“Here I come to save the day!”

“When criminals in this world appear
and break the laws that they should fear
and frighten all who see or hear
the cry goes up both far and near…”
– Underdog theme song by W. Watts Biggers, Treadwell D. Covington, Joseph B. Harris and Chester A. Stover

Today is National Superhero Day. Back in my day, if you read comic books as an adult it was something you kept quiet, lest you be ridiculed. Today it’s different. Comic books are now celebrated and are integral to pop culture. Many cities, including Stockton and even Lodi, have their own version of ComicCon.

Here’s a gallery of photos of caped crusaders that I’ve shot over the years.

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Readers Photo Challenge: The power of flowers

Winter and spring rains brought April flowers in abundance and helped to make the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment of Flowers a success.

Everyone sent in pictures of great flowers, but this is a photography column, not a flower column, after all. The best photos transcended the beauty of their subjects. They showed that it’s better to take a pretty picture of a flower than a just picture of a pretty flower. The latter relies on the beauty of the subject for its success, the former depends on the skill of the photographer to make a great picture.

Thirty readers sent in a whopping 193 pictures. Here are some of the top picks.

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Mickey Maguire of Tracy used a Sony a6300 mirrorless digital camera to photograph a red lion amaryllis at his home. He used a 35mm lens equipped with an extension tube to help him get in close for a macro shot. He captured the subtle color and tone of the blossom. Maguire moved in close eliminating the petals from view, which most people probably would have wanted to include. His focus is perfectly aimed on the flower’s yellow pollen-covered anthers and the gentle curves of the filaments that hold them up.

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Tom LaBounty of Stockton photographed an iris that he harvested from his front yard. He brought the blossom inside and essentially set up a miniature studio to photograph it. Against a black plexiglass background to eliminate distractions, he set up a pair of LED lights, one on each side of the flower and photographed it with his Fuji X-T2 DSLR camera. The even lighting captured the graceful detail, tones and colors of the flower’s petals, yet boldly sets it apart from the black infinity of the background.

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After a recent storm Teresa Mahnken of Morada saw some of her daisies reflected in the raindrops clinging to a decorative chain on a birdhouse in her backyard. She added some corn syrup to the drops to help them keep their shape (glycerin would have done the same trick). She used a Nikon D3200 DLSR camera with just a kit lens to photograph those drops, which look like a picture of several of flowers but it’s just one blossom reflected in several water drops.

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Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a technique called “painting with light” to make his flower photograph. Ratekin set up his Canon EOS Rebel T5i DELR camera on a tripod and placed a vase of roses with a set of rabbit figurines on a table in a darkened room. Using a long exposure (30 seconds), he then shined a small LED light onto the flowers with a constant random motion, hence the “painting” with light analogy. The movement of the light source avoids any hotspots that may occur if the light was stationary and gives a great amount of control to the photographer in where he/she wants the light to be. It’s not an exact science and takes a bit of practice to get it right. Ratekin’s photo has perfectly exposed blossoms with the vase and figurines being less well-lit, which brings more emphasis to the flowers.

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Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton used a Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at the Marin headlands near Sausalito across the bay from San Francisco. Three delicate checkerbloom blossoms growing among wild grasses are sharp and prominent in the foreground with Highway 101 and the Golden Gate Bridge fading off out of focus in the background. It shows that nature can be found not too far from any urban area.

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Dave Skinner of Stockton checked out Electra Road near Jackson looking for wildflowers for his entry to the challenge. Unfortunately the display of flowers was disappointing compared to years past but Skinner was undaunted. He actually found a great photo growing in his backyard. With his Nikon D7100 DSLR camera equipped with a 55mm micro lens, Skinner photographed a bearded iris covered with a smattering of raindrops. His close up approach emphasizes he rich purple and orange of the alien looking flower.

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Holly Stone of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph gulf fritillary butterfly on a bouquet of flowers in the butterfly garden of San Francisco Flower and Garden Show at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. The butterfly’s bright orange wings contrasts with the green and purple of the amethyst phlox it’s perched on.

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Frank Whitney of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at Soda Lake, Carrizo Plains National Monument near Taft. The blossoms cover the nearby hills in a carpet of gold as a small herd of cattle graze unknowingly in the foreground.

