For the past month now I’ve been helping teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to Chinese students who reside in the city of Houston. Once a week I attend Crosspoint Lutheran church in Bellaire to assist in training Chinese natives in the basics of the English language in order to help them gain a better sense of prosperity in the United States along with preparing myself to teach at an English Camp in Pinghu, China this coming summer. I am very excited to be learning so much about the Chinese Culture and, slowly but surely, the Chinese language along with equipping myself with the necessary tools and experience to teach. Below are some photographs I took of last week’s class the day before the Chinese New Year. Normally we have a much larger class but due to the holiday festivities many of our students were probably away with family celebrating the on coming year of the Dragon. I am very excited to be a part of this wonderful opportunity to teach and look forward in continuing to share my journey with the rest of you. Enjoy the pictures and stay tuned for more to come!
Betty Cooke helps explain the week’s new Bible memory verse
Students range from adults of early 3o’s to late 40’s on up
We also include elementary students in our lessons!
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
As a visual artist—a rather idealistic one at that—finding Christ at the center of every frame, pixel, sound, and display of movement has inevitably revealed His perfect will and glory to me. No matter how hard I try, no matter how much I believe in myself, no matter what I put at stake, Christ forever shall remain the center of attention and focal point of my existence. Now, that hardly seemed sufficient to a very prideful, vain, and arrogant young man such as myself at first, but through my parents wisdom and instruction, through the wisdom of my heavenly Father, and by His salvation was that all undone, breaking me away from the bondage of sin, and granting me an eternal place in heaven as a child of the King humbly serving in His service and not my own.
The moment I realized my reality was not my own, my existence was not all left up to me, that my life did not belong to me, I was set free. I remember never being able to satisfy my desires, dreams, and wants because the vanity of the situation was all too clear—I was meant to be His and His alone; everything I set out to do must be for His glory and His alone, and once my whole life has finally chosen that path less traveled could all the difference be made in the world. Otherwise, I would aimlessly achieve only what the material world had to offer—absolutely nothing.
The happiness so many men and women waste their whole life searching for will never be found unless their mind is set on heavenly things. This is my mission, this is my purpose, and this is my life: to reveal to men the ever satisfying, perfect sustaining, wonderful savior Jesus Christ through whatever means necessary and by far the most effective. That is why I feel called to teach and enter the media industry. As Christ instructed His people in righteousness and taught through stories so do I feel the need and dream to do the same. To teach and show everyone around the world the wonderful saving grace of God, the unprecedented sacrifice He made for us all, and the perfect loving relationship we can have with Him and each other for all eternity.
As for the calling to go to China, witnessing lately the desperate search for answers to life’s greatest questions among the Chinese people, in the comfort of the States, constitutes my whole desire to go to their country of origin. I want to learn their language, their culture, their history, and find ways to better communicate the Gospel, teach them the English language, and show them the love of Christ along with my team. Up until this point, my evaluated experiences of the past has led me to this conclusion, but even more so the burning passion and desire within my heart that I can only know God has placed within me.
We are noble men and women of the risen King; for that may we feel nobly obliged to go and serve our almighty creator LORD and one another in unity and love for ever and ever. Amen.
Today I had the pleasure to work with once again my mentor, teacher, and friend, Rob Brayton. We were both immensely pleased to have the opportunity to bless the senior citizens of Grace Care center with photographs of Santa Claus. Each of them will be getting a copy just in time for Christmas to share amongst their families and care takers.
Rob Brayton is an experienced 2nd generation photographer with decades of study in digital engineering and the arts; his vision is to enrich the lives of people and business through visual storytelling in still and moving life portraiture—as is mine. He has taught me everything I know about film and photography and it is always an honor to work with him.
And of course the big guy himself, Santa Claus was a real treat to work with as well. He was able to bring so much joy to the citizens as they posed with the man of jolly and cheer making Christmas this year for the Grace Care center and its members a happy one indeed.
