Readers Photo Challenge: Open season

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment was an open one meaning the choice of subject matter was up to each photographer. Many chose to send in images of the natural world like landscapes and sunsets/sunrises. There were quite of few of animals, whether wild or pets. Children were also a popular subject.

Twenty-five readers sent in a whopping 148 photos. Here are the top picks.


As the saying goes “the early bird gets the worm,” or in Stockton resident Steven Rapaport’s case, gets the picture. Rapaport captured a beautiful sunrise on Eight Mile Road at White Slough in Stockton with his Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera. The ground is glistening with the remnants of an overnight rain shower and overhead the breaking storm clouds are painted with the morning’s warm glow. The picture has subtlety of tones and colors, yet also a dramatic impact at the same time.


Dave Skinner of Stockton is also an early riser. He used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera to photograph a sandhill crane in a flooded field at Staten Island near Walnut Grove. The surrounding water is imbued with the color of the golden sunrise as the crane, silhouetted against the warm morning light, gracefully wades in the shallow water.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp photographed his 10-year-old granddaughter Josephine Ceja as she sits on a bench on his porch. Using a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera he got her as she raised her hand to make it look like she’s holding the setting sun peeking out from beneath some dramatic storm clouds. Ratekin used a fill-flash technique, using a flash during the day, to illuminate the shadows.


Janet Baniewich of Stockton used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to photograph a man looking at a Christmas tree on a rainy night at Union Square in San Francisco. Just enough light passed through the umbrella to just make out the silhouette of the man while the tree’s festive lights are reflected in the wet ground.


There’s an old adage in show business attributed to comedian W.C Fields that goes “never work with children or animals,” meaning that they can upstage the star. However, if they are the main subject of your picture then their inherent cuteness can work for you.

Valerie Loza of Stockton used an Apple iPhone to photograph her 6-year-old granddaughter Nora Perez and her puppy Nana at her home. Loza got in close to the pooch and child as they crouched down on her carpeted floor to capture their adorableness.


Frank Whitney of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 7 Plus to photograph his granddaughters Addisyn Whitney, 5, and Brooklyn Whitney, 3, as they waited for the Polar Express train ride in Jamestown. His photo has an anticipatory quality as the children wait to start a Christmas adventure.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph 2-month-old Calvin White of San Francisco. Asked to take a portrait of the infant by his grandmother, Spurgeon arrived at her home prepared to used artificial light but saw that there was a large picture window in the living room. She used the soft natural light coming through the window to create a gentle picture of the baby.


Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph blackberry vines near Clements. A blaze of color in the leaves that have turned to their fall colors pops out against the green of those that have yet to turn and the brown to those that have fallen from the vines and faded to brown.


Color is what Stockton resident Susan Scott’s photo is all about. She used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph the leaves of a flowering pear tree in her front yard. The images is awash in the orange-red of the tree’s fall colors and that of its small perfunctory fruit.


Donn Sperry of Stockton used an Apple iPhone SE to photograph the sunset at Buckley Cove in Stockton. Sperry use the branches of a tree in the foreground frames the subtle tones of the storm clouds as the sun sets.


Normally a photographer can only have 1 top pick photo chosen per challenge assignment but Steven Rapaport deserves a little extra recognition. Most people shy away from taking pictures of people, especially candid ones. Rapaport was substitute teaching at Kohl Open School in Stockton when he shot this picture of 3 students working on a supplemental English program in class. His shot shows them engaged in their activity seeming without awareness of or care for the camera.


All of the entries can be seen in an online gallery at The challenge will be taking a bit of a break for a few weeks. A new assignment will be issued on January 8.

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In defense of the center

In photography there’s very few things that fall under “always do this” or “never do that.” One of the things that seems to have become an absolute over time is “never put your subject at the center of the picture.”

The goal of every composition should be to lead the viewer’s eye its subject in an interesting, yet efficient way. The reason that some advise against the middle is that pictures centering the subject can look a bit static and boring.

The rule of thirds, golden ratio and other techniques were created in part to address keeping your subject out of the middle, but all “rules” of composition are less like laws written in stone and more like guidelines. There are some times that putting your main focus in the center can work for you. Centering your subject is good for those configurations that are, or nearly are, symmetrical.

True center.

One of the problems that having the subject dead center in your photograph is that many times it’s combined with another photographic sin: being too far away. Not being close enough is a common problem that exacerbates the boring effect of centering. You don’t want to a lot of space for the viewer’s eye to wanter around. If you’re going to center you subject, then make sure that you fill the frame with it.

