[B]rad Infinitum: Cannon Beach, Oregon, at Sunset

For this post, I would like to talk about how I created a photo from Cannon Beach, Oregon, last year.

Before I left on this trip, I read about a new technique that can create interesting patterns in the sky when you stack a series of photos taken about 5-10 seconds apart with fast moving clouds. (The technique is described on PetaPixel, among other places, and it tend to resurface as a ‘new’ idea every few years)

I wanted to try it. But the clouds were not moving very quickly and the sun was setting very quickly.

So I thought, since I was on a beach, why not try the same concept, but with waves. Either way, it was too late to move to a new spot, so my choices were to work with what I had or give up and ensure I walked away with nothing.

I set up my camera and took a series several series of photos. One particular group of about 20 photos is what I would like to discuss in this post. Of this group of 20 photos, this was the first:

First Photo!

First Photo!

Ok, not too bad. There’s a lot I really like about this photo, especially in the color of the sky and the sea stacks in shadow.

I opened up the series of photos in Photoshop and stacked them on top of each other with Darken as the blend mode. Darken, like Lighten, are really nice for working with this kind of scene. In the earlier part of this post I linked to an article which talked about using ‘Lighten’ as your blend mode for clouds. I have found that Lighten works best for lighter objects, and Darken works best for darker objects. This is all subjective and mostly about what you like best or what just works best for you.

However, 20 photos was a bit too many. So I turned layers on and off until only about 6 remained. These 6 felt right, so I performed a merge visible on all but the bottom layer and set this new layer to ‘darken’.


Oops, I left a little too much of the transparency on. That just won’t work right. (See the Sun for what I mean)


Ahh better. I’ve masked out the area where the sun sits in the image. This means that the bottom layer’s sun is now showing through.

What is left do do on this photo? 2 major things. In Photoshop, I want to create a mask for the Oranges. I feel like this color is just not where I want it to be. So I’ll create a quick mask and adjust the Hue to make it a little more orange, and also underexpose the area a little to bring the brightness down.

Next, I’ll do the opposite for the waves. I feel like they need to be made brighter, as well as have their colors saturated a bit more.

Finish it all up with a sharpening layer and we have:


After this image had been published, I noticed that the orange in the waves that I so liked was actually due to me forgetting to turn off the transparency of the layer. Once that was turned down, we get:


Now we are nearly at our completed image. I am really liking where this image is going.

There is still an issue with this image that I would like to correct. Do you see the area between the sea and the sky? There is a small color halo. This is an easy fix. We create a new Darken layer and using the paintbrush tool, we sample a nearby color and paint our way across the image. The result is a subtle change, but, it eliminates the annoying halo.


And there it is, the finished image. By stacking images, we can make a relatively calm ocean look like a much more active ocean.


Melissa Maleski-2

Fridays with Francis: February 13, 2015: Beautiful Romance and Broken Ego

Melissa Maleski

A beautiful romance begins with a broken ego. That is the only way I can think to summarize Pope Francis’ message leading up to Valentine’s Day.

There was some fairly hard language to come from the Chair of Peter this week. Technically it began at the end of last week when Pope Francis called the abuse-of-minors scandal a scourge, but he kept the ball rolling this week. He called on world governments to stop ignoring the  shameful wound of human trafficking, which boasts a consistent tally of victims in the neighborhood of 2.5 million. In some parts of the world the word shame carries some weight, but us Westerners have some well-padded egos. If Pope Francis wants Western governments to listen when he speaks, I’m afraid he’ll need to use much stronger language. But let me come back to this in a minute.

The Holy Father saved his strongest statement for couples who choose not to have children. Not bothering to mince words, he called this choice selfishA society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society,” the pope said. “The choice to not have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished. I’m assuming that the lack of reaction in the mass media to this statement is due to Dropped-Jaw Syndrome.

There is a rapidly-growing debate around the inter-web about who is more selfish: parents or childless-by-choice couples. For your edification check out this editorial in Time.  Or this passionate opinion. Or this actual side-by-side debate. Each position defends their claim primarily on the grounds of economics and psychology. The Catholic position, which Pope Francis succinctly stated, rests primarily on moral principles. Economics and psychology are incorporated to support the moral principles, but are not supposed to precede moral considerations.