Call it a sabbatical if you will; I’d much prefer to look at it as if I fell into some vortex of a world that wasn’t necessarily perfect but pretty darn close. All year long I can remember myself praying, “Dear God, let me see mountains again!” Who knew He’d actually answer my prayer and not only give me a mere glimpse of them but actually allow me to live among them for twelve weeks! If that wasn’t enough, let me tell you about the food—if a man’s heart is truly won through his stomach, then I left my heart in Pegosa Springs along with the cooks. And then there were the people who ate the food with me: 30 students who I not only ate with but also studied with, worked with, played with, prayed with, laughed with, cried with, and truly lived with for three months. Such adventures we had and though I keep trying to remind myself that the end is only just the beginning, I honestly cannot believe it’s over . . .
There are some things in life I always want to remember and then there are some things I will never forget. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then not even a picture can express well enough what I felt while living in Colorado. Don’t get me wrong though. It’s wonderful being home again. Being back in the city, where this city boy probably belongs, I can tell how much I missed the rush of Houston traffic, the stress free life of a stay-at-home college student, the worry free . . . Who am I kidding? The answer is not at all! Still, it is very nice to be home again. And by home I mean where my heart truly lives among my family who all five brothers and one sister I call friends, and parents who I consider wise and wealthy with God’s providence. As much as I long to go back to the mountains, I’d be dragging them all up with me in a heartbeat if I knew that I could. But who knows? God knows and that’s enough to keep my hopes up. As fretful and anxious I may get from time to time, I know who controls my destiny. Ask a fellow minister of mine how to spell love and he’ll tell you, “T-I-M-E.”
So what about my work, my art in photography? Well, in the next several weeks I will be uploading a ton of photos to Flickr featuring most of my favoritest and bestest work from places as majestic as the Pegosa Spring Mountains, to as mystical as the Great Sand Dunes, and the misty Grand Canyon in winter. Also, I plan to feature some amazing HDR photos and a few portraitures I did so stay tuned for that as well.
And as for the world of video, I plan to upload a bunch of those too as long as I can manage time to edit and upload them all.
sigh of blissful content
I really can’t tell you how exactly I feel right now about everything. I feel amazing yet at the same time totally exhausted. I feel super happy and excited yet at the same time totally depressed. But I’m making due. It brings me overwhelming joy—which is quite possible to have when you’re feeling lonely and sad—to know how much my family and friends care about me. Though they may be near or far, I love each and every one of them with all my heart.
It really is good to be back . . .
And, as always, there will be plenty more to come!
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I actually thought my Summer would be more full of activity but lately it’s been mostly a time of waiting, patience, and spending most of my time with my family. In less than 24 hours I will be making my departure for Colorado Springs and hope to document my adventure every step of the way as I make pursuit in my much anticipated internship at Summit Ministries.
I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted any pictures too. The reality of that is I actually have been posting a lot of photographs. . . I just managed to overlook posting my best and favorite experiences on the website. To some avail, I hope that my beloved followers can still watch for my work on my Flickr profile and now you can start following a new experience of mine called 500px. Of course, I still intend to post much of my best work on the website, but I will also be posting a lot of my recent and best work on a very ingenious web-based portfolio by which you can start viewing at the following link.
In the mean time, I’ve also been working on my first Theatrical gig with Applause Theatre Company and hope to be posting some screen shots of my editing work along with a preview of the production itself. Plenty more details to come!
A friend of mine once quoted,
“The quickest way to make money with photography is to sell your camera”
Food for thought. . .
What I’m about to share with you is most of what I know in my heart about what makes a good photograph. It is something instilled so deep that I cannot simply give it away. It isn’t merely a gift either; it is a privilege, a pleasure, and an everyday pursuit of mastery. Keep in mind that these basic principles I am about to share are applicable in most if not all situations regardless of what type of camera you may have. Though I will say owning a camera with manual settings will reap the most benefits and most of what I will discuss pertains to digital photography while not so much as film.
Composition and Balance is key.
To obtain optimum exposure, the aperture and shutter speed must be balanced.
To tell a story, your composition must have depth.
These are two main goals of a photographer: know them well.
At first these steps may seem slow to follow one after another as you think about what to do next, but after awhile they will start to become second nature as you practice and you will begin to follow them almost subconsciously and in a much more fluid way. Before long you may find your self adjusting settings without even realizing it and had already taken the perfect shot.
There is a religious saying in digital photography of mine that goes,
“Always shoot RAW and always shoot manual”
One reason: Control.
