In a fog

When walking to school as a kid, around 8 or 9 years old, on chilly winter mornings I would see the condensation from my billowing out of my mouth and the mouths of others. On one foggy morning, my kid logic put 2 and 2 together: fog came from people.

A day with a light mist must have meant that there were just a few people out and about. A thick fog meant that there were a lot of people outside breathing heavily. When the fog lifted, that must have meant that people got tired of the cold and went inside.

When I got older I eventually learned that fog is actually formed when there is a temperature difference between the ground and air and the humidity is high enough to form fog. It was the technical explanation but I’ve always remembered the little kid’s reasoning to keep the enchantment of a foggy day.

Photographing the fog can be a bit tricky. If there’s too much of it, you can’t see anything, but If there’s too little fog can then it can just look like an ordinary day. You have to find the right balance between too much and not enough. If it’s too thick then you can always wait until it starts to burn off then take your pictures. Try having something in the foreground that’s fairly clear in the picture and other elements fade off into the fog the further away they get.

Lens choice can make a difference in a fog picture. A telephoto lens tends to compress the scene thus enhancing the “fogginess” of the photo. It may make your pictures look foggier than they may really be, a boon for a day with light fog. A wide-angle lens will have just the opposite effect, making the scene look less foggy.

Be careful when using an auto exposure mode. Like with snow, your camera may read a white foggy scene as too bright and will adjust its settings to underexpose the picture. Try switching to manual and checking your results on the camera’s monitor.

The more adventuresome photographers may want to try photographing in the fog at night. The misty condition can give streetlights and lit signs an almost mystical glow.

It’s winter so cold is an issue. Always dress warmly. Also keep an eye and ear out for traffic as the fog will make you harder to be seen by drivers.

The dry years of the drought meant that foggy days became few and far between. But the rainstorms we’ve had recently are sure to mean more foggy days. It can be a problem for those who have to drive through it or crave sunny days. But it can be a blessing for those looking to capture the misty wonder of winter.

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Outtakes: December

The new year has started but before we venture farther into 2017 there’s one more look back at 2016 that needs to be done. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from December.

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12/9/2016:


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12/10/2016:


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12/17/2016:


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12/22/2016:


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12/29/2016:


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12/31/2016:

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Reader Photo Challenge assignment: Winter

The next Readers Photo Challenge will be the last of the season-themed assignments. So far we’ve done spring, summer and fall. Photographing winter  is your next task.

Most people don’t think about photography during the winter months. It’s usually cold, wet and miserable and they probably opt to stay indoors where it’s nice and warm. But winter can yield some pretty interesting pictures if you’re brave enough to brave the elements.

The most obvious aspect about winter is snow. If you’re lucky enough to live in snow country, then you don’t have to travel far. But if live in the valley like most of us then you’ll have to drive a couple of hours to find some snow. Most people will think of snow-covered landscapes as subjects, but pictures of people dealing with the snow, skiing, snowboarding, or digging out from a storm, are valid subjects as well.

The biggest problem with photographing snow is exposure. Your camera’s metering system will likely read a scene with lots of white snow in it as too bright. If it’s on automatic, it will turn down the exposure, thus underexposing your shot. Try switching to manual and reviewing the image on your camera’s monitor.

If you’re not fortunate enough to live in the mountains or aren’t able to travel there, don’t worry, there is plenty of wintry weather here in the valley, albeit without snow.

While it may not snow very often in the Central Valley, it can get down to around freezing. Its common to find frost covered lawns and rooftops in the morning. Be sure to get out early before the rising sun melts it all. Shots of people bundled up against the cold are good subjects as well.

Rain is a sure sign of winter in the valley so look for things like people with umbrellas, reflective puddles and raindrop covered plants or windows.

Finally, a word of caution: Wherever you decide to find your winter photos its cold and wet out there so be sure to dress warmly and watch your step.

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between Jan. 5 and Jan. 19.

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 (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in a pile of snow at Kirkwood Ski Resort).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Dec. 19 A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on Dec. 26 at Recordnet.com.

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12 from ’16

In addition to my 52 favorite photos slideshow, I’ve also compiled shorter yearend lists over the last several years.

Top 10 lists are popular but they can be a bit limiting. if you had several great photos in just a month or two, that would leave the rest of the year unrepresented. That could be resolved with a larger list, such as a top 100, but a lineup like that can be overwhelming and cumbersome.

Any criteria one uses will be a compromise, but the one I’ve chosen is a top 12, a favorite picture for every month of the year. It keeps the list small yet it keeps track of my progress throughout the year. Like I said, I’ve been doing it for the past several years and at this point its become tradition for me.