I don’t want to make this a windy apologetics piece, so I will try to explain briefly why childless-by-choice is selfish by Catholic standards. Male and Female were created as a gift, one to the other. When one male and one female come together, they are supposed to give all of themselves to the other. This is called the total gift of self. It’s a process that is similar to how stars are born. Clouds of gas and dust (the individual persons) begin to collapse and die. As the parts collapse, the center of the clouds get hotter and more solid (Sacrament of Marriage). When the center reaches peak heat and density, a star is born. It starts to grow, and eventually it’s light bursts forth for universes to see. This last part correlates, in people terms, to two things. One, biological conception and birth of children. Two, charitable contributions to society through volunteering, donations, and being generally happy and well-adjusted people. Both components are necessary aspects of man’s existential reality. Holding back, or not totally giving one’s self to another, blunts the humbling impressiveness of this gift. Feel free to argue the logic of it in the comments, but this is Theology of the Body in a mustard seed.

Let me turn back to Pope Francis and Western governments. His statement to Western leaders is not as forceful as the one aimed at childless-by-choice couples, and that intrigues me. Maybe it’s just that the latest consistory of cardinals began this week, but I get the feeling that Pope Francis has a different approach in mind for dealing with those who are on the top of the food chain of power and influence. Rather than engage in compelling dialogue (as, say, Jesus did with the Pharisees and regular folk), I think we may see the Holy Father increasingly limit the attention he gives anyone attached to established power. Like the Sadducees in the New Testament, those who have gotten comfortable being in charge will be nudged to the margins of relevance. What better way to break an over-inflated ego than to deny it room to breath?

Melissa Maleski-2

Fridays with Francis, February 6, 2015

Melissa Maleski

The Holy Father kept things low-key this week. No wacky soundbites. Nothing overtly offensive to anyone, really.

Pope Francis reminded the bishops to stay on-board with the Church’s ongoing dedication to cleaning up the vestiges of the shameful sexual abuse scandal. He spoke about the importance of fathers in their children’s life:  Also today’s children, returning home with their failures, need a father who waits for them, protects them, encourages them and teaches them how to follow the good path. Pope Francis did express approbation for spanking a child under certain conditions; I’m surprised that this hasn’t caused an uproar yet. Maybe the obnoxiously frigid temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic region are chilling everyone out.

The Holy Father did announce that he will be addressing Congress when he comes to the United States this September. I can imagine what he will say to our legislative branch.

The real fun will be reading the reactions from Fox News, Breitbart, and the Drudge Report.

Finally, the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero was officially recognized by Pope Francis, which allows the beatification process to begin.

As the Holy Father is wont to do, he made a couple of very sweet and inspiring gestures of Christian charity this week. First, he chatted with a group of special-needs children on Google Hangouts. Then, after already announcing that the planned Vatican bathrooms for the homeless will include showers and barbers, 300 homeless were given umbrellas to keep them dry from the persistent bad weather.

To keep the sweet note going, I’m sharing with you a fun dessert I stumbled upon. It is a sandwich cookie called an alfajores.  It’s an Argentinian iteration of a Spanish delicacy. The recipe, in Spanish and then English, is here. Strap on your metaphorical apron with me and try making these on Valentine’s Day, in honor of our Argentinian Pontiff!


Everyday Genius Closes Shop; Real Pants is a Thing Instead

From Adam Robinson at the former Everyday Genius:


Probably you sent work to Everyday Genius long ago—mystifyingly long ago to be honest—and because of the guest editor system at EG (where many times no one was considering submissions), your work wasn’t read. I kept hoping the next editor would want to pull from our submissions, and sometimes they did. Even until January 2015, guest editors were reading from Everyday Genius’s Submittable account.

However, it is finally necessary to respond to your beautiful and worthwhile piece, because after six great years, Everyday Genius is hanging up its hat. We’ve moved on to new things at realpants.com.

Your participation was meaningful to me, a genuine encouragement. I look forward to seeing you around the literary corners of the Internet.

Best wishes,
Adam Robinson

Final version of Hummingbirds Picture

[B]rad Infinitum: Photographing Hummingbirds in Costa Rica

Brad Molnar

Hello everyone, and a special thanks to Chris for inviting me to write about photography.  This article is about photographing hummingbirds at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens in Costa Rica.

[Ed. note: Brad, thank YOU!  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing your work for years and am happy to share it.  And I love that you’re taking us through the process of editing and preparing the final image, and I know others will, too.]

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to take a work trip to Central America to help bring our San Jose team up to speed.  I extended my trip by a few days so I would have some time to see parts of the country.

One of the places I was able to visit was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which is about 2 hours outside of San Jose.  Among other things at this location is a Hummingbird Garden.  This only the second time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph hummingbirds, the first being wild hummingbirds on Alcatraz, in San Francisco.

I tried to take advantage of the time, and below is a screenshot of the thumbnails from the software Lightroom.

All of my thumbnails from the day

Screenshot of my Lightroom Catalog of the Hummingbird Gardens

These birds move quickly, much quicker than my autofocus was happy with.

