Season of lights

The start of the holiday season is just a week a way and with it comes the season of lights. The next Readers Photo Challenge assignment is Christmas lights. While it might seem a bit early (Christmas is still several weeks away) there are already holiday commercials playing on television and some stores have put up their Christmas displays even before Halloween was over. Many neighborhoods have at least one house that goes all out with their lights.

There are a few tricks to photographing Christmas light displays. Essentially they’re night shots so the first and most important rule is to use a tripod. This will ensure you’re your photos will be sharp and shake-free.

Don’t use a flash. If you’re too far away it will be ineffective. If you’re too close it will wash out the scene and make your photo look artificial. Capturing the ambient glow of the Christmas lights should be your goal and using a flash can be counterproductive.

Avoid using your camera on any automatic settings. Either the darkness surrounding your subject will fool your camera into thinking it’s too dark and thus it will overexpose your shot or the intense lights will make the camera believe that the scene is too bright and cause an underexposure in your photos. Although it may be intimidating for some, using your camera on manual is usually the best way to go. Most point-and-shoot cameras don’t have a manual setting but they may have a night photography function that can work for you.

Depending on what kinds of lights are used and how many there are, exposures for Christmas lights can vary quite a bit. A good starting point for your exposure is an aperture of around f/8 with a shutter speed of about 10 seconds. Check your camera’s monitor to see how close your exposure is and then you can adjust your settings accordingly.

If you have a zoom lens one advanced trick is to try carefully zooming the lens in or out during a long exposure. This will turn the points of light into colorful streaks and give your photo some visual movement.

Some people like shooting during the twilight of the so-called “blue hour.” It’s the time just after sunset when the sky turns a deep indigo blue. It helps define features such as trees and rooftops that would otherwise blend into the dark night sky and adds even more color to your photo. Other people prefer have the lights stand out against the inky blackness of later in the evening. The choice is yours.

Go out with a photo buddy. Not only is there safety in numbers, but it’s more fun to share the experience whether you’re taking photos or just out to look at the lights.

Lastly, it can get pretty chilly when the sun goes down this time of year. Make sure that you dress appropriately.

Due to the earliness of the season and many displays that are yet to be put up, you’ll have an extra few weeks to get your photos in. The deadline will be Dec. 18 with the best examples published on Christmas day, Dec. 25 along with a gallery of all the entries on the same day at Recordnet.com.

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Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Christmas Lights” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Nov. 20 and Dec. 18. The photos must include nighttime exterior holiday displays.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe, Stockton. at Gibson Street in Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 24-70mm lens”).

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and where they are and what they are doing. (eg: “Jane Smith, 25, of Stockton, looks at the Christmas lights on a house on Northstar Drive in Stockton”)

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday Dec. 18. The top examples will be published in The Record and my blog at Recordnet.com on Thursday, Dec. 25 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

Posted in Column, Night, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment

Grace from fall

If spring is the season of rebirth then fall is the harbinger of the year’s finale. But rather than going quietly into the night fall gives us a last visual cacophony before surrendering to colorlessness of old man winter.

Fall colors, more specifically, fall leaves, is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. When the challenge was issued three weeks ago the change of seasons was just beginning. Now fall is in full swing and brightly colored leaves and trees can be found on nearly every street corner.

Some of the people who entered the challenge traveled far afield to get their photos (the furthest being South Carolina) while others literally stayed home.

Eighteen people sent in a total of 91 photos. Here are some of the best examples.

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Even though the changing color of leaves is a relatively slow process, sometimes you have to be in the mindset to be ready for quick action to get just the right moment to capture the colors of fall.

Mary Paulson of Valley Springs was driving through Washoe County, Nevada just after a rain shower. She spotted a rainbow arcing over a tree in a field and pulled her car over to get a shot with her Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ100 digital point-and-shoot camera. The tree’s yellow leaves contrasted against the blue/grey clouds and complimented the colors of the rainbow.

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As with many things photographic, light is everything. The right light can make even the smallest often overlooked thing magical.

Janet Baniewich of Stockton photographed three simple berry leaves with a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera as they stuck up from the surrounding forest floor at Big Sur State Park. The low angle of the afternoon sun backlit the leaves perfectly, highlighting their red fall colors and the dark shadows on the ground around the leaves made them pop out even more.

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Ken Class of Lodi used an iPhone5 to photograph an alder sprig as it floated on the surface of Lake Norman in North Carolina. The bright yellow leaves contrasted with the dark water and the branches of the tree from which the sprig fell from are reflected in the shimmering waters and made for an abstract patterned background for them.

