Eclipse of the eyes

On Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will cut a 70-mile wide diagonal path across the country starting from Oregon and ending South Carolina. While we won’t be able to see the total phase of the eclipse here in Stockton, we will get a partial eclipse that will cover about 78% of the sun.

It is important to note that to view a solar eclipse one must use special eye protection or risk serious damage to your sight including blindness. Regular sunglasses won’t do.

For the last eclipse in 2014 I made a filter out mylar, which is a paper thin polyester coated with a metallic finish, for a 200-400mm telephoto zoom lens.

The lens has a front end diameter of about 110mm (about 4.3 inches), far too big for a conventional filter. Instead, the lens employs what’s called a drop-in filter, which is smaller (52mm) and fits into a holder that slides into a slot near the rear of the lens. I had made a filter by fitting mylar over a spare drop-in holder but I wasn’t totally satisfied with my results. The material scattered the a light a little too much but more importantly, sliver color of the mylar left my images looking bereft of color.

I have seen photos shot with a black polymer filter which gives the sun a nice orange hue, but those filters can cause a couple hundred bucks. A bit expensive for shooting something that only occurs every few years. I decided to try to make one myself.

A black polymer sheet, which is paper thin, transmits only 1/1000th of 1% of light through it. They too are a bit expensive, about $30 to $60 for a single 12”x12” sheet. Being a self-avowed cheapskate, I tried looking for another way.

I had a pair of eclipse viewing glasses leftover from the last eclipse. It has a thin cardboard frame (like those old 3D movie glasses) with the black polymer lenses.

I cannibalized the rectangular lenses but at about 1-1/2” x 1”, they were far too small to cover the front of the large lens. The solution was to adapt the round mylar filter that I had already made.The problem was to how to make a square peg into a round hole. I cut a rectangular hole in the mylar filter and simply taped the polymer lens into it.

I took a few test shots of the sun with the new filter and reviewed the images on the camera’s monitor. They were perfect. The sun appeared as a bright orange orb against a field of black. 
I lifted the camera to take more test photos to make sure. After a few more frames, the viewfinder was suddenly filled with a blinding white light. I quickly pulled away from the camera to avoid injuring my eye. I knew that the filter had failed. Pulling it from the slot, I saw that there was a pencil eraser-sized hole in the center. Because the filter was near the focus point of light, that created enough heat to melt the filter, much like using a magnifying glass to start a fire. The mylar was able to reflect enough the heat for it to stay intact, the black polymer was not.

Much the same thing can happen to your eyes if you look at the sun or eclipse without protection. It can seriously damage your retinas.

I broke down and got a bigger sheet of polymer for the front of the lens. It was a smaller piece (4.5” x 5.5”) so it only cost $13.50. I fashioned filter out of it and cardboard from an old shoe box and it fit nicely over the end of the lens. It’s not pretty, but I did some test shots with it and it worked and held up well.

The Stockton Astronomical Society in conjunction with Delta College astrophysics professor Lincoln Lee will be holding an eclipse viewing party at Delta starting at about 9:00 a.m. (the peak will occur at about 10:21 PDT) They will have a number of telescopes equipped with filters, indirect viewing devices and eclipse glasses. A solar eclipse is a fantastic celestial event to witness, just make sure you have the proper eye protection to view safely.

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Outtakes: Goodbye July

“Hot July brings cooling showers,
Apricots and gillyflowers.” – Sara Coleridge

The most patriotic of months has come and gone as summer turns the corner and heads down the backstretch. Here are some of my favorite previously unposted photos from July.

















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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Vacation

With children returning to school summer is starting to wind down which makes it the perfect time for the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Vacation.

Vacation photos are basically travel photos. A good travel picture conveys the sense of place to land you’ve traveled to. A few years ago my son went to Japan on trip with his Boy Scout troop. When planning their itinerary, some of the boys suggested they go to the Tokyo Disneyland. That was voted down because others argued that they could go to Disneyland in Anaheim and the experience wouldn’t be much different.

You want to capture the unique feel of the place you’ve journeyed to. Sometimes it’s the architecture like in a place like New York City. It can be about monuments and statures which abound in Washington D.C. Other times it can be about the beauty of the landscape which can range from the serenity of a costal location like Bodega Bay to the mountainous grandeur of Yosemite.

Don’t forget about the people. Faces and people can add to the flavor to your photos. A photo of a street scene may look a little sterile without any people. Waiting for a person or group of people to enter a scene may add a little life to the image.

As with all pictures time of day is important. Late afternoon and early morning light is the best. It gives your photos a nice warm glow. Try night photos too. A boring scene during the day can may come to life at night.

Those of you who had a “staycation” at home can send in pictures too. Anything of you and yours having fun closer to home is acceptable as well.

Some of you may already have gone on your trips, so for this assignment the time period extends back to the traditional start of vacation prime time, Memorial Day, May 29.
If you have a trip planned in the next few weeks you’re in luck, too. in addition to the retroactive extension of the time period for shooting, and extra week has been added to the deadline as well.