Hyperactive bird drinking a sugar mix

Hyperactive bird drinking a sugar mix

Although the background is really uninteresting.

However, I would frequently end up with the birds out of focus.

Why yes, I was trying to get the feeder in focus and the bird out of focus

Why yes, I was trying to get the feeder in focus and the bird out of focus

Sometimes, the birds would move out of frame giving me a fantastic photo of the feeder.

A picture of a feeder with invisible Hummingbirds

A picture of a feeder with invisible Hummingbirds

I even ended up with a silhouette.  I still like this photo, even if it is not my favorite from the day.


Eventually, my luck began to change and I started getting photos with birds that were both in focus and out of the shadows.

This one came out nice

This one came out nice

This photo in particular was just sitting on my external drive.  I didn’t realize I had it until I started to prepare photos for this post.

I also caught this colorful fellow.

Purple Hummingbird

Purple Hummingbird

Then, I managed to capture my favorite.

My favorite photo from the day

My favorite photo from the day

This one is really nice.  It has 3 birds, but the 2 on the left are looking at each other.  One of them is a bit out of focus, but that’s fine, you can tell what it is.  The one bird is in perfect focus.  This was a really lucky shot.

Now that I have my favorite, it is time to start to work on it.  I shoot my photos in RAW, which means capturing the photo is really only the beginning.  Generally, there’s at least 30 more minutes of work behind every photo that gets shared.

For this photo, I decided that the best part was on the left, and I decided to crop it to a vertical.

After cropping, it was time to get the colors balanced the way I wanted, turn up the saturation, and balance the brightness to my liking.

The result is this:

Final version of Hummingbirds Picture

Final version of Hummingbirds Picture

And there it is, my finalized version of the photo.  I did turn up the saturation a little more than normal.  This was an item I debated for a while, but in the end, I’m happy with how it turned out.  I also turned up the clarity, which brings out the detail in the bird’s feathers.



Notes from Niflheim: Country Moon

One’s definition of “rural” is completely relative. After spending years living out of efficiencies in Philadelphia and Boston, moving to Fargo deeply jarred me. Everything seemed so small, what with buildings rarely rising above two stories in height. I laughed the first time that one of my new coworkers referred to Fargo-Moorhead as “the metropolitan area” for “urban ministry.”

“Urban!” I replied. “Man, this is rural.”

“Then what do you call what we call rural?” he asked, sipping his coffee.

Frontier.” For heaven’s sake, the town is named for Wells Fargo.

That was a long time ago. Having spent almost seven years in a town of 1200 souls, Fargo-Moorhead’s 140,000 indeed seems like the Big City now. All those lights, all that traffic, all the pavement—after living on 5.2 acres of forest and field, the whole thing feels like a wasp nest. Country life has ruined me for being urban, or even suburban, ever again. There’s just something about the space, the people, the wildness that liberates one’s soul. Plus it forces you to learn a whole host of basic survival skills that one never develops living in crowded neighborhoods.

One transitional memory that really sticks with me even today is how we had to adjust to the darkness. Growing up I never much noticed the full moon, save for my time working in the trauma bay. (Weird stuff happens when the moon is full, believe you me.) But this knowledge became less theoretical and more practical when we left behind the highways, the street lights, the passing cars. On a moonless night, there’s nothing, no light at all, a darkness like the plagues of Egypt. You literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. And on a full moon, holy cow. It’s like a spotlight in the sky, a second silver sun. You can see everything.

It also drives kids and dogs wild, and our household possesses both in abundance. Take, for example, last night. We had the Super Bowl on as we chased small children about, but my wife and the kids passed out before halftime, so I switched to something I can only enjoy when I’m the solitary viewer: PBS’s delightful second season of Shakespeare Uncovered. (That’s how I roll, son. Bard4Life.) After A Midsummer-Night’s Dream, I should by all rights have gone to bed, but the moon was just so bright, streaming in the windows … I decided instead to read a bit of The Book of Conquests, which has proven highly addictive. Celtic mythology is metal as fudge.

By the time I finally hit the hay, our night unfolded like so:

10:45 p.m.—Go to bed.

12:00 a.m.—Youngest child cries because moonlight is shining directly on her face. (Middle child long ago tore down the venetian blinds.) Youngest is only consoled with a bottle and being brought to your bed.

1:00 a.m.—Dogs insistently bark at a forest monster that’s, like, right behind you, seriously. You can see them clearly in the moonlight wagging their tails and staring in the windows at you, happy to have saved the entire family from a gruesome demise.

2:00 a.m.—Eldest child awakes and comes in to check on you, because he dreamt that you grew a beard. You remind him that you’ve always had a beard, and get up to tuck him back into bed.

