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.


How to enter:

1. Email your entries to 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

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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Moon shots

Last Monday we experienced what’s called a “supermoon.” It’s when the moon comes closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit (its perigee) appearing up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than when it is at its furthest point (apogee). It occurs, on average, once every 14 months, though there are some long periods without one and others where it may happen several months in a row.

For those wanting to photograph the moon, it’s about a quarter million miles away and takes up only a small percentage of the night sky, so you’ll need a telephoto lens if you want any kind of close up photo of it. I’d say something in the 300mm range at minimum.

Exposing for a full moon is relatively straightforward and simple. Many people think that, because the moon comes out when it’s dark, photographing it is a difficult thing requiring a tripod and long time exposures. But that’s not the case.

The light that falls on the moon is essentially the same as it would here on earth during the day (eg: 1/500th of a second at f/11 at ISO 400). So photographing the moon as if you were taking a daytime picture in your backyard or down the street, exposure-wise, is about the same. You may think that the additional distance the moon is from the sun would make a difference, but in astronomical terms that distance is negligible.

There are some atmospheric conditions that may alter your exposures, though. If it’s cloudy, foggy or there’s pollution in the air, then those things may cut out light coming from the moon and you’ll have to adjust your exposures accordingly.

There is an “either-or” when exposing shooting the moon. Either you have to expose for the moon or you have to expose for the surroundings on the ground. It’s up to you to figure out what’s more important to you.

If you want detail in the moon then you’ll need to use the aforementioned daytime exposure. That means you’ll be able to see the man-in-the-moon features of the orb, but anything like people, trees or buildings in the foreground will be greatly under exposed and appear black as, well, as night. You could get something or someone silhouetted if you positioned them in front of the moon but you won’t get any detail in them.

On the other hand, if you want those foreground to be seen then you’ll have to expose for the surrounding area. Since it will most likely be very dark, you’ll probably be using a timed exposure measured in full seconds or even minutes and a tripod to hold the camera still. This will allow you to see the foreground but, here’s the trade-off, the moon will be an overexposed glowing ball of white light.

There are 2 exceptions to theses rules. First, if it’s a cloudy night you might be able to block out just enough of the light coming from the moon to balance it and foreground. But it has to be the right amount of cloud cover. Too much and you’ll block out the moon completely, too little and you’re stuck with your original problem.

Secondly, during the hours of dawn and dusk there is a short time where the moon, sky and foreground are all about the same exposure. It’s a delicate balance that’s struck as the moon either rises or sets. The rising or waning ambient light of the surround area and the thickness of the atmosphere that the moon’s light has to travel through while down near the horizon helps bring the two exposures closer together.

The difficulty here is one of timing. Moonrises and moonsets occur at different times and not always during the dawn/dusk hours so you’ll have to research those times to know when they happen. Also the length of this period is very short lasting at times only minutes before the exposure window is closed so you’ll have to shoot quickly.

December 14, will mark the last of 3 consecutive supermoons of 2016. The next one after that will occur on Dec. 3, 2017. So you’ll have one more chance this year to get out and shoot the moon.

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Mother Nature Monday: #27: Just dew it

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A grateful nation gives its thanks

Today is Veterans Day, a day we thank those who have served and sacrificed for our country. In 1918 WWI ended between Germany and the Allied nations on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. A year later President Woodrow Wilson observed the first Armistice Day announced that the day should be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”

Here’s a gallery of photos of veterans that I’ve photographed over the years.

11/13/2007: WW II veteran Dick Dennis speaks at the French Camp school’s Veterans Day observance. Nine WW II pilots spoke to the school’s 4th-8th graders about their experiences during the war.


11/13/2007: WWII pilot Jim Morehead shakes hands with students after a Veterans Day observance at the school in French Camp featuring Morehead and eight other pilots from WWII.


5/20/2010: Veteran Tom Liggett holds a flag while waiting for a procession of Gold Star families at the dedication ceremony of the Traveling Tribute memorial at Woodward Park in Manteca.


