Working within the limits

I had a photo instructor who had a theory that stated, given 2 students of equal talent and experience, and one would get unlimited resources of film and equipment while the other would only receive a single camera and lens and just one roll of film, the one with the most limitations would most likely make the best pictures.

(3/24/20) A cyclist rides around Lodi Lake as storm clouds roll in over Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

It sounds counterintuitive. You’d think that the photographer with the most stuff would have the advantage. But my instructor posited that he or she would be so overwhelmed with all their choices, what lens to use, what film to pick, etc., that their creativity would be placed on the back burner of their mind. While the other person, having those choices made for them, would set about crafting the best, most creative image that they could think of.

(2/14/20) Brilliantly bright blossoms bloom on almond trees along Shimizu Drive near San Juan Avenue in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Photography is a melding of the technical and the creative but all too often one can get bogged down in the technical aspects of the craft. Now, this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t learn the more technical facets of photography, but rather you should master them so that it becomes second nature and then you can concentrate on the artistic and creative parts of the craft.
My photo instructor told a story of a fellow photographer he used to work with. When that photographer would get. Anew lens he would use it for every assignment for a while. One way to stimulate your creativity, if you have several lenses, is to pick one, preferably one you don’t use very often, and use it for a period of time. It could be a day or a week or even a month. It’s a way to learn the lens’ advantages and limitations. It’s also a way to get you thinking creatively on how to apply the lens’ strengths and work around its deficits in your work. If you have a zoom lens, which most cameras come with these days, then use it only at its widest setting or only as a telephoto for a time. You may learn that you can use a wide-angle for portraits or a telephoto for landscapes.

(2/15/20) The evening sunset seen reflected in the windows of a car parked at the Stockton Golf and Country Club in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

I know it’s easy to get equipment envy, especially the you see others with the latest, greatest new gadgets, but concentrate on improving your skills and creativity by using what you’ve got.

(4/19/13) People on their way to work walk through the financial district of Manhattan, New York City. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

By working within your means, you’ll be able to expand your technical and creative limits. When your ready to move up to a more advanced or even professional level, you’ll be able to get that fancy new camera or lens, and your skills and creativity will be commensurate to your equipment.

(3/17/20) Chata Espitia of Stockton takes advantage of partly cloudy skies to fly a kite in an open lot next to the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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Sideways thinking

We as human beings have evolved to see things horizontally. Our field of view spans about 200 degrees side to side, though much of that is peripheral vision, while our vertical sight range is around 150 degrees. Yet we insist on taking photos with our cellphones vertically. It’s not a problem with DSLR cameras because, while they can be turned vertically, they’re built to be held horizontally.

(4/23/16) A chair on the campus of U.C. Santa Cruz.Taken with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

But cellphones are designed to be held in the vertical position so that one can make a phone call easily. It’s this up and down design makes one-handed picture taking easy.

(3/28/17) The ceiling in the Library Congress in Washington D.C. Taken with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

When you turn your phone sideways, it’s much more difficult to use it with one hand. It almost necessitates using your phone with both hands. We’ve all done it: held the phone between thumb and forefinger in one hand, with the other fingers held up daintily, while we press the shutter button on the screen with a finger of the other hand. Why do that when you can just hold the phone vertically and take a picture all with a single hand?

(8/3/19) A set of glasses sits on a shelf in a restaurant in San Luis Obispo. Taken with an Apple iPhone XS. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The problem is that we see most things horizontally. For example, If you’re taking a photo of a group of friends who are posed in a horizontal setup, then you have to back up to get them all in the frame. This makes them appear smaller because their father away, plus it also creates a lot of empty, unused space, compositionally speaking, at the top and bottom of the picture.

(3/10/19) A woman jogs with her dogs under a canopy of clouds at Don Nottoli Park in Elk Grove. Taken with an Apple iPhone XS. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

By simply turning the phone sideways, you can often get closer to your subjects and eliminate unwanted visual clutter at the same time.
When shooting an image of nature it’s often best when shot horizontally. There’s a reason that they call it “landscape” mode. We look at a mountain range, or a sunset on the sea, we usually see a panorama that goes side to side.

