You can’t be everywhere all the time

In an NFL game on Nov. 30, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made a spectacular one-handed, fingertip catch of a 43-yard pass at the goal line over Dallas Cowboy’s Brandon Carr. A photo of the play went viral on Twitter not just because it was a shot of a great moment (which it was), but rather because of what was in the background.

The photo, shot by Associated Press’ Kathy Willens, shows photographer Andrew Mills with NJ Advance Media at NJ.com on the sidelines with the play happening in front of him. He had one camera hanging on its strap around his neck, another with a long lens on a monopod tucked in the crook of his left elbow and a third camera with a shorter telephoto lens held in both hands at chest level away from his eye with a startled look on his face just at the moment of peak action. It looks as if that he’s missed the shot and that’s what most people who viewed it on Twitter thought. Many tweets ridiculed Mills and even suggested that he should be fired for missing the shot.

I think that many non-photographers believe that if you’re shooting a sporting event, you always get a shot of every single play. That’s simply impossible. Sports Illustrated knows this. They will send several photographers to a big game and even then they’ll use photos from wire services if their own shooters miss a big play. Sometimes it comes down to as much luck as it does skill.

There are a number of factors for why you can’t get every shot. In most sports there are a any number of bodies, from players to referees, that are running around on the field and they often get in the way at the best, or depending on your perspective, worst moments. Quite often there are other people on the sidelines that, if you’re shooting downfield at a certain angle, can also obstruct one’s view.

Then there’s field position. Often in pro or high-level college football games the photographers are restricted on where they can stand. Usually they can’t be were the players and coaches are, typically between the 25 yard lines. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to run back and forth from one end of the field so many photographers only change sides at the quarter breaks. If a play happens at the opposite end of the field where a photographer’s stationed, then he/she has missed it, blocked by the aforementioned sideline traffic.

Then there are all the distractions that go along with an big game. From the cheerleaders, to the fans, to other photographers to TV camera operators there are a lot of things that vie for your attention.

Even if you’re vigilant the luck of the draw may be against you. For every photographer that is fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, there’s another one who’s out of position. It can be at best very difficult to determine where the ball is going to be thrown or in what direction a runner will head. That’s just the way it goes. If you’re lucky the best you can hope for is to capture a couple of big plays or something that’s representative of the action in the game.

Getting back to Mills. While it may have looked like he completely missed the opportunity, he actually didn’t, at least not entirely. Mills posted a story on NJ.com titled “How everyone thought I missed the photo of Odell Beckham Jr.’s amazing touchdown catch … but I didn’t.” In it he says that at the start of the play he was using the long 500mm telephoto lens to photograph Giants QB Eli Manning throwing the pass. When Manning released the ball Mills quickly switched to a camera with a shorter 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens.

At first he had trouble finding which receiver the ball was thrown to then he spotted Beckham speeding down the sidelines towards him and began tracking him. But Beckham was closing on him too fast. Mills considered switching to a third camera fitted with a wide-angle lens but it was too late, the peak moment was about to happen. Shooting “from the hip” he fired of the camera with the moderate telephoto lens.

The look on Mills’ face wasn’t that of a deer frozen in the headlights of a semi truck, but rather that of someone in deep concentration. In videos you can see Mills tracking the action with his camera although he’s not looking through it. He did get the photo though. It isn’t the best one. In my opinion, that goes to Al Bello of Getty Images who got the shot from the closest end zone (which was published in Sports Illustrated). Mills’ picture is a little too tight with most of the ball out of the frame and all you see are the backs of the Beckham and Carr, but it’s in focus and at least he didn’t miss the shot.

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Christmas deadline

There’s less than a week left in the Readers Photo Challenge assignment of Christmas lights. Your photos can be of the lights in a public display, on your own house or the neighbors down the street. The deadline is Thursday Dec. 18.

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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.

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Random photo #39: Holiday time tunnel

12/2/14: Stockton facilities maintenance employees Tim Gonzalez, left, and Sam Macellari work as a part of a crew assembling the frame of the City of Stockton’s Christmas Tree at the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton in advance of the annual tree lighting ceremony on Saturday night.

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November remembered: Outtakes

“I have come to regard November as the older, harder man’s October. I appreciate the early darkness and cooler temperatures. It puts my mind in a different place than October. It is a month for a quieter, slightly more subdued celebration of summer’s death as winter tightens its grip.” – Henry Rollins

With November’s end that means there’s only one month left in 2014. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from the year’s 11th month.

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11/9/2014:

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11/10/2014:

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11/12/2014:

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11/25/2014:

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11/26/2014:

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The secrets of photography

If you look for photographic tips on the Internet you’re likely to get a number of entries that are about “secrets” in photography. They’re usually titled something like “5 secrets of highly successful photographers” or “10 secrets to improve your pictures.”