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January 27: The year started out not with a bang, but with a bump. While driving through the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton looking for a feature picture, I noticed several large inflatable spheres lying on the lawn outside of the DeRosa University Center.

The Theta Chi fraternity was holding a recruitment event by playing “bubble soccer” to entice new students to join their organization. They donned the spheres and ran headlong at each other in what looked like a cross between soccer and bumper cars. I don’t know how many new members toe got that day, but I was a convert.

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February 10: Sports photos are all about peak action and intensity. When covering an Edison at McNair boys varsity basketball game in Stockton, I captured McNair’s Darrell Harris as he attacked the basket. He’s frozen in mid-air with a look of ferocity and concentration on his face.

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March 31: During the NorCal Classic softball at the Tracy Softball Complex, I photographed the precise moment when Tracy catcher Cierra Hylton applied a tag for the out as Gregori’s Nichole Alexander tried to sneak around her at home plate.

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April 22: I photographed a tattoo removal event at Mary Magdalene Community Services in downtown Stockton. Derek Salceda, who had done previous treatments and had yet many tattoos to go, sat down for the laser procedure. He said that having it done to one’s fingers is the most painful part. Judging from Salceda’s grimaces and writhing in his chair, he was right.

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May 21: The south side of Stockton near the Sierra Vista neighborhood had experienced a spate of violent incidences that left one dead and several wounded. Area activist Georgia Brownlee organized a prayer vigil to stand up against the violence. About 5 dozen people gathered in support of the cause in a lot Airport Way and 8th Street. As they stood in a circle, hand-in-hand, Pastor Ronnie Murray with the Christ Side Disciples Movement Center gave a prayer before they set out on a march to nearby Rev. A.E. Williams Brotherhood Park. I photograph Murray as he spoke framed by the clasped hands of two of the participants in the foreground.

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June 8: I was on the look for a sunset shot on the deep water channel out on the west end of March Lane in Stockton. As the sun sank in the west I waited for a boat to cruise by or perhaps a flock of birds to soar past to act as subjects to be set against the colorful sky.

A couple of small boats zipped down the channel but I waited for something more. Then I saw something that I hadn’t noticed earlier. In the distance, mostly silhouetted against channel’s far levee, it looked like some sort building but it wasn’t there before, was it?

But then it appeared to be getting slowly larger. It took a while but I realized it was a cargo ship churning its way up the channel to the Port of Stockton. It was what I was looking for. The only problem was that I hoped that it would get close enough before the sunset lost all of hits beautiful color. The ship managed to get to my position while the sky still held a deep orange hue then rounded a bend to continued on to the port.

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July 28: I got to a Stockton Ports baseball game a little early and saw Ports relief pitcher Carlos Navas taking the field while wearing a child’s pink backpack. Just after the game started I was shooting from the dugout when I asked a couple of players what was up with the backpack.

They said that Navas had lost a bet. The previous night he had a homerun hit off of him and as a part of the bet he had to wear the backpack. Not only that, but he had to wear it every game until another reliever had a homer hit off of them.

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August 10: One of the things I look for is something with a slightly different twist. I photographed Sabrina Price as she waited to pick up her granddaughter from her first day of school at Acaia Elementary School in Stockton. Nothing to different there, but as she waited Price’s 2-year old Chihuahua happily balanced on her shoulder adding an element of the unusual to the photo.

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September 27: In September 3-year-old Melanie Martinez was riding in a car driven by her mother when it was targeted in a hail of gunfire. Melanie was struck by one of the bullets. They drove to her directly to a hospital where she was pronounced dead from her wounds.

News of Melanie’s murder struck a chord with Stocktonians of all walks of life. A few days after her death a public vigil was organized at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown Stockton. Hundreds of people attended to show their sympathies and condolences for Melanie and her family. Her young parents, Lino Martine and Kimberly Botelo, sat during the vigil, quietly crying and embracing each, other surrounded by the love and support of an entire community.

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October 20: Another thing I look for is people doing something in an unusual place. I happened upon James Macias and Jasmin Ordonez of Stockton as they practiced a salsa dance routine at the Louis Park boat ramp to the deep water channel in Stockton while Latin music played from their nearby pickup truck as they prepared for an October 29 Dia De Los Muertos performance at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi.

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November 17: Army Sgt. John Perry was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Afghanistan. A memorial service for Perry was quickly incorporated into an already scheduled flag retirement ceremony at One Stop Security and Technology in Stockton. During the solemn ceremony Perry’s father, Stewart Perry of Stockton fought back his grief as he was presented with a folded flag by Tino Adame, state chairman of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation.