Examples of when to shoot vertically or horizontally. LEFT: (6/18/13) Christopher Oto, left, shares a tender moment with his sister Claire Oto at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. RIGHT: (5/27/13) Christopher Oto, right, leads his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 50 in a Memorial Day flag ceremony at the Oddfellows Cemetery in Sacramento. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

When photographing a portrait, shooting vertically tends to be preferable when there are only a few people (1 to 3), but when the group gets larger, shooting horizontally almost becomes a necessity to get everyone in frame
Of course, there are times when shooting vertically is necessary. Subjects such as trees, tall buildings or flag poles by themselves lend themselves to a vertical composition. But if try think about how to get the most out of each frame when taking pictures with your cellphone then I’m willing to bet most of your photos will be shot horizontally.

(2/9/15) A weathered basketball hoop in the Delta town of Courtland. Taken with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]


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Readers Photo Challenge: As smooth as glass

The subject for the next readers Photo Challenge assignment is as clear as day: glass. Glass has some interesting qualities that can make it challenging to photograph well.

(4/16/10) Glasses aboard the Island Girl river cruise boat at the Stockton Marina in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Most glass is clear, sometimes to the point of near invisibility. It’s only when we see reflections upon it, from light or the surrounding scenery, that we can see it’s there. Sometimes the reflections are unwanted. If you’re shooting a glass object indoors, say a bottle for instance, try turning off some stray lights of closing curtains or shades on the windows. You can also buy or make what’s known as a “light tent.” Basically, it’s a frame covered in some translucent material, usually cloth. You place the item inside the frame and shine lights through the cloth. It evens out the light and thus the reflections. I’ve made ones out of PVC pipe and a white sheet.

There are times, however, when you want reflections. With a glass object, the highlights can help define its shape. In urban cityscapes you can use the refection off of windows to capture the scene around you. You can use reflection from a mirror as a compositional element in a portrait.

(8/20/09) Downtown Stockton is reflected in the glass lobby of the new San Joaquin County Administration Building on San Joaquin Street and Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]
(6/17/20) Longtime shoe store owner Dennis Shea is retiring and closing his beloved shoe store in Lincoln Center in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Be aware of your backgrounds when shooting glass. Because of the transparent nature of glass, whatever is behind it also becomes part of the picture, whether you want it to or not. So, look carefully at everything in your scene before pressing the shutter button and try to eliminate what you don’t want.

(7/14/15) Some of the antique and collectable glass items that Larry Brown amassed over the years. He’s donated much of it to the Assistance League, which is putting it on sale later this week. The League will use it to buy school clothes for needy kids, a problem the once-poor Brown himself once suffered. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Stained or tinted glass can also make for interesting photos. Light coming in through one can add some interesting visual color to your picture.


(8/24/11) John Harris is an associate elder at the Greater White Rose Church of God in Christ in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

These kinds of photos can be taken anywhere you can find glass, which is just about everywhere. Whether you find your subject at home or out and about, I hope your shooting goes as smooth as glass.

(5/18/19) Light comes through a stained glass window onto an altar at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

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How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Glass” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be taken between June 23 and July 7.

3. The number of photos is limited to 10.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used, how you got your close up and where the photo was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon Rebel T6i with 50mm macro lens. At Victory Park in Stockton).

5. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “Jane Doe, 9, sits in her front window with her dog fluffy at their home in Stockton”). Please indicate how they are related to you (friend, mother, father, daughter, son, etc).

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

7. The deadline for submission is July 7. The top examples will be published on July 14 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at recordnet.com.

(4/4/09) Egyptian glass perfume bottles on sale at the Manteca Street Faire in downtown Manteca. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

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Readers Photo Challenge: Phoned it in

The latest challenge assignment eschewed the use of fancy DSLR cameras and instead use a simple cellphone to take a photo. Cellphones are as common as the air we breathe. Nearly everyone has one. That pervasiveness often lends itself to the perception that cellphone photos are not as good as images take with other kinds of cameras, that they are only capable of only taking throwaway snapshots and not more creative and artistic pictures. But if one throws out that mindset, they can create works of beauty and interest worthy any DSLR camera. Twenty-eight readers sent in 151 photos. Here are some of the best examples.

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Andrea Tipton of Stockton used an Apple iPhone X to photograph leaves that the wind piled up on stairs of a building at University Park in Stockton.

Andrea Tipton of Stockton used an Apple iPhone X to photograph a pile of leaves at University Park in Stockton. A recent windstorm had blown them onto an exterior staircase on a building. The neutral surrounding colors combined with the darker shadow of the building and a nearby tree makes the vibrant leaves stand out even more.

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Mike Ratekin used an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max to photograph flowers in a display window of a closed shop in Jackson with the street reflected in the glass.

