True blue

The blue hour, the time of twilight just after sunset and right before dusk when the sky turns a deep saturated blue, is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. It’s that depth of color that makes photos taken at this hour so appealing. There are challenges to photographing at this time chief among them is the lack of light making getting a correct exposure difficult.

Perhaps it was this difficulty that kept many away from the assignment. There are 2 main ways to deal with low light situations. First, you can increase your camera’s ISO settings (the camera’s sensitivity to light). However with the higher ISOs comes more digital noise in your photos. Every camera handles the noise differently most will accept at least a modest bump up in ISO, but go too high and then the visual noise will make the photo unusable.

Secondly, using a tripod will allow you to use slower shutter speeds thus avoiding having to use the higher ISOs. The tripod will hold the camera steady to avoid shaking the camera, which can cause blurry pictures. Some people don’t like the bulk and with it added effort and time that a tripod brings but it’s the surest way to keep your photos sharp in low light conditions.

Whatever the reasons, turnout for this assignment was lower than usual. 8 undaunted people sent in a total of 41 photos. Here are the best examples of the their view of the blue hour.

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Normally no more than 1 photo is chosen from any single entrant for the top picks but Dave Skinner of Stockton had two noteworthy photos for the challenge.

He used a Nikon D90 DSLR and an early morning blue hour to photograph the Stockton icon of Burns Tower on the campus of the University of the Pacific. The stark white of the building stood out in stark contrast to the saturated blue sky. I liked how he used the branches of a tree in the foreground to visually frame the tower at the top of the photo. If the photo were taken earlier in the morning before the blue hour, the tree, as well as the tree line in the background would have blended into the black sky and become virtually invisible.

On morning of Aug. 11, Skinner once again got up early to photograph a “super moon” which is a full moon that is closer to the Earth in its orbit and thus appears slightly bigger and brighter in the sky. He used some of the power lines along Enterprise Street in Stockton as a part of his composition with the enlarge moon hanging in the blue hour sky. Serendipity can be advantageous in photography for those who are ready for it. Skinner said that the morning blue hour was waning and he was ready to quit shooting when a mockingbird landed on one of the lines to that added just a little more visual interest to his photo.

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Like Skinner, Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton also had more than one picture that was a great example of the blue hour.

She photographed the San Francisco skyline from a pier near the Ferry Building along the embarcadero during the evening blue hour with a Nikon D90 DSLR camera. The dark silhouettes of the buildings stood in strong relief against the blue sky while the railing along the pier as well as the warm illumination of the buildings and streetlights helps to welcome the viewers into the photo and invites them to visually explore the scene.

Spurgeon then turned her camera eastward and photographed the Bay Bridge as it stretched from the City to Yerba Buena Island. The relatively new lights decorating the suspension cables and the lights of the Port of Oakland beyond glow like warm jewels against the blue our sky.

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Lindsey Shepherd Wanner of Bloomington, Illinois (her mother still lives in Stockton and sends her articles from the Record) photographed the scene out of her airplane window during a return flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Bloomington. From the time stamp in the photo’s metadata the picture was shot after 9:00 p.m. That should have been well after the blue hour, but plane’s altitude extended the period of twilight. The last remnants of a sunset can bee seen on the horizon and the lights of a town can bee seen in a field of blue on the ground below.

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As always all the entries can be seen in a gallery at Recordnet.com. Stay tuned for next Thursday for a new challenge assignment.

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Being blue

The response to the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment, the blue hour, has been a bit slow. OK, it’s been very slow. Only 2 readers have sent in valid entries so far.

Areas with warm neon or incandescent lights can prove to be a great counterpoint to the cold blueness of the hour. Janet Leigh Plaza, the Weber Point Event Center, De Carli Plaza and the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton are great subjects to start with.

It’s not too late. There are a few days left until the deadline. So stay out until the sun goes down (or wake up before it rises, if you’re so inclined) and capture the beauty of the blue hour.

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

2. Photos have to be shot between August 4 and August 17. The subject is up to you but they must be shot during the “blue hour.”

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. Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm 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, Tracy walks down Main Street at Hunter Street 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 Friday, August 15*. The top examples will be published on Thursday, August 21 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

(*Please note that the publication day for my column has changed to Thursdays and the deadline days have been moved up to the preceding Friday.)

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Just a bit of blue

Here’s an example of a more subtle use of the blue hour.

