Outtakes: May’s days

“The world’s favorite season is the spring.
All things seem possible in May.” – Edwin Way Teale

May has ended which brought the end of the spring sports season for high schools. Here are 10 of my favorite unposted photos from the month.


















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Calling for backup

A few years ago Seattle-based photographer Chase Jarvis produced a short video explaining the steps he goes through in backing up his photos when on an extended location shoot.

At the end of the day he and his crew copies all his images onto 2 external hard drives. The drives are then stored in the separate rooms of 2 assistants. In case of a break-in of one room, the second drive would be safe.

When Jarvis gets back to his studio, the data from external drives are downloaded to his own multi-drive server and an additional backup drive.

The backup drive is then moved offsite for added protection in case of a disaster such as fire, flood or computer meltdown at the studio. It may sound pretty extreme to the average person or even some other professional photographers, but I bet Jarvis rarely if ever has to explain why their pictures were lost due to a computer glitch.

While you don’t have to go to the lengths that Jarvis does, backing up your photos (and other data) in some fashion is a wise idea.

Many leave their pictures on their camera’s memory card. This is a mistake. Cards can be susceptible to becoming corrupted and whatever data that’s on them can be lost forever. Download your photos to a computer then delete them from the card before your next shoot.

Computers too can also go down. Indeed, my own personal home computer has recently given up the ghost. But fortunately, I had it backed up on an external hard drive.

Hard drives are one way to make sure your photos and data are safe. Another way is to store them on the “cloud” which is a term for off-site data storage services.

Cloud backup has some advantages over an external hard drive. First, data is stored in a remote location. This prevents losses through disaster (fire, flood, etc.) and theft. Secondly, you can access your photos from anywhere. As long as you have an Internet connected device, you can download or upload your photos to or from your backup site. You can share your photos easily with family, friends or clients. Just send them a link and password and they can access them as easily as you can.

That last advantage is a potential weakness of the cloud. While there haven’t been any reports of widespread hacking, there’s always that possibility that your data and photos can be stolen or misused.

You can buy a 1 terabyte hard drive (1000 gigabytes) for as low as $50- $60. Cloud pricing is much more difficult to determine. Some service offer the first 10-15 gigbytes for free, after that, each company has their own pricing structure. Below, say about 100 gigabytes, the cloud may be cost effective. Above that, a hard drive may be preferable.

Do some research to determine what’s best for you but if you don’t want to lose your photos some sort of backup is necessary.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: People

Most people are uncomfortable taking pictures of other people. A landscape won’t talk back to you, a flower isn’t judgmental of your technique and a bird can’t criticize you. For the latest Readers Photo Challenge I’ll be asking most of you to venture outside of your comfort zone with the assignment of “people.”

Posed or candid photos are both acceptable for this challenge.

There are some basic principals you can follow to improve your people photography.

For posed portraits, first of all be ready. No one wants to wait around for you to get your equipment, lighting and/or settings right. Take a few test shots of the scene before your subjects arrive then review the images on your camera’s monitor to confirm the exposure. It’ll be one less thing to worry about when taking your photos.

Next is to watch your backgrounds. The last thing you want a cluttered and distracting backdrop. You want the view of the photo to be drawn toward your subject and not diverted by the background. Keep it as simple as possible.

Get in close. Quite often, when taking an informal picture, the photographer will take a step back and so will his subject. What you need to do is just the opposite. Fill the frame with your subject. You don’t want them to be a dot on the horizon. You want to be able to see his/her face and expression. Getting in close will also help with in eliminating a distracting background.

Focus on the eyes. That’s the first place the view looks in a portrait. It’s a simple thing but if the focus is even slightly off it can ruin a photo.

Get them to relax. When your subject is at ease they’re more likely to smile and their body language more natural. Telling a joke, giving them an unexpected compliment or engaging them in conversation can help.

All these tips can also apply to unposed photos as well but there are few other considerations for candid pictures.
 Give your subject something to do. Capture them at work or play or engaged in something other than the camera, to give your photos of people a more spontaneous feeling.

Lastly, extra consideration will be given to photos of strangers

My son is taking a photo class at U.C. Santa Cruz and his T.A. told him that he needs to get out of his “comfort zone.” For him, that meant taking pictures of people. One recent weekend I went to Santa Cruz to help him out. We walked the streets of the downtown area looking for likely subjects. I told my son to introduce yourself, tell them what you’re doing and ask to take their pictures. I broke the ice with the first few people, then it was all up to him. He was timid at first but soon got the hang of it.

When approaching strangers for a photo be polite and honest. Tell them why you want to take a picture of them (they’re standing in a picturesque spot/great light/ or have a great face or interesting clothes, etc). I find that when treated with respect, most people respond in kind. The very worst the can do is say no.From past challenges, assignments that involve people receive the fewest entries. It’s probably because they’re outside of most people’s comfort zones. But with a little practice and determination you can become a people person.

How to Enter:

1. Email your entries to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “People” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between June 1 and June 22.

3. Entries are limited to no more than 12 photos from each photographer.

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

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in the grass at Victory Park 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, June 22. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on June 29 at Recordnet.com.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Go climb a tree

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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What’s your bag?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A hands-on experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Random photo #73: Cold play

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

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Circle of life, in a small pond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April outtakes: 2017

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

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



















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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Trees


“Trees need not walk the earth

For beauty or for bread;

Beauty will come to them

Where they stand…”

Trees Need Not Walk the Earth
By David Rosenthal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Enter:

1. Email your entries to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Flowers” in the subject line.

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

3. Entries are limited to no more than 12 photos from each photographer.

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

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, if they’re related to you and the breed of flower. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton sits under an oak tree at Victory Park in Stockton). Try to identify the type of tree, if possible.

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

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

Posted in Column, 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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