If you have a subject in motion, a bird in flight perhaps, you can center it with your fine-feathered friend going left to right (or vice versa). It’ll give the impression that the direction it’s headed in has a little more visual “weight.”

You can also have leading lines directing the composition to the subject at the center. Think the converging lines of railroad tracks or lines on a road leading off into the distance, for example.

You can also create a visually asymmetrical look with a center subject by adding other elements to one side or another. Maybe an off-centered shadow or reflection can throw more weight to one side of the image. Foreground or background elements can have the same effect as long as they aren’t too distracting.

The off-center center.

It may sound like an contradiction, but you can have a centered subject that’s not completely centered. That’s there are two dimensions to a photograph: Height and width. You can have your subject in the middle of one and off-center in the other. Place your subject at the center of the frame horizontally then position it/him/her below or above the centerline vertically, or the other way around, then you can have your cake and eat it too.

Centering gets a bad rap, sometimes deservedly so, but with a little thought and practice you make it an important part of your compositional skillset.

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Learning from the ordinary

Jim Richardson is a renowned photographer of incredible talent. His credits include the Topeka (Kansas) Capital-Journal and freelancing for publications such as Time, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times. In the last last half of his career he’s been a photographer with National Geographic for which he’s produced 30 stories. He’s certainly accomplished and established in the photography firmament but there is a quote that’s attributed to him that I humbly take issue with.

He’s reported to have said: “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” This may have some truths for an advanced photographers, but, with all due respect, for those at the beginning to intermediate levels, I think it’s ill-advised advice.

It means that you as a photographer will be letting your subject determine whether a picture will be good and not your ability to photograph that subject.

I would posit that the opposite of Richardson’s quote stands even more true…”If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of boring stuff.”

A subject that’s, uninteresting, at least at first glance, will help you to explore it’s photographic potential for great pictures.

You could try using different lighting or view it at a different time of day. Using a different lenses can help you look at a subject from multiple perspectives. Perhaps placing the subject in a different setting can make more picturesque. It could be that you need to look at your subject from a different angle or vantage points. The idea is not to just rely on the “quality” or strength of your subject. While it requires time and patience, you should to work a situation to get the best shot possible.

For found situations this helps develop your “eye” so that you can spot things that are unusual or eye-catching. For created photos such as a still life it will help you to build and compose your image thoughtfully.

When you’ve mastered the ability to find the extraordinary out of every day or even boring subjects, then you can make photos of ones that are interesting all that much better.


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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Your choice

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be an open one, meaning that the choice of subject is up to you.

You can approach it in a couple of ways. First, you can shoot something that interests you. If you like landscapes, then a quick trip to the foothills or out to the Delta can be the places you where you look for your photos. The same if you like to shoot critters in the wild.

Maybe portraits are your thing. Those can be shot almost anywhere but look for a nice, scenic background. The University of the Pacific or Micke Grove Park are 2 great examples of locations to take a portrait.

If like to shoot sports, then you’d better hurry. Many high school sports are winding down right about now.

If these and the myriad of other subjects are your cup of tea, then make sure you use the basic photo techniques to get a great shot. Get in close and fill the frame with your subject. Watch for distracting things in the background, look for or use interesting/good light and use a good composition.

This is also an opportunity to do something that you haven’t done before or need practice shooting. Say photographing people isn’t your thing. Grab a friend, family member or even a stranger and ask them to pose for a picture for you (I like photos of people, so extra consideration will be given tp images with people in them).

Maybe you’ve never done a night shot before. Go out to someplace that’s away from the city lights, put your camera on a tripod and play around with exposures in the 10 to 30 second range.

Perhaps you like shooting cityscapes but don’t get an opportunity to do it very often. Give yourself an excuse to wander the city on a self-imposed photo walk.

Whatever you chose to do and however you chose to do it, have fun with this assignment. After all, the subject is your choice.

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Open” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between November 20 to December 4.

3. The number of photos is limited to no more than 12 per person

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of phone you used and where it was taken (eg.: “John Doe of Stockton. Micke Grove Park, Lodi. iPhone6s”)

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos (eg.: Jane Doe, 6, plays on the playground equipment at Victory Park in Stockton).

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is Tuesday, December 4. The top examples will be published on Tuesday, December 11 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Raders Photo Challenge: Pumpkins

Pumpkins are the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge. They are not only the symbol of Halloween, but of fall in general as well. Their bright orange color and rounded, ribbed shape are a part of their visual appeal.

