Taking a socially distanced break

On Labor Day weekend my family and I decided to take a little trip to escape the valley smoke and triple-digit temperatures. We decided on a day trip, someplace within a 2-hour drive. But where to go while still maintaining social distancing protocols?

(9/6/20) A couple plays volleyball at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

We had been to Half Moon Bay a few times before and enjoyed our stays there. Unlike other Bay Area beaches like Ocean Beach in San Francisco or Stinson Beach in Marin County, both of which reported crowded conditions that weekend, Half Moon Bay tends to be overlooked by many. It was forecasted to be in the mid-80s so that would satisfy out need for cooler weather. As for the smoke, it was rated at moderate.

(9/6/20) A fisherman prepares to fish in the surf at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

My wife Susan, son Christopher, our dog Maisie and I left on the Sunday morning before the holiday. We got a bit of a late start but still hoped to get to Half Moon Bay around noon. We were making good time until we got to Highway 92. An accident had turned the road into a parking lot. Even when we got past the blockage traffic still moved along at a turtle’s pace through the winding 2-lane road through the coastal mountains. The slow down roughly doubled our time, turning it into a 4-hour drive.

(9/6/20) A footprint in the sand at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The heat and the smoke stayed with us right up until we were almost on top of the coast, then both dissipated rapidly. A nice off shore breeze blew in the cool 80-degree air and, while still smoky, it was much clearer than what we had just driven through.

(9/6/20) A cyclist rides buy during sunset on the bluffs above Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Being a holiday weekend, the crowds were more than our previous experiences. We couldn’t find a space in the small parking lot at Poplar Beach which is a dog-friendly venue. We were able to find a another lot near some little league fields near the coast about a mile away. It even had a dog park for Maisie to romp around in before getting to the beach.

(9/6/20) A couple looks out onto the ocean from the bluffs over Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

We had to hike about a mile or so to get to the beach access but the trail to there meandered along 40-50 ft-tall bluffs which provided great views of the ocean. Even though we were masked, there weren’t that many people on the trail and we didn’t have to try hard to avoid getting to close to anyone.

(9/6/20) Hundreds of people gather on Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The access point was a series of stairs carved into the bluffs. The were about 300 to 400 people on the beach. Had they been spread out over the entirety of the beach it wouldn’t have been much of a problem. But most of the people were congregated near the bottom of the stairs. Farther down the beach in both directions it was much less populated. We secured our masks and wound our way around groups of beachgoers, trying to stay at least 6 feet away from them. After about 200 yards or so we able to find a spot that was about 20 feet away from anyone else.

(9/6/20) A person sits on a blanket and looks out onto the ocean at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Arriving late due actually worked to our advantage, photographically speaking. Instead of getting there at about noon when the sun is directly overhead and not at its optimal for picture taking, we arrived around 2:30 p.m. The light was a little better then and as the day worn on, it only got better.

(9/6/20) Clifford Oto’s dog Maisie takes in the sunset at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay.. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

It was Maisie’s first time at the beach. She loves water but the ocean and its waves were a new experience. It took a little while but she romped in the surf like she was born to it.

(9/6/20) A fisherman prepares to fish in the surf at Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Other than that, we took in the cool sea breeze, wiggled our toes in the sand and just relaxed in the sun. It doesn’t sound like we did much, but the time seemed to pass quickly. Soon enough the sun began to sink towards the horizon. There was enough wildfire smoke to turn the sun and sky to a deep orange.

(9/6/20) A fishing boat trolls the waters of the coast of Poplar Beach on Memorial Day weekend in Half Moon Bay. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

While it was only a few hours, it was nice to take a short, socially-distanced trip to rest, relax and recharge our batteries.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Dew drop in

The newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is all wet, specifically, the subject is water drops. Now you may think summer is the wrong time for water drops and you may have a point. True, California is usually bone dry this time of year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find or create images of water droplets.

(5/27/08) Water drops on a rose blossom in Walnut Grove. (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/8.0. ISO: 400) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

If by some miracle we get some rain in the next few weeks, you’ll probably have to work fast. It will probably be warm and whatever rain that falls will evaporate quickly. Flowers, leaves, branches and blades of grass are good places to look. Make sure you’re sheltered from any wind. Not only will a breeze cause your subject to move, making it hard to focus, but it can also shake off what little water drops there may be

(4/2/13) Rain drops cover a cape plumbago in Clifford Oto’s backyard.(Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.5. ISO: 100) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

But rain is very unlikely, so what can you do? Sprinklers are a good substitute for a downpour. After you water your garden or lawn there’s bound to be droplets clinging to the plants in your landscaping.

(3/22/20) Water drops cling to a emerald and gold euonymus bush in Clifford Oto’s backyard. (Camera: Canon EOS 1DX Mark II. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON

You can target a specific plant or flower with spray bottle filled with water. Use a fine spray and you can rain a gentle mist down onto whatever you want to take a photo of. This great way to take water drop photos because you can direct exactly how much or how little water you want in your picture.