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December 17: Every year the Good Samaritan Training Center holds it’s Operation Dreamkeeper event at the county fairgrounds in Stockton. It’s basically a big Christmas party for hundreds disadvantaged youth in the community. After songs and treats, the highlight of the afternoon is the giving of free presents to the children who may otherwise not get one for the holidays.

Most kids express joy and excitement upon opening their gifts. Seven-year-old Tavi Smith, a bit overwhelmed by the experience, simply but gratefully hugged the Star Wars action figure that he got.

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Picks of the litter

This is a natural time for many people do yearend lists and for the past several years I’ve produced an end of the year slideshow of 52 of my favorite photos from the preceding year.

Why 52 you may ask? A top 10 seemed to be too few and 100 seemed too many. Some arbitrary number had to be picked. I settled at 52 because that’s the number of weeks in a year.

Now, that doesn’t mean each picture in the show represents a specific week from the year. Due to vacations, sick leave and other days off, I haven’t actually work all 52 weeks. But it’s the number I’ve picked and I’m sticking to it.

I shot about 900 assignments over the course of 2016 and during the year I set aside photos that I liked for one reason or another. This year they came to nearly 850 pictures, which became the starting point for editing my yearend list.

The first cut culls them down to around 300 or so. A second editing brings the number down to about 100. It’s then the tough part begins.

Editing one’s own images is like choosing a favorite child. Each one has its own merits and interesting story behind it. As the number gets smaller and smaller, the harder it becomes to winnow down the selection.

When it gets down to the last 5 or 10 to eliminate, the choices become agonizing. There are dozens of images that I wished that I could include, but 52 was my self imposed limit.

So, here are my top pictures from 2016. I hope you enjoy them and here’s to a prosperous and productive 2017.

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Reader Photo Challenge: Backyard inspiration

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment was to find a subject to photograph no further than one’s backyard. The goal of the challenge is to find inspiration in something close to home as picturesque.

It’s common that one can see things that are familiar to them as ordinary and perhaps not worth a picture, but if you can learn to look at the mundane in a new light then you can find inspiration and great photos anywhere you go.

Eighteen readers sent in a total of 107 photos. Here are the top picks.

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 With a Nikon D90 DSLR camera Ken Buck of Stockton captured an egret silhouetted against the golden sky at sunset as it was perched on the branch of a neighbor’s tree. Although it is now the fall/winter season, Buck’s photo evokes a feeling of a warm summer evening and one can imagine lounging in a hammock while sipping a fruity drink from a glass with a small paper umbrella in it.

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 Weeds are the bane of my backyard but to paraphrase an old adage, one person’s weed is another person’s treasure. Teresa Mahnken of Morada used her Samsung Galaxy 5 smartphone and got close up to photograph a dandelion in her backyard. In her picture, the sun breaks through a tree in the background as its light illuminates the plant’s fluffy seed head turning an unwanted weed into a thing of beauty.

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 Isolating your subject against a colorful background is a tried and true photographic technique, but so is the opposite. Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph a small thin branch on a birch tree in his backyard. Its 3 bright yellow leaves pop out against the near monotone of the white bark of the tree’s trunk making for a simple yet beautiful artistic statement.

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 This assignment was of your backyard, the things within it or what can be see from it, but that didn’t mean that you had to be in it to take your picture. Ken Class of Stockton used his Apple iPhone 6 to photograph his backyard scene through a window overlooking his to Lake Lincoln, which backs up to his yard. The trick here is getting the focus right. It’s easy for a smartphone with its autofocus to be confused by the transparent glass and focus on the background leaving the raindrops looking like a messy smear in the picture. But Class’s smartphone handled it well, and he was able to capture a stormy day without having to go out into the storm.

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 In many parts of the country winter cold shuts down the landscaping in one’s backyard but not as much here in Central California. Carolyn Silva of Jackson, using a Nikon D5000 DLSR camera, photographed a chrysanthemum blossom in her backyard. Its bright colors of purple and yellow shine through a thin layer of morning frost covering the flower’s petals for a picture that is uniquely Californian.

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 Susan Scott of Stockton used her Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph the leaves of a flowering pear tree in her backyard. She approached the tree from its underside to get a close up shot of light shining through the backlit leaves, which intensified their fall colors.