Mike Ratekin of French Camp used an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max to photograph a vase full of roses in a store window in Jackson. The street and another store are reflected in the window. Within the darker portions of the reflection the flowers can clearly be seen. The vase fades off to near invisibility in the lighter parts of the window, making the flowers look like they are floating in mid air, causing one to make a double take.

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Cynthia Barker of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 8 Plus to photograph her daughter Bonny at a potters throwing wheel in their yard.

Cynthia Barker of Stockton photographed her daughter Bonny, an aspiring artist, working on a clay piece at a potters wheel at their home. Barker’s image, taken with an Apple iPhone 8 Plus, concentrates on her daughter’s hands, covered in clay, yet still graceful and elegant in the act of creation.

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Jessica Flores of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 6 to photograph a sunset over the Calaveras River in Stockton.

Jessica Flores of Stockton photographed a sunset on the Calaveras River in Stockton. With an Apple iPhone 6 she captured the last rays of the sun before they sink below the treelike on the horizon. Dramatic clouds fill the sky as more trees to the left and right and reeds at the bottom frame the scene.

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Steven Rapaport of Stockton used an Apple IPhone 8 Plus to photograph Kenny, left, and Kevin Vang fishing along the banks of the San Joaquin River during sunset at Empire Tract in Stockton.

Steven Rapaport of Stockton also photographed a sunset, with his Apple iPhone 8 Plus. He captured a pair of men fishing from the banks of the San Joaquin River on Empire Tract in Stockton. An orange hue fills the sky as one can almost feel the cool Delta breeze as the heat of the day dissipates as the sun goes down.

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Dave Skinner used a Samsung s7 smartphone to photograph one of the golden bears in front of the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium in downtown Stockton.

Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Samsung s7 smartphone to photograph one of the golden bears in front of the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium in downtown Stockton. The bear’s head dominates the photo and brings the viewer’s eye into the picture with the auditorium in the background.

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Nancy Watts of Lodi used an Apple iPhone X to photograph Lodi Lake.

Nancy Watts of Lodi walked through the nature area of Lodi Lake to get her photo. With an Apple iPhone X she captured the bucolic riparian scene of the Mokelumne River, its still waters reflecting gentle clouds in the sky creating a serene and peaceful landscape.

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Donn Sperry of Stockton used an Apple iPhone SE to photograph flowers in his backyard.

Donn Sperry of Stockton used an Apple iPhone SE to photograph African irises in his backyard. He focused on the nearest flower as the main subject of his picture with the rest of the blossoms fade off gently into the background.

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As always, all of the entries can be seen in an online gallery at recordnet.com. A new challenge will be issued on June 23.

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Beginning with the finished product

I recently came across this quote by the legendary photography pioneer Edward Steichen: “Every other artist begins with a blank canvas, a piece of paper…the photographer begins with the finished product.” I don’t believe that Steichen was criticizing or downplaying photography’s artistic role compared to the other arts. I see it as a statement on its creative process.

(0/2/04) Stockton artist Claire Oak works on a watercolor painting whiled teaching a painting class at Louis Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Like he said, a painter builds upon a blank canvas or sculptor begins with amorphous piece of stone or clay. From those they craft their work.
The closest thing to that are still life and portrait photographers.

(11/21/08) Three-year-old Garbiel Valeros, wearing an angel costume, has his portrait taken by photographer Cameo Rose of the Stockton-based Fritz Chin Photography at American Legion Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

While still life photos can be found situations, they are mostly “built” or “staged” by the photographer. They can carefully place the subject items wherever they want to in the frame. They can add or eliminate something in the background and they can light the scene in a creative manner. Similarly, portrait photographers have a lot of control of their photos. They can pick where they take their photos, whether in a studio or on location. And, like the still life, they can manipulate the lighting however they want or need to. Still, the scene is mostly complete before the shutter button is pressed.

(4/19/13) People on their way to work walk through the financial district of Manhattan, New York City. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

In most other types of photography the process is a little different. Often in street photography, wedding photography and photojournalism one must “shoot from the hip.” While some planning ahead can be done events may happen so quickly and unexpectedly that a photographer has to be constantly vigil and be able to shoot at a moment’s notice. However, there are times, even in these genres, that one can plan ahead.