(1/29/17) Water drops condense on the outside of a water goblet. (Camera: Canon EOS 20DZ. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

You can also look for water drops as condensation. Simply take a soda can out of the fridge or fill a glass with ice water and within a few minutes moisture from the warmer surrounding air with bead up on the surfaces of the cup or can. Try using light coming from the side or even behind to really make the drops stand out.

(8/20/06) A studio photo of water drops into a cup. (Camera: Nikon D2x. Lens: Nikkor 16-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: f/22 @ 1/250th sec. ISO: 100. Dynalite flash) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

An advanced technique is capturing a water drop as it splashes into a cup or other receptacle. This could get messy so I’d suggest laying down some plastic or do it outside so that you won’t get things soaking wet. Fill a cup bowl or saucer with water (the shallower the vessel the more the water will “rebound” up), and get an eyedropper or something that will release drops of water one at a time. I also suggest putting your camera on a tripod and pre-focusing it on a certain spot and dropping the water drop on that spot. You’ll have to use a fast shutter speed to stop the motion of the water (1/500th of a second or faster). The timing of your shot will take a lot of practice and many attempts to get it right. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a long time. The results will be worth it. Try using backlighting or side lighting for the best results.

(4/10/12) Rain drops cling to apple leaves on a tree in Walnut Grove. Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Those who have a macro lens or closeup filters may have an advantage with this assignment. After all, images of water drops are essentially close-ups. But a telephotos lens set at its closest focus will do in a pinch and you can get macro filters for your smartphone cameras as well. Just try to get as close to your subject as possible.

(1/20/17) Rain drops cling to the branches of a bare sycamore tree highlighted by a out of focus street lamp in the background at DeCarli Waterfront Square in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D32. Lens: Nikon 70-200mm w/1.4 extender @ 340mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.8. ISO: 1600) [CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD STOCKTON]

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be taken between September 15 and September 29.

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.: “My dog Fido licks water drops off of the leaves of a bush at Victory Park 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 September 29. The top examples will be published on October 6 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at recordnet.com.

(4/10/12) Rain drops cling to a dandelion in Walnut Grove. Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]


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Readers Photo Challenge: Orange is the new black

The latest Readers Photo Challenge subject was the color orange. It’s a color that ranges from tabby cats to butterflies to sunsets. Many readers took advantage of the thick smoke that filled the valley from numerous area wildfires that turned the sun and skies to a hazy orange hue. 21 readers sent in a total of ninety-one photos. Here are some of the top examples.

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Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph the sun rising though smoke from area wildfires as a northern harrier flies by at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton.

Dave Skinner of Stockton went to the Cosumnes River Preserve to get his image of orange. With a Nikon D7500 DLSR camera he captured the rising morning sun. The skies were turned a slate gray from the wildfire smoke. The sun became an orange orb with bands of thicker smoke making it look more like Jupiter than our solar system’s star. A western harrier flies by on the left side of the frame creating a nice balance to the composition. The whole thing has the feeling of a Japanese block print in its simplistic beauty.

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Steven Rapaport of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 8 Plus to photograph his swim goggles on the pool deck at the In-Shape West Lane health club in Stockton.

Steven Rapaport went for morning swim exercise at the In-Shape West Lane health club in Stockton. He noticed the light reflecting off of the orange tinted glass of his swim goggles. He set the goggles on the pool’s concrete deck and with his Apple iPhone 8 Plus he captured the lenses and the orange light that bounced off of them.

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Teresa Mahken of Morada used a Nikon D7200 DSLR camera to photograph a boathouse on a lagoon near her mother’s home in Coupeville, WA.

Teresa Mahnken of Morada was staying with at her mother’s home in Coupeville, Washington, a small town on Whidbey Island on Puget Sound. It seems fall is coming a bit early to the area. Mahnken used a Nikon D7200 DSLR camera to photograph a boathouse on a nearby lagoon. She perfectly framed the structure in the branches and the orange leaves of a tree in the foreground to show the natural beauty of the area.

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Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph the sun rising through morning clouds and smoke from area wildfires from her backyard.

Orange is a bright and bold color. Great for adding drama to a photo. Carolyn Silva of Jackson captured a dramatic color and scene in her image from her backyard. A little after the sun had risen, much of its light was blocked by smoke from the wildfires and morning clouds Turing it into an orange ball. It’s light turned the edges of the clouds to orange as well. The thicker clouds became a purple/gray haze. Silva used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to capture the scene while adding tree branches in the foreground to held give some scale and context.