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Steve Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 70D DSLR camera to photograph a field of tidy tips, goldfields and lupine at Keegan Ranch near Williams, California. It’s a bucolic scene with the field in the foreground and a vast sea of clouds above.

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Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph a flower vendor’s wares at the ferry building in Stockton.  There’s a certain playfulness in the way she captures the random arrangement of the bouquets and their colors.

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As always all of the photos will be posted in a gallery at Recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued next Thursday.

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Lighting design

There was a peculiarity to light shining on the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial. Overall it’s well lit except at the center where there is a falloff in illumination. There seems to be lights on either side of the monument to light up the ends but they don’t overlap much at the center leaving a dead spot in the center, lighting-wise.

I don’t know if it was an oversight or a part of the building’s lighting design, but that darkness makes Lincoln’s seated statue, which is well-lit within the building, stand out even more.

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My kingdom for a horse.

As I’ve stated previously, it seems that there’s a statue of a guy on a horse nearly everywhere you go in Washington D.C.

Not true, of course, but there are a lot of them. According to dcmemorials.com there are 29 equestrian statues in the D.C. area (28 men and 1 woman – Joan of Arc).

There’s an unofficial statue code which states that the number of hooves that are lifted into the air on an equestrian statue indicates how the rider died. One hoof raised means the rider was wounded in battle. Two hooves in the air means the rider died in battle. All 4 hooves on the ground means the rider survived combat unharmed.

However, the code is more of an urban myth. Of those 29 statues in Washington D.C. only 7 adhere to the “code.”

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Library of Congress

I briefly mentioned the Library of Congress earlier. It was one of the most impressive places that we visited in Washington D.C. I have to admit that before out trip all I knew about the Library of Congress is what I saw in the movie National Treasure II, where the film’s heroes go running through the circular stacks of the Main Reading Room (it’s ironic that that portion of the building is only open to those doing research, not the casual sightseeing public).

The Library of Congress actually is comprised of 3 buildings. The James Madison Memorial Building, which opened in 1980, the John Adams Building built in 1938 and the Thomas Jefferson Building, the one that most people think of as the Library of Congress, built in 1800.

The exterior of the building is an ornate and imposing edifice. But it’s in a city full of such buildings so it’s easy to become a bit jaded and dismiss it as just another one. Once inside, the story changes dramatically.

There, in the Great Hall, you’re greeted by tall, bold columns supporting arched and vaulted ceilings. Those ceilings are either covered in colorfully painted murals or intricate mosaics.

The venue is as much museum as it is library. There are historical exhibitions shown in several galleries in the building. One is a re-creation of Thomas Jefferson’s library in the Southwest Pavilion on the Second Floor. It assembles more than 6,000 volumes that founded the Library of Congress, many of which were the original books of one our country’s greatest thinkers.

Also on the second floor in the Northwest Gallery, is the Exploring the Early Americas exhibit, which examines the country’s indigenous cultures and the encounters between Native Americans and early European explorers.

Much like a book being better than a movie that was inspired by it, the Library of Congress was gave us much more in real life than what we had seen on film and became one of the highlights of our trip.

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Four days in Washington D.C.

Last month I took an all too short family vacation to Washington D.C. It was our first time to visit the city, which gave me an opportunity to put into practice some travel photography techniques.

There is so much to see in our nation’s Capitol, where it seems that there’s a statue of a guy on a horse on nearly every corner, it would be hard to see everything in 4 weeks let alone 4 days. When faced with limited amount of time it’s wise to plan your schedule and build-in some time for picture taking.

It may sound a bit strange, after all, can’t you just take pictures during your normal itinerary? Sure you can, but the best pictures are taken in the best light, which comes at the beginning and end of the day. Midday light tends to be flat and boring. Try to plan your indoor sightseeing when light is less important during that time and save the morning and afternoon light for the outdoor picture taking. We visited the national archives which houses revered documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Pictures aren’t allowed in the archives so they were perfect for a midday visit.

Of course there is plenty to shoot. Washington D.C.. has incredibly majestic buildings and grand monuments and getting overall photos of them is obligatory. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for details. Both the Capitol and the National Archives buildings, for example, have some incredibly detailed relief sculptures as a part of the edifices.