1/27/2011: Lao veterans hold candles during a memorial ceremony in downtown Stockton from Hmong military and community leader General Vang Pao who died on Jan. 6.


11/11/2011: WWII veteran Al Sibell salutes during the Veterans Day ceremony in front of the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium in downtown Stockton.


11/30/2011: Pearl Harbor survivor Robert Fernandez of Stockton served aboard the U.S.S. Curtiss during WWII.


5/26/2012: 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran Shigeo Yokote attends a ceremony hosted by the Japanese-American Citizens League honoring the all Japanese-American units of  the 442nd, the 100th Infantry Battallion and the Military Intelligence Service of WWII. About 28 surviving veterans given Congressional Gold Medals by congresswoman Doris Matsui.


5/26/2012: WWII Military Intelligence Service (MIS) veteran George Morita salutes the posting of the colors by the California National Guard color guard at a ceremony hosted by the Japanese-American Citizens League honoring the of the all Japanese-American units of the MIS, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion of WWII.


5/26/2012: 442nd Regimental Combat Team veteran Feb Yokoi of Linden, 94, is presented with the Congressional Gold Medal by congresswoman Doris Matsui at a ceremony honoring the of the all Japanese-American units of  the 442nd, the 100th Infantry Battallion and the Military Intelligence Service of WWII.


11/7/2013: Norman Boyden of Stockton was one of about 50 veterans who boarded bus at the Karl Ross American Legion Post in Stockton bound for Oakland for a protest over veterans issues in.


11/13/13: Frank Rueda, 77, of Stockton, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, points out some of his medals and has only started talking about his wartime experiences


5/25/2014: Korean War veteran Gilbert Rosas Sr. of Manteca, is reflected in a polished wall displaying the names of area veterans who have been killed on duty at the Not Forgotten Memorial Day event at Woodward Park in Manteca.


5/25/2014: J.B. Brewer of Manteca, a Navy veteran from the 1970s salutes the Gold Star families at the Not Forgotten Memorial Day event at Woodward Park in Manteca.


7/4/2014: Veteran Lorenzo Escarsega, a former marine wo served in the 1980s marches with the Karl Ross American Legion Post’s Silent Sentintel flags in the Fourth of July parade in downtown Stockton.


7/4/2014: Veterans Lou Gemmil, left, and driver Doug Murray ride in a flag-adorned 1932 Ford while participating with the Ed Stewart American Legion Post in the Fourth of July parade in downtown Stockton.


7/4/2014: WWII marine and Iwo Jima survivor John Buster rides on the Ed Stewart American Legion Post float in the Fourth of July parade in downtown Stockton.


11/11/2014:  Vietnam veteran David Galtman of Stockton holds a picture of his friend and fellow veteran Arthur Owens who passed away in 2013 at the Veteran of Foreign Wars Luneta Post 52′s Veterans Day ceremony at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium in downtown Stockton.


11/11/2015:  Veteran Scott Halsey bows his head in prayer during the invocation at the Veterans Day observance at the Karl Ross American Legion Post in Stockton.


11/11/2015: Veteran Rick Caccam plays taps on a bugle during the Veterans Day observance at the Karl Ross American Legion Post in Stockton.


11/11/2015: Vietnam-era veteran Michael Orosco of Stockton reaches out to touch the name of his cousin Daniel Acosta on the Vietnam Veterans memorial after the rededication of the memorial during the Veterans Day observance at the Karl Ross American Legion post in Stockton.


11/21/2015:  Vietnam Veteran Frank Reyes is overcome with emotion after receiving a Quilt of Honor at the dedication ceremony for the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Martin Luther King Jr., Plaza in downtown Stockton.


6/14/2016:  Veterans Joseph Maes, left, Joe Goodman fold a flag during a ceremony in front of American Hearing Aid in Lincoln Center South in Stockton.


7/4/2016: Longtime veterans advocate Tino Adame was one of four grand marshals in the annual 4th of July parade in downtown Stockton.


7/4/2016:  Marine veteran Joe Moreno waves a flag and places his cap over his heart while watching the annual 4th of July parade in downtown Stockton.