3:00 a.m.—Middle child cries because the moonlight is now shining directly on her face. This is the child we’ve caught howling at said moon. She demands to sleep with a parent.

5:00 a.m.—Eldest child turns on the lights and walks on top of your feet to wake you up because he’s seen an alien. Alas, it seems not to have abducted him.

6:00 a.m.—Alarm goes off because it’s Monday, sucker.

Just another full moon in the country.



RDG Stout was born and raised amongst the Pennsylvania Deutsch but has spent the last decade as a country preacher in the windswept wilds of Niflheim, a.k.a. rural Minnesota. He lives in a mead hall with his Viking wife, three kids, and a bizarre assortment of stories.

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 1.02.36 PM

‘Boyhood’ and Other Films I’ll Only Watch Once

Nathan Key

This isn’t a review of the film Boyhood – there are other articles that can give you a full play-by-play. I watched it a few weeks ago on the evening  it won the Golden Globe for Best Film, but it wasn’t planned out that way. My wife and I share an unwritten rule that we try to start whichever movie is delivered to our home as soon as possible so that our Netflix subscription doesn’t go to waste.  The strategy doesn’t always payoff, but it did with this movie:  Boyhood is an excellent feat of filmmaking that everyone should see. It was incredible for a few reasons; the acting was wonderful, the story was satisfying, and the plot moved organically, striking a nice pace that felt neither rushed nor drug out – even at a whopping 165 minutes. I will highly recommend it. It was a great film, and, as it ended, we agreed that we never needed to see it again.

Let me explain.

We all know that there are certain films that are so terrible (e.g. Troll 2 and Evil Dead) that people want to watch them over and over again, somehow making them into fond friends. I find the opposite is true as well, that there are certain films so good that to re-watch would be to ruin. For me, Boyhood is one of those films. Saving Private Ryan and Memento are One-timers, too. These are all great films that I really enjoyed watching, but I don’t want multiple visits. Multiple views diminish the effect and ruin an otherwise good experience because there is a sense of wonder and otherness in these films that is so powerful in the moment but lost on a second or third time through. Have you ever watched the Sixth Sense a second time? It’s a powerful movie during the first view and a waste of time on the second; the entire mystery and anticipation are gone and the twist ending is ruined by knowing. It might not be at the same level of greatness as some of the other films that I consider One-timers, but you get the point.

Now, don’t confuse the One-timer with the Despised. We usually don’t make it through the Despised and, if we do, we never want to see it again, either, but for completely different reasons. I learned this lesson while watching The Tailor of Panama in its entirety, hopefully expecting some sort of O. Henry twist that would make me fall in love with the story and the characters. It was such a mundane and predictable movie that I was sure at any moment something must be about to happen that would flip things on their head and make sense of the boredom. That twist never came and I was left wondering why I had wasted that much of my life with a film that was not enjoyable and not even interesting. I didn’t care what happened to them in the end. No, the Despised have a shelf of their own – hidden in the back of our minds like an embarrassing little episode we hope our friends will never discover.

One-timers, by comparison, do not contain anything close to mundane. These are films that fill us with excitement and talk. They are so near the actual feeling of life that we want to cherish them like an actual memory rather than dilute them through re-watch. They are a once in a lifetime safari or that week at summer camp when we fell in love. We remember fondly and enjoy relating our experience to others, comparing notes and discussing the events in detail, knowing that we’ll never have anything quite like it again, even if we went back. I visited the town I grew up in a few months ago. I was with my wife and my kids, none of them had never been there before. It was a trip down memory lane – me pointing out my elementary school and the street I grew up on. In some ways it was all the same as when I left it and in other was remarkably different.  “You can never go back again”  lingered on every street. Even if I moved back, I’d never go back to my boyhood. I can’t go back and experience my own boyhood again, no matter where I live. The beauty of Boyhood the movie is that we get a chance to experience something dangerously close. Out of respect for the moment, I don’t want to go back to it either, as easy as it might be. Better to let it drift into memory in the way my own has.

Saving Private Ryan is one on the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen, but I never want to see it again, either. Before he died, my Grandfather saw the film and was shaken by it. “Nathan,” he said, “I’m sorry you had to see that. Your other grandfather and I fought that war so that you would never have to experience that. And now they’ve gone and put it on film. I don’t want to stand on the shores of Normandy ever again – even as experienced through film.” Well said, Grandfather.

Boyhood was recently nominated for a number of Academy Awards including Best Picture and a few best actor/actress nominations and I’m rooting for it to sweep all of its categories. But I’ll never see it again. You may have your own list of movies that made you say – “Wow, that was great, but never again.” Leave your picks in the comments and let the debate begin.


Related:  Movies That Make You Put Down the Remote (And Stay Up Way Too Late)