Readers Photo Challenge: Go climb a tree

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…” – Trees by Joyce Kilmer

Perhaps words can’t convey the loveliness of trees, but their beauty can be captured photographs. That’s what 16 readers did for this month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment of “trees.” Trees provide cooling shade, lumber for homes and the air that we breathe. Stockton carries a “Tree City, USA” designation by the Arbor Day Foundation and there are not only thousands of trees within the city limits there are many more – wild, domestic and farmed – in the surrounding area.

A total 82 pictures of trees were sent in. Here are some of the best examples.


Some people traveled far afield to get their photos of trees, Oran Schwinn of Stockton stayed closer to home. Schwinn used a Google Pixel XL phone to photograph a pine tree at Quail Lakes Baptist Church in Stockton. He shot from the base of the tree upwards. Its trunk, with its bark providing some great visual texture, leads the viewers’ eye with a bold diagonal into the photo. The resulting photo is worthy of any giant redwood tree in any national forest.


Trees are also habitats for all types of creatures and the next set of photos capture wildlife in their natural settings.

Rick Wilmot of Lodi went on a photography tour led by Valley Springs-based landscape photographer John Slot at Pardee Lake. Wilmot used a Canon 7D DSLR camera equipped with a 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens to photograph a majestic bald eagle perched in a Ponderosa pine tree at the reservoir near Ione.


Diane Beltz of Stockton captured fauna that’s a little less exotic, though no less photogenic. She used a Canon Powershot SX530 digital point and shoot camera to photograph a squirrel peeking through the branches a tree at the Japanese Tea Garden at Micke Grove Park in Lodi.


Trees also provide refuge to domesticated animals too. Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon 5000 DSLR camera to photograph a sheep resting under a tree on a hillside along Camanche Pkwy South Rd. between Buena Vista and Burson in Calaveras County. The sheep’s white coat sands out against the green of the tree’s leaves and the surrounding grass.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada captured one of the smaller denizens of the natural world. She used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to photograph a snail on a woodpile in her backyard as it crawled across the open face of a cut log. The rich color of the wood and the cracks contained within it adds great texture to Mahnken’s image.


Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a bird in an oak tree at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton and turned her photo into a classic silhouette. The bird perched on a bare branch is framed by more leafy elements of the tree all set against a background of a pale blue sky.


Stocktonian Dave Skinner’s tree photo is all about texture. Skinner used a Nikon D7100 DSLR to photograph a detail of a deodar cedar in his backyard. His extreme close-up makes the bark look like an alien landscape.

A new challenge assignment will be issued next week on May 31.

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What’s your bag?

So you’ve gotten more serious about photography and have not only gotten a DSLR camera but a couple of lenses, a flash and some other accessories as well. How do you carry it all around with you? There are several different options available to you these days.

When I started in photography in the early 1980s Domke was the bag of choice for photojournalists. It was designed by Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Jim Domke in 1975. Seeing only box-like bags which were bulky and heavy, Domke sought to make one that was lightweight, could carry a lot of stuff and was easy to get equipment in and out of.

He made his bag out of duck canvas which was durable, waterproof and lightweight. There were large compartments for lenses and cameras and smaller pockets for film and accessories. He made the bags and marketed them and while they may not have been a household name, they were a hit with photographers.

Domke expanded his line of bags to include different sizes and models and eventually sold the company to Tiffen which still markets the bags today. However, nowadays there are probably of dozens of brands and types of bags to choose from.

Personally, I still like to use a shoulder bag. As the name suggests it hangs off one’s shoulder via a strap. To me the bags are easy to work out of on assignment. Everything is within arm’s reach so changing a lens, or putting on a flash takes a minimal amount of time. Most of these kinds of bags come in many different sizes and have several pockets. Also the interior configurations are often adjustable so you can set them up the way you like them. The downside of a shoulder bag is that, if you have 10-20 pounds of equipment, it can cause you shoulder and back pain if you carry one for any length of time.

Photo backpacks are good if you have a lot equipment. These offer a high level of protection for your equipment. They tend to be better padded than most shoulder bags and they are often have a bigger carrying capacity. They have 2 straps and you carry them on your back spreading the load over both shoulders thus easier on your body. They are good if you’re traveling as carrying on luggage but they’re not as easy to work out of as a shoulder bag. A rolling case is similar, offering a little more protection but less practicality.

If you’re traveling, the shoulder bag, the backpack and the rolling case are good as carry-on luggage. Hard cases, like Pelican cases, are the way to go if you’re going to check your equipment in the hold of an airplane. They provide a hard outer shell with lots of custom foam padding on the inside for the most protection you can get. You never know if you’re going to get the American Tourister gorilla as a baggage handler.