Nine readers sent in a total of 40 photos. Here are the top examples.


Anthony Mignone of Stockton came across a herd of cows having a snack of leftover pumpkins in a pasture along Airport Road in Manteca a few days after Halloween. He used a Samsung J7 Prime Phone to photograph them through a nearby fence which he used to frame the bovines and pumpkins.


While most people concerned themselves with the outer appearance of their pumpkins, Susan Scott of Stockton decide to capture the inner essence of one. She used her Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph the insides of a pumpkin that she was carving at her home. Her close-up photo makes the interior of the gourd look like a yellow-orange cavern with it’s inners and seeds looking like other-worldly stalactites.


Carrie Walker of Stockton used an Apple iPad to photograph her brother Bill Walker’s hands as he carved some Halloween pumpkins. Her photo shows that a detail shot can be as telling as an overall one.


French Camp resident Mike Ratekin’s grandson Andrew Gonzalez was born on Halloween. Ratekin and his wife Josephine bought and gathered some items with a fall motif and headed to hospital to commemorate the birth. Josephine dressed Andrew up in Halloween-themed clothes and placed him on a autumn-colored blanket with a small pumpkin and a few fall leaves. Mike Ratekin used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera to photograph their newest grandson who was all of 3 hours old.


Sometimes there are pictures that just make you chuckle. Ken Class of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph an old metal buoy painted like a jack-o-lantern greeting Halloween revelers near Thornton.


All of the photos entered can be seen in an online gallery at A new challenge assignment will be issued on November 20.

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October outtakes

“In the entire circle of the year there are no days so delightful as those of a fine October.” – Alexander Smith

October is over and with it the harvest moon and Halloween. Here are 10 of my favorite photos from 2018’s 10th month.








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Spiraling under control

People may think that artistic compositions are grown out of an organic sense of aesthetics but there is one technique that is rooted in mathematics. It’s called the Fibonacci Sequence. Or the Golden Mean. Or the Phi ratio. Or the…it actually has a half dozen or so names. I learned it as the Golden Spiral.

It’s based on the infinite phi (1.618…) and takes in the sum of the 2 previous numbers in the sequence. There is a mathematical formula to the sequence, but since math was my weakest subject in school, I won’t try to explain it here.

Visually it is expressed in a line that spreads out exponentially from a central point in an ever expanding spiral.

The golden spiral is also found in nature. Think the spiral of of the nautilus and its spirally-shaped shell. It is also the corkscrew-shape of out Milky Way galaxy or scroll of the cochlea of the inner ear. Throughout the ages artists have used the Golden Spiral as a compositional aid in art.

Whereas the rule of thirds, where you place the subject in either the right or left third of the frame, can sometimes look a bit forced, the Golden Spiral can be a little more natural looking.

When you place your main subject or point of interest at the starting point and then place other things that have a relationship to the subject along the line of the spiral, it can help to lead the viewer’s eye to your central point. You can assemble elements of your photo yourself like in a still life or portrait using the Golden Spiral or you can use it in a found photo. The latter is a little more difficult because you probably won’t be able to move any of the elements of a found scene. You’ll have to move yourself, sometimes a lot, other times just as little an inch one way or another.

Like anything else, using the Golden Spiral effectively takes practice. Don’t worry about the math, it doesn’t really matter. Just imagine the spiral in your head. Slow down, look at the scene you want to photograph carefully. Sometimes can see it easily, other times it may be a bit more difficult. But over time you can go beyond the math and it can become second nature to you.

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The last run

The Record’s TKS web press ran for its last time on the night of October 20.

The press was first run in late April of 2005. The Record’s then-corporate owners Ottaway replaced an old Goss press which dated back to the 1950s.

For the photographers it was a welcome change. The Goss machine was what was known as a letterpress system. It used raised type for words and tiny raised dots to reproduce the photos. It was adequate for black and white photos but for color pictures, which we started to do regularly in the 1990s, the story was different.

To print color pictures, an additive 4-color process (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) where each color ink is laid down atop of the next, is used. The old Goss wasn’t really designed for this. Lining up each color (known as registration in newspaper parlance), was difficult to do accurately.

The newer TKS press was an offset press. It used plates that were smooth to the touch. It employed the concept of water and oil not mixing. Oil-based inks would adhere to the image areas of the plate and water to stick to the non-image areas. The system could handle more detail with greater accuracy than the old Goss press ever could.

Newspaper presses are huge machines. The TKS stands nearly 3-stories tall and half a city block long. Ottaway not only installed the press but also a new state-of-the-art mailroom system (the mailroom is where the paper is packaged form delivery) and built a new building around all of it. It was our pride and joy.

