when we photograph landscapes.  The extensive preset options available in this package really makes it easy to find that perfect preset that brings out exactly what we are trying to capture.  The supporting adjustment brushes give the photographer so much flexibility when it comes to fine tuning an image.  This is really one of the best collection of post-production tools I've ever had the privilege to use.

Getting down to basics - the cost?  MORE than reasonable.  Installation and use?  About as easy as it can get.  I really encourage all of you to visit Sleeklens and check out all their product offerings.  You won't be disappointment.  See my before and after photos below.

Friday, October 7, 2016

It's Inevitable, Part 2...

This was a post from my "Guten 365" blog back in 2012.  I've made a few modifications and updated to mark the times.  Certainly this is not a comprehensive list.  Feel free to add as you see fit.

  1. When you're running late, you'll hit every traffic light.
  2. A piece of toast or open faced peanut butter sandwich will always fall face down.
  3. Your transmission will fail shortly after you receive an unexpected bonus from work.
  4. Your phone will go off mute just as you're baby talkin' to your dog or yelling at your kids.
  5. A person with 30+ items, a checkbook and no understanding of the concept of exchanging money for goods will step in the express checkout line in front of you.
  6. Your car will need gas as you're late for an engagement.
  7. The one time your team is on TV they lose horribly.
  8. For you photographers, while in the middle of Photoshop-ing a highly complicated retouching project that you spent four hours on, your computer will suddenly crash.
  9. While creating your patented turkey and cheese sandwich you discover there is no cheese. 
  10. The day you feel like being lazy and making it a "movie day", all you can find on TV are Lindsay Lohan or Hillary Duff movies, or Swamp People marathons.
  11. When you're hoping to get their voice mail, they pick up.
  12. When you need them to pick up, you get their voice mail.
  13. When you're surrounded by a bunch of people, with no means of escape, the chili you had for lunch will kick in. 
  14. The day you decide to take a vacation day from work, an office emergency will require you to come in.
  15. On the day of your big social event, a zit the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro will appear on your face.
  16. The restaurant you've been Jones-ing to go to will be closed for renovations the night of your big, romantic evening.
  17. After a long week and you're heading home from work on a Friday and you need some rockin', pick me up tunes, the only songs playing on the radio are songs by Air Supply, Coldplay, Oasis or Rush.
  18. Your absolute, most favorite shirt will get a stain.
  19. When you DESPERATELY need toilet paper there will be none.
  20. Of the 60 days of record heat and dryness, the day you plan a barbeque is the one day it rains.
  21. The toner cartridge of your printer will run out when you have to print a report for your boss.
  22. That item you've spent months saving for and finally bought will be on sale the day after you bought it.
  23. Your pants button will pop off as you're frantically getting ready for work.
  24. Smoke alarm batteries will die in the middle of the night ("CHIRP, CHIRP, CHIRP!!")
  25. Your baby's diaper will explode as you're heading out the door.
  26. The biggest, widest person imaginable will be assigned the seat next to you on the airplane.
  27. The drunk person will always have the room next to yours.
  28. The car that refuses to drive the speed limit nor move over will eventually kick up that one, tiny rock that nicks your windshield.
  29. The post office clerk will put up the sign "Use Next Counter" just when it's your turn.
  30. Your boss will call a meeting on a Friday afternoon.
    The bottom line is, when you need something to be this way, life will almost always conspire against you to make it that way, or so it seems.

    Monday, July 4, 2016

    It's OUR fight...

    Right about now most people are up and prepping for a day of celebration that'll consist of mass quantities of eating, drinking, games and fireworks.  Facebook is already getting slammed with posts wishing everyone a safe and happy 4th as well as a call to remember our service men and women who are out there protecting the freedoms we enjoy.  But there's one thing that's missing, something far more important and critical to the reason why we celebrate this day in the first place.