(3/24/20) A cyclist rides around Lodi Lake as storm clouds roll in over Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Many times I’ve come across situations or scenes where something more is needed to complete the picture. It could be a person walking against a field of clouds or a bird sitting on a branch. Whatever it is, I’ll see a picturesque sight but recognize that something is missing. Much like someone fishing, what I’ll do is sit and wait until that certain something comes by. More often than not it does, but sometimes, like real fishing, I’ll come up empty. That’s when I’ll file it away in my mind and try again another time. This technique works for almost any kind of photography. Landscape photographers have to wait for just the right lighting and weather conditions to get their photos. Often, all the elements don’t coalesce into what they want so they go back time and time again until it does.

(3/5/08) Grower Michael Fondse checks out blossom in an almond orchard on Carrolton Road in Ripon. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I don’t think photography is any less creative than the other visual arts but the process is done in reverse. In the other arts the artist tries to make a depiction of what’s in front of them or create something from memory or even from whole cloth. In photography One has to see the esthetic potential of a scene and use their skills and talent to flesh out its essential qualities to make a creative photograph.

(2/20/11) A dew drop hangs on a grape vine in a foggy vineyard along Peltier Road and Rond Road in Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]


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One intense morning

On Tuesday, May 26 I woke up as usual. I didn’t have any early morning assignments so I was puttering around the house before going into work. I checked social media for anything interesting when I saw a photo of large column of smoke rising from a large fire. It didn’t mention where, but I thought I recognized it as the Mizkan America tomato processing plant in east Stockton. I threw on some clothes and headed out.

(5/26/20) A plume of smoke could be seen miles away from a plastic pallet fire at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Driving down I-5, I could see a gigantic plume of black smoke rising into the sky. It columned straight up for several hundred feet then smeared westward for what looked like miles.
Dark black smoke usually means a structure fire, which burns hotter than a vegetation fire, which produces white or brown smoke. Many times I’ve headed out to a structure fire and I can tell when the firefighters get the upper hand on it because the smoke turns from black to white as the fire’s temperature decreases and steam is added to the mix. For my entire drive to the Mizkan fire, the smoke plume was black. In fact, it seemed to get darker the closer I got.

(5/26/20) A plastic pallet fire rages at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I arrived around 9:00 a.m. and the fire was raging intensely. Stacked plastic bins were burning uncontrollably. Stockton firefighters, armed with water cannons, ladder trucks and a few crews with hand-held hoses, were pouring water from a distance. This usually means that they were trying to contain the fire and keep it from spreading rather than actively going in to put it out. Sort of like an aerial bombardment rather than sending in ground troops.

(5/26/20) A plastic pallet fire rages at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I and other news media kept our distance outside the plants fence along D Street. We were about 100 yards away from the closest flames. We could feel the intensity of the heat, though it was still bearable. I found out later that plastic burns about 3 times hotter than wood.

(5/26/20) A plastic pallet fire rages at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The smoke, which rose up high so no one had to immediately breathe in the noxious fumes, was a blessing in disguise. The fire occurred on one of the hottest days of the year, forecasted to be more than 100 degrees. The smoke was so thick that it blotted the sun kept things a bit cooler than they could have been.

(5/26/20) A plastic pallet fire is reflected in a pool of runoff water as it rages at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Runoff from the thousands upon thousands of gallons of water pooled up in a depression in the yard. The water was relatively still and its reflections made it look like both ground and water were burning.

(5/26/20) A fire tornado is spawned during a plastic pallet fire at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]
(5/26/20) A forklift is engulfed in a fire tornado at a plastic pallet fire at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

An abandoned forklift sat in the water at the far side of the pond about 10 yards from the flames. The fire intensified and small fire tornadoes were spawned by the larger conflagration. Whirling columns of flames corkscrewed their way skyward. At one point one of them became almost cyclonic, swirling over the forklift and engulfing it in flames to where it couldn’t be seen anymore. A PG&E line crew, on hand to deal with any power lines that melted or caught fire, stood agape. One of them said in awe “that’s crazy!”

(5/26/20) Wayne Burke, who lives across the street from the plastic pallet fire at the former Del Monte food processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton, hoses down a tree hit his yard to keep it from catching fire from the heat. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I walked down about a block to where one of the last stacks of bins standing started to catch fore. A Stockton Police community service officer had blocked off one of the streets that dead-ended at D Street. It soon became too hot and he had to move back his vehicle about a half-block.

Nearby Wayne Burke, who’s house was across the street from the fire, was using a garden hose to spray down his house and plants in his yard to keep them from catching fire. The drops of water that landed on the street instantly turned to puffs of steam. Burke, who was shirtless, was feeling the heat, too. “Now I know what a pig at a luau feels like,” he said.