How to Enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between May 29 and August 31.

3. Entries are limited to up to 12 photos from each photographer.

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

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. Also please identify the body of water you are photographing (e.g.: Jimmy Doe of Stockton stands near the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Aug 31. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on September 7 at

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Sunset, moonrise

On Saturday night I photographed the weekly races at Stockton 99 Speedway in Stockton. I set up in my usual spot atop the press box on the west side of the track. It affords me a relatively unobstructed view over the safety fence. At around 8:00 p.m. between races I looked to the west and the bright orange glowing orb that was the setting sun on the horizon.

I turned back towards the track and at the same time as the sun was setting, a full moon was rising in the east. The man-in-the-moon face smiled back at me as it slowly rose above the clouds tinged with the warm light from the setting sun directly opposite from it.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Down by the river

I grew up in a small river town in the Delta, so I know how wonderful river life can be. I remember as a kid splashing around in my favorite swimming hole and I know what its like when the heat of a summer’s day is dissipated by the cool evening river breeze. This is the inspiration for the current Readers Challenge assignment of “rivers” Entries ranged from sunsets on the rivers to people recreating on the water. Sixteen readers sent in 82 photos. Here are the top picks.


River life happens at a quieter and more peaceful pace than city living. Teresa Mahnken beautifully captured that serenity in her photo while on a kayaking trip on Lodi Lake.
With a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera she photograph a lone egret as it hunted for food among the reeds along a shoreline of the lake. The early morning light imbues her photo with warm tones. That warmth and the gracefulness of the egret are also reflected in the slightly shifting waters of the lake.


Rivers are perfect settings for sunsets. Sonia Avila of Stockton use a Nikon D700 DSLR camera to photograph a sunset on the deep water channel at Louis Park in Stockton. The reeds and pampas grass at the edge of the channel’s shore provide interesting foreground detail as while she captured the deep rich colors of the sunset.


Most people think of wide, slow-moving rivers, swiftly-flowing streams or even babbling brooks, but people don’t often think of that all these bodies of water have to start somewhere. Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III to photograph season runoff cascading down a mountain side off of Highway 120 near Tiago Pass in Mono County.


Yosemite Lake in Stockton isn’t exactly a lake but more precisely it is the head of Smith Canal in Stockton, Oran Schwinn of Stockton used a Google Pixel XL smartphone to photograph his 16-year-old daughter Naomi on a tree that had fallen into the waters of lake. He captured the branches of the tree and his daughter’s form reflected in the water making for a circular composition.


Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7000 DSLR to photograph members of the Stockton Rowing Club at the Stockton Sailing Club as they prepared to set out onto the waters of the deep water channel at Buckley Cove in Stockton. He caught their colorful reflections that were broken up by the small waves in the water making for an abstract composition


All the photos can be seen in a gallery at A new Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be issued next week.

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Throwback Thursday: A cool picture for a hot day

Here’s a wintry photo from 2010 that hopefully will cool you off on a hot summer day.

Jennifer Farrell of Woodside helps her 5-year-old daughter Elle Marsyla ski at the Soda Springs ski resort near Donner Summit. (1/30/10)  CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD PHOTO

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“Art is long and life is short” – Hippocrates

There’s a saying in photography that goes: “the best zoom lens your feet,” meaning that you should try to get physically as close to your subject as you can. That’s certainly true but there are times when you can’t get as close as you want. That’s where a telephoto lens comes in.

There are 2 main situations where a telephoto lens comes in handy: sports and wildlife photography.

In the early 1900s photographers would actually position themselves on the field during professional baseball games to get their shots. Needless to say there were probably quite a few near misses, if not outright injuries.

Today, modern telephoto lenses keep photographers safely on the sidelines or even the stands. Most sports, football, baseball, soccer, etc., take a telephoto in the range of 300-600mm.

You’ve probably seen photographers on the sidelines with the lenses that look like mini-howitzers. They’re known as “fast” lenses because of their superior light gathering abilities. These expensive and heavy lenses are necessary for night or indoor sports where light is minimal. If you photograph sports that are shot outdoors in the daylight, a cheaper, lighter lenses of similar focal lengths will do.

Telephoto lenses are also essential for capturing animals in the wild. Like sports, they can help keep a photographer safe.

My daughter recently graduated from U.C. San Diego and she can recount several local news reports of tourists being attacked by sea lions on the beach. The attacks came when the people got too close to the animals to get their pictures.

People tend to forget that wild animals are just that: wild. If you disturb them they can see it as an attack and they could attack you. It’s always wise to exercise caution. Using a long lens will help you to keep your distance and you out of harms way.

In addition to staying safe, you also don’t want to disturb the animals. You want to get the wild animals displaying their natural behaviors and not to be reacting to your presence. A long telephoto can help to keep you far enough away to keep from agitating them.

