Readers Photo Challenge: Green lighted

The subject of this month’s Readers Photo Challenge of green has been most appropriate. Green is the color of Spring and St. Patrick’s Day was just last week. As you might suspect most had something to do with things that grow. Some used green as the main subject while for others it was just a background color. Fifteen readers sent in 72 photos. Everyone who entered showed that they have the photographic equivalents of a green thumb. Here are some of the best examples.

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While visiting one of her favorite haunts around the Buckley Cove area in Stockton, Susan Scott of Stockton spotted an unusual sight. In a puddle she saw some stringy algae swirling beneath the water. With her Canon Rebel XS DSLR camera she photographed small air bubbles suspended under the water by the green strands of algae making for an alien looking landscape.

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Mike Ratekin of French Camp used an Apple iPhone 7 Plus to photograph the morning dewdrops clinging to blades of grass as the sun rose on the horizon. The warm rays if the sun and the jewel-like beads dew give his photo a feeling of fresh hope for a new day.

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For Janet Baniewich of Stockton, there wasn’t much green to find while visiting her daughter in Billings, Montana. She was greeted by grey skies and snow-covered ground. Apparently spring is much different in other parts of the country than here in California. Baniewich did manage to find some green. With her Nikon D3300 DSLR camera she photographed her 16-month-old granddaughter Rose Holland as she played on a green plastic slide in her backyard.

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Tom LaBounty of Stockton photographed a hillside while hiking Hites Cove trail near Yosemite with his Fuji XT-2 DSLR camera. As the afternoon sun skimmed down the hill, LaBounty captured the different verdant hues, from a deep forest green of the trees in the shadows to a nearly yellow of the wild grasses.

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Holly Stone of Lodi found her green subject while on a walk around her neighborhood. She used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph a cactus plant in a neighbor’s yard. I liked how the bright green lines radiated out from the center for a dynamic composition.

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Carrie Walker of Stockton used an Apple iPad to photograph a baseball at the Madison ballpark in Stockton. The ball lies in the green grass of the outfield for her own field of dreams.

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Rick Wilmot of Lodi used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III a sourgrass blossom in El Cerrito. The bright yellow flower stands out against a field of green of stalks of daffodils.

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All the photos can be seen in a gallery at Recordnet.com. The next challenge will be issued in 2 weeks on April 6.

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Patience is a (photographic) virtue

What’s the most important skill needed to be a wildlife photographer? Is it having a telephoto lens? Certainly, being able to get as close as you can without scaring away critters is right up there but not the most crucial.

Having the knowledge of the habits of the various animals is also significant. Predicting when and where they will be nesting, feeding or other behavioral patterns can be of great help in getting your shot, but perhaps not the most critical.

These things are maybe within the top five skills in wildlife photography, but patience is the most important skill. People often believe that good pictures just happen. They think that a photographer can just walk up to an assignment or situation take a few pictures and be done within minutes. But great photos, especially wildlife photos, can take a long time, requiring a lot of patience. National Geographic photographers can spend weeks, sometimes months, just to get the right shot.

Last week, I saw a large flock of thousands of snow geese as they roosted in the buffer lands of the Stone Lake National Wildlife Refuge southwest of Elk Grove. They were probably there fattening up before their long journey back north to Canada and Alaska.

I was hoping for a shot of the flock as they lifted off to take to the sky. I climbed up a berm separating a suburban neighborhood with the refuge. As I got to the top of the berm the geese had already taken off, but I was at least 150 yards away. Even though my camera was equipped with a 300mm lens they birds were still too far away.

By the time I got to a place where I could get a clear shot of the geese they had landed about a quarter mile away. They were still within the refuge, but too far away to get a good shot. A chain link fence separated the refuge from any trespassers. However, hope springs eternal.

I decided to wait to see if they would fly back. It was a long shot. They could fly off in any direction or just stay put well out of range of my telephoto lens. So I just stood there, waited and hoped. After about an hour or so I noticed that rather than looking like little white specks in the distance, they appeared to be slightly larger specks.