    I'll say it right now - we've lost the meaning of the 4th of July.  I'm not talking about those street interviews where idiot teens and 20 somethings have no idea what the 4th of July means.  I mean collectively we've failed to see the importance of this date.  Somehow we've gotten to the point where we feel we're fulfilling our patriotic duty by merely posting photos of the American flag or saying thank you to our military personnel.  Our freedoms are not just ensured by those who put themselves in harms way.  Our freedoms are guaranteed by ALL of us.

    When I was commissioned in the United States Army I gave an oath to protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign AND domestic.  We are so fortunate that some of our men and women are willing to don the uniform, pick up a gun and fight and die for our freedoms against foreign enemies.  As United States citizens we are obligated to pick up the fight here at home against the domestic enemies that threaten our way of life.  I'm not just talking about the radicalized rag heads or the self-absorbed discontented who go on shooting rampages in order to get their 15 minutes of fame.  I'm talking about those enemies that are willfully destroying our opportunities to purse life, liberty and happiness.

    A Christian really can't call themselves a Christian unless they thoroughly read and study the bible and practice it's virtues.  Similarly a United States citizen can't call themselves a citizen unless they read, study and practice the obligations set forth in our Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address.  Over two hundred years ago a bunch of folks on the east coast decided enough was enough and took over their country from a tyrannical government hell bent on exploiting and oppressing it's people.  I fear in some ways we're being faced with a similar situation.  We have a president that is clearly more concerned about the interest and well being of those people determined to destroy the safety and well being of this country.  Most all of the elected individuals we've put our trust into are nothing more than self-serving, petty, immature children that feel compelled to indulge in their wants and desires at the expense of the people they are suppose to serve.  Throwing temper tantrums and sit-ins, blocking legislation that would help citizens because someone else proposed it, shutting down government that's led to citizens losing their jobs, all because they got their egos bruised - is this truly government of the people, by the people and for the people?

    Folks we have a responsibility to fight agains those who seek to oppress us.  It's time we stood up to Washington and our so called leaders and say enough is enough.  We need to stop this mob mentality that just goes with popular opinion, as determined by the media.  We need to force our elected officials to force change.  We need to put a leash on our congressmen and women as well as our president.  We need to put people in office who aren't afraid to take a stand even if it offends someone.  And as American we need to accept the responsibility of fighting for and demanding this freedom.  It's no one else's fight but our own.

    So for this 4th of July take a moment to not only
    say thank you to a vet or knock back a few beers, but take the time to reflect on what it means to be an American and the responsibilities we ALL have in maintaining this country as it was intended.  Our freedoms are not the responsibility of someone else.  Freedom is something we all must fight for against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

    Thursday, December 31, 2015


    We're just hours away from closing the books on another year.  Many of us will be making new year resolutions to bring about a better life and a greater sense of accomplishment but the unfortunate reality is that many of those resolutions will fail.  Not for a lack of desire, mind you, but rather because deep down we really don't believe we can do them.

    Many resolutions are pretty common and tangible - lose weight, run a 10K or marathon, eat better, read more.  Nothing wrong with any of those.  But as we all know the most frustrating thing about new year resolutions is that more often than not we don't achieve them and as the end of the year rolls around there's that little pang of guilt and sadness that eats away at our spirit.

    So why do so many resolutions fail?  I think the problem lies more within our hearts and minds rather than our resolve.  In life you really can't accomplish anything unless your heart and mind are fully committed to the task.  In the pursuit of happiness our heart and the mind are the two greatest assets we have but they are also our biggest obstacles.   On the one hand they can drive our passions but just as equally they slam the brakes on us whenever we consider taking on something new.

    Opening our minds and hearts to new possibilities is the first step in achieving joy in our lives.  The images of ourselves that we've created or our perceptions of the world must be completely challenged.  We need to take into serious question who we are and what we think the world is all about.  That's not always easy.  Over the years our insecurities have created our perceptions and we wear those perceptions like a worm blanket on a cold night.  Younger people are shackled by an image they're trying to maintain.  Older folks are trying to avoid yet another situation that more than likely will end in failure.

