Thanksgiving Top 5 (2015 edition)

One of the blessings of freelance work is the variety of jobs I get to do and the variety of people I get to work with. Each Thanksgiving it’s become a tradition for me to choose five projects from the past year that I’m particularly grateful for. This tradition gives me an opportunity to review my year, remember my work, and reflect on the good people in my life.

So, these are the…

Thanksgiving 2015 Top Five Projects I was Thankful to Work On

Deer Creek Christian School branding

Thanksgiving 2015Deer Creek is a small private school that had to re-think its identity in order to thrive rather than simply survive. By the time they contacted me, they had already done much of the groundwork—the key constituents had already been discussing values, vision, mission, distinctives, buy-in, and “living the brand.” They just needed help communicating it all. We started with business cards and then discussed the benefits and costs of direct mail, a quarterly newsletter, and social media. Their budget is small, but their dreams are big. Brainstorming with them was a reminder that a brand can succeed independent of budget, that investing in people doesn’t have to cost money, and that the process is as important as the goal.

Thank you Deer Creek!

Dying Like Jesus

It’s a real treat for me to work with someone who has his own ideas but also respects mine, because then a project becomes a true collaboration. Chris Spoor is an old friend, my former pastor, and a retired hospice chaplain. He began working on a book for people facing death, and he came to me for help editing the manuscript so he could submit it to publishers. We had many email conversations, but we also scheduled a number of phone calls—because Chris often wanted to discuss what I was doing to his book. Sometimes he disagreed with my editing choices. Sometimes he just wanted to understand my reasoning. And sometimes I had to re-think my editing when I heard what he was really trying to communicate. Through it all, because of our mutual respect, we were each able to contribute our best work, and no one’s ego got in the way.

By the way, the title is one example of how this kind of collaboration plays out. Chris did not have a title on his manuscript, and he was open to suggestions. I put Dying Like Jesus forth as a possibility. Chris wasn’t thrilled with it, but we used it on a couple of the submission proposals we sent in. Later, Chris suggested Seven Words for the End of Life as a title. I don’t think it has the same intrigue as Dying Like Jesus, but I’m willing to live with it for a while and see if it grows on me. Neither of us knows yet what the final title will be. Chris and I work well together because we both want what’s best for the book, and we both respect each other’s strengths. That kind of collaboration is rare, and I really appreciate it.

Thank you, Chris!

Living Springs sermon series slides

I maintain the website for Living Springs Community Church, and that gives me the opportunity to create banner ads for each new series of messages. Now, I don’t consider myself a “real” designer. That is, I don’t draw or paint or create my own designs. But I do like taking pieces of existing images and combining them to create something new, and I like choosing fonts that contribute to the message. The banners below are a few of my favorite creations from the past year:

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

I don’t often get a lot of lead time to create a banner, and sometimes the descriptions are kind of sparse. But Living Springs trusts me to work with whatever they give me and come up with something. (In fact, one of the pastors told me he’s always eager to see what I come up with!) There’s no routing process or approval committee, and I appreciate the freedom to just do my best to create a visual representation of an intangible concept.

Thank you, Living Springs!

Medi-Mex brochure

Thanksgiving 2015When a friend and former co-worker asked me about updating a brochure for a nonprofit that provides medical supplies to impoverished areas of Mexico, she sent me as much resource as possible—their existing brochure, their Facebook page, a recent newsletter, and an explanation about the process their board would go through to accept and approve a new brochure. All of that, plus my own experiences in Mexico and with nonprofits, helped me write a brochure that uses story to connect donors and volunteers with the people who receive the supplies they bring.

I was given plenty of lead time, which is really helpful. In fact, the brochure pictured at right is only the first draft that I sent back in time for a December board meeting. I enjoyed the work I’ve done so far—playing with different type treatments, choosing compelling photos, and telling the Medi-Mex story in a new way that I think will be effective. Plus, it’s always fun to work with old friends.

Thank you, Michelle!

Oak Tree Leadership website

Thanksgiving 2015Sometimes, it’s just fun to clean up code! When Jason Perry gave me access to his website, I could see that the code behind it was a mess. I spent a few hours sorting it out and cleaning it up, which I found strangely gratifying. Along the way, with Jason’s permission, I simplified and clarified his message by pruning duplicate information and organizing his many projects into logical categories. And I designed a less literal banner image (again by combining existing images and fonts) that conveys growth and leadership, with a new tagline that has dual layers of meaning.

Thanksgiving 2015
(previous header image)

Working on websites is fun because the results are immediate and visual. Page by page I could see the difference I was making, and the end result was a clearer message via a more efficient website.

Thank you, Jason!

Other thanks

My Top 5 list never contains all the projects I work on in a given year. I hope you know that though my list is short, my gratitude is not. My thanks extends to all the interesting people who have requested my help with their interesting projects this year. I am grateful for the work, but mostly I appreciate your trust. Thank you.

I’m grateful, too, to all of you readers, subscribers, commenters, and friends who make up my online community. That community is very real to me, and I thank you for it.

My Thanksgiving prayer for all of you is that your tables will be filled with more than you need, your homes will ring with laughter and love, and your hearts will respond by blessing someone else even more generously.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!


Moment Case for iPhone 6

Moment_570A couple months ago I invested in an iPhone case made by Moment, the same people who make the Moment telephoto lens I use so much. I think Moment is a quality company, and I’ve had good interactions with them. The video and other information on the Kickstarter page for their Moment Case project intrigued me enough that I signed up to be notified when the case was finally produced.