Finally there’s the belt “bag.” Belt systems consist of a wearable belt with pouches or compartments for lenses or accessories attached to it. These are handy for a working photographer. Everything is at waist level and easy to reach quickly and efficiently. The pouches are usually moveable and customizable to one’s specific needs. They can function sort of like Batman’s utility belt. That can be a bit of an aesthetic downside. Wedding photographers often cover events that require them to dress up. Who wants one who looks like the Dark Knight? Also, while a belt system moves the weight from the shoulders to the hips, it can cause stress for those who may have problems with their hips or legs. However, some belts come with a suspender option thus spreading the weight over the hips and shoulders, lessening the stress on both.

Whichever bag option you choose, make sure you can custom fit it to your gear and that it suits your specific needs.

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A hands-on experience

Here’s an opportunity for those thinking about purchasing a new camera or lens. Northern California Mike’s Camera stores are holding their Lens and Camera Demo Day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday.

At the event, held at the Sacramento Zoo, you’ll get to try out cameras, lenses and accessories from several different manufacturers. Mike’s staff members will also be on hand to give you photo tips and answer your questions on how to use the equipment.

The zoo should provide lots of photo opportunities to get some great photos and allow you to see how the equipment handles. When evaluating a new piece of gear see how it feels in your hands. Is it too big or not big enough? Are the controls intuitive in their use? Does the lens focus quickly and accurately? Is the tripod sturdy and easy to use?

The use of the equipment is free, but you’ll need a valid credit card and driver’s license to test drive the gear. The checking out of the equipment is on a first come, first served basis, so try to get there as early as possible.

Gear is loaned out in 1-hour increments, if there isn’t a line for the piece that you checked out, you may renew for another hour, if you like. All gear must be turned back in at 4:30 p.m.

The pictures you take with a checked out camera are yours to keep. Just bring a SD or compact flash card to use in the camera. If you forget to bring a memory card, you can borrow one from Mike’s. A CD containing all your pictures will be downloaded then burned on a CD for you to take home.

The Sacramento Zoo is located at Land Park drive and 16th Street in Sacramento (Just off of Sutterville Road, east of I-5). There is no registration fee but admission to the zoo still applies. Once inside, look for the Mike’s Camera tent.

So if you’re looking to move up from a smartphone or point and shoot camera to a DSLR or switching brands or thinking about a new telephoto lens, this event will give you some practical experience with some new equipment.

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Random photo #73: Cold play

Despite a cold wind and approaching storm clouds, Edgar Mangato of Stockton takes time to practice his 12-string guitar on a bench at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton.

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Circle of life, in a small pond

A few weeks ago, while looking for a spring-time picture I found myself in a nature reality show like the ones on BBC narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Often in those programs there is the scene when the predator chases the prey. I always root for the prey to escape. I know logically that that means that the predator and its family goes hungry, but I just want the happy ending for the little guy to live. It’s the circle of life: happy moments balanced with sad.

I was at an assignment at the Hilton Hotel and I knew there were a couple pairs of Canada geese that live near the ponds along the two blocks at Grand Canal Boulevard and Venezia Boulevard in Stockton.

A family of geese, a mated pair and 4 goslings, were crossing the street. By the time I got out the car with my gear they had headed toward the pond, I got a few frames off and saw that the babies climb through a 4-ft tall wrought iron fence and plop into the pond. The baby geese easily hopped through the vertical fence posts, but the adults couldn’t fit through.

At first the goslings swam around happily. But it was soon evident that the goslings couldn’t get out of the pond. There was a about a foot between the water’s surface and pond’s edge. It was too far for the flightless young birds to clear. The baby geese swam the perimeter of pond peeping plaintively while the adults honked in response.

Small wooden ramps on either side of the pond lead out of the water, but the goslings just kept swimming right passed them. At first I thought it was because the goslings were afraid of the red-eared slider turtles who were sunning themselves on one ramp, but then I could see that the little birds just didn’t get that the ramps were a path to safety.

A shopkeeper came out to see what I was doing. I told him that the goslings seemed to be trapped. He thought it was how the geese parents teach their young how to get out on their own. Sometimes the young geese make it, sometimes they didn’t.

Logically I know I shouldn’t have, but in my head I had already named them. The shopkeeper’s words were ominous and I worried for Huey, Dewey, Louie and Ryan.

I walked along the edge of the pond to encourage them toward the ramps. When I got too close, one of the adult geese hissed menacingly. So I backed off.  A woman passing by saw their distress and tried reaching between the rails to catch them, but they swam beyond her gasp.