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In photograph the term bokeh, from the Japanese word boke meaning blur or haze, refers to the aesthetically effect of an out of focus background. More specifically out of focus points of light. These points will become relatively large soft pleasing circles of light. They’re usually found in urban night photos but Susan Scott of Stockton used some in a daytime photo of a tree on the street where she lives.

Scott focused her Canon Rebel DSLR camera on a single branch of a sugar maple tree. Due to a relatively large lens aperture, the trees in the distance behind the branch were thrown out of focus and the highlights on those trees created a nice bokeh affect that enhanced the fall colors in the background.

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Though the challenge assignment called for fall leaves, then didn’t have to be the main focus of the photo. Joanne Sogsti of Lodi did a little thinking out of the box in her photo. She photographed a dogwood tree in Murphys with a Canon Rebel T1i DSLR camera but rather than focusing on the tree’s leaves she picked out a small bunch of berries. The blurriness of the bright red leaves combined with the bokeh of the light coming through the tree gives her image lots of swirling visual movement and an almost abstract quality to it.

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With the drought that’s hit west for the last few years things have been pretty dry around here, but 17-year-old Sydney Sprugeon of Stockton manage to take advantage of the little precipitation that we had recently. She and her family took a trip up to Silverlake (elevation 7200 ft.) in the Sierras just after a storm. She used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera to photograph a bright red maple leaf laying on a fresh dusting of snow.

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Due to their thinness, backlighting can help to light up leaves like light bulbs but using light coming from the side can be an effective tool as well. Armed with his Canon EOS 5D MkIII DSLR camera Rick Wilmot of Lodi used side lighting to photograph maple leaves on a tree in Valley Springs. The light from the afternoon sun came in from the right side of the frame which helped Wilmot to capture the richness of the leaves colors.

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All the entries can be seen in a photo gallery at our Web site Recordnet.com. Stay tuned for the next challenge assignment on Thursday.

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October outtakes 2014

“October is the fallen leaf, but it is also a wider horizon more clearly seen. It is the distant hills once more in sight, and the enduring constellations above them once again.” – Hal Borland

Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from October.

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10/1/14:

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10/2/14:

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10/3/14:

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10/6/14:

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10/17/14:

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10/23/14:

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10/25/14:

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More fall

There’s just a couple of days left for the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Fall color. Leaves on trees everywhere near and far are now changing with the season so finding a subject should be easy to find.

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Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Fall Color” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Oct. 23 and Nov. 6. Trees and leaves can be the main subject or just in the background but fall color mush be a part of the photo. If possible try to include the species of tree (eg: oak, elm, sycamore, etc).

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe, Stockton. Syacmores at Grupe Park in Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 75-300mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and where they are and what they are doing. (eg: “Jane Smith, 25, of Tracy, stands under a liquidambar tree at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton”)

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday Nov. 6. The top examples will be published in The Record and my blog at Recordnet.com on Thursday, Nov. 13 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

Posted in Enterprise, Nature, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment

All in the family

Now is the time of year that many people start to think about taking family portraits. They want photos to send as Christmas cards or with seasonal newsletters to their family and friends during the holidays. Some might have their picture taken by a professional photographer while others may them with their own cameras. If you’re planning to go the do-it-yourself route, there are a few tips to make the picture taking process go smoother and the photos look better.

Use a tripod. You could set your camera on a table, chair or counter but you’ll be restricted the height of what you set it on and you can’t always move the furniture to where you need it to be. A tripod allows place your camera anywhere you want it to be.

Set up your camera and determine your exposure and settings well ahead of time. The last thing you want is to be fiddling with your camera while your family fidgets as you get your act together. Most people don’t like to wait, especially if there are small children involved.

Since you’re going to be in the photo with the rest of your family, more than likely you’ll use your camera on self-timer. You can get a cable release or an infrared or radio remote trigger to trip the shutter but those are an added expense for something you’d only use once or twice a year. The self-timer is your best, most cost-effective bet. Plan a space for yourself. Once you press the shutter button you’ll have about 10 seconds to get into place. If you’re scrambling to place yourself in the picture, the camera may fire before you’re ready.

There is a natural tendency for people to line up their subjects in a line shoulder to shoulder in front of a wall. Unfortunately it makes them look like they’re lined up for an execution. Have them take several steps away from any wall to avoid that facing-a-firing-squad look.