The flock was slowly making its way back toward me as they foraged through the rolling pasture and vernal pools of the refuge. After about another 90 minutes, they finally had gotten close enough for me to get a good shot. There were a couple of false alarms where they began to take off and actually rose about 5 to 10 feet, but they quickly landed again. Then, in unison with a whoosh of fluttering wings, they all launched themselves skyward in a visual grouping that filled the frame of my camera.

I could have easily given up and gone home. But with a little patience I was able to get the shot I was hoping for.

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February outtakes

“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.” – William C. Bryant

February was hopefully the last of the rainy months and boy, did we get a lot of precipitation. Here’s a look back at my top 10 favorite previously unposted photos from the month.

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2/4/2017:

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2/8/2017:

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2/10/2017:

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2/11/2017:

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2/24/2017:

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2/25/2017:

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2/27/2017:

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Don’t be fooled

Many people have experienced this scenario: They’re photographing something like a concert, play or graduation and the main subject is extremely overexposed to the point of glowing like the sun. What happened?

The camera’s default position is to read the overall amount of light of a scene. Quite often the aforementioned scenes will have a dark background. While we may not see it because our eyes have a much high dynamic range of light and dark, this causes the camera to see the scene as too dark thus overexposing the main subject. This can be caused by a strong spotlight on the subject or even just a darker colored backdrop.

In January, I covered the swearing in ceremony for Mayor Michael Tubbs as well as several other city council members at San Joaquin Delta College’s Atherton Auditorium in Stockton. A black curtain served as a backdrop for the large stage where the proceedings were held. Tables that were set out on the stage for the council members were also covered in a black drape. Even the floor of the stage was painted a flat black. Stockton poet laureate Tama Brisbane recited a poem before the actual swearing in.

As an experiment I put camera on program mode, which automatically sets both the aperture and shutter speeds. While the light on both subject and background were pretty much the same, the black curtains in the background made the camera think the whole scene was darker than it actually was. The result was a overexposed photo. So much so Brisbane’s facial features were almost totally blasted out.

But I knew that the dark background would throw my exposure off and I also knew that, for me, the quickest solution was to switch to manual, which meant that I choose the settings for both the shutter and aperture.

It’s a simple solution and I am a great advocate for budding photographers to learn how to use their cameras on manual. However, it takes time to learn to do and one may not be inclined to do so. What do you do then?

If you’re using a smartphone there’s not much you can do. The phone’s camera isn’t flexible enough. The same goes for most compact point-and-shoot cameras.
The only thing you can do is try and get close, fill the frame with your subject and eliminate the background as much as you can. But that’s not an option and telephoto capabilities with phones and point-and shoots are, at best, limited.

Using a DSLR is the best way to go in situations like this. Even then there are still a couple of different methods you can use. The first is to use the aforementioned manual exposure. This is certainly old-school photography but yields the most accurate and pleasing results. The downside of course is that the learning curve can be pretty steep. You’ll have to learn how to use the camera’s built-in light meter, how it can be fooled by tricky light situations and how to compensate for it. Evaluative metering separates the frame into zones, compares the zones and then averages the exposure. These 2 patterns are usually fine for a landscape or everyday type of shooting but can lead to problems with more difficult lighting.

What you want to use, if your camera is so equipped, is spot metering. As the name suggest, it reads the light at a small spot at the center of the frame, anywhere from 1% to 5% of the total area. This pretty much eliminates the camera reading the background and guarantees you getting the proper exposure on your main subject.

The camera is just a machine that’s easily fooled. With a little learning and practice you can be the brains of your picture-taking experiences and make yourself foolproof.

Contact photographer Clifford Oto at (209) 546-8263 or coto@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/otoblog

Don’t be fooled.

Many people have experienced this scenario: They’re photographing something like a concert, play or graduation and the main subject is extremely overexposed to the point of glowing like the sun. What happened?

The camera’s default position is to read the overall abound of light of a scene. Quite often the aforementioned scenes will have a dark background. While we may not see it because our eyes have a much high dynamic range of light and dark, this causes the camera to see the scene as too dark thus overexposing the main subject. This can be caused by a strong spotlight on the subject or even just a darker colored backdrop.