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Tom Moccia of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 11 Pro to photograph his daughters, Kinsey Moccia, 12, (left) and Kaitlyn Moccia, 17, watching a sunset from Yavapai Point at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Stocktonian Tom Moccia’s photos is one of serenity and contemplation. He used an Apple iPhone 11 Pro to photograph his daughters, Kinsey Moccia, 12, and Kaitlyn Moccia, 17, watching a the last bits of a sunset from the canyon edge at Yavapai Point at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

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Donn Sperry of Stockton used a Sony Alpha NEX-7 digital mirrorless camera to photograph a spider on its web against the rising sun at Brookside Lake in Stockton.

Stocktonian Donn Sperry’s orange photo is not for the squeamish. He used a used a Sony Alpha NEX-7 digital mirrorless camera with 18-105mm lens to photograph a spider in his backyard on Brookside Lake in Stockton. Set at 105mm, his lens is just a mild telephoto which means he had to physically get pretty close to get this shot of the arachnid silhouetted at the center of its web against a rising morning sun and a sky that was turned orange by recent wildfire smoke. The stands of the web are lit up by the streaming sunlight which also highlight the spider’s earlier catches.

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Cynthia Barker of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 8 to photograph a gulf frittilary butterfly wing in her backyard.

Part of photography is noticing things that might otherwise go unnoticed. Cynthia Barker of Stockton saw gulf frittilary butterfly wing in her backyard. She got in close and photographed it’s bright colors which stood out against the neutral tones of the ground with her Apple iPhone 8.

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Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D750 DSLR camera to photograph her 2-year-old nephew Vincent Surgeon playing with a toy dinosaur at his home in Denver. Colorado.

Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D750 DSLR camera to photograph her 2-year-old nephew Vincent Surgeon playing with a toy dinosaur at his home in Denver. Colorado. She focused in tightly on the boy’s hand as it walked the orange plastic reptile across a table.

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John Ranelletti of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 11 Max to photograph chips in a bowl at his home.

John Ranelletti of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 11 Max to photograph chips in a glass bowl sitting on a placemat at his home. The orange of the chips contrasted with the green of the mat for a study in colors.

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Jessica Flores of Stockton used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph an orange basketball hoop against the night sky at her home.

Jessica Flores of Stockton used her Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph a basketball hoop at her home. Normally I don’t like a direct flash on camera. It usually is too harsh, but in this case the stark flash makes the orange hoop and white net pop out against the darkness of the night sky.

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All of the entries can be seen in a gallery at recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued on Sept. 15

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Calculation, anticipation, execution

You may wonder how photographers get those great sports action shots. It may be of a wide receiver catching the ball in mid-air or a perfectly timed header in soccer or a dramatic drive to the hoop in basketball. There are 3 main things that good sports photographers work on to hone their craft. Calculation, anticipation and execution.

(11/22/19) Manteca’s Sunny Dozier, right, catches a pass over Capital Christian’s Carlos Wilson in the end zone but the catch was ruled out of bounds during a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III football semi-final at Capital Christian High school in Sacramento. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The calculation aspect is, in part knowing the game that you’re photographing. This insight helps the photographer know where to stand and what kind of play might happen and what part of the field it will occur.I remember shooting my very first water polo match. I knew very little about the game. It seemed that the whistle was blown every few seconds and the action would head down to the other end of the pool. I was confused. Needless to say, I was disappointed in my photos. Over the years I picked up a little knowledge through observation here and there while shooting the games and now I can shoot water polo competently.

(12/14/19) Ripon’s Caleb Johnston, left, sacks Highland quarterback Damien Pecoraro during the CIF Divison IV-AA football state championship game at Ripon High School. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

In most instances you want to stand in a place where the team you’re photographing is advancing toward you. In a sport like football you move down the field with the action and reposition yourself before the next play starts. In other fast-moving sports like basketball or soccer, it’s best to pick one spot and have the action come to you.

I played high school football so it’s the easiest for me to shoot. I know that a 3rd and long situation could likely be a passing play or a short yardage play may result in a run up the middle. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m right 100% of the time but it gives me some insight into what might happen so can anticipate the action.

(2/8/20) Pacific’s Pierre Crockrell II, left, drives to the hoop against Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross during a WCC men’s basketball game at UOP’s Spanos Center in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Anticipation is big in sports photography. Often the action happens so quickly that see you can’t it all through the camera. Anticipating when and where the peak action will be is an important skill. Once you learn the sport it becomes much easier to master. Sports photos are often about the conflict of when 2 opposing players confront each other. Sometimes will be all by himself on the field of court. It’s only when an opponent confronts him or her that things will get interesting, visually speaking. Anticipating when those moments happen will help you raise the level of your sports photography. 