    We don't pursue our dreams because we've convinced ourselves we aren't good enough or smart enough and more importantly we hold onto false truths about who we are.  For 2016 I would resolve to challenge any previous "truths" you might have about yourself and your world.  Forget what others might think of you or what you think of yourself.  Allow your heart and  your mind to be open to ALL possibilities.

    When you start understanding what's really true and what's really important to you then any goals you might set for yourself will be far easier to achieve.  Your mind, body and spirit will finally be in harmony and you will see that life is an adventure rather than a sentence.  No matter how long you've walked this earth, no matter what your life experiences may have been, I believe pure joy is available for everyone who reads this because the joy already exists within YOU!

    Happy New Year my friends!

    Friday, July 3, 2015

    The 4th...

    The 4th of July... watermelons, barbecues, fireworks and John Philips Sousa.  It's the one day of the year we are truly proud to be an American.  Unfortunately we spend the next 364 days apologizing for it.

    It seems the older I get the more melancholy I become over the state of our once great nation.  We have fallen so far from what the country once stood for.  Even the most conservative our of founding fathers would be appalled to see how we've butchered their dream of a free and democratic society.  We've willingly enslaved ourselves to a big, invasive government and somehow we seem surprised by it.  We expect our local governments to fulfill our every whim and desire and if they won't do it we  gladly run to daddy in D.C. to give us what we want.  We fail to accept the axiom, "there's no such thing as a free lunch."  The more we expect big government to provide for us the more we surrender our personal liberties.  The more we invite the government into personal lives the more we allow them to legislate our behaviors.  Perhaps we viewed the recent decision by the Supreme Court regarding the status of marriage as a great social victory but we failed to see the real tragedy.   Once again, we the ignorant mob, have helped to make big government even bigger and one more nail has been hammered into the coffin of state's rights.  I couldn't care less about who marries whom.  Live and let live.  I do care that once again we've surrendered our ability to govern ourselves to a collection of self-serving minions who have no business in my backyard or my heart.

    I'll be honest I haven't done a study about the types of legislation instituted over the years but I'd bet even money that more and more current legislation stems from hurt feelings rather than addressing the needs of our communities.  Instead of legislating over taxes, commerce, and community we are now trying to legislate morality and behavior.  We've diluded ourselves into thinking that new laws will change old beliefs.  Removing a flag will not change the minds of hateful people.  Just because something is legal doesn't make it right.  Conversely just becomes something is made illegal doesn't make it necessarily wrong.  We're no longer governed by reason but by opinion.  Common sense has taken a back seat to what's popular.  Our moral compass is set by Fox News and People Magazine and this great ship called the United States if foundering.

    We conveniently use our Constitution to justify one thing but ignore it when we want to do something else.  We're governed by opinion rather than reason.  Today all it takes is a few misguided zealots and a less than ethical news agency to turn something insignificant into a perceived national crisis
    .  We allowed the actions of one sick, demented individual to turn a rather benign piece of cloth into one of the most despised images since the swastika.  Displaying the old Confederate battle flag is now tantamount to a hate crime but singing songs that spew lyrics promoting racism, murder, rape and drug use is considered an exercise of our right to freedom of expression.  We rage against someone for burning the American flag out of protest but we have no problem turning that same flag into a rainbow.  The criteria for determining what is or isn't acceptable is determined by the changing winds of opinion.

    Recently we had a guest pastor speak at our church.  He was from Uganda and gave a very spirited sermon.  To be clear it was actually a scolding in every sense of the word.  The funny thing was, I wasn't offended.  The man was spot on.  How far we have fallen from a moral perspective was made very apparent when brought to light by an outsider.  Other countries use to see the United States as a strong, morally upright country always ready to come to the rescue of the suffering and oppressed.  No one really respects us any more.  We're snooty, pretentious, self-serving and entitled.  We've become the Las Vegas of the world.  Sure, folks love to come here to party but we're like the girl every guy wants to screw but would never consider marrying.