In January, I covered the swearing in ceremony for Mayor Michael Tubbs as well as several other city council members at San Joaquin Delta College’s Atherton Auditorium in Stockton. A black curtain served as a backdrop for the large stage where the proceedings were held. Tables that were set out on the stage for the council members were also covered in a black drape. Even the floor of the stage was painted a flat black. Stockton poet laureate Tama Brisbane recited a poem before the actual swearing in.

As an experiment I put camera on program mode, which automatically sets both the aperture and shutter speeds. While the light on both subject and background were pretty much the same, the black curtains in the background made the camera think the whole scene was darker than it actually was. The result was a overexposed photo. So much so Brisbane’s facial features were almost totally blasted out.

But I knew that the dark background would throw my exposure off and I also knew that, for me, the quickest solution was to switch to manual, which meant that I choose the settings for both the shutter and aperture.

It’s a simple solution and I am a great advocate for budding photographers to learn how to use their cameras on manual. However, it takes time to learn to do and one may not be inclined to do so. What do you do then?

If you’re using a smartphone there’s not much you can do. The phone’s camera isn’t flexible enough. The same goes for most compact point-and-shoot cameras.
The only thing you can do is try and get close, fill the frame with your subject and eliminate the background as much as you can. But that’s not an option and telephoto capabilities with phones and point-and shoots are, at best, limited.

Using a DSLR is the best way to go in situations like this. Even then there are still a couple of different methods you can use. The first is to use the aforementioned manual exposure. This is certainly old-school photography but yields the most accurate and pleasing results. The downside of course is that the learning curve can be pretty steep. You’ll have to learn how to use the camera’s built-in light meter, how it can be fooled by tricky light situations and how to compensate for it. Evaluative metering separates the frame into zones, compares the zones and then averages the exposure. These 2 patterns are usually fine for a landscape or everyday type of shooting but can lead to problems with more difficult lighting.

What you want to use, if your camera is so equipped, is spot metering. As the name suggest, it reads the light at a small spot at the center of the frame, anywhere from 1% to 5% of the total area. This pretty much eliminates the camera reading the background and guarantees you getting the proper exposure on your main subject.

The camera is just a machine that’s easily fooled. With a little learning and practice you can be the brains of your picture-taking experiences and make yourself foolproof.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Easy being green

In March of 2015 the Readers Photo Challenge assignment was “color” in which any or all colors were acceptable. The current assignment picks a specific color, that color being green.

There are a couple of ways you can approach shooting a color. The most obvious is to photograph a scene of subject that is all or mostly that one color. The trick is to try and capture the subtle changes in the hue and shadings of your subject.

Another approach is to set your subject color against a neutral or even contrasting color. Last summer I photographed a young girl holding a green umbrella against the spray of the interactive fountain at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. The color of the umbrella popped out against the neutrality of the water around her.

The opposite can be effective too. About a month ago I photographed meadowlark on a barbed wire fence the Phil and Marilyn Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve in Woodbridge. The bright yellow of the bird’s breast feathers set against a field of green of the surrounding foliage (thrown out of focus by a narrow depth of field) made both colors stand out.

Whatever method you chose the color green has to be an important and integral part of your pictures, not a random or incidental occurrence of that color.

Spring is just around the corner and if any color is representative of the season it would be green. Fresh growth of grasses and leaves are the color of green. With a little thought and effort you can find, photographically speaking at least, that can actually be easy being green.

How to Enter:

1. Email your entries to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Green” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between March 2 and March 16.

3. Entries are limited to no more than 12 photos from each photographer.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (e.g.: “John Doe of Stockton. Location: Stockton. Camera: Canon Rebel T3 w/ 55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in the grass 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 Thursday, March 16. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on Feb. 23 at Recordnet.com.

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Readers Photo Challenge: High water marks

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment of “water” as very timely one. During the past 4 years of one of the state’s worst droughts a common saying was “ we need the rain” whenever a rare storm would hit. I think we can stop saying that for a while now.

We have been beset upon by storms that ran the gamut from light to torrential. Flooding of low-lying areas was common and some area levees broke or threatened to break. Oroville Dam was in danger of collapsing prompting a mass evacuation of that area. If one couldn’t find any water it was only because they weren’t looking. Twenty readers sent in 90 photos here are some of the top picks.