(1/30/19) Lodi’s Edgar Lopez, left, and Tokay’s Eduardo Guillen fight for a header during a Tri-City Athletic League soccer game at Tokay in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] ORG XMIT: REC1901302300399072 ORG XMIT: REC1910021845265190

Execution comes from practicing a lot. A lot of it is learning by failure. Sometimes you miss a shot because you’re standing in the wrong spot, or you pushed the shutter button at the wrong time or you’re not paying attention to the situation on the field. 

Timing is a big part of sports photography. If you see a play happen through your viewfinder and then press the button, it’s likely that you’re behind the action and missed the play. Practice, practice, practice is the key to execution.

(2/29/20) The Manteca bench erupts with joy at winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III girls soccer championship over Christian Brothers 2-1 played at Liberty Ranch High School in Galt. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

An example of when all 3 things came together for me is when I shot the Manteca girls varsity soccer team play Christian Brothers for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship. I knew enough about the game from when my kids played rec soccer when they were kids so my positioning and timing were working well and I was getting some good action shots. In the business there’s what’s know as the jubilation or “jube” shot. It’s a photo of the winning team celebrating a win. The game was winding down to its last few minutes. Manteca had a 2-1 lead but Christian Brothers was rallying. With about 2 minutes left in the game I switch from the telephoto lens which I was using to capture the action on the field to a wide angle. I turned around and concentrated on the players on the sidelines. I knew that if Manteca could hold on to win, then celebratory bedlam could happen. Keeping one eye on the clock I kept my focus on the off-the field players who were nervously pacing the sidelines. The ref blew the whistle to signal the end of the game and the players exploded with joy and I got a shot of them rushing onto the field.

(2/29/20) Manteca’s Cameron Silva, shoots the ball past Christian Brothers goalkeeper Lillian Smith to score during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III girls soccer championship played at Liberty Ranch High School in Galt. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

There are a lot of little tips and tweaks that can help improve your sports photography, some may be unique to you, but calculation, anticipation and execution are the big three that will give you a solid foundation.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: The happiest color

“Orange is the happiest color.” – Frank Sinatra

The subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is the color orange. According to mymodernmet.com, the color didn’t have a name before the 16th century in Europe. It was referred as yellow-red or sometimes saffron, which has more of a yellow hue. It wasn’t until Portuguese traders brought the orange tree from Asia was the color named after the ripe citrus fruit.

(11/5/13) A bicyclist rides over the Donald B. Wood pedestrian bridge over the Calaveras River in Stockton during sunset. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Orange is also the color of other fruit and vegetables. Carrots, tangerines, pumpkins, mangoes and yams all have various shades of orange. You can arrange them in a still life or go out and photograph them in a field, orchard or even backyard garden.

[8/15/20] Sunlight shines through an orange slice in Record photographer Clifford Oto’s backyard.. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

On the color spectrum orange is a secondary color between red and yellow. Indeed, mixing equal parts of each color will render orange. It’s usually a bold, vibrant and dynamic color. Anything orange in a photo will likely have the viewer’s eye drawn toward it which makes it a very powerful compositional element.

(10/31/12) Rain drops cover a rose in Clifford Oto’s backyard. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

From poppies to begonias to marigolds there are many varieties of flowers that are orange. Try shooting extreme closeups of flowers to get the most out of them.

(1/2/19) A Stockton firefighter battles fires in 2 large dumpsters full of cardboard to be recycled at the Goodwill facility on Market and Grant streets in downtown Stockton. The flames can be spectacular but the addition of the firefighter helps to give the photo context. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Fire makes a good subject for the color orange. You can shoot a single candle in the dark or a campfire or fire pit in your backyard.

(4/8/12) Alfred Smith with the Reach Worship Center gives the sermon at the 13th annual Easter Sunrise Service at the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton.[CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Orange is the color of sunsets and sunrises. The sky usually turns orange just as the sun sinks or rises, depending on the time of day, low in the sky. Too long after a sunset or before a sunrise, the sky will be hues of pink and purple.

(9/19/18) A fisherman fishes during sunset at McLeod Lake from the Joan Darrah Promenade in downtown Stockton [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

You can use the color as an accent to draw attention to your subject in an otherwise neutral scene. Or you can use it as the primary color where the majority of your image is orange. Just make sure that it’s the main reason for you photo.

(5/6/11) Carrots sold on the first day of the downtown Farmer’s Market on Main Street between San Joaquin and Hunter Street in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be taken between August 18 and September 1.
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, 10, wears an orange hat at Victory Park 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 September 1. The top examples will be published on September 8 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at recordnet.com.

(5/2/18) After playing a round of golf Sharon Aldred shops for some oranges at the first certified farmers market at the Swenson Park golf course in Stockton. [[CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

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Readers Photo Challenge: Beyond a shadow of a doubt

Readers Photo Challenge: Beyond a shadow of a doubt

“Shadows” was the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge. Although a shadow is intangible and has no weight or substance in and of itself, optically it can carry a lot of heft in a photo and can make a bold visual statement. Seventeen readers sent in 59 photos.