(5/26/20) A Stockton firefighter runs with a hose over his shoulder towards a fire at the Mizkan America tomato processing plant on D Street near Poplar Street in east Stockton on Tuesday, May 26. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The heat was so intense that I could no longer go back the way I came. I walked down the perpendicular street to the next block then back to my starting point. When I got back, a fire engine was pulling back to redeploy further back from the heat. A firefighter then came running out from the fenced area the pulled a hose from another engine and ran back towards some trucks within the fence. He wasn’t going to fight there fire with it, but rather to cool down those engines from the heat.

The fire started at about 5:00 a.m. and rage until it was brought under control about midday. Kudos to the Stockton Fire Department and its firefighters. They contained the fire to the bins. No structures were damaged and the only injury was a firefighter who was overcome by the heat and treated.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Hold the phone!

Most of the challenge’s assignments are geared towards DSLR users. Those “big” cameras have great controllability in terms of exposure and depth of field and flexibility with their interchangeable lenses. But for this challenge, we’re going to ask you to put down those cameras, reach into your back pocket and use your cellphone.

(2/9/15) A basketball hoop is silhouetted against a cloudy sky in the Delta town of Courtland. Shot with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

Cellphones, and the pictures we take with them, are almost a ubiquitous as the air we breathe. Nearly everyone has one (some people may have multiple phones for home and work). They are small enough to slip into your pocket and just as easy to take out to take a picture. And that can be a problem.

(11/20/17) Fallen leaves lay at the base of an ornamental pear tree in a yard in Elk Grove. Shot with an Apple iPhone 6s. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I believe that since cellphones are so easy to use to take a picture that many, if not most, people tend to think of those pictures as “throwaway” shots and so they don’t put any effort into taking them. But I believe just the opposite can be true. If you take extra time, care and effort, you can come up with photos that can rival the best DSLR.

(9/22/13) A parasol at Cafe Ventana on the campus of the University of California at San Diego. Photographed with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

The cellphone camera takes care of everything for you, focusing, exposure, etc. Still, there are some things that you can control. Most cellphone cameras allow you to do some focusing and exposure control by taping on the screen. Some also have editing tools that allow you to control parameters such as lightness/darkness, contrast, color and cropping.

(7/26/14) A pair of red slippers sits at the edge of the Stonelake Clubhouse pool in Elk Grove.. Shot with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Most of all, this is an exercise in creativity. Slow your picture taking process down and think about what you’re doing. Most cellphone cameras have digital zooming capabilities which degrade picture quality. If you want to get close to your subject you will have to get physically closer, which is a good thing. Look for good light. Avoid the middle of the day Early morning/late afternoon are best for outdoor light. If you’re shooting indoors, some nice soft window light is best. Keep an eye on your backgrounds. Avoid cluttered, distracting backdrops. Look for ones that are clean and simple. Think about your composition. Use techniques like the rule of thirds, framing, and adding interesting foregrounds with your photos. Most of all be mindful about what you want to accomplish, take your time and don’t try to rush the results.

(9/120/19) Cloudy skies seen through 2 windows cat Clifford Oto’s home. Shot with an Apple iPhone XS. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The challenge is an open one. You can think back to past challenge subjects, landscapes, architecture, portraits, still lives, etc., for inspiration, or come up with your own ideas. The subject is up to you but you must use your cellphone to take the picture.

(10/4/13) A leafs is stuck to a chain link fence at Don Nottoli Park in Elk Grove. Taken with an Apple iPhone 5.[CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Phone” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be taken between May 26 and June 9.

3. The number of photos is limited to 10.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used, how you got your close up and where the photo was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon Rebel T6i with 50mm macro lens. At Victory Park). If you use a filter indicate what kind.

5. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “Jane Done, 9, sits for a portrait with her dog fluffy at their home in Stockton”). Please indicate how they are related to you (friend, mother, father, daughter, son, etc).

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

7. The deadline for submission is June 9. The top examples will be published on June 16 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at recordnet.com.

(1/11/19) A hanger lays on Clifford Oto’s bed. Shot with an Apple iPhone 6s. [CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

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Readers Photo Challenge: Small wonders

In the latest Readers Photo Challenge, entrants were asked to forsake visions of grand vistas and to think small. “Closeups” was the assignment and readers abandoned the normal sized world for one that embraces the minuscule. The found whole new worlds, most not farther than their own homes. 177 photos were sent in by twenty-nine readers who found out that good things come in small packages. Here are some of the top examples.