On Saturday my family and I attended the Sacramento Buddhist Church’s annual food and cultural bazaar. It was evening, around 8:30 p.m., when we decided to leave after buying our fill of teriyaki chicken. A large tent covered the main eating area, as well as some of the booths and activities. With my iPhone I took a picture of Japanese lanterns glowing with the warm light of incandescent bulbs hanging in rows on the underside of the tent. Through the 6” to 8” gaps between the tent’s canvas panels the blue hour sky peeked through looking like azure ribbons running along side of the more warmly lit sections of the tent.

The light of the blue hour doesn’t necessarily have to be the main portion of the photo but it can also be used just as an accent.

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This month’s challenge is the “blue hour.”

Here are the rules:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between August 4 and August 17. The subject is up to you but they must be shot during the “blue hour.”

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. Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm 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, Tracy watches the walks down Main Street and Hunter Street 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 Friday, August 15. The top examples will be published on Thursday, August 21* with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day

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Random photo #33: Sunset days

A jet skier crusies down the San Joaquin River as the setting sun turns into a glowing orange orb when it nears the horizon beyond the Stockton Regional Wastewater Control Facility’s wetlands on Roberts Island east of Stockton.

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Out of the unclear blue sky

Here’s an example of what the blue hour can do for your photographs.

Just this past weekend my family and I took a mini vacation to San Diego. A light summer rain had fallen earlier in the day, and in the evening we went to dinner at the Old Town Mexican Café in the historic Old Town San Diego district. When we got there at about 6:30 p.m., there was a long line and a 25-minute wait. We were somewhere in the middle of a long line of patrons that snaked outside the door. A light cloud cover gently rolled in as we did some people-watching on the sidewalk which was crowded with tourists like us. Across the street stood the historic Whaley House which bills itself as the most haunted place in the nation.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal (I highly recommend the shrimp fajitas) and when we were done we left the restaurant and headed to our car in the parking lot. It was about 8:00 pm., and the previous light clouds had become much thicker and more ominous. The clouds were still translucent enough to allow some light through thus starting the blue hour a little earlier than usual.

The deep blue of the sky contrasted with the warmer streetlights and interior lights of the buildings. It’s that juxtaposition of the two colors that is part of the power and appeal of the blue hour.

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Here are the rules for the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between August 4 and August 17. The subject is up to you but they must be shot during the “blue hour.”

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. Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm 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, Tracy walks down Main Street at Hunter Street 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 Friday, August 15*. The top examples will be published on Thursday, August 21 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

(*Please note that the publication day for my column has changed to Thursdays and the deadline days have been moved up to the preceding Friday.)

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True blue

The last Readers Photo Challenge assignment explored the time of day know as the golden hour. This month’s challenge is what’s known as the “blue hour.”

Like the golden hour, the blue hour occurs twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening. Unlike the golden hour, it happens about an hour before sunrise or just after sunset. It’s in this twilight period that the blue hour happens. All too often photographers, think that when the golden hour is goes away, their picture opportunities go with it. But that’s when the blue hour is just beginning. The sky gradually deepens to a dark royal blue and, in the absence of any artificial light, a blue cast will envelope the scene. That veil of blue can help to give a quiet and somber mood to your pictures.

The blue hour is often useful when shooting cityscapes. Its a time when man-made lights start to come on and because of their inherent warmer colors, provide a nice counter point to the blue of twilight.

This time of year the evening blue hour starts around 8:30p.m., then is done by about 9:30 p.m.. There is a transition time between the golden and blue hours that is also quite beautiful. There will be a fading band of orange on the horizon which transitions to a blue that gets deeper and darker the higher in the sky you go. Eventually, as time ticks by, the sunset will disappear completely and the blue hour will take over.

When shooting during the blue hour the biggest concern is that you will have less light to deal with, so be careful with you exposures. Because the low light can confuse you camera’s auto exposure systems try to use manual. If you’re unsure, just “chimp” it (review the photo on your camera’s monitor) and adjust the exposure accordingly. Also because of the low light situation you’ll probably be dealing with slow shutter speeds and wide-open apertures, which means camera shake and very narrow depth of field (the amount of the photo that’s in focus) will be problems. Try using a tripod to reduce the camera’s shakiness and take time to focus the camera with great care.

So the next time you go out to shoot during the golden hour, stick around a little longer and think blue.

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

2. Photos have to be shot between August 4 and August 17. The subject is up to you but they must be shot during the “blue hour.”

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. Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm 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, Tracy walks down Main Street at Hunter Street 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 Friday, August 15*. The top examples will be published on Thursday, August 21 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

(*Please note that the publication day for my column has changed to Thursdays and the deadline days have been moved up to the preceding Friday.)