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Jessica Flores of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 11 to photograph the shadows of a set of elephant sculptures at her home.

Jessica Flores of Stockton set up her shadow photo in her driveway. She used an Apple iPhone 11 to photograph a set of wooden elephant sculptures that she received as a gift from her bother-in-law. Shooting down from above, we can see the backs of the elephants but the shadows caused by the late afternoon sun create perfect silhouettes of the parading pachyderms on the pavement.

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Angelina Tomelioso of Lathrop used a Nikon D3400 DSLR camera of flowers she picked in her backyard and placed on her fence.

Angelina Tomelioso of Lathrop of made her shadow picture from flowers she picked in her backyard. She hung a single gazania blossom on a fence. She hung a single gazania blossom on a fence. With her Nikon D3400 DSLR, she shot from below with the late afternoon sun creating a bold outline of the flower on the textured fence.

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Carolyn Silva of Jackson of a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph a woodpecker on a tree under the shadow of a nearby oak tree in her backyard.

Silhouettes were also acceptable for this challenge since a silhouette is just the shadow side of a subject. Carolyn Silva of Jackson actually got both shadow and silhouette in a single image with her Nikon D7500 DSLR. In her backyard Jackson has set up bare manzanita branches next to a birdbath which is under a nearby oak tree. A woodpecker perched on the branches shaded by the tree. Exposing for the background, the bird and branches go dark while the out of focus grassy hill beyond provides a gauzy, colorful backdrop for which her subject to stand out against.

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Justin Grant used an Apple iPhone 8 to photograph the shadow of his bike created by the light reflecting off of his kitchen window.

Justin Grant of Stockton was getting ready for a bike ride when he saw a play of light and shadow before him. In his driveway, morning sunlight came over a fence creating a shadow of his bike on the left. At the same time the light reflected off of his kitchen window making a shadow of his bike on the right side as well, which he captured it all on his Apple iPhone 8.

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Angela Weaver of Stockton used a LG Stylo 4 smartphone in a waterproof case to photograph her 11-year-old son Adian Giraldez as he swims underwater at their backyard pool.

Angela Weaver of Stockton used a LG Stylo 4 smartphone in a to photograph her 11-year-old son Adian Giraldez in their backyard pool. As Adian swam beneath the surface she held her phone, in a waterproof case, under the water. Not only did Weaver captured her son’s shadow on the pool floor, but the web of light and shadows from the moving waters of the pool.

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Cynthia Barker of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 8 Plus to photograph the shadow of a gate at her home as her dog Beauty peeks through.

Cynthia Barker of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 8 Plus to photograph pattern of shadows as the morning sun streamed through a gate at her home. The long shadows on the ground lead the eye up to her dog “Beauty” who is peeking back at her thought the slats of the gate.

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Ann Jayne of Tracy used a Samsung S10 smartphone to photograph a photographer on the coast at Bandon, Oregon.

In photography, serendipity is when luck gives you just the right thing to complete your image. Ann Jayne of Tracy was in the town of Bandon on the Oregon coast waiting to take a picture of a sunset. The scene was pretty enough with the rugged outcroppings of the rocky shoreline and the warm glow of the sinking sun when another photographer walked into view. Instead of cursing the person for getting in the way, Jayne photographed him in the scene with her Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone and used him as a visual focal point for her composition.

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Tom LaBounty of Stockton sued a Sony A7r4 mirrorless digital camera to photograph the shadow of a model bicycle illuminated by a flashlight at his home.

Tom LaBounty of Stockton created his shadow picture by simply using a flashlight. He shined the light on a model of bicycle which cast its shadow on an interior wall of his home. It was then just a simple matter of LaBounty photographing the shadow with his Sony A7r4 mirrorless digital camera.

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All of the entries can be seen in an online gallery at recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued on August 18.

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What if?

The question “what if?” is often used to refer to things or events that are hypothetical. It could be as simple as: “what if I turned right instead of left?” Or it could be more philosophical: “what if you could go back in time and keep your parents from ever meeting (then how could you have been born to go back in time in the first place)?”

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

In photography, “what if” can be used to help to improve your photos. In almost any photographic situation, whether it’s sports, portraits, nature or news photography, the words “what if” should come into your head.