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Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph a beetle in some tall grass in her backyard.

Carolyn Silva of Jackson was pulling weeds in her backyard when she found her small picture. She saw a small beetle crawling the tall grasses. She ran to her house to get her Nikon D7500 DSLR camera, then back to the yard. The scene she captured, backlit from the sunlight, looking like an otherworldly forest with an exotic, alien beast lumbering though the landscape.

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Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Nikon D7200 DSLR camera to photograph a wire whisk in her kitchen.

Teresa Mahnken of Morada found her view of the miniature in her own kitchen. With her Nikon D7200 DSLR camera, she photographed a wire whisk in her kitchen. Viewed from the top, the whisk looks like some sort of art deco representation of the electrons’ path around the nucleus of an atom.

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Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel XS DSLR camera to photograph a leaf of a cast iron plant at her home.

Stocktonian Susan Scott’s photo of the small world came in the form of a potted plant in her home. She used a Canon EOS Rebel XS DSLR camera to photograph an aspidistra or cast-iron plant. It’s gently curving leaf, backlit by window light, gracefully shading it’s seed pod against a plain yellow-brown wall in the background

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Steven Green of Stockton used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to photograph water drops on a spider’s web at his home.

Steven Green of Stockton found some photographic riches in his backyard. Small water drops clung to a spider’s web on a plant among the yard’s landscaping. Green used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera equipped with a Nikkor 40mm micro lens to captured the glistening drops as they hung like a tiny jeweled necklace.

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Cynthia Barker of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel T3 DSLR camera to photograph her cat Angel Boy as he naps at their home.

Stocktonian Cynthia Barker’s cat Angel Boy slept peacefully as he unknowingly posed as Barker’s subject. With a Canon EOS Rebel T3 DSLR camera, focused in on the feline’s muzzle with some soft window light gently bringing out the detail in its fur.

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Conley Woehrle of Stockton used a Fujifilm XT-2 mirrorless digital camera to photograph a leaf on a bush at his apartment complex in Stockton.

Conley Woehrle of Stockton captured symmetry that can be found in sometimes nature in his photo. Using a Fujifilm XT-2 digital mirrorless camera he centered his composition on the midrib of a leaf on a bush in his apartment complex. You can see the veins of the leaf branch off of the midrib to the left and right of his closeup detail of the leaf.

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Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D600 DSLR camera to photograph an Iceland poppy in the demonstration garden at San Joaquin Delta College sin Stockton.

Dave Skinner of Stockton photographed Iceland poppies that he found at the Delta College’s demonstration garden in Stockton. Skinner says that due to the coronavirus shutdown, the garden hasn’t been well-tended to and some of the plants are in bad shape. With his Nikon D600 equipped with a Nikkor 60mm micro lens, he photographed 2 blossoms next to each other. One blossom was fully in bloom, the other’s petals were gone. Skinner captured the fine detail of each flower’s stamen, finding beauty in both the growing and the decline of the blossoms.

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Duane Esselstrom of Maple, Wisconsin used a Canon EOS SX600HS digital-point-and-shoot camera to photograph bees at his home.

Duane Esselstrom of Maple, Wisconsin, took advantage of his camera’s close focusing abilities to get his shot. His Canon EOS SX600HS digital-point-and-shoot has an 18x zoom lens with a minimum focusing distance of 5 centimeters. With it Esselstrom was able to get in very close to a pair of honey bees near a hive on his farm.


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Kurt Gaetjen of Elk Grove used a Nikon D610 DSLR camera to photograph a water drop hitting the surface of a small fountain in his backyard.

Kurt Gaetjen of Elk Grove photographed a drop of water hitting the surface of a fountain at his home. With a Nikon D610 DSLR camera he captured the splash of the water drop in the fountain’s basin. A slow shutter speed of 1/60th of a second blurred the splash and gives the photo a sense of action.


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Jessica Flores used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph old horseshoes in her front yard.

Jessica Flores used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph old horseshoes in her front yard. She captured the rusty texture of the shoes’ weatherworn metal and dusty rust color.

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Terry Donaldson of Tracy used an Apple iPhone X to photograph a rusty shovel and rake at her home.

With an Apple iPhone X, Terry Donaldson of Tracy photographed a detail of an old metal shovel and rake in her yard. The closeup detail of both together gives a sense of texture that you can almost feel by just by looking at the image.

