Experience your experiences

On May 22 I photographed former President Bill Clinton’s campaign stop for his wife Hillary at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Stockton. About 700 people were jammed into the center’s exhibition hall. I shot the event from with the rest of the media from a press riser at the back of the room and another set off to the right of the main stage.

The event proceeded like pretty much most other political rallies. A series of local dignitaries get up to the podium to speak each saying things in of support for their candidate and against their opponent. Finally the keynote speaker is introduced, in this case President Clinton.

Clinton spoke for about a half hour or so before leaving the stage. He then shook hands and posed for pictures with people as he worked the crowd behind a rope barrier at the front of the stage.

There were too many people in the way to get a shot of Clinton from either of the risers, so I decided to get closer. It was too densely packed where Clinton immediately was. I saw that he was slowly working his way towards stage left where there were fewer people so that’s where I went to plant myself to wait for the former president to make his way there.

There were fewer people on that side but it was still very crowded. I managed to get about 3 or 4 people back from the front.As Clinton approached one young man in front of me and slightly to the left turned his back to the former president. At first I thought it may have been some sort of protest. But he smiled and raised his cellphone when Clinton passed behind him, shaking hands with other spectators, to take a selfie. He was close enough to reach out and shake his hand and could have easily done so but decided to take a picture instead.

A recent study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that that people taking pictures of an event may actually enhance their enjoyment of the event. Researchers conducted a series of experiments involving 2,000 subjects in taking photos of different activities. They found that the subjects tended to be more engaged in the activity if they took pictures of it.

There was one caveat though. The subjects’ enjoyment was not enhanced if they were actively participating in the experience. For example in one experiment participants were asked to either do an arts and crafts project or to merely observe it. While the observers did experience increased enjoyment when taking pictures, those who participated in the activity did not when they took pictures of the same event.

At the Clinton event, most of the spectators were not able to get close enough to say a few words with him or shake his hands so taking pictures was probably the best they could do. But the young man who took the selfie would have most likely been better off had he just reached out to make a brief connection with the former president.

As a photographer I’m all for taking pictures but there’s an appropriate time and place for everything. Don’t miss out on participating in life rather than just photographing them.

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What’s inside

When I was a young community college photo student I disassembled a 200mm lens. Several weeks earlier a fellow student did it to one of his lenses after he fell and dunked it into the water during a week-long field trip to Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove. Sand and salt water are the two worst things for any piece of photographic equipment. They will corrode and eat away at the inner workings of a lens. It’s best to get it cleaned out as soon as possible. When I stopped by the fellow student’s hotel room a little while later I saw that he had completely taken apart the lens. The parts were laid out on a towel on a table and he was carefully cleaning them piece by piece.

A while later, I had noticed some dust floating around inside the lens and it kind of bugged me, so I decided to get in there to clean it out (I didn’t know then that a little bit of dust inside the lens doesn’t really affect image quality).

I thought, how hard could it be? It looked fairly straightforward (little did I know at the time that the other student was literally a card-carrying member of the high IQ society MENSA). There were just a few very small screws on the lens mount at the base of the lens. I took apart the lens with relative ease and used a can of compressed air to blow out the dust.

It turns out taking a lens apart wasn’t the hard part. Putting it back together again was the problem. Everything seemed to fit the way it was supposed to and there weren’t any left over parts but I couldn’t get the lens to work the way it was supposed to. While I could still focus the lens, the aperture mechanism wouldn’t work. I took it apart and put it together again a couple of times before giving up.

I had to spend good money to have the lens fix at a camera repair shot. The worst part was the embarrassment of having to explain to them what happened. I guessed that they got a lot of people who did what I did because, to their credit, they didn’t say anything.

That was back in the days of the old manual focus lenses. Today’s lenses are even more complicated. I addition to having the same kinds of elements of the older lenses, there’s the addition of autofocus gears and motors as well as he electronic connections for the lens to “communicate” with the camera. Some lenses even have CPUs built in.

I was reminded of all this after watching a short video recently released by Canon about their 200-400mm f/4L telephoto zoom lens (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=95&v=xQp_0b2umto). It’s a stop-action production that features the $11,000 lens (yes, $11,000) slowly coming apart seemingly on its own. It’s fascinating to watch for anyone who’s even a minor gearhead. It shows the complexity of today’s modern lenses and how many different parts goes into making one. I’m just glad I’m not the one who had to put it back together again.