(4/25/20) Shot from overhead by performing a “Hail Mary” technique.. Seven-year-old Leah Sass of Lodi, touches up a chalk obstacle course that her parents Anna and Aaron Sass created at Vinewood Church at Vine Street and Mills Avenue in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

It could be as simple as “what if I took a step closer or a step back?” “What if I got down low and shot from a low angle or found a higher position for more of a bird’s-eye view?” I often shoot from a kneeling position. It’s the easiest way to get a low shot. You can also place the camera on the ground to get even lower. Conversely, I’ll get up high by doing what’s known in the business as a “Hail Mary,” by holding up the camera well over my head. Now, the ground level and overhead shots pretty much dictate that you can’t look through the camera and shoot at the same time. They require practice, some estimation and a little luck, but they can be mastered over time

(5/14/10) Shot with a wide-angle lens from a low angle. Competitors clear the first hurdle in the varsity boys 110-meter high hurdles at the SJAA Track meet at Bear Creek High School in Stockton.
(4/28/11) Shot from above with a telephoto lens. Runners leap over the first hurdle in the boys varsity 110-meter hurdles during a track and field meet between McNair, Edison and West high schools at Stagg High track in Stockton.

You can apply it when you should shoot. In photography timing is very important. “What if I came back late in the afternoon or early in the morning?” Would the light be different? Most certainly. Better? Probably so. Maybe you can come back later to a picturesque spot when there are fewer people in the background or foreground.

(3/30/20) TOP: An overall shot using a wide-angle lens. A hillside along Highway 49 near Electra Road just outside of Jackson are covered in golden poppies. The poppies are just now starting to bloom with their peak coming within a few weeks. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE
RECORD]
(3/30/20) A tighter shot using a telephoto lens. A hillside along Highway 49 near Electra Road just outside of Jackson are covered in golden poppies. The poppies are just now starting to bloom with their peak coming within a few weeks. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]
(3/30/20) A close-up shot using a telephoto lens. Golden poppies grown on a hillside along Electra Road just off of Highway 49 outside of Jackson. The poppies are just now starting to bloom with their peak coming within a few weeks. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]


“What if” could be applied to lighting. What if I moved a studio light from the left side to the right? Or added one or two more? Most studio lights have what are known as modeling lamps. They are constant light bulbs that are separate from the ones that flash so when you move the lights you can actually see the changes that occur.

(11/14/13) Shot with a telephoto lens (200mm) the scene includes very little of the pool in the background. Joe Dietrich, a former swimmer and water polo player at UOP, is being inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame shown here at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]
(11/14/13) Shot with a wide-angle lens (24mm) the scene includes much of the pool and the surrounding area in the background. Joe Dietrich, a former swimmer and water polo player at UOP, is being inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame shown here at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

“What if” can be practiced with lens choice. One of the biggest factors in determining the look of your photo is which lens you decide to use. A telephoto lens will compress things in your photo so that foreground subject and background elements will appear closer together. A wide angle will do just the opposite and include more of the background in the photo. By exercising a “what if” mentality you can explore the capabilities of each kind of lens.

(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. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD] Shot with a wide angle lens.
(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. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD] Shot with a telephoto lens.


“What if” can be a very important tool. For the beginner it should be a mantra running though your brain (“what if…what if..,what if”). It may not work all the time or even most of the time, but if you do it enough times you’ll likely come across something that works for you.

(05/24/16) Shot with a wide-angle lens from a low angle. Bear Creek’s Rydell Donato will be competing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Track and Field meet in Elk Grove on Thursday. {CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD}

As you get more experience, you may not need to repeat the phrase in your head as the practice of looking for all the possibilities in a situation becomes second nature to you and you will have an answer to the question of “what if.”

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Fourth time’s the charm

A few weeks ago I decided to get some photos of the comet NEOWISE that just passed through our solar system. It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime event because it won’t return for 6,800 years.

I read up on the comet. It was found by the telescope Near Earth Orbit Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) which was designed to find objects that might collide with the Earth. I read that the comet would appear low in the northeastern sky about an hour before sunrise. It was supposed to be bright and visible to the naked eye.

I picked the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton to shoot from because it’s far enough away from city lights which can visually drown out the stars, yet it’s also relatively close by, being only about a 1/2-hour drive north of Stockton. In the wee hours of July 9, I set out for the great comet hunt. Sunrise was at about 5:50 a.m. I figured that If I got there at about 4:30 a.m. should have plenty of time.

(7/9/20) Venus can be seen through some trees in the early eastern sky, shown here from the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Driving though the darkness, I could see what looked like a very bright star but it seemed to be more east than northeast. As I continued to drive the sky at the horizon was slowly turning blue with the approaching sunrise. I got to my destination and set up my equipment. Night photos of the sky requires a sturdy tripod to hold the camera still for the long timed exposures that can last for long seconds.

As I shot, something wasn’t quite right. It was certainly bright but didn’t seem to have a hallmark comet’s tail. Maybe I just couldn’t see it with the naked eye, I thought. I stayed until just before the sun broke the horizon when the ambient light wiped away most of the stars.

(7/9/20) Venus, top, can be seen in the early eastern sky rising above the star Aldebaran, shown here from the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

When looking at my photos on the computer I still couldn’t see a tail. I read up on it a little more and discovered my mistake. I had actually photographed the planet Venus. I had been looking directly east. I should have been pointed more northward. I was disappointed but vowed to go out the next morning armed with new knowledge.