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 Lee Miller of of Stockton used a Olympus Camedia C‑3020 Zoom digital point-and-shoot camera to photograph a box of picked persimmons from a tree in his backyard. The picture’s soft light emphasizes the understated orange of the dusty fruit for a photo of subtle color.

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Sometimes even California color, bold or fine, fails us. Its then you need to know how to switch gears and look for something else. Holly Stone of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 5c to photograph a rose bush in her backyard, but instead of finding a colorful blossom she focused on the glistening morning dewdrops covering one of the leaves.

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As always all the pictures can be seen in a photo gallery at recordnet.com. The next challenge assignment will be issued in 2 weeks on January 5.

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The anatomy of a sports shot

The ability to capture peak action is a necessity for a sports photographer. Sure, one should know how to get things like action away from the ball, sports portraits, victory/defeat shots, among other techniques, but peak action is a sports shooter’s bread and butter.

The best sports photographers not only know where to position themselves for the best angles, but they can visualize when peak action will happen. While there’s talent involved, knowing when the precise moment when to press the shutter button comes through lots of training and practice.

Peak action, as the name suggests, is when the photograph captures the apex of motion, expression and body language of a sports play. Think of a bell curve that arcs upward then back down again. There’s a build up, then a flurry of action, then it all subsides, all in a fraction of a second. Nearly every play in nearly every sport happens in this fashion. One has to be ready and then anticipate it happening.

The casual observer may think that when you see it happen, then just press the button, but that’s not the case. The design of a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera doesn’t allow one to actually see what’s happening when it happens.

Light from an image travels through the lens. Then, in the camera, it bounces off an angled mirror up into the pentaprism (that bulge at the top of all DSLRs), which diverts the image to the viewfinder so one can see what the lens sees. When a picture is taken, the mirror quickly swings upward out of the way, allowing the light to pass through to the camera’s sensor. This momentarily creates a blackout in the viewfinder until the mirror drops back down again.

It all happens within a fraction of a second, so quickly that one almost doesn’t notice it. But if you see something happening in the camera, then it means you’ve missed the picture. So you have to press the button a fraction of a second before the action actually happens.

I recently covered a game of the Joe Nava Delta King Classic boys basketball tournament at Stagg High between West and Sonora. I captured a sequence of 5 frames that’s an example of peak action. I was using a Nikon D3s DSLR, which shoots at 9 frames per second (fps).

The first frame shows the play developing with West’s Michael Hayes going to the hoop between Sonora’s Jace Decker and Kaden Sparks-Davis. It has decent action, but Hayes’ eyes are closed and you can tell the players are still on the floor.

The second frame is a little better. Hayes’ eyes are open and he’s started to lift off for a layup but everyone’s still on the ground, though probably not flat-footed.

The 3rd picture is where things get a little tricky. It and the next shot are both close to the peak. Hayes is leaving the ground and the Sonora defenders are close and also starting to leap.

The 4th shot is the one I picked as peak action and submitted to the paper for publication. Hayes is clearly soaring through the air to take his shot. Decker and Sparks-Davis’ action isn’t quite as good as the previous image, but its close and Hayes’ pose and expression makes the photo. You can see the tension in their bodies, especially Decker and Hayes.

The last shot is almost as good but this is on the downside of the bell curve, just after the peak. Although the ball is still in Hayes’ hands, all their bodies are slightly more relaxed. There more of a sense of inevitability and resignation in the photo.

Now at 9 fps, all this literally happened in a little more than half a second. There are high-end cameras today that shoot even faster, from 10 to 14 fps. You may think that you need to spend big bucks for one of them if you want to shoot sports, and sure it would make things easier for sure. But in the old days of film, cameras were rated from 3 to 5 fps, which meant you had to and anticipate and time your photos more precisely.

What is most important is to get out there, shoot a lot and practice, practice, practice. Following those principles will help you to get better peak action pictures whether you have a speedy high-end camera or an ordinary consumer model.

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November outtakes

“In November, the earth is growing quiet. It is making its bed, a winter bed for flowers and small creatures. The bed is white and silent, and much life can hide beneath its blankets.” -  Cynthia Rylant

November marks the end of fall and transition to winter, not that it means that much in sunny California.