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Knee-high by the Fourth of July: Outtakes

“The Summer looks out from her brazen tower,
Through the flashing bars of July.” – Francis Thompson

With the closing of July, we are just past the middle of summer. A bit more of it behind us as there is ahead of us (at least in California), with a couple of more hot weather months yet to come. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from July.

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7/6/14:

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7/19/14:

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7/20/14:

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7/21/14:

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Gold again

All the great entries that were sent in for the last Readers Photo Challenge assignment, the golden hour, inspired me to head out and do some shooting during that magic time of day.

Lindsay Street between Harrison and Edison Streets near the Stockton Ballpark in downtown Stockton isn’t what you might call the prettiest place in town. It’s kind of a dusty and dingy industrial setting. Corrugated steel sheets and razor wire are common building materials. But the warm light from the golden hour imbues the scene with an urban beauty and gives that part of the city a working-class dignity.

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As good as gold

For a few weeks every February photographers from all over gather to view Horsetail Fall off to the side of El Capitan at sunset. The falling waters catch rays of light of the so-called golden hour turning them into a cascade of what can look like liquid fire spilling over the fall.

Ask any number of professional photographers what the single most important thing is in a great picture, the vast majority of the will say: light. Lighting can make or break a photo. Many people who have had problems with their pictures being too dark may think that it’s just about the amount of light, but it’s about the quality of light as well. The best natural light comes from what’s known as the “golden hour,” which is also the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. The golden hour (also know as the magic hour) refers to the time just after sunrise and just before sunset when light is infused with a golden hue giving color and warmth to everything it touches.

14 people sent in 72 photos of the golden hour. Here are some of the best examples.

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I think most people tend to think of the golden hour as an evening thing. Like me, they probably like to sleep in and wait until evening for the sunset. Not Dave Skinner of Stockton. Skinner rose early and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve off of I-5 and Twin Cities Road near the small town of Thornton to capture the sunrise. Armed with a Nikon D5100 DSLR camera he photographed the breaking sun which provided a warm glow as it cascaded though some valley oak trees. The light spread across some dried wild grasses on the valley floor and made the scene warm and inviting. I may not be an early riser but Skinner’s photo makes me glad that he is.

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Like Skinner, Darrin Denison of Stockton is also a morning person, at least for this photo. Unlike Skinner, he didn’t travel too far from home. Denison used his iPhone 4s to photograph a yard sculpture of a sleeping cherub in his from yard. The warm morning light gives the picture a dreamy yet fresh quality.

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Teresa Mahnken of Morada approached the golden hour from the evening side. While on a trip to Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island in Washington state she used a Nikon D3200 DSLR to photograph a sunset sinking towards the horizon on the Pacific Ocean beyond a light house and some cypress trees as orange hues graced light wispy clouds in the sky.

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Using a Canon Rebel DSLR Susan Scott of Stockton photographed a sunset near Buckley Cove in Stockton. Set against a stand of trees in the foreground and a heron gracefully soaring in the sky on the left the palette of gold, yellows and oranges of a prototypical sunset picture.

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Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton didn’t shoot the sunset it self but rather she turned things around and used the light from the sunset to illuminate her subject. In a field in Yolo County she photographed a large sunflower bathed in the light of the golden hour. Not only does the color of the light give the flower that aura of warmth but the low angle and side lighting helps to give it some depth and substance to its form.

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Although the warm tones of sunrise/sunset gives the golden hour its name, there can be many other colors involved as well. The later a sunset goes on the more the colors morph into other tones. Stocktonian Jim Johnson’s photo of the sunset over the deep water channel Stockton shows just that. He used a Canon EOS-M digital camera to capture the subtle colors of pinks and purples along side of the oranges as the sky was painted with the last vestiges of the sunset.

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The same goes for Kelly Helsing of Reno, Nevada (Helsing’s mom, Mary Paulson of Valley Springs submitted her daughter’s photo for her). Helsing used a iPhone 4s to photograph a sunset through some trees in her front yard just before the sun sank below the horizon. Not only did she capture the fiery reds and oranges of the sun but more subtle blues and purples in the sky and clouds as well.

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As always there is a gallery of all the entries at Recordnet.com. Stay tuned for a new challenge assignment on next Monday.

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Random photo #32: Clouds from above; rain from below

Partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures didn’t deter 6-year-old Emiliano Guerrero from playing in the interactive water feature at Micke Grove Park in Lodi.

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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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