Posing a group photo is a delicate balance. You want to avoid having all of their heads at the same level that a lined-up pose would give at the same time you’d don’t want your subjects too far apart either. Try placing some of the subjects in front and others behind as well as having some sit. If there is one person who’s particularly taller than the rest have him/her be the one that’s sitting. Compositionally you want the viewer’s eye to move easily from face to face in the photo.

If you can, avoid using on-camera flash. It can give that deer-in-the-headlights look to your subjects. Using the flash off camera is preferable but unless you’re experienced at using studio-style lighting I recommend that you leave that for the experts. Natural window light provides nice soft illumination. If there isn’t enough light inside, try taking the photo outdoors. Avoid bright sunlight, it can create harsh shadows and cause your subjects to squint. Find some open shade under a tree or in the shadow of a building to provide some even lighting.

Watch out for busy distracting backgrounds. The last thing you want is a tree or telephone pole growing out of someone’s head.

Dress similarly but not exactly alike so that you’ll have a cohesive, family look without losing each subject’s individuality. Try to wear a classic style that won’t be passé in a few years time. It may seem like a cute idea at the times but in a few years having everyone wear the same Christmas sweater may look clichéd or even ridiculous.

Don’t be afraid to take a lot of pictures. It’s difficult at times to get everyone smiling and not blinking at the same time. The more shots you take the better chances you’ll have just the right shots.

We’ve all seen photo galleries on the Internet of bad family photos. Most are badly conceived, planned and executed with bad clothes, bad lighting and/or bad composition. With a little thought and patience you could have a picture that your family will cherish forever.

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Random photo #38: Royal ride

Dressed as a princess 2-year-old Mia Leon rides the carousel at the Pixie Woods Halloween party in Stockton. Children under 12 wearing a costume received free admission to the event.

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Color my (fall) world

Fall color is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment.

New England is famed for the fall color of its forests, and rightly so. But if the East Coast isn’t included in your travel plans there are places much closer to home to photograph the changing of the seasons. The June Lake Loop of off Highway 395 south of the town of Lee Vining in the Sierra Nevada is known for its fall color as well as Highway 89 near Monitor Pass. Still, those places are both several hours of driving from the Central Valley and there places much closer yet. Lodi Lake, Oak Grove Regional Park and the Delta may not always provide large swaths of color but you still can find small stands of trees or individual ones that produce great color. The agricultural lands surrounding Stockton such as orchards and vineyards can be subjects that provide fall color. You can even shoot the trees in you own backyard as they change colors.

Fall leaves start to change colors due to the shortening of the days of the season. The green of spring and summer comes from daylight and the process of photosynthesis in the leaves. With the coming of shorter days the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down and the green disappears. What remains are the yellows and oranges that were there all the time. Other chemical processes occur to produce additional colors such as reds and purples in some trees.

Most leaves are thin and translucent especially when the green fades away from them. The best way to photograph them is backlit (light coming from the rear of the leaf). This shows off their colors with much more vibrancy and color saturation. Front lit photos of leaves tend to be flat and the colors washed out. But with the light coming from behind the leaves can almost glow like Christmas tree lights.

No special equipment is needed. You can use anything from DSLRs to point-and-shoot cameras to even cellphones. Any kind of lens is acceptable from a wide angle to get an overall of a single tree or stand of trees, to a telephoto to get just a portion of one. If you want to get close, a macro lens will get you as close as an individual leaf or smaller portions thereof.

The leaves don’t even have to be on the trees. Fallen leaves, whether singly, in piles or carpeting the ground can also make compelling photos. They don’t even have to be the main subject of your picture. Fall leaves and trees, in or out of focus, can be a colorful backdrop for a portrait.

There are countless ways for you to capture the spirit of fall. So go out and hues of the season color your photographic world.

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Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Fall Color” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Oct. 23 and Nov. 6. Trees and leaves can be the main subject or just in the background but fall color mush be a part of the photo. If possible try to include the species of tree (eg: oak, elm, sycamore, etc).

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe, Stockton. Syacmores at Grupe Park in Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 75-300mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and where they are and what they are doing. (eg: “Jane Smith, 25, of Tracy, stands under a liquidambar tree at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton”)

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday Nov. 6. The top examples will be published in The Record and my blog at Recordnet.com on Thursday, Nov. 13 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

 

Posted in Column, Nature, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment

Random photo #37: Upon reflection

An egret is reflected as it rests on a partially submerged log in the waters of Smith Canal in Stockton.