However, there aren’t any real “secrets” in photography. There isn’t a photographic illuminati guarding remote vault somewhere buried in the Himalayas filled with esoteric information. There aren’t any secret handshakes or obscure passwords just for the initiated. There are tips, techniques and methods that are yet to be discovered depending on your level of experience. Finding out is as easy as asking a more knowledgeable photographer.

People see pictures in newspapers, magazines and the Internet and wonder: “How did they get that shot?”
It’s been my experience that most advanced and pro photographers who are worth their weight in camera gear are more than happy to share their knowledge with almost anyone who asks. Even photojournalists, who are a highly competitive lot because they often go head-to-head with other photographers on the same assignments, are in general generous with giving their photographic knowledge to others.

Some photographers may be busy working on an assignment and might not have time to answer questions. Many questions don’t have a simple yes or no answer like “what’s the best lens to use?” (The answer is: it depends on what you’re shooting) Also some concepts may be too difficult to answer with a short and simple reply (I’m still trying to figure out how to explain the relationship between f/stops and shutter speeds without putting anyone to sleep in the process).

Many of the “secrets” are so simple that many people think that they’re too easy to be true. One is: “The more you shoot, the better you’ll get.” At times it may seem like you’re not making any progress and sometimes you’ll even feel like you’re losing ground because of the mistakes you’ll make (and everybody makes them). However, it’s often from those errors that you will learn the most.

Other “secrets” don’t have a single straightforward answer to them. For example: “What is the best f/stop to use?” The answer is: it depends. Do you want a lot of depth of field or a little. Do you need to use a high shutter speed to stop the action? Do you want a low or high ISO (light sensitivity)? All these considerations go into choosing which f/stop is the best for what you want (a better question would be what’s a good f/stop for a given situation).

There are a number of resources for the budding photographer to get information. You can take a class (Delta College offers a number of photography courses), join a photo club (the Stockton Camera Club is a great group to learn from), there are numerous photography magazines and even more photo websites on the aforementioned Internet. In photography there are no secrets and knowledge is out there just for the asking.

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There’s no place like home

(All of the following photos were taken in my hometown of Walnut Grove)

“Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself: ‘There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.’” – Glinda the good witch from The Wizard of Oz

Recently the web site Light Stalking had an article titled “What makes a photograph interesting: 5 ideas in choosing a photographic subject.” I agreed with some of them such as finding interesting light, for light is one of the most important things in a photo.

However, one thing I took issue with was when the writer posed the question “is it (your subject) common or unusual?” He goes on asks the reader to compare travel photos of their own hometown to those of a foreign land. He posits that the picture of another country will be more interesting.

I suppose from the standpoint of a travel article that may be true but what should matter from a purely photographic standpoint is how the picture was taken not where it was done or even what the picture is of.

When I was a photo student one of my class assignments was called “in your backyard.” The task was meant to look for something interesting close to home. All to often, especially when we’re first starting out, we think that just because a picture was shot in an exotic locale that makes it a great photo. But it’s not the subject or place that necessarily make a picture great, but rather the photographer’s approach to them.

It’s often said that great actors can make even reading a phone book sound dramatic and interesting. Finding new ways at photographing the familiar is much the same.

It’s the much harder path, of course. When you travel to a foreign and exotic land everything you see is new and exciting to you. Finding good photos from your own hometown, someplace that you see day-in and day-out, takes more thought and creativity. You need to look for something to elevate your subject.

Try to find good light. Things look differently at different time of the day due to the light. Go out for a walk with your camera in the early morning or late evening. Things will look a lot different than the middle of the day.

Think compositionally. Try to look at your subjects from different viewpoints. Walk around your subject and look at it from various angles, you may see it in a way that you’ve never seen it before.

Change your route. We all take the same streets to and from work, the grocery store, the bank, etc. From the buildings, streetlights, trees, sometimes the people, we see the same landmarks day every day If you take a different path, perhaps a close as just one street over, you may see things that you’ve never noticed before.

Most importantly, you have think photographically. You need to view anything you come across as if you can make an interesting picture of it. Even if you can’t stop to take a photo of something that piques your curiosity, you need to think of ways of how to best take the shot.

If you can find beauty in the mundane then you can find it anywhere. If not then all you may have are mediocre pictures from a faraway land. It’s like learning how to drive with a manual or an automatic transmission. If you learn how to operate a stick-shift, then you can drive either but not the other way around.

Learning how to take great pictures of everyday places and things will not only improve your photography in general but when you do travel your pictures will be even better.
To paraphrase a line from the song “New York, New York,” if you can make it (a picture) here (your hometown), you can make it anywhere.

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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
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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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