There were some birthing pains with the first couple of runs of the TKS press but once the pressmen got the hang of it, it’s been relatively smooth sailing ever since.

I never really got to know the press guys. Their day would start late at night, hours after even my latest shift would end. But I came to quickly appreciate their efforts. Through their hard work the photos in the paper looked very close to how I shot them. In short, day in and day out, they made me look good. Though I never got to tell them, I appreciated their hard work.

Our new corporate owners, Gatehouse, decided to shut down the TKS press, citing cost-cutting reasons. The newspaper is now printed in Sacramento and trucked to Stockton. 40 pressmen and mailroom employees lost their jobs.

I was there on the press’s last run as were other current and former employees. The Record’s former publisher Roger Coover and current publisher Deitra Kenoly were also on hand. It was like gathering to say goodbye to an old friend.

The pressmen were upbeat when they got to work at about 11:00 p.m. They installed the plates and prepared the giant rolls of paper to be run through the press.

Kenoly got to press the button to start the last run. It was then I realized that the newspaper as such only existed as photons on a screen or ones and zeros in a computer until the moment that the press started. Then it became a physical thing than you can hold in your hands. A newspaper, created by journalists and crafted by people running the press.

The press wound up slowly at first, like a slow jog, then worked its way up to a steady trot. Soon it was like a galloping horse set free to run. It was quite something to see and hear. The print on continuous sheet of paper was a blur and sound of the machinery was not unlike a diesel locomotive running in open country.

The pressmen occasionally grabbed a finished paper from a conveyor that came off of the press. The inspected the pages look to see it there was too much ink here or too little there. From the control room they pressed buttons on a panel to fine tune the press’s run.

At about 1:00 a.m. the run was over and the press slowly wound down. In the last edition of The Record to come off of the TKS, I had photos on page 1, local and sports. The pressmen did their work for the last time, efficiently, professionally and without any maudlin bitterness, as they always have, and once again made me look good.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: The great pumpkin hunt

The subject for the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is inspired by the harvest season: Pumpkins.

Halloween will be smack dab in the middle of the challenge so obviously jack-o-lanterns will be a natural subject. Try shooting them at night while lit up from the inside. It could make for a spooky shot. Don’t forget about photos of the jack-o-lanterns being made. Pictures of kids carving their own pumpkin can make cute images.

Speaking of kids, photographing them at a pumpkin patch picking out the perfect one can make for adorable pictures.

Try to avoid front lighting. It can make the pumpkin, essentials an orb, flat looking. Instead use side-lighting where the light comes from the left or right. This will help to give the pumpkin some shape, emphasizing its roundness. It will also bring out the vertical longitudinal lines of the pumpkin and add texture to the image.

The traditional smooth pumpkin isn’t the only kind. There are plenty of varieties that can provide you with many different textures and colors.

Halloween isn’t the only reason for pictures of pumpkins. As I said, this is the harvest season and pumpkins are a symbols of it. Many are used a outdoor decorations as well as parts of table centerpieces.

Whether you shoot them as a still life, a part of a landscape or as props in a portrait, make sure that pumpkins are the reasons for the season and for your photos.

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed as a jpeg attachment to Type in “Pumpkins” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between October 23 and November 6.

3. The number of photos is limited to no more than 12 per person

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of phone you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe of Stockton. Shot at Lodi Lake Park, Lodi. With an iPhone 6s”)

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos. (“Jimmy Doe of Stockton, 8, carves a pumpkin at his home”)

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is Tuesday, November 6 . The top examples will be published on Tuesday, November 13 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Oh, what a day!

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment is called “A Day in the Life Of.” For this challenge participants could pick any subject then wanted but with one caveat: The photos had to be shot on a specific day: Saturday, October 6. Some people got up early, a few others stayed up late and a couple shot through the day.

I expected most of the photos to be of Stockton and San Joaquin County, which the bulk of them were, but there a few were from out of state and there were even some from Mexico, which gave a bit of an international flavor to the assignment.

Twenty-one readers sent in 159 photos. Here a some of the top examples.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada got up early for her “day in the life of” photo. She used a Nikon D7200 DSLR camera to photograph the start of the Second Annual Morada Fire K Fun Run at Davis Elementary School at about 8:45 a.m. in Morada. One gets a sense of enthusiasm of the participants. The low angle of the sun creates nice light and long shadows.