9/11/2016: Navy veteran Dave Lurgio salutes during the playing of Taps at the VFW Luneta Post 52 Patriots Day remembrance at the Stockton Memorial Civic  Auditorium in downtown Stockton.

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October outtakes 2016

The end of October brings on the tail end of fall and with it the winding down of the Autumn sports season. Here are my 10 favorite previously unposted photos from October.














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A product in search of a market?



Photos courtesy LeicaThe venerable German camera maker Leica has introduced a new camera, the Sofort, and I am both intrigued and puzzled by it. In the old film days, Leica was know for it’s unparalleled optics and superb craftsmanship and build quality of its equipment. Its cameras were pricey and coveted by many professional photographers around the world. One of the oldest camera manufacturers, it jumped into the digital market a little late but has made up for it with a fine line digital compact and DLSR cameras.

Let me start off by saying that I haven’t had any hands-on experience with the Sofort so this won’t be a review about how the camera handles or works. I’ve read related articles and Leica’s press release and this will more of a review of the concept of the camera.

The Sofort closest competitor is the Fujifilm Instax 70 camera which is similar in form and function. Polaroid also has a similar camera, the Polaroid Pic-300 but it looks a bit cartoonish and toy-like in comparison.

On one hand the camera appears to be cool and contemporary. Previous Leicas came in either black of silver. The Sofort comes in 3 hip colors of orange, white and mint. It’s shape is modern and smart without being too trendy.

Like the Instax and most other instant cameras, the Sofort functions much like a point–and-shoot camera. Just set it on automatic and start taking pictures if you want. Also, like the Fujifillm camera, it also has some manual control overrides that give you more control if you want. Indeed, Leica is marketing the Sofort not only as fun, but a device with which you can take creative control of.

I’ve owned a couple of instant cameras (Polaroid 600 and Spectra) and I can attest that they are fun. Their “raison d’être,” purpose for existing, is to be carefree and easy to use. They’re great at parties and other gatherings. You can take pictures of each other and watch as they develop right in front of your eyes. I suspect that’s what will be the appeal of the Sofort and its competitors. Using them as a creative imaging device is more challenging. To make artistic or creative photos one has to slow down, think and take control of the camera to make an image. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but it’s not the forté of a device that’s best used for snapshots.

While I have no doubt that the Sofort is a well-made, highly functional camera that puts out great pictures, I have a couple of reservations about it.

First, Leica is known as a very serious camera maker and having a “fun” product is a little off their usual menu. Perhaps they’re trying to change or broaden their image. It’s not to say that they can’t do it, it’s just that they may have a little difficulty getting into the mindset. As one who lusted after a Leica M-series rangefinder camera, but couldn’t afford one, I’m having a bit of difficulty wrapping my head around it.

Second, while Leica has always made high-end cameras, the Sofort is a bit on the pricey side. The Fujifilm Instax 70 is around $100, the Polaroid Pic-300 is about $70, and if you just want to have an instant camera you can probably buy a used Polaroid 600 for a song. The Leica, however, costs nearly $300. That’s quite a bit for something that’s probably not going to be your main camera and just used for a little fun.

Finally, if you look past all the bells and whistles, this is old technology. Polaroid, Fuji have been making instant film camera for decades. The old “instant” photography is not so instant nowadays. Once the picture is taken with a instant film camera, it can take several minutes for the image to develop fully, an eternity in this day of digital photography. Anyone with a smartphone can upload their photos to social media in seconds and share them with all of their friends or, indeed, the world. An instant photo can be given to exactly one person at a time.

Is the Sofort a product whose time has come? Maybe, if that time was about 20 years ago.

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Random photo # 69: Calm before the storm

Taken before the polls closed last night.

Joshua Huerta of Stockton takes time to enjoy the quite sunset while fishing along the shores of the deep water channel at Buckley Cove in Stockton.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Grace from fall

The season of Autumn is well upon us which is the inspiration for the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Fall.