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Day of the flag

The U.S. Flag’s official title is the “Flag of the United States of America” but we know it by many other nicknames: the American Flag, the Stars and Stripes, Red, White and Blue, the Star Spangled Banner and Old Glory.

It is the symbol of our nation and we fly on many occasions. The most obvious times are for the patriotic holidays: Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and, of course, Flag Day.

We also display them for funerals for soldiers, law enforcement officers and firefighters.

We raise them during protests either for or against a cause. We proudly display them at sporting events and political rallies. They fly in front of every school and government building in the country.

We all know from our history books that Betsy Ross created the first version of the stars and stripes at the request of George Washington in 1776, and it has had many iterations since, but our current flag was designed by a 17-year-old student 58 years ago.

According to USFlag.org, Robert G. Heft was attending high school in Lancaster, Ohio in 1958 when talk of Alaska and Hawaii becoming states led him to create the 50-star flag as a school project. He originally got a B- on it but his teacher agreed to raise the grade to an A if Heft could get Congress to adopt the design. With the help of his congressman he eventually got his flag accepted as he banner of our nation.

Our flag is a beacon of freedom and prosperity not only for us, but for many around the world. Long may it wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave,

Here’s a gallery of photos that I’ve shot over the years that feature the flag in one way or another.


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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Be ever so humble…

“…No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be…”
- Small Town by John Mellencamp

Most people have fond memories of where they grew up, whether it was a big city or a small town. I was raised in the tiny farming town nestled along the Sacramento River called Walnut Grove. About a ½-hour drive northwest of Stockton it’s population when I was there hovered around 500 residents. Although I’ve lived away from there for many years now, I still consider it my hometown.

The subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is your hometown.

Every village, town or city has its own character. Try to capture it in your photos. It could be in the buildings or landmarks or it can be it the faces of its residents or in the surrounding landscape. It can be a touristy feature or some hidden gem far from the maddening crowds.

Walnut Grove is a Delta town. In addition to the river there are many sloughs and channels in the area and the bridges that cross them add to the town’s personality. There are several places including, Alma’s Café, and Tony’s and Guisti’s restaurants, that are not only eateries that out-of-towners flock to, but are hangouts for the locals as well.

Creativity counts in this assignment. Go beyond just making your photo merely a travelogue or snapshot. Remember that the time of day matters. The warm tones of early morning or late afternoon make for the best light. Be aware of interesting angles as well as being aware of foregrounds and backgrounds. Just because you’ve seen a place all your life doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it in new and creative ways.

Don’t forget about the residents of a place. They can be as important to the personality of a hometown as the buildings or landscape. Every town or neighborhood has its interesting characters and unofficial “mayors.”

While many consider the place where they grew up as their hometown, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the place where you were born. It can be somewhere that you’ve moved to and adopted as your home. Make sure that your photos say something about the town and not just a pretty picture that could be from anywhere. The common denominator is that you show us what makes your hometown picturesque or special and that there’s no place like home.


How to enter:
1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “hometown” in the subject line.

2. Photos must be shot between June 9 and June 23. They can be of where you were born or raised or of your adopted hometown.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon Rebel T3”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos.

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, June 23. The top examples will be published on Thursday, June 30 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day

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Mother Nature Monday #18: Big leaf, little leaf

11/9/2012: A fallen sycamore leaf lays in some ivy near Knoles Hall on the campus of the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

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Outtakes: The merry, merry month of May

May brought a pig on a leash, kids in some mud, a former president and a baseball championship. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from the 5th month of the year.

















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Beat the heat on the cheap

Summer has started early this year with a week-long heat wave with temperatures in the 100-degree range. In the old days one could run through lawn sprinklers, set up a slip-n-slide in the front yard or just play with a garden hose to cool off. However, with drought–induced water restrictions in place those options are now limited. Here are 5 places you can beat the heat on the cheap.


5: Valverde Park

In 2007-2008 Lathrop’s Valverde Park underwent an improvement project which included a veterans memorial, new basketball courts and a water feature. While small, the interactive fountain is big enough for good cool fun for children. Location: 15557 5th St., Lathrop. Cost: Free.