After almost an hour, one of the goslings, Huey I think, headed up the empty ramp, but it was too steep and he slipped back into the water. A few minutes later, he found the other ramp and navigated the resting turtles to the safety of his parents and I breathed a sigh of relief

I expected the other goslings to follow their brother’s lead, but they continued to swim around, just as clueless as before.

Huey wandered across the street on to a grassy median. His parents soon followed, leaving the other three in the pond by themselves. I turned my attention away from the pond and followed Huey and his parents.

Just a few minutes later, Huey and his parents returned to pond’s edge. I looked out and could only see Dewey and Louie. Ryan was gone.

Quickly, I looked to each ramp to see if Ryan had made it out. He hadn’t. Then I saw a horrifying sight. Just beneath the surface, a dark, foot-long fish, a catfish maybe, swished its tail as it headed toward the bottom of the pond. Just for a second I could see a tiny pair of webbed feet being dragged down as the monster fish disappeared in the murky depths.

After several long seconds I could breath again. Just like those nature shows. The only thing missing was Sir Attenborough’s voice. My concern for the Dewey and Louie became more acute.

A little later, resident Bill Brownlow rode up on his bike. He said he built the ramps several years ago to make it easier for baby geese to get out. Then he tried without success to scoop up the goslings with his bike helmet.

Not too long after that Dewey found his way up the ramp and to freedom. Only Louie was left swimming alone and peeping. I had other assignments to get to so I had to leave poor Louie, hoping that he would find his own way out of the pond.

The next day, I went back to the pond, worried about what I would find. I was relieved to see the 2 adult geese resting just outside of the pond with 3 goslings. Louie had found his way out somehow and was safe and with his family.

It was a “circle of life” acted out in the little pond. At least for now, the goslings had a happy ending.

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April outtakes: 2017

“Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come.” – Thomas Carlyle

After a wet and relatively cool spring, April has come and gone heralding the warmer days of summer soon to come. Here are 10 of my favorite unposted pictures from April 2017.



















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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Trees


“Trees need not walk the earth

For beauty or for bread;

Beauty will come to them

Where they stand…”

Trees Need Not Walk the Earth
By David Rosenthal

Stockton has been designated as a Tree City USA for more than 30 years which is the inspiration for the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Trees.

Trees help clean the air, raise property values and provide cooling shade during the hot summers. Most importantly, for this challenge at least, they beautify the areas in which they grow.

You may think that earlier in the spring when blossoms are blooming or later in the fall when leaves are turning colors would be a better time for this assignment. This is true but I purposely wanted to avoid those visual tropes. This challenge is to think of other ways to photograph trees than those tried and true methods.

Finding a subject should be difficult. Most area cities and towns have their streets lined with trees. In addition, there are acres upon acres of cherry, walnut and other orchards in the close by agricultural lands of the Delta. If you want to travel a bit farther the Mother Lode is filled with all kinds of trees. Or you can stay at home and photograph trees I your own backyard.

You can shoot the trees individually, in a small stand of a several or a whole forest of them. The choice is yours.

The trees can be the main subject or you photo or they can be part of the background or foreground playing a supporting role to your main subject, say a portrait. A common technique is to use the branches of a tree to frame your subject.

You don’t even have to get a whole tree. Close ups of just some of the parts, branches, leaves, bark or roots, are also acceptable. Also, you can photograph the wildlife that used trees as their habitat such as birds, squirrels or insects.

Under a tree is a great place to take a portrait. The open shade can give pleasing and even lighting to your subject.

As with any other photo, light is always important. Try some backlighting which will help to bring out the color of the thin leaves. And of course, trees make perfect subjects to have silhouetted against fiery sunsets or dramatic clouds.

While money doesn’t grow on trees, hopefully this assignment and show that trees can produce a harvest of good photos.

How to Enter:

1. Email your entries to Type in “Flowers” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between May 4 and May 18.

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, if they’re related to you and the breed of flower. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton sits under an oak tree at Victory Park in Stockton). Try to identify the type of tree, if possible.

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, May 18. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on May 25 at

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“Here I come to save the day!”

“When criminals in this world appear
and break the laws that they should fear
and frighten all who see or hear
the cry goes up both far and near…”
– Underdog theme song by W. Watts Biggers, Treadwell D. Covington, Joseph B. Harris and Chester A. Stover

Today is National Superhero Day. Back in my day, if you read comic books as an adult it was something you kept quiet, lest you be ridiculed. Today it’s different. Comic books are now celebrated and are integral to pop culture. Many cities, including Stockton and even Lodi, have their own version of ComicCon.