Speaking of time of day try to make time for some night photography. It’s the one thing that I wanted to be sure we did on our trip.  A city can take on an entirely different look at night. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. stands next to the White House. It’s a gigantic edifice built in the French Second Empire-style architecture. It’s very ornate but in the daylight it’s very imposing and a bit foreboding looking with its granite walls and columns. At night it’s distinctly different. It’s much more inviting looking more like something out of a Disney movie.

There are a couple of ways you can go about shooting night shots. The first and easiest is go out by yourself or a small group on your own which is good if you have time to do a little exploring. The second is to take a night bus tour. Many tourist destination cities like Washington D.C. and New York have such tours. Since we were on a tight schedule that’s what we chose.

The advantage of that is that you get to see many sights in the most efficient way. A knowledgeable tour guide can tell you interesting facts about the sights and the most popular vantage points from which to view or photograph them. The downside is that you’re on someone else’s schedule. While there may be some flexibility built into the tour, you only have so much time to spend at each stop.

On our tour, we were able to get off the bus at each stop to take pictures. Some of the stops allowed us time to get a lot of photos. At the Lincoln Memorial for example not only did we get exterior photos of the building but we were able to go inside the monument as well. On the other hand, we were only able to get shots of the Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin before moving on. All in all, given our limited timeframe I think the bus tour was our best option.

When you’re in a hurry it’s understandable that you might take one shot then move along to the next sight. Try to shoot different angles of the same subject for a variety of pictures. Fortunately in Washington D.C. there are several sights that can be seen from many vantage points. The Capitol dome can be seen from blocks away down Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Mall. The same can be said of the Washington Monument. As we moved around the city we can One of our favorite views of the Capitol was from the 6th floor balcony of the Newseum, which afforded us an unobstructed view from a high angle just a few blocks away.

Unless you’re facing a major storm, inclement weather doesn’t have to dampen your travel photo opportunities. In fact, it can actually be an enhancing factor to them. On the evening of our night tour, fog descended over the city. Not the low-lying tule fog that we have here in the Central Valley, but a high mist that hovered several hundred feet off of the ground. At times it obscured the top of the 555-ft tall Washington Monument. Some people might have been disappointed but the fog helped to add and air of mystery to the pictures shot that night.

Through the night the fog turned to a light rain, which continued into the morning. As the rain abated it left many puddles and I was able to get a shot of the Capitol dome reflected in one of them.

Lastly, even though a short trip may have limited time and opportunities but try to keep and eye out for unscripted and serendipitous moments. The Great Hall in the Library of Congress features neoclassical architecture and elaborately painted ceilings and it’s easy to get caught up in staring in awe at the spectacle. I managed to get a shot of a fellow tourist taking a picture as she stood in front of one of several large flags hanging over an archway to take a picture of the ceiling which made for a very patriotic scene.

After our night shooting outing we decided to take the Metro subway back to our hotel. Entering the McPherson Square station was surprisingly eye catching. The concrete ceiling and walls of the passenger loading platforms of both that station and our destination of Foggy Bottom were a rectangular, web-like pattern that gave the places a futuristic feeling.

Even if you’re on a short vacation with a limited amount of time, with a little planning and forethought, you can still bring home some great travel pictures.

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Go take a (wildflower) hike

Here’s an opportunity for those of you looking for a place to find wildflowers to photograph. East Bay Municipal Utility District (EMBUD) will be holding its Longest Mile Wildflower Hike near Valley Springs on Saturday.

The hike, a 3-mile round trip, runs through a portion of the Coast to Crest Trail, situated along the Mokelumne River canyon between Valley Springs and Jackson. With all the rain we’ve received lately there is great potential for blossoms such as purple shooting stars, hounds-tongues and, of course, California poppies to be flowering.

The EBMUD website describes the hike as strenuous and portions of it as challenging, so it may not be for everyone, especially for those who may have difficulty walking. Carolyn Silva, 64, of Jackson, who has been on the hike before, says that she stops often to rest and take pictures, which makes the walk easier for her. However, the last portion of the trail climbs 550 feet up in only a half-mile, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

The destination of the hike is a vista called “Patti’s Point” where the group will have lunch before retuning to the start.