(7/10/20) The comet NEOWISE can be seen beneath the stars Capella, top, and Menkalinan, center, from Desmond Road at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I went to the same spot on the morning of July 10 at the same time. My friend Venus was out to the east and I looked to the northeast to find the comet. I saw nothing. Now, my eyesight isn’t what it used to be and I need glasses to see things at a distance in low light. But even with my specs, I couldn’t find the comet. So I focused a wide-angle lens on infinity, pointed it in the general direction of northeast and fired away. My hopes a bit dashed, I headed home.

I read up on it some more. If one drew a straight line diagonally from the star Capella down to another star Menkalinan and continued the line downward, that’s where you’d find the comet. To my surprise when viewing the photos on my computer, I had actually captured the comet. It was small and faint but I got it nonetheless. Apparently when it was said that the comet could be seen with the naked eye, that meant for someone with very good eyesight. It was suggested that using binoculars would make it easier to see

(7/11/20] The comet NEOWISE can be seen from Desmond Road at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]


On the morning of July 11, I headed out once again, this time armed with a pair of binoculars. I arrived at the same place, perhaps a few minutes earlier. I set up my camera and broke out the binoculars. I quickly found the 2 guide stars which led me to the comet. I took a several wide-angle and medium shots then changed to a long telephoto lens. By the time it took me to switch, I lost the comet. The sky filled with too much ambient light and it couldn’t be seen anymore. I realized that part of my problem was I had been going out too late

(7/13/20] The comet NEOWISE is seen in the northeastern morning sky from the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton.The comet is named after the telescope that first discovered it in March 2020, the Near Earth Orbit Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. Launched in 2009, the telescope’s mission was to find any object that could an impact hazard to the Earth. According to NASA, the comet, about 3 miles in diameter, will pass harmlessly by the Earth at a distance of about 63 million miles. Look for the comet in the northeastern sky about an hour after sunset starting July 14 through July 23. It will appear as a faint star with a long tail. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I needed to catch up on my lost sleep so I took July 12 off. I went out on the morning of July 13. This time I got there are 3:15 a.m. It was so early that even Venus hadn’t risen yet. Once again I set everything up and then I waited. Finally, at around 3:50 a.m. I spotted the comet through my binoculars. I worked quickly to get both wide-angle telephoto shots. When I could no longer see the comet, I headed home, satisfied with what I got.

(7/13/20] The comet NEOWISE is seen in the northeastern morning sky from the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I later read that the comet would be seen in the evening about 1 hour after sunset a week after I had shot it in the morning. All could think about was how much sleep I could have saved had I read that sooner.
One of my tips I give to photographers who get a new camera is to read the instructions thoroughly. It seems I would do well to heed my own advice. At least I might get more sleep that way.

(7/13/20] The comet NEOWISE is seen in the northeastern morning sky from the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: The shadow knows

“Who knows what creativity lurks in the hearts of men. The Shadow knows.” – paraphrased from the 1930s “The Shadow” radio drama.

“Shadows” is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. Shadows are intangible and lack physical substance but can make bold visual statements nonetheless.

(10/25/19) Lincoln’s Wendy Minn casts a shadow as she hits a forehand during the Tri-City Athletic League girls singles championship tennis match against Tracy’s Quyhn Trosien at the In-Shape Marina in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Shadows are pretty easy to shoot. No special equipment is required. You can photograph them with a top-of-the-line DSLR or with your cellphone. All you need is a strong, unfiltered. light source. Sunny days are the usually the best source of light to create shadows. Try to avoid cloudy or overcast skies which can make indistinct shadows or even eliminate them all together.

(1/13/16) A cyclist casts a long shadow as he rides along Scotts Avenue at Center Street in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

With the sun being mostly overhead the main place to look for shadows is the ground, but if you wait for the early morning or late afternoon setting sun, then shadows can be cast up against vertical surfaces such as an exterior wall. Or you can have long shadows on the ground which can be more visually interesting. You also get an added benefit of having a warmer, more pleasing quality of light at those hours.

(1/15/14) A boy plays in the surf at Torrey Pines State Beach in La Jolla. (Top) An example of the darker background of the shadow of an oncoming wave blending into the silhouette of the boy resulting in his head appearing to disappear. (Bottom) The boy is separated from any other silhouetted portion of the photo resulting in a much stronger, more readable picture. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

In addition to shadows, silhouettes are also acceptable for this challenge, after all a silhouette is the shadow side of whatever subject you’re photographing. What both shadows and silhouettes have in common is that you have to be careful not to intersect other shadows and/or silhouettes with what you’re shooting. Too many things that overlap your subject will obscure it and ruin your shot. Look for clean lines and shapes on relatively clutter-free surfaces. The shadow has to stand out prominently in the composition.