Control: The more control you have over your camera, the light, and your subject, the better your photography will turn out. However, we cannot always be in as much control as we would like so we improvise, adapt, and prepare for what we cannot imagine because anything can happen and anything that can go wrong will.
Confidence: Be confident in taking your photos; make it your passion, and let the resonance of your passion swell and splash amongst everything around you. Let the very nature you capture hear you proclaim its beauty and how much you enjoy taking its picture.
Organization: look for patterns, symmetry, texture, lines, and depth. Photography already being a flat medium requires you to make it deeper than a piece of paper or an image on a screen. Naturally, photography tells a story—realistically, your composition only imitates life but it still can transport your audience only as effectively as your composition will allow. Each of the elements stated above can be used to direct attention and create a field of vision that encompasses the desired subject matter and story you wish to share.
Balance: Your exposure is based on two things: 1. Aperture and 2. Shutter speed. Let the dial in your view finder be your guide and find your balance between your chosen aperture and the shutter speed. Be willing to adapt and be knowledgeable of what works best in varying situations. When in the dark, the iris of our eye increases in size to let in more light and in direct sunlight it decreases in size; so should our camera’s aperture when adjusting to these situations. Timing of an exposure will also be crucial so be prepared to adjust your shutter speed as well and know that the longer the exposure the more motion blur will occur which can be both negative and positive depending on the shot.
White balance is also important. Understand that Sunlight and Artificial Light give off two different colors and we need to adjust our cameras accordingly–although there are automated settings, they don’t always turn out the best. The best way to avoid taking pictures with the wrong white balance is to know the proper settings and to shoot in RAW. Camera RAW samples an image at all temperatures of light (among other variable settings including exposure) and saves them into the memory allowing the user to manipulate the white balance later in post production.
Technology: Digital cameras are rather smart and have very helpful automated settings; however, they still lack the artistic vision of the complex human mind. The better we understand not how the technology works but rather how to use the technology to our advantage is most essential. Understanding ISO ratings for instance may help in low lit situations but also understanding that adjusting these settings can affect the quality of your image is also important. The higher your ISO, the more sensitive your sensor will become; the more sensitive your sensor becomes, the more likely it will make mistakes and create noise in your image degenerating the quality but allowing you to see better in the dark. For bright sunlight, try to use the lowest ISO possible, and for dark situations, use an ISO rating that develops the least amount of noise but still gives a bright and clear enough image. Touching back on automated settings, be able to know how to use both automatic and manual focus, and know that using “aperture priority” or “shutter priority” vs. going completely manual can save a lot of time and guess work–remember, “Balance is key.”
Creativity and Ascetic: Although art may be subjective, know where your inspiration comes from and why. Then let all that influences your life flow through you with ease and allow it to navigate your way into an artistic vision with an intending purpose. Use all that surrounds you, both in the past and present making note and borrowing what you can from others along the way. There is nothing new under the sun, so do not be afraid of originality or taking another’s idea—only be prepared to use your perfectly unique conscience to take your creativity and make it your own.
Make Mistakes: One of the only real ways to learn is to fail and to fail miserably. What’s important though is that you learn from your mistakes and keep on keeping on. It’s truly one of the best ways to learn because you can only get better as long as you elect to. And experimentation is always allowed. Though balance has been described up until this point as a critical aspect of a good photograph, allow your muse to turn the balance upside down every once in a while and reveal the world in a different light and with new perspective.
Collaboration: As much as it is important to have a sense of independence, self-reliance, and self-respect, know who your community is and let them be a part of your artistic family. Although the thought of competition at times may seem brutal, your willingness to collaborate and learn from others will be most beneficial along with a diverse network of talented individuals who will refer your credibility.
Remember to be in control and confident about your work; you must be passionate! Be organized and balanced; you must be ready for anything! Know that technology is every bit a part of our organic body and understand its limit of creativity–being creative is believing you are unique and capable of incredible imaginative vision that only your conscience possesses and be willing to share it with the entire world. Know these things, understand these things, and believe in your abilities.
Finally, wisdom comes from experience so go and do.
Of course, I wish you the best and godspeed.
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (NKJ)