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Carrie Walker of Stockton used an Apple iPad to photograph her 6-year-old niece Aleah Bush at Walker’s home.

Carrie Walker of Stockton used an Apple iPad to photograph her 6-year-old niece Aleah Bush’s eye at her home. Walker captured the fine detail in the young girl’s eyelashes and brows.

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All of the photos entered can be seen in an online gallery at recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued on May 26.

Posted in Close-up/Macro, Readers Photo Challenge | Leave a comment

Is now photography’s golden age?

Some photographers, especially those of my generation and older, yearn for the old days of film. They think that things have gotten too easy in the digital age and they lament the fact that the photography’s golden age of Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, and others, is gone.

(8/3/19) A visitors takes a picture at the art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, which consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

While it’s true that those early days of discovery of a new medium are over, I believe that today’s technology has brought a new era of photography. One of democracy.

(03/17/17) Min Le of Folsom takes pictures of daffodils on the opening day of Daffodil Hill near the Mother Lode town of Volcano in Amador County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

It’s a trend that’s been happening almost since the invention of photography, albeit slowly. In the beginning, the photographers knew not only knew how to take pictures, but develop them as well. Those old cameras, you know the kind with the photographer draped beneath a large black cloth to help them to focus, were big, heavy and difficult to operate. One had to know what they were doing. The Kodak Brownie camera, introduced in 1900, brought photograph to the masses and the snapshot was born. All you had to do was press the shutter then send the film off to Kodak for developing your pictures.

(1/9/17) Seven-year-old Arlene Dean poses for a picture for her stepfather Robert Killingsworth while posing next to one of 2 golden bear statues that stand in front of in the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Other innovations came along to help spread photography’s popularity. In the mid-1930s 35mm film allowed for smaller, easier handling cameras. By the late 1940s Polaroid introduced its first instant camera. Later advances in auto-exposure and auto-focus helped make things easier for the average picture-taker.

(8/29/19) University of the Pacific student Matt Chang poses for a picture with mascot Power Cat at the university’s Fall Fest on the UOP campus in Stockton. The event was put on by UOP’s Division of Student Life to inform students about the college’s various organizations and resources to help them succeed. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

With each step forward more people became able to take pictures with greater ease. The digital age has seen the greatest advancement in the democratization of photography. Electronics and computerization of cameras have increased ease and accuracy of cameras (although not perfectly). And within the last 15 years or so, cellphones have revolutionized the way we think about and take pictures.

(4/19/18) Regina Tso takes a picture of some roses at the 3rd anniversary celebration of the completion of Stockton World Peace Rose Garden, one of nine in the country, on the grounds of University Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO.THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Nearly everyone in the world has a mobile phone with them. It only takes a few seconds to take it out of a purse or back pocket and start taking photos. And it can only take a few seconds more to send those images to a friend, a family member or post it to social media.

(6/19/19) Debra Reeve of Sacramento takes a picture of the historic Preston Castle in Ione on the structure’s Quasquicentennial, 125th anniversary, celebration. A re-enactment of the arrival of the first seven wards of the former Preston School of Industry and tours of the castle were held. [CLIFFORD OTO.THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Our phones are not only cameras but are mini computers as well. We can store thousands of pictures on the latest ones with more capacity coming with every new generation of device.

(10/26/19) Javier Lara takes a picture of the Catrina Pageant at the Dia De Los Muertos Street Fiesta in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Like in all democracies, it’s up to its citizens to be informed and educated and responsible. I can’t count the times that people have said to me “ I don’t take good pictures” There are billions of cellphone photos taken every day around the world, the vast majority of which are, at best, mediocre.

(3/14/13) Soccer fans break out their cameras to get a shot of soccer star Cuauhtemoc Blanco during an exhibition game between the Club Dorados De Sinaloa of Mexico and the San Antonio Scorpions FC at the Banner Island Ballpark in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

For a talented few, taking great photos comes naturally. For the rest of us it takes hard work and a lot of practice. If you want to take better photos there are things you can do whether you shoot film, use a DSLR or take your pictures with a cellphone. Take a photography class, find an online video or read up on the subject. There are tips that you can do. Get closer to your subject, watch your backgrounds and look for good light. But most of all you have to practice. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. And since everyone has a phone with them nearly 24 hours a day, you practice anytime, anywhere.