    We have turned our backs not just on morality but more importantly, responsibility.  Parents today are raising monsters who are no longer accountable for their actions.  Poor grades are the result of bad teaching.  Poor behavior is played off as self-expression.  We serve nothing but ourselves.  We are accountable to no one but ourselves.  There is always someone or something else to blame.  It's never our fault.  The world is here for us.  Perhaps what John Kennedy meant to say was, "Ask not what you can do for your country.  Ask what your country can do for you."

    "All men are created equal...." "endowed by their Creator..." "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Let's remember what it really means to be an American.

    Wednesday, April 8, 2015

    Not again!

    "EEEK!  Oh my God!  Oh my God!"

    The shrill came bursting from the mud room into the solitude of my home office.  Instead of being the wonderful, supportive, leap into action husband that I should be I thought "Ugh, now what?"  Mind you after living in the country for nine months now I've come to expect all sorts of mini-emergencies, from cracks, leaks and assorted broken things.  What's one more thing?

    "A mouse just crawled over my coat in the closet!!"

    Damn it!  Not again.  Those rat (mice) bastards followed us from Westminster.  Now granted, living in a more rural area the chances of crossing paths with wee critters is much greater than when we lived in suburbia.  I just didn't want to have to add this to my long list of things to "fix" around here.  To be honest I can't say I was terribly surprised by the recent incursion.  Intelligence reports from a couple days earlier showed evidence that the enemy was on the move.  I had gone into our outdoor closet, just off the patio, to look for some things for our Easter gathering.  I noticed that the unopened bag of bird seed had been torn into, significantly.  Like all good commanders I ignored the warning signs, promising myself I'd deal with the enemy on a later date.  The barbecue must go on.

    So when my darling wife was ambushed by this three inch beast I knew I had to take action and quickly.  A husband slow to come to the aid of his wife is only asking for trouble.  So when under attack what do you do?  Call in the cavalry!  As the mouse made his way into the living room I trapped him with the giant bean bag.  Quite the manly thing to do.  While I was working to contain the rodent, Julie dashed off to call to arms our trained killer - Gracie the cat.  Her reputation as a take no quarter, give no quarter, death to all mice at all cost to preserve the union and ensure democracy for all was well earned during our stay in Westminster.  It was time to unleash hell on this new threat to the sanctity of our country home.  As we had done once before in our old house, we had trapped the mouse and positioned the cat so that she could make a lightening fast, surgical strike once we removed the obstacle.

    "Cry havoc!  And let slip the dogs of war!!"  Ok, I didn't really say that but it does add some dramatic flair to this story.  With Gracie in position I raised the bean bag and waited for the inevitable, swift death that would befall this little creature.  But it didn't come.  No screeching, no crunching, no blood spattering.  It was as if time had frozen.  Both cat and mouse as well as the two human spectators stood motionless waiting for something to happen.  What happened next would go down as one of the greatest shameful tragedies in the annuls of cat history.  The mouse, realizing his predicament, decided to take action and bolted in the direction of the cat.  What first appeared to be a suicide run into the jaws of death turned out to be a dash to freedom.  In complete "beast mode" the mouse ran towards the cat, over her paws and continued towards the goal line behind the couch, unscathed by the feline killing machine.

    ARE YOU FRICKIN' KIDDING ME!!??  Death, where is thy sting!?  Surely victory was at hand but
    just like that it was the mouse that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and certain death.    Perhaps noticing my anger and disappointment, my ever faithful Golden Lab Sophie decided to chase off this would-be cat into the other room, exacting her own form of punishment towards a cat who failed on so many levels.  Throughout this entire engagement Belle, the Princess Chihuahua, sat perched up on the couch, choosing a position of neutrality rather than risk having the blood of a mouse on her paws.