What most epitomizes the season is the color of fall leaves. With the shortening of the days and, to a lesser extent, the cooler days, changes them from their verdant greens to hues of red and yellow. Finding the beauty of the leaves’ colors isn’t enough. Try to use good light to enhance that beauty. Backlighting shining through the leaves will help to increase the vibrancy of the colors. Using a dark background to set the leaves against will make them pop out event more. But there are more things that symbolize fall than brightly colored leaves.

Sports abound this time of year. Football is, of course, the most prevalent. High school football is played very Friday night. College games are on Saturday (including Delta College). But football isn’t the only fall sport. Soccer, volleyball and cross-country are also done this time of year. The most common mistake that people make in shooting sports or any other kind of action photo is not using a high enough shutter speed. Using one that is to slow will result in blurring of a moving subject. To stop the action of a fast moving athlete you should use at least 1/500th of a second shutter speed.

Fall is the time for migratory birds to fly in from the north to stay for the winter. Indeed, Lodi’s annual sandhill crane festival is this weekend. The majestic sandhill, as well as many other waterfowl can be seen at the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve west of Lodi, Staten Island near Walnut Grove and the Cosumnes River Preserve in Thornton. The best times to view them is in the early morning or late afternoon/early evening when the birds fly out and into those locations.

Lastly, the shortening of the fall days and the coming of Daylight Savings time (November 6 this year), the end of the day will come earlier in the day so one doesn’t have to stay up late to photograph a beautiful sunset. This will also mean that the so-called “blue hour” of twilight will also occur sooner.

So whatever subject you choose to illustrate the autumnal season, it’s up to you to find the grace from fall.

Here’s how to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between Nov. 3 and Nov. 17.

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: Oak Park, 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 at the Oak 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, Nov. 17. A gallery of all the photos submitted will be run on Nov. 24 at

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Readers Photo Challenge: animals

“If we could talk to the animals, learn all their languages
I could take an animal degree
I’d study elephant and eagle, buffalo and beagle
Alligator, guinea pig, and flea” – Talk to the Animals by Leslie Bricusse

Animals are a source of fascination and subject matter for many photographers. They can be found in the wild, in zoos or, as our pets, in our homes. Animals are the subjects of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment.

Ten readers sent in 55 photos who showed that while we may not really be able to talk to the animals, we can certainly photograph them. Here are the top picks.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada spent some time photographing horses at Mar Val Stables in Lodi with her Nikon D3200 DSLR camera. At the end of the day, as the setting sun lit up the clouds and sky with hues of orange, a horse came up to her and looked straight into the camera. Mahnken not only managed to capture the beauty of the scene but the curiosity and personality of the horse as well.


While on a vacation to the central coast of California Dave Skinner of Stockton visited the Maritime Museum of Morro Bay. Moored there was a replica of the Spanish galleon the San Salvador, the ship that Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo used as the first European to navigate the coast of California.

With his Nikon D5100 DSLR camera, Skinner photographed an osprey perched on a yardarm of the ship. The bold lines of the ship’s rigging help the composition by bringing the viewer’s eye right to the majestic bird.


Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton was out at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Galt looking for some fall color when he spotted a small rabbit cross the path he was on. Like Alice in Wonderland following the White Rabbit, Bazzarre quietly chased his bunny for about 10 minutes until he was able to get a clear shot of it. With the warm afternoon light gracing some of the tree tops and soft light filtering down to the path illuminating the rabbit, the image has a fairytale-like quality.


Rick Wilmot of Lodi was on a rafting trip down the Colorado River near Page, Arizona when his party stopped to look at some petroglyphs a little ways inland. On his way back to the raft Wilmot spotted a desert spiny lizard basking in the sun and was able to photograph it with his Canon EOS 7D Mk II DSLR camera.


Carolyn Silva of Jackson stayed a little closer to home for her picture. With her Nikon D5000 DSLR camera she photographed a honeybee searching for nectar on a flower in her neighborhood, capturing the vibrant color in both bee and blossom.


All of the entries can be seen a photo gallery at and a new challenge assignment will be issued on November 3.

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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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