(8/3/19) A visitor takes pictures at the art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, which consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

My guess is that if the famous photographers of old were born into today’s digital age that the medium and equipment wouldn’t matter to them. They would embrace it and use the technology as a tool for their creativity. Don’t pine for the halcyon days of old, the golden age of photography is now. Go out and take advantage of it.

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How to get close without getting close

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Robert Capa

In this time of the coronavirus the best thing to avoid exposure is to stay inside and away from other people, but my job doesn’t afford me that luxury. I can’t take a picture over the phone or through a closed car door. These days I’m trying to practice this minimum safe distance as well as wearing a mask whenever I’m out shooting.

(3/26/20) Munish “Mike” Ghai gives out free masks at the In-And-Out in Lathrop. Ghai, a Lathrop resident and Stockton Realtor, canceled his 25th wedding anniversary, saving $10,000 he had earmarked for a celebration with family and friends. He has used that money to purchase and ship 1,500 masks from India, with the help of extended family in India and Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal. The subject was about 6-8 feet away photographed with a wide angle zoom lens set at 24mm. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Fame photographer Ernst Haas once said that “ The best zoom lens is your feet” meaning that rather than getting a telephoto lens, you should simply get closer to your subject. In normal times this is true. Usually, there’s no substitute for just getting nearer. When I was in school my photo instructors used to say “When you think you’re close enough, take another step closer.” This is especially true when taking photos of people. But now were all asked to physically distance ourselves from others, getting close may not be practical or advisable to do. So, how to get close to your subject without actually getting too close is the question.

(4/16/20) Stockton Christian Academy boys varsity basketball assistant coach Robin Hong videos himself doing a ball-handling drill at the basketball courts at Grupe Park in Stockton. Hong was recording the drills to be available for any student or athlete at the K-12 school, who wants to work on their skills. The subject was about 6-feet away shot with a wide-angle lens. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend keeping a minimum distance of 6 feet between yourself and the next person. They describe it as 2 arms lengths. I’m about 5’-10” and I estimate the distance as my height plus a couple of inches. Six feet is closer than you think. Most people overestimate the distance, probably in the 8 to 10 feet range. Then there’s a natural tendency for subjects to take another step or two back out of reflex. Soon the distance becomes more like 10 to 12 feet or even sometimes more. A true 6 feet is fairly close. Even with a wide-angle lens you can get a decent shot.

(3/17/20) Chata Espitia of Stockton takes advantage of partly cloudy skies to fly a kite in an open lot next to the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. The subject was about 15 feet away from the photographer in both photos. In the top a 24mm wide-angle was used. In the bottom photo where the woman appears closer, a medium telephoto of 120mm was used. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Now days cameras come with a zoom lens, most likely in the 18-55mm range (an equivalent of a 26-80mm of those film cameras). That should be able to bring in your subject close enough from the 6 to 10 feet distance without a problem. Of course, you can buy even longer lenses if you need to shoot from a farther distance away but the lens that came with your camera should be good enough.

(4/18/20) Singer/Musician Abraham “Steve” Mackey, 71, performs songs in a series of short concerts that he live streams from the backyard of his Stockton Home that he calls “Music from the Shed.” The subject was about 6-8 feet away photographed with a wide angle zoom lens set at 24mm. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Those who use their smartphones for photos are at a disadvantage. Sure, many current phones have a zoom feature but at the sacrifice of quality. The more you zoom in, the lower the quality of the image because you’re not zooming in optically. What’s happening is that you’re cropping the image and using a smaller and smaller portion of the sensor. But cropping in slightly shouldn’t degrade the image too much.

(4/17/20) Tiffanie Heben decorates the front of her home on East Highland Avenue in Tracy. Heben was participating in an event put out by the Facebook group Class of 2020 THS Parents to decorate their front doors and/or yards in honor of their graduating seniors in lieu of canceled formal graduation ceremonies canceled due to the coronavirus. Heben was decorating for her 17-year-old daughter Alexandra Alcala who has chosen to go to the University of Pittsburgh next fall. The subject was about 6 feet away photographed with a wide angle zoom lens set at 24mm. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

There’s going to be a transitional time just after the stay-at-home orders are lifted but yet many people may feel uneasy about coming into contact with others. You can use these precautions and techniques to help keep you safer in uncertain times and still get a good picture.

(4/25/20) Gretchen Dobler of Lodi hits from the second fairway green at the Swenson Park Golf Course in Stockton. The golf course along with others in the county have been closed for about a month due to the novel coronavirus concerns. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Posted in Photography, Techniques | Leave a comment
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