There are other reasons to get a long lens but if you want to photograph situations that may be hazardous, a telephoto lens can allow you to do it in relative safety.

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The name game

The late Sacramento area stock photographer Tom Meyers was not only a great shooter but he was a whiz at organizing his photos as well. In the pre-digital age, he had file cabinets with thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of slides, and each were carefully and meticulously filed and cross referenced for easy finding.

Most other photographers, including me, were not so conscientious. In the old days of film it was hard for some, perhaps even most photographers to keep track of their photos and negatives. May of theirs negatives, slides and prints are relegated to boxes stuffed into dusty closets or garages.

I had (and still have) my favorite photos, slides and negatives either in carefully filed in binders in a cabinet at home. The second tier slides are stuffed into boxes stacked in a closet. To find out what’s on them I’d have to go through them with a magnifier one at a time.

You may think that with digital cameras all your troubles in storing and the retrieving photos would be solved. True, but only if you’re nearly meticulous as Meyers was.

At the Record we occasionally use what we call “file photos” which are pictures that we’ve shot in the past. Finding them is a matter of how “searchable” they are.

The more ways you can make a photo searchable, the easier it will be to find.

First is to renamed the photo.” Images will usually come straight out of the camera with sequential alphanumeric designations something like IMG_1234, IMG_1235, etc. Not something that’s easily remembered to be sure. You can rename them on your computer one at a time if you want but that takes a lot of time.

I use a photo browsing program called Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits (but there are many others you can use) that will allow me to rename my photos in large batches with whatever name I choose. each photo will also have a sequential number (AsparagusFesitval_001, 002, etc). This is a godsend when having to deal with an assignment that generals a lot of pictures such as a sporting event in which there may be hundreds of photos to rename. You can name your photos something generic (eg : Football) but the more specific you are, the more searchable the photo will be (eg: DeltaFootball).

In addition to renaming the photo you can attach caption information to the image. In Photo Mechanic I can add the names of who is in the picture, what they’re doing and where they are. This will help to make your photos searchable for, person, place or activity.

In there days of film there was what was known as “databacks.” They replaced the backs of cameras with ones that could imprint information such as time, date, aperture and shutter speeds onto or in between the negative frames.

Today, there is what’s known as metadata that’s embedded into the information of each photo. It encodes the photos with the date, which makes them searchable for the day it was taken, but also time, shutter speed, aperture, camera, lens, and ISO information, as well. GPS enabled cameras will even give the longitude and latitude of where the picture was taken.

After renaming them, I put all the photos into a folder of the same name. I shoot several assignments in a day so I’ll put all of the assignment folders into another folder with the day’s date. Then I put the daily folder into one of 12 monthly folders (January, February, etc.). Finally I put those folders into yet another folder marked for the year.

This may seem a bit much to the amateur photographer or casual picture taker, but it makes it much easier to find your pictures by making them searchable.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Take me to the river

You can’t be unhappy in the middle of a big, beautiful river.” – Jim Harrison

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “Rivers.” Rivers can be the life blood of any area but especially in ours.  About 1,000 miles of waterways wind through the Delta. They are the sources of the water that not only quenches our thirst but irrigates our crops as well. They also provide opportunities for many water-based recreational activities. 

Rivers can also be great settings for photographs of people. They can be places for people to relax and recreate. Look for anyone enjoying themselves on or near the water. Fishing is a popular activity along our waterways. Anglers casting their lines in the water can be easily found nearly anywhere there’s water. People swimming, skiing or boating can also make great subjects. A sunset on the river can also be a great backdrop for a portrait.

Rivers can be the perfect spots to photograph sunrises and sunsets. The reflective quality of the water can capture the warm colors of early mornings or late afternoons.   

Riparian environments are great locations for landscape photos. Trees, bushes and wild grasses cover river banks can make for lush scenes that can be reflected in a river’s waters. 

Don’t forget that rivers are habitats for all kinds of wildlife. All types of waterfowl and birds such as geese, egrets and ducks can be found. With a little patience you can spot a beaver, otter or even the occasional wayward sea lion.  

A word of caution: This year’s winter/spring storms left an ample snow pack which is now melting. The runoff from that melt are filling rivers and streams with fast moving and cold water especially at higher elevations. You need to exercise extra care when near a body of water. Wear a life jacket when on a boat and watch your step along the water’s edge.

For this assignment any river-like body of water will do. Canals, channels, sloughs, creeks and streams are all acceptable.  Whatever size you choose look for the the beauty that only a river can bring.

How to Enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between July 13 and July 27.

3. Entries are limited to up to 12 photos from each photographer.

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

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. Also please identify the body of water you are photographing (e.g.: Jimmy Doe of Stockton plays fishes from the banks of the deep water channel at Buckley Cove in Stockton).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, July 27.  A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on August 3 at

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Outtakes: June swooned

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” – Al Bernstein

June has come and gone and summer is in full swing. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from the month.















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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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