Anthony Mignone of Stockton took his photo at about midday. He used a Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR camera to photograph his 6-year-old son Landon as he played on the playground equipment at Victory Park in Stockton. Mignone captures the playful energy of children at play.


In the afternoon Lillian McDonell of Stockton took a trip with her husband Dave and son Scott for a car show. At about 2:30 p.m. she used an Apple iPhone 6s to photograph them reflected in the reflection of a shiny hubcap while they were checking out the other cars the show.


Anne McCaughey of Stockton spent the late afternoon at a porch party at the home of Mikal Hoover in Stockton. Light streaming in through some blinds on the porch lights up a puff of smoke as Hoover smokes a pipe during the event.

McCaughey also got another shot from the party she was at. The late afternoon light hit an empty glass cup on a table and the cup’s cut design refracted the light and created a design of light onto the table.


Joseph Hey of Stockton took his photo during sunset at Lake Tahoe. At about 6:30 p.m., he used his Samsung G7 smartphone to captured giant clouds being painted with warm light as they hovered over the lake.

Hey got another shot later in the night of a tree next to a 2-story building. A security light from the building shone on the tree, lighting up its bare branches. Set against the dark of the night with some of the branches disappearing into the void, the scene is creepy ready for Halloween.


Carrie Walker has organized a photo walk in different locations over the past few years. This time the walk, set in downtown Stockton, coincided with the “day in the life of” challenge. Walker used a Nikon Coolpix P100 EFV point-and-shoot camera to photograph walk participant Ed Lindquist of Galt near St. Mary’s Church in downtown Stockton.

Carrie Walker also photographed the historic California Building in downtown Stockton. Shooting with an Apple iPad, she got close to the base of the building and shot upwards. The extreme angle added to the 134-ft height off the building creates an interesting distortion and a 3-point perspective.


Steven Rapaport of Stockton was on a trip to Washington D.C. on Oct. 6. And took an early photo walk around the city and sent in several photos. With his Canon EOS 5D mk IV DSLR camera he caught the Capital Rowing Club navigating the muddy waters of Anacostia River as they passed under the John Phillips Sousa Bridge.

Later in the day Rapaport shot artist Robert Jackson creating a painting on wood at the Eastern Market street fair in Washington, D.C. I was a classic example of an environmental portrait of an artisan at his craft.


Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph Carla Halford of Jackson, CA. working on her butterfly stroke during her Saturday morning swimming class at New York Fitness in Jackson.

Later Silva photographed Jeremy Monson of Elk Grove, left, Chris Garbarini of Ione, Donna Jackson of Lathrop, Yolanda Bennett of Ione and Lizzie Garbarini of Ione dressed in a Halloween costumes looking like a cross between the casts of Sweeney Todd and the Walking Dead at the Ione Business & Community Association Harvest Faire in Ione.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton, a frequent contributor to the challenge, is now attending the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. She used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph a single leaf sitting on a stump at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife refuge near Stevensville, Montana. The leaf’s bright yellow color stands out against the neutral grey of the wood.


Tameka Hopkins of Stockton used a Nikon D4300 DSLR camera to capture the joy on her 23-year-old daughter Imani’s face as she went for a “swim” in the marshmallow pit at Candytopia in San Francisco.


Joan Erreca of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 7 Plus to catch a quiet moment of her 2-year-old granddaughter Marian Erreca at the Letson Farms Community Playground in Bessemer, Alabama.


Erv Rifenburg of Lodi used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph his 4-year-old grandson Luke Rifenburg and his yellow lab Penny at his ranchette near Lockeford.


It’s easy to concentrate on the big things like sunsets and tall buildings for your photo subjects but Dave Skinner of Stockton didn’t forget about the little things. Skinner used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera to photograph a variegated meadowhawk dragonfly perched on a dried tule reed at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton.


Holly Stone of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph her 3-year-old grandson Jeff Stone having fun on a ride at the Manteca Pumpkin Fair.


Linda Wells-Hott of Stockton used a Canon PowerShot S5 IS EVF digital point-and-shoot camera to photograph Belinda Doleman of Oxnard, who went with Wells-Hott on vacation, enjoying one of the many pools at the Hard Rock Hotel in Cancun. The photos shows Doleman smiling and obviously having a great time while relaxing in the pool.


Janet Baniewich of Stockton used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to photograph some curbside weeds near her home. The weeds, long since dead, are dried and withered. Their light tone stands out against the darkness of the curb’s shadow.


All of the photos are in an online gallery at Stay tuned for a new assignment on Oct. 23.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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