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

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11/4/2016:


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11/6/2016:


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11/8/2016:


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11/10/2016:


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11/15/2016:


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11/17/2016:


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11/18/2016:


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1/28/2016:


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11/29/2016:

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Out your backdoor

“There’s a giant doing cartwheels a statue wearin’ high heels
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn
A dinosaur Victrola list’ning to Buck Owens
Doo, doo, doo, lookin’ out my backdoor” – Out My Backdoor – John Fogerty

When I was a photo student way back in the stone-age, one of my assignments was called “out your backdoor.” Its purpose was to teach students to learn how to find creativity from their mundane surroundings. Its easy to find picturesque subjects when traveling to new and exotic places but, because we’re so familiar with the places and things we see everyday, we often ignore or dismiss their photo possibilities as uninteresting or boring. This is the inspiration for the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment is your backyard.

It sounds pretty easy to just walk out into your yard and take a picture, but it takes some thought, creativity and patience to come up with a great shot.

Your backyard (or elements thereof) can be the main subject of your photos or it can be the background for subjects such as portraits or still lifes.

The subjects found in your backyard can be many. From garden gnomes and pink flamingos, to our pets and children, to the flowers and veggies growing in the garden. If you can’t find inspiration in an overall picture of your backyard then look at the details. Close ups of flowers, leaves or even blades of grass can make for interesting photos in and of themselves.

Also, look for the quality of light. The warm colors of early morning and late afternoon tend to the best times.

For this assignment you’’ll be on the honor system. It has to be in your own yard, although I’ll accept front yards too, as long your photos are within or can be seen from your property line.

Once mastered, the techniques and abilities learned through the backyard assignment can be used to see creatively no matter where you go.

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How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between Dec 1. and Dec. 15.

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 (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in a pile of leaves in my backyard 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, Dec. 15. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on Nov. 22 at Recordnet.com.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Rites of fall

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

The latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “fall.” Fall is the time of vibrantly colored foliage, migrating birds and cool, crisp days. It was up to each photographer to decide what epitomized fall and then find a way to illustrated it in pictures. Eighty-nine photos were sent in by 16 readers. Here are some of the best examples.

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In the Central Valley, sandhill cranes are a good indicator of the autumn season. Dave Skinner of Stockton, armed with Nikon D7000 DSLR equipped with a 55-300mm lens, set out to the Isenberg Sandhill Crane reserve near Woodbridge as the cranes were flying in during the evening. He captured the graceful beauty of the birds bathed in the subtly cool tones of dusk.

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Ron Wetherell of Linden went hunting for some fall color in the Yosemite Valley and learned to be ready for the unexpected. He was setting up his Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR with a 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens on a tripod at Cook’s Meadow when he heard some rustling behind him. He turned and saw a doe running towards him about 20 feet away. The doe ran past him, over an embankment and down to a river. A few moments later he turned again and saw that a young buck, apparently smitten by the doe, was chasing her. The buck ran past Wetherell and down to the river to join the doe who didn’t seem to be too interested. Both deer came back up from the river and Wetherell managed to get a shot of the buck with some of the bright yellow fall foliage behind it.

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There are some great fall photos that show forests full of fall leaves while others come down to just one leaf. Carolyn Silva of Jackson saw a single oak leaf floating on the waters of the Stanislaus River while visiting Big Trees Sate Park near the town of Arnold in the Mother Lode. The leaf was in the shallows of the river and cast its shadow on its sandy bottom. It made for a nice repetitive composition and gave a nice visual twist to the photo.

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Teresa Mahnken of Morada made a short trip to Micke Grove Park in Lodi on a slightly foggy morning. With her Nikon D3200 DSLR camera she captured the streams of early morning light as they filtered through the light mist. Looking at this picture, one can almost feel a slight cold nip in the air and feel the dew cover our shoes while walking through the wet grass.

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Fall is also the season of many moons. Harvest moons, hunter’s moons, beaver moons, etc. With the shortening of days and seasonal ending of daylight savings time, evening comes earlier in the day and with it the rising of the moon. Rick Wilmot of Lodi used a Canon EOS 7D Mk II with a 100-400mm lens and a 1.4 tele-extender to photograph the moon through a persimmon tree in his backyard. He managed to capture the early evening moon and the fall color of the tree’s leaves at the same shot.

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Also due to those aforementioned early evenings, sunsets are also more accessible. Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a Canon Rebel t5i DSLR camera to photograph a tractor in a field during sunset in French Camp. He used a flash to help get detail in the farm equipment while capturing the pinks and purples of a waning sunset.

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Steven Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon Power Shot SX 40 point-and-shoot digital camera to photograph a curious red fox at Swenson Golf Course in Stockton. It was one of several Rapaport says coexists with golfers on the course in the middle of the Lincoln Village neighborhood of Stockton.

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All of the photos sent in can bee seen in a photo gallery at Recordnet.com. A new Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be issued next week on Dec. 1.

Posted in 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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