4: Mossdale Landing Community Park

The park, which, backs up to the San Joaquin River is located in the newer part of Lathrop, west of I-5. The water fountain has typical jets at spout from the ground and also a feature in the shape of a water tower that shoots out water from above. Location: 700 Towne Centre Dr., Lathrop. Cost: Free.


3: Micke Grove Park

Micke Grove Park features a interactive water fountain near its Camanche shelter picnic area. It’s separated into to sections. It has a smaller part for toddlers and larger area for older children. Location: 11793 N Micke Grove Rd, Lodi. Cost: The fountain itself is free but there is a charge to get into the park. $5 per car weekdays, $6 on weekends and $10 for holidays (Load up the car or van with kids and it can be quite a bargain).


2: Central Community Park

Located in the community of Mountain House west of Tracy, Central Community Park offers a nicely done interactive water feature surrounded by palm trees as a centerpiece to the park. Location: 25 Main St, Mountain House. Cost: free


1: Weber Point Event Center

The Weber Point Event Center fountain is biggest and the arguably the best free water interactive feature in the county. It features several different water patterns shooting out copious jets of water. The fountain can accommodate dozens of people at a time. Location: 221 N. Center Street, Stockton. Cost: Free.



Both Manteca and Ripon each offer a water feature – Library Park, 320 W Center St., Manteca and Mistlin Sports Park, 1201 W River Rd., Ripon- both are free but they have been closed the last few years due to the drought.

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Mother Nature Monday #17: Blue bird of…

4/9/2011: A western bluebird rests in a tree near the south shore of Camanche Lake near Burson.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Return calls

Our latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment, cellphone photography, is an encore of one we did in 2013. The results of that one was impressive and this one did not disappoint.

Cellphones and the pictures that we take with them are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. They have replaced point-and-shoot cameras as the most popular imaging devices. Most of those photos aspire to be nothing more than simple snapshots and there’s nothing wrong with that. But some can reach the level of art.

29 people sent in 117 photos. Here are some of the best examples.


One way of elevating cellphone photography, or any kind of photography for that matter, is to look at things in a different way. For most people seeing a beautiful sunset is easy and direct to shoot. Just point your phone/camera at and click away. Carrie Walker saw such a pretty sunset but thought of more than shooting it directly. Using her Apple iPhone 6, she caught the sunset’s orange-red hues in the back window of her brother’s pickup truck parked at her home in Stockton. It’s a perfect example of seeing things in a different way.


Rick Wilmot of Lodi also looked at things in a different way. Most people look at plants as a whole. Wilmot looked closer. With his Samsung Galaxy Note 5 smartphone he photographed a frond from a palm tree in his backyard. He captured the strong lines of the frond as they radiated out from a central point. Combined with its bright green color, it makes for a great graphic composition.


Cellphone photos are so popular that there is a thriving demand for aftermarket accessories for them. Darrin Denison of Stockton won a set of supplemental lenses for his iPhone6 by winning first place in a photo contest by the website Viewbug. He used a macro lens to photograph a ladybug crawling on a dusty miller plant in his backyard. It allowed him to get in close to captured the red of the insect as it popped out against the neutral white of the plant.


Ann Dann of Sacramento used an Apple iPhone6 to photograph a raindrop on a leaf in her backyard. Her phone allowed her to get in close to the large raindrop without any supplementary lenses. I liked how she was able to get some of the other plants in her yard reflected in the drop.


One of the problems that often befall all photographers but also especially phone shooters is not getting close enough. The term “fill the frame” should be a mantra for everyone with a camera and that’s what Robbie Swan of Lathrop did. With a Samsung S5 he photographed some backyard flowers. He got in close enough so that the flower on the bottom dominates the picture and helps lead the eye into the composition and to the rest of the flowers in the scene.


When taking cellphone pictures people often forget some the basic rules of photography. It’s too bad because adhering to a few key principles can improve your photos greatly.

Joan Erreca of Stockton used her Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone to photograph the view of the Pacific Ocean at Julia Pfieffer State Park in Big Sur. Instead of just taking a shot of the wide open ocean, she used the trees to frame the sea for a more interesting photo.


Stay tuned for a new challenge issued in 2 weeks on June 9.

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Random Photo #62: A California summer?

Sacramento-based saxophonist Shawn Raiford performs in the kickoff concert to the 2016 Stockton Summer Jazz Festival series as storm clouds approach McLeod Lake Park in downtown Stockton.

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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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