Here’s a gallery of photos of caped crusaders that I’ve shot over the years.

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Readers Photo Challenge: The power of flowers

Winter and spring rains brought April flowers in abundance and helped to make the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment of Flowers a success.

Everyone sent in pictures of great flowers, but this is a photography column, not a flower column, after all. The best photos transcended the beauty of their subjects. They showed that it’s better to take a pretty picture of a flower than a just picture of a pretty flower. The latter relies on the beauty of the subject for its success, the former depends on the skill of the photographer to make a great picture.

Thirty readers sent in a whopping 193 pictures. Here are some of the top picks.


Mickey Maguire of Tracy used a Sony a6300 mirrorless digital camera to photograph a red lion amaryllis at his home. He used a 35mm lens equipped with an extension tube to help him get in close for a macro shot. He captured the subtle color and tone of the blossom. Maguire moved in close eliminating the petals from view, which most people probably would have wanted to include. His focus is perfectly aimed on the flower’s yellow pollen-covered anthers and the gentle curves of the filaments that hold them up.


Tom LaBounty of Stockton photographed an iris that he harvested from his front yard. He brought the blossom inside and essentially set up a miniature studio to photograph it. Against a black plexiglass background to eliminate distractions, he set up a pair of LED lights, one on each side of the flower and photographed it with his Fuji X-T2 DSLR camera. The even lighting captured the graceful detail, tones and colors of the flower’s petals, yet boldly sets it apart from the black infinity of the background.


After a recent storm Teresa Mahnken of Morada saw some of her daisies reflected in the raindrops clinging to a decorative chain on a birdhouse in her backyard. She added some corn syrup to the drops to help them keep their shape (glycerin would have done the same trick). She used a Nikon D3200 DLSR camera with just a kit lens to photograph those drops, which look like a picture of several of flowers but it’s just one blossom reflected in several water drops.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a technique called “painting with light” to make his flower photograph. Ratekin set up his Canon EOS Rebel T5i DELR camera on a tripod and placed a vase of roses with a set of rabbit figurines on a table in a darkened room. Using a long exposure (30 seconds), he then shined a small LED light onto the flowers with a constant random motion, hence the “painting” with light analogy. The movement of the light source avoids any hotspots that may occur if the light was stationary and gives a great amount of control to the photographer in where he/she wants the light to be. It’s not an exact science and takes a bit of practice to get it right. Ratekin’s photo has perfectly exposed blossoms with the vase and figurines being less well-lit, which brings more emphasis to the flowers.


Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton used a Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at the Marin headlands near Sausalito across the bay from San Francisco. Three delicate checkerbloom blossoms growing among wild grasses are sharp and prominent in the foreground with Highway 101 and the Golden Gate Bridge fading off out of focus in the background. It shows that nature can be found not too far from any urban area.


Dave Skinner of Stockton checked out Electra Road near Jackson looking for wildflowers for his entry to the challenge. Unfortunately the display of flowers was disappointing compared to years past but Skinner was undaunted. He actually found a great photo growing in his backyard. With his Nikon D7100 DSLR camera equipped with a 55mm micro lens, Skinner photographed a bearded iris covered with a smattering of raindrops. His close up approach emphasizes he rich purple and orange of the alien looking flower.


Holly Stone of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph gulf fritillary butterfly on a bouquet of flowers in the butterfly garden of San Francisco Flower and Garden Show at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. The butterfly’s bright orange wings contrasts with the green and purple of the amethyst phlox it’s perched on.


Frank Whitney of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at Soda Lake, Carrizo Plains National Monument near Taft. The blossoms cover the nearby hills in a carpet of gold as a small herd of cattle graze unknowingly in the foreground.


Steve Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 70D DSLR camera to photograph a field of tidy tips, goldfields and lupine at Keegan Ranch near Williams, California. It’s a bucolic scene with the field in the foreground and a vast sea of clouds above.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph a flower vendor’s wares at the ferry building in Stockton.  There’s a certain playfulness in the way she captures the random arrangement of the bouquets and their colors.


As always all of the photos will be posted in a gallery at A new challenge assignment will be issued next Thursday.

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Lighting design

There was a peculiarity to light shining on the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial. Overall it’s well lit except at the center where there is a falloff in illumination. There seems to be lights on either side of the monument to light up the ends but they don’t overlap much at the center leaving a dead spot in the center, lighting-wise.

I don’t know if it was an oversight or a part of the building’s lighting design, but that darkness makes Lincoln’s seated statue, which is well-lit within the building, stand out even more.

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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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