Hikers are to meet at the Middle Bar Takeout at 9:00 a.m. (Take Highway 49 south of Jackson to Middle Bar Road) to the Mokelumne River). From there they will carpool to Rich Gulch trailhead where the hike will start. The hike is scheduled to return to the start by around 2:00 p.m. (Late arrivals or early departures are not available because the hike starts beyond a locked gate).

Hikers under 18 are welcome with written permission from their parents. Those under 16 must be accompanied by an adult, however, the hike is not recommended for those under 7.

EBMUD recommends bringing water, a lunch, comfortable hiking shoes, insect repellant, sunscreen and sunglasses. A hat should also be helpful. A wildflower field guide is also helpful although there will be EBMUD rangers and docents on hand to help you identify the flowers. Dressing in layers can be helpful in dealing with quickly changing weather conditions.

So if you’re willing to get a little cardiovascular workout, Saturday’s Longest Mile hike may also yield some great wildflower pictures as well.

I forgot an important detail: Those wanting to participate must register in advance. You can register online by 4/14/17 at volunteer@ebmud.com. Include your telephone number. 

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Random Photo #72: Opening day

Under approaching storm clouds a sailboat from the Stockton Sailing Club cruises the water of the deep water channel in Stockton on the club’s opening day.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Flowers for the 50th

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge marks the 50th assignment since it’s beginning in April of 2013. In recognition of this fact we will revisit the very first assignment of “flowers.” It’s appropriate that spring is not only the season flowers but of rebirth and renewal as well.

With all the winter rains we received flowers, both wild and domestic, have flourished. Indeed so-called “super blooms” have been reported in normally arid and barren places such as Death Valley, but you don’t have to travel that far. You can find wildflowers are growing here in the Central Valley as well as the Mother Lode.

But you don’t have to photograph just wildflowers, domestic blossoms are just as valid. You can choose from your backyard azaleas, neighbor’s roses or a cherry orchard’s blooms. You can even photograph the flowers that you bought at your local florist.

As with any subject, time of day is important in photographing flowers. Try to avoid midday sun. Mornings and afternoon light are the best for picture taking.

Speaking of light, front lighting tends to be flat and dull. Try to use side or back lighting, they will enhance the colors and vibrancy of whatever flower you choose.

Overall pictures are acceptable, but as a subject flowers most often effective as close-ups. A macro lens is helpful in this respect but a less expensive alternative is a close-up filter that attaches an existing lens.

While inclement weather may be behind us. If some rain does come don’t let it scare you away. Raindrops (or water from lawn sprinklers) clinging to a blossom can make for just the right accent for your picture. Speaking of weather, be careful on windy days. Even a moderate breeze may make it difficult to focus on a swaying blossom. Try to find a sheltered spot where the wind doesn’t reach or, if you’re closed to home, you can simply pick the flower and bring it inside.

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 April 6 and April 20.

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 picks dandelions 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, April 20. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on April 27 at Recordnet.com.

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Go for broke

Today is National Go For Broke Day. It recognizes the accomplishments of the 422nd Regimental Combat Team, the 100th Infantry Battalion, which were comprised of Japanese-American soldiers during WWII. “Go for broke,” meaning to wager everything, was the motto and battle cry of the group.

The units fought with courage and distinction and were the most decorated of their size and length of service.
In October of 1944 the 1st Battalion, also know as the Texas Battalion, was surrounded and cut off by German forces in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. The 442nd broke through enemy lines to rescue about 221 men but lost 800 of their own in the process. The battle earned the group the nickname of the “Purple Heart Battalion.” They did all and more this while their families were removed from their homes and interred in relocation camps.

In 2012, I was honored to attend a ceremony at the California History Museum in Sacramento in which Congresswoman Doris Matsui belatedly awarded Congressional Gold Medals to 28 surviving 442/100th veterans along with Military Intelligence Service (MIS) vets who served as interpreters/code breakers during the war. Among them was my uncle Hiroshi Oto of Sacramento.

These men are among our greatest generation who willingly and courageously served and sacrificed for the country they loved. It is up to us to honor that service and sacrifice by never forgetting what they did.

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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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