(11/2/14) Pily Romero with the Aztec group Ocelotl Iscali casts a shadow on the ground as she performs an Aztec dance with the group at a Dia De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration at De Carli Square in downtown Stockton The dancer’s feet are closer to the ground which makes the shadows there sharper than the shadows farther out of her headdress which is fuzzier. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

If you’re creating a shadow with an artificial light source like an indoor lamp there a couple of things to consider. First, the farther away the light is from your subject, the less distinct the shadow will be. Try to get it as close as possible. The second consideration sounds similar but is just the opposite. It applies to outdoor shadows as well as indoors, the farther away your subject is away from where the shadow is being cast, eg. a wall or the ground, the fuzzier its edges will be. To get the sharpest shadow, try to place your subject as close as possible to whatever surface you’re trying to cast it upon.

(7/3/06) Boy Scout Daniel Goldberg’s shadow is cast against a flag as he salutes it before it is burned in a flag retirement ceremony held by Troop 515 at Lincoln Park in Tracy. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

For this challenge the shadow has to be prominent in your photo and not just an incidental part of it. It has to the main reason for your image beyond a shadow of a doubt.

(4/15/18) A small stand of poppies cast shadows on the pavement near the Visitors Center at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be taken between June 21 and August 4.

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 Done, 9, casts a shadow on the sidewalk at Victory Park 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 August 4. The top examples will be published on August 11 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at recordnet.com.

(7/18/18) Riders and their horses throw shadows against the wall of the arena during a practice of the Escaramuza Flor de Gardenia horse riding team start at Elda Padilla’s ranch in French Camp. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]


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Readers Photo Challenge: Raise a glass

The subject for the June/July Readers Photo Challenge was “glass.” The difficulties for the assignment were twofold. First, photographing glass one has to deal with it’s physical qualities. Glass is often transparent so properly dealing with the background very important. It’s also shiny and one has to also look to eliminate unwanted reflections or incorporate picturesque reflections in the photo. The second obstacle was a creative one. Most glass objects are ones we find in our every day lives. A cup, a window of a soda bottle, are all mundane items which we can often overlook as subjects because we see them all the time. Part of the challenge was over come those biases and think creatively.

Sixty-one photos were sent in by nine readers. Here are some of the top examples.

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Cynthia Barker of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 8 to photograph her favorite glass cup at her home.

Cynthia Barker of Stockton took advantage of glass’ transparency. She turned her favorite juice glass onto its side and let the light shine though it and photographed it with an Apple iPhone 11. The specked colored glass poured onto the white gift wrap paper that the cup was sitting on and created a visual cacophony of color and squiggles of light. Barker left just enough of the cup in the photo to provide a point of reference to anchor one’s eye in reality in her otherwise abstract work of art.

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Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph The U.S. Bank Tower building in downtown Sacramento.

Dave Skinner of Stockton photograph the U.S Bank building in downtown Sacramento. With his Nikon D7500 DSLR camera he captured the building’s geometric lines but slight imperfections in the it’s windows caused its reflections to warp. Those freeform reflections contrasted nicely with the rigid structure of the building.

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Jessica Flores of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 11 to photograph the setting sun through a wine glass at Villa L’auberge hotel n Del Mar, California.

Jessica Flores of Stockton took her glass picture while on vacation in Del Mar, California near San Diego. At the end of a day, she placed a glass of wine on the balcony railing of the timeshare condo she stayed at and photographed it with an Apple iPhone 11. The setting sun Flores’ photo captures a spirit of rest and relaxation and putting your feet up and sighing “aah” after a long day.

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Steven Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR camera to photograph a detail of a bird feeder at his home.

Steve Rapaport of Stockton turned a simple glass hummingbird feeder in his backyard into and abstract work of art. With a Canon 5D Mk IV DSLR camera he photographer a detail of the fluted, red glass stem of the feeder. The class looks like it could be a high speed shot of some colored water or molten glass as it ports downward. The “bokeh,” or out-of-focus round highlights in the background provide a nice touch to his image.

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Keith Barker of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph glass marbles in a fountain in his yard.

Cynthia Barker’s husband Keith sent in a picture of his own. He arranged a few glass marbles from his marble collection into a water fountain in his yard. With an Apple iPhone XR he captured the hard spherical geometry of the marbles which contrasted nicely with the free-form amorphousness of the burbling water.

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Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel XS DSLR camera to photograph a glass plate ghat she added some food coloring to at her home.

Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon Rebel XS DSLR camera to photograph a glass platter she usually serves deviled eggs on. She poured some food coloring into some sections of the dish and photographed it from beneath. The resulting image is a wonderful abstract montage of color and pattern.

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All of the photos can be seen in an online gallery at recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued on July 21.

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