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With all the storms and flooding it was easy to view water in a larger overall context. Mike Ratekin of French Camp looked at things in another way. He went small.

Using a Canon EOS Rebel T5i DSLR camera he mounted a Canon 55-250mm to it with a reversing ring. It attaches the lens to the camera backwards. It allows for a cheaper alternative to close up photograph than buying a macro lens. Ratekin’s results were anything but cheap.

He captured raindrops clinging to the underside of an orchid at his home. He focused on a large drop and his set up’s inherent minimal depth of field caused everything else to go out of focus turning them into just
smears of subtle color which gave his picture an impressionistic quality.

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It seems that in the last few weeks that all the water in the world was focused upon us here in California. It was easy to forget that there’s water all over the world.

Steven Rapaport of Stockton recently took a trip to Austrailia and Tasmania . While standing on a bridge over the Yarra River which runs through Melbourne, Rapaport had a view of the city’s skyline. With an Apple iPhone 7 he captured the Melbourne’s main waterway with the city’s skyscrapers in the background. While river tours are popular during the day, in the evening, when this photo was taken, the river is relatively quiet. However, Rapaport was able to capture a gondolier piloted his craft up the river who made a perfect focal point to the shot.

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Richard Thomas of Stockton used a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 smartphone to photograph a puddle on Fort Donaldson Street in Stockton. Slight ripples in the water distort the reflection of the surrounding trees making it look like a window into alternate dimension.

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Erv Rifenberg of Lodi photographed his wife April with an Apple iPhone 5 as she gingerly crossed a partially submerged gangway which was covered by the rising waters of the south fork of the Mokelumne River while making her way to a boat shed at Tower Park Marina in Terminus as friend Janina Jakubek looked on.

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Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D5000 DSLR camera to photograph the water flowing around a stick in Sutter Creek in the Mother Lode town of Sutter Creek. Her thoughtful use of a slow shutter speed blurred the rushing water making it look like it was moving even faster. The white water kicked up by the stick stands out against the rest of the brown sediment-filled creek.

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Ken Class of Stockton didn’t have to go too far to find his water photo. He used his Apple iPhone 6 to photograph raindrops as the beaded up on the hood of his car. His use of skim lighting with the light coming from an angle behind the water drops combined with the resulting shadows give the drops shape and depth.

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A part of photography is trying to see things in a different way. Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton saw her friends Darien Fields, left, and Tyler Stewart reflected in a large puddle on Eight Mile Road west of I-5 in Stockton. She photographed them with her Nikon D90 DSLR camera but intentionally cropped them out leaving only their upside down reflections making for a topsy-turvey image.

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Mariah Thomas of Stockton employed a long 2-minute exposure to photograph a rainstorm in her backyard. The long streaks of raindrops combined with the moody lighting make her photo look like the proverbial “dark and stormy” night.

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Teresa Mahnken used a Nikon D3300 DLR camera to photograph the waterfall from the reflecting pond at DeCarli Waterfront Plaza in downtown Stockton. The cascading water is streaked by Mahnken’s use of a slow shutter speed. That, combined with the algae clinging to the concrete steps of the manmade falls, creates a unique texture to the photo that’s appealing.

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As much as all the water we’ve gotten was needed I think we’re at a point where enough is enough. Dave Skinner of Stockton photographed the intersection of Franklin Boulevard and Twin Cities Road near Thornton. As storm clouds recede in the distance, rising floodwaters rush over the pavement and the stop sign on the ground, partially underwater, signal the hope for a drier day.

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As always all of the photos can be seen in a photo gallery at Recordnet.com. A new challenge will be issued next Thursday.

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Oh, say can you sing?

After a very contentious election season I found my faith in America at least momentarily restored while covering a girls varsity basketball game a few weeks ago.

East Union played their crosstown rivals Manteca at Manteca’s Winter Gym. I had gotten to the game a bit early and was waiting for the warm ups to finish. As the pregame clock wound down to zero, the teams headed off to their respective benches.