Even though the basic case came in at a price of $70 (it has since been reduced), my previous experience with Moment convinced me to give it a try.

Solid lens mount

Moment_300Obviously, the Moment Case is designed to work with Moment lenses. Not only does it provide a more solid version of the bayonet mounting the lenses screw into, but it also transforms your phone into something that feels more like a camera. For example, the case makes your iPhone’s on/off button work as a shutter button—in fact, you can even press it halfway down to focus, just like you would a traditional digital camera. The button feature is powered by a battery you insert into the case, and the button talks to your phone via bluetooth.

Interconnected electronics

Moment_400Somehow, the battery and bluetooth that are part of the case work with the free Moment app (which you can also use independent of the case). The app gives you finer control over not just focus, but also exposure, white point, and tones. The app also “pairs” with whatever Moment lens you screw into the mount—wide, telephoto, or macro—and somehow makes adjustments accordingly. I had gotten out of the habit of using the Moment app because the first version did not allow the two-finger zoom we’re all used to. Moment 2.2 however does, so I plan to go back to using it, as the app does seem to produce crisper, sharper images than my regular iPhone camera app.

Good grippy-ness

Moment-back_400The case is solid and well made. It adds enough bulk to your phone that you can grip it more firmly while taking pictures one-handed. But it’s still slim enough that you can slip your phone into your pocket. And the rubber-like texture keeps it from feeling slippery when your hands are sweaty, greasy, or numb with cold. If you do happen to drop it, the woolen, felt-like material that forms the interior of the case adds a layer of padded protection.

Recommended for sincere-but-not-quite-professional photographers

I think my Moment Case is a well-made piece of technology that solves some real problems that real people experience when they use the camera that is most likely to be with them all the time. The case has a lot of features I don’t use—because I’m just a photography hack, and I don’t understand what those features do. Even so, it is straightforward and reliable.

If you’re a hack like me, you might not think it’s worth it to invest $70 in an iPhone case. But if your iPhone is the only camera you have, and you want to get the most out of it, I recommend taking a look at what Moment has to offer. Maybe start by downloading the free Moment App and playing around with it. Sign up for the Momentist blog to read about what other phone photographers are doing. As you start to see what Moment can do for you, you might find yourself drawn to their lenses, cases, and other accessories. They are all quality products that are advanced yet simple to use.

Cheap, easy photo editing: A short review of Noiseless

It’s a small app that makes a big difference. Not just in my photos, but also in the time I have to spend on them.

review of noiselessNoiseless is the name of a little program by Macphun that I recently bought, downloaded, and started using on the old grainy slides and scanned photos that were the main content of the family photo book I recently completed for a client. It really saved me a lot of time—and therefore it saved my client a lot of money.

Noisy photos

Digital noise is a problem particularly in photos taken in low light or at low resolution. Typically, I use Photoshop’s Filters and Adjustments options to eliminate noise, but it’s a tedious process. The goal in this kind of editing is to reduce the noise but preserve the detail, and that can be a difficult balance to find.

Noiseless does it all in one swipe. Easy.

Wanna see?

review noiseless
The print I have of this photo is a copy of someone else’s 20-year-old point-and-shoot original, and I scanned it on a low-quality scanner. Lots of noise.
noiseless review
I opened the image in Noiseless and applied the “Extreme” preset. I was worried about losing too much detail around the tentacles on this rambutan (an Indonesian fruit), but they came out pretty well. And my fingers look awesome!


A true review of Noiseless might go into detail about how the software works, what your settings options are, and the actual process of using it. But I’m going to cut to the chase: It works. And it’s easy.


It’s also cheap. I bought Noiseless for only $14.99, and later I saw it in the app store for $9.99 (doh!). There is also a Pro version for $59.99 that can be used as a plugin for programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture, as well as a standalone app.

I recommend Noiseless

If you have old JPEGs that were scanned at lo-res, or you tend to take a lot of pictures at dusk, I recommend Noiseless as a cheap, easy way to eliminate digital noise and improve your images.

You can do it yourself

I found myself in conversation the other day with a woman who was frustrated that her condo association was considering hiring a professional management company. “Why should we pay someone else all that money when we can just do it ourselves?” she said somewhat angrily.

I don’t know that much about condo associations or professional management companies, but I suggested that maybe a professional manager would have more knowledge and experience than the volunteers in her association have. “Pshaw,” she said. (That’s really what she said!) “Isn’t all of that knowledge on the internet now? Can’t we just go online and find out whatever we need to know?”

This line of reasoning was a little amusing to me, since it was coming from a woman who doesn’t even own a computer, but I agreed that the internet does make a vast ocean of knowledge accessible to everyone. “It’s true,” I told her. “If I wanted to change my own oil, I’m sure I could do it. I could Google it, and find a YouTube video, and watch all the steps, and figure it out, and do it myself. The knowledge is available, and I’m perfectly capable.

“But, frankly, it’s worth it to me to pay someone else to do it. Someone who has all the equipment, and all the experience. Someone who can do the job better and faster than I can. It’s worth it to me to pay a professional.”

“Well, that’s true,” she said.

Maybe you don’t need a writer

do it yourselfThe same argument applies to writing. You can do it yourself. You know how to write. You learned it in grade school! You’ve been doing it all your life!

Why hire a professional?

I understand. You can do it yourself. The knowledge is available.

But for those of you who don’t want to sort through Google results each time you need to use its or it’s, you might find it’s worth it to hire a professional.

(I’m just a click away.)


Cost and value
Poor writing costs