    So it was a dark day in our Brighton animal kingdom.  Mouse 1, John 0.  But all was not lost.  In the aftermath of this day which will live in infamy, I cleaned out the outdoor closet and in the process found a cohort of our intruder.  I was in the process of ShopVac-ing (is that a word?) the remnant bird seed when I found and cornered ANOTHER mouse.  This time, things would be different.  I won't go into the gory details but let's just say that a mouse CAN fit through a ShopVac.  Some clean up was involved but now there's one less mouse in the house.  Mouse 1, John 1.

    The Jihad is on, baby!

    Friday, January 2, 2015

    "All you need is ....."

    Ok, show of many of you have already screwed up your new year's resolution?  Hmm, a few of you.  Oh well, the year is long and there's plenty of time to get things right.  Perhaps I can share a little advice that might help.

    I think we're all pretty familiar with the classic resolutions - I want to lose weight, I want to exercise more, I want to travel more, I want to run my first 10K, I want to quit <fill in the blank>.  Those are all great resolutions but to be honest they're really only addressing the symptoms of the flaws we have in life rather than the actual problem.  And because of that far more resolutions are abandoned rather than achieved.

    I'll be honest I haven't made a new year's resolution in years.  It's not that I think I don't have anything I need work on.  Trust me, there's a lot under my hood that needs a fixin'.  I just realized some time ago that it seems most of my previous resolutions were geared towards resolving the superficial elements of my life rather than any root cause.  Now I pretty much have only one resolution that I carry forward every year - to love more today than I did yesterday.

    Ok, before I explain, let me first apologize for putting John Lennon's song, "All You Need is Love", into your head.  I know you hear that word "Love" and you immediately think of some sappy, touchy feely, unicorn and glitter image of people prancing around, somewhat reminiscent of the old drug induced Hippy love-in's of the '60s.  Nope, I mean something entirely different, although the unicorn and glitter would be kinda cool.

    I think the reason that nearly all resolutions fail is that we lack a substantial amount of love, real love in our lives.  I'm not just talking about love towards others, but love towards ourselves.  I'm not referring to the narcissistic type of love usually expressed in showering oneself with gifts and splashing selfies all over social media.  I'm talking about a love that expresses true compassion towards oneself that includes appreciating yourself for who you are and not what someone thinks of you.  I'm talking about having the capacity to forgive oneself and to respect oneself rather than constantly apologizing for your own existence.  I've said this many times before, you can't be right with anything or anyone if you aren't right with yourself.  Hey, God loves you so why don't you?

    I'm sure many of us have had a resolution about being nicer to people but we quickly find it's difficult to do.  Loving, appreciating and respecting someone else becomes a chore and sometimes a monumental task that we often times look for ways to avoid.  Because we fail to love ourselves, the act of loving someone else feels unnatural.  Since we don't love ourselves the purpose of loving someone else is only to see how they will react to our expressions towards them.  If they don't respond the way we want, we become resentful and bitter and it just reinforces the lie that we are unworthy souls.  When you truly love and respect yourself, the ability to love and show compassion towards others becomes as natural as breathing.  We don't wait around to see how others will respond.  We just move on with our lives, sharing and expressing love and compassion with all we cross paths.

    Unfortunately we all fall into the trap of allowing the pains and failures of our past to define who we are.  They drive our thoughts and behaviors.  We fail to realize that those pains and failures are only experiences, they have NOTHING to do with who we are.  Once you start understanding that and accepting that fact you will see what a wonderful person you truly are.

    It's ok to forgive yourself and to love yourself.  You are a special, unique and glorious creation.  Trust me, God don't make no junk.  When you can finally see the beauty that's in you, you will naturally express that beauty with those around you.  When you love yourself you'll finally believe in yourself and when you believe in yourself, you'll be able to set and achieve real goals that will only bring out the very best of you.

    God loves you and so should you!