An announcer then spoke over the gym’s public address system: “Ladies and gentlemen, would please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” There was a collective loud shuffle as everyone stood for the Star Spangled Banner and then silence as everyone waited for a recording to start playing.

I was the closest to the flag mounted on the west wall of the gym, nearly underneath it, but I could feel the crowd behind me wonder when, or if, the song would begin.

There was an uncomfortable silence as everyone, standing with hands over their hearts, waited for the music to start. I don’t know if they couldn’t find the right track or if the device they were using was broken, But for several long seconds that seemed like minutes, there was just nothing but the faint hum of the empty speakers.

Then it seemed to have started among the students, quietly a first. One or two began singing in the silence, so softly that it was barely heard: “Oh say can you see…”

A few more then joined in…”by the dawn’s early light…”

At the next line even more people got involved… “what so proudly we held at the twilight’s last gleaming?”

By the middle of the song the entire gymnasium became a full-throated chorus: ” Who’s broad striped and bright stars through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?”

As the anthem crescendoed to its end, the crowd sang more proudly and deeply than Whitney Houston or any military band could have.

“And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Everyone applauded themselves when it was over.

If there’s a defining characteristic of Americans, it’s that we step up and do what needs to be done. For a brief moment the crowd looked past team rivalries, politics and whatever other differences that they had and worked together to do what needed to be done.

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Outtakes: One down, eleven to go

The month of January symbolizes new beginnings and perhaps an indication of the direction of things to come. My photos were a mixed bag of a little bit of everything: sports, features and news.

Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from 2017’s inaugural month.

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1/5/2017:

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1/6/2017:

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1/9/2017:

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1/10/2017:

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1/11/2017:

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1/13/2017:

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1/19/2017:

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1/27/2017:

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1/31/2017:

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Remebering Picasso

I first met Bobby Muñoz of Stockton and his English bulldog Picasso in 2013 as they were walking along the promenade at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. When I say ”they were walking” I mean Muñoz was walking while Picasso was riding a skateboard, yes a skateboard. Now, that’s not something you see everyday so of course I had to take a picture of the dog.

Muñoz said that Picasso loved to skate and that “he’d do it all day if I let him.” Indeed, he appeared to smiling with his big floppy tongue hanging out and having a great time as he took a few steps to push off then put all four paws on the board and let his momentum carry him away.

Muñoz as first inspired by seeing the famous skateboarding bulldog Tillman who Picasso even resembled. While living in Palo Alto, he began training him at about 5-months old. He bought a small skateboard, drilled a hole in the front and tied a rope through it. He then put Picasso on the board and pulled him around so that the dog could learn to balance on it. Soon Picasso outgrew the small board and Muñoz got him a standard sized one. Picasso learned that if he put a foot on the ground he could push off and propel himself without the help of Muñoz and then he was off to the races, so to speak. Muñoz and Picasso moved to Stockton in 2011.

They would frequent the Weber Point area, which provided the space for Picasso to ride his board and I photographed them a few times over the years. People would gather and take pictures of him and generally get a kick out of watching him skate through the park, especially kids. Whenever he would run out of room, he would just pivot the board on his own and then skate back the way he came.

In 2015 and 2016 Picasso performed his skateboarding skills at a couple of pet-themed events at Whirlow’s in Stockton and Pets and Pals in Lathrop and was beginning to gain some fame much like his inspiration Tillman.

About a month ago Picasso, 8 years-old, was diagnosed with cancer. The disease was too far along and any treatment would not have significantly improved Picasso’s the quality of life. Muñoz made the heart wrenching decision to euthanize his best friend. “I didn’t want to see him suffer,” said Muñoz. “He gave me some great years.”

If there’s a pet heaven then Picasso must be happily skateboarding all day among the clouds with a big grin on his face. Munoz remembered Picasso: “He was my everything. I’ll seen him when I get there.”

Posted in Animals, Column, Enterprise, Pets | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Random Photo #71: Catching some air

With a backdrop of cloudy skies Peter Gutierrez of Manteca performs a trick on his skateboard at the skate park at the Lathrop Generations Center in Lathrop.

Posted in Enterprise, Random Photo, Weather | Tagged , | Leave a comment
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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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