Posted in Animals, Birds, Enterprise, Nature, Random Photo | Tagged | Leave a comment

Readers Photo Challenge: Good sports

Sports photography is hard. The first thing one has to do is to master timing. Knowing when to press the shutter button is no minor thing and, like the sports themselves, takes practice, practice, practice to learn. All that is hard enough, but on top of that one also has to consider other sound photographic practices of exposure, composition and expression. Every sports photographer knows the disappointment of missing the moment and the satisfaction of getting a great shot.

The latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is sports and the response reflects how difficult the task was. Only 6 people entered 25 photos, but those few rose to the challenge. Here are some of the best examples.

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Water polo is a tough sport to shoot. It’s fast paced and, if you don’t know how it’s played, it’s unpredictable. The refs’ whistles are blown quite often, sometimes for no seemingly apparent reason. The ball changes hands often so it’s difficult to keep track of the action.

Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton photographed a St. Mary’s boy’s varsity water polo game against Davis with a Nikon D90 DSLR with a 18-70mm lens. She shot St. Mary’s Jack Kirby as he prepared to shoot on goal. Spurgeon captured the intensity of Kirby’s face as he cocked his arm back ready to fire. Two Davis defenders with arms raised in the foreground made for a nice triangular composition with Kirby at the apex.

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When is a sport not a sport yet still a sport when it comes to photography? There are some activities that aren’t sports per se but require sports-shooting skills nonetheless.

Stan Sogsti of Lodi photographed a fencing “match” at the Northern California Renaissance Faire at Casa De Fruta, near Hollister, Ca. Fencing is an ancient sport requiring skill and stamina, but in this context its more stage play than competition. The actors often train as hard as any athlete and even though the outcomes may be predetermined, photographing them needs the same level of timing, accuracy and commitment as shooting any sporting event.

Using a Canon Rebel T1i DSLR with a Tamron 18mm-270mm lens Sogsti captured a peak moment of action in the fencing match as well as the expressions of the actors involved in the scene.

One of the things to look for in a sports photo is the expression on the faces of the athletes. It often shows on their faces with a scowl or grimace as competitors exert themselves to the utmost of their abilities.

Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7000 DSLR with a Nikkor 55-300mm lens to photograph a University of the Pacific women’s volleyball match against St. Mary’s at UOP’s Spanos Center. He caught Pacific’s Gillian Howard as she leapt to block a spike by an opposing player. Her mouth agape and eye squinting in concentration, Howard’s intensity is apparent even though the ball isn’t in the picture.

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Stay tuned for next Thursday for a new challenge assignment.

Posted in Readers Photo Challenge, Sports | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Levels

In sports there are varying levels of skill that more or less increase by age. Our children start out in recreation youth leagues in sports such as soccer, football or baseball. As they get older and more adept they move to “select” or “comp” leagues where they can play on club teams where the competition is stiffer. High school is where most people get their true competitive sports experiences. Those who excel there might move on to college teams, and the elite university players might be lucky enough to go pro.

With every rung of the ladder, photographers wanting to shoot sports need to step up their skills, as well. While one may be great at shooting their kid’s rec soccer game, it’s an entirely different story photographing a high school one. The level of speed and skill goes up exponentially.

I’ve been shooting a number of high school volleyball matches this season. I usually stand at the back of the gym with a telephoto lens, at floor level, facing the net and wait for the players to either hit or block the ball. It’s a prime spot to get those “at-the-net” shots.

On Sept. 9, I shot my first University of the Pacific women’s volleyball match of the season. I stood in a place that was the equivalent to the back-of-the-gym spot that I use at the high school games. A curious thing happened. When the players would jump for a spike or block, their faces would be hidden behind the wide tape at the top of the net. It was then I realized (and had forgotten from earlier seasons) that the young women of the Pacific team were jumping significantly higher than the girls of the high school teams.

Fortunately there was a solution. At the far ends of the court at UOP’s Spanos Center there are seats high above the floor. From there I was able to get shots over the net of the players as they smashed the ball. It was a reminder that when you go up the sports “food chain,” your photographic skills have to increase as well.

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There still are a few more days left in the sports challenge so send in your favorite sports shot from the last few weeks.

Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Sports” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Sept. 25 and Oct 11. It can be of an organized event or just a casual game, but must be sports related.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe, Stockton. Grupe Park in Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 75-300mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and where they are and what they are doing. (eg: “Jane Smith, 25, of Tracy, hits a forehand while playing tennis at the Oak Park Tennis Complex in Stockton”)

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

6. The deadline for submission is Saturday Oct. 11. The top examples will be published in The Record and my blog at Recordnet.com on Thursday, Oct.16 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

Posted in Readers Photo Challenge, Sports | 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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