Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Close to you

The newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment, “close up,” is a revisitation of one we did a few years ago.

Technically a close up picture is any photo in which whatever lens your using is at its minimum focusing distance. In other words, its as close as your equipment allows you to get. “Close-up” is also synonymous with macro photography. Technically, macro is a subject that is at least a 1:4 ratio to life-size on the camera’s sensor (or to a frame of film, if you’re so inclined).

The most obvious and best choice for closeup work is a macro lens. They can allow you to get a 1:1 reproduction which means if something is, say, 1-inch long in real life, then it’s the same size in your viewfinder. You can get closer with a bellows attachment which fits between the camera and lens, but that’s more complication and cost that isn’t a priority for most people. They run in price from about $250 to $1200, depending of the model and focal length.

You can also get close-up filters which are filters that screw into the end of your lens. The come in different strengths and are stackable, which means you can add multiple ones together for added magnification. the downside to filters that they usually aren’t as sharp as a macro lens. And sharpness decreases as you stack them. Their cost for set of filters goes from anywhere from $15 to $150, though a decent can be gotten for around $50-$60.

Lastly, there is technique for close up photography known as reversing the lens. It’s just what it sound like: You take the lens off your camera and turn it around so that the back end is facing outward. It may sound and look strange but it works. There are few downsides. First, it’s difficult if not impossible to control the aperture of a revered lens, so you’ll have to manage the exposure with shutter speed and ISO only. Secondly, reversing obviously requires you to rake if off the camera and hold it by hand against the body of the camera, but in doing so increases the chances of getting dust on your sensor which can show up as dark spots in your pictures. Costs are minimal: you already have the lens and camera. You can get a “reversing ring” which attaches the reversed onto the camera for about $10 to $15 or you can just hold the lens by hand.

Focusing is a simple affair. The best way to focus a macro lens is to turn of the autofocus, set the lens at it’s minimum focusing distance and move yourself in and out until the image is sharp.

Some of the most obvious subjects for close up photography are small objects. Flowers, insects and water droplets are common subjects. Look for anything with small details or textures, things that might be otherwise overlooked when viewed overall, like a coin, silverware or a person’s fingerprints.

While some types of photography such as landscapes, thinking on a grand scale is advantageous but with macro images one needs to think small.

How to Enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between Sept. 21 and Oct. 5.

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

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

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in the grass at Victory Park in Stockton).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Oct. 5.  A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on Oct. 12 at

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Off the beaten path

A few weeks ago, when my daughter, son and I were on our time-limited drive across the country we did manage to take one side trip. In an art class, my daughter Claire learned about a public land art installation called the Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt located in northwestern Utah, in the northern tip of the Great Basin Desert not far from the Nevada border.

We were near the end of our first day of driving. We turned off of Interstate 80 which we had be traveling eastward on for several hours, onto Highway 233, northbound. The term “highway” was a loose interpretation in that it just little more than a 2-lane country road.

At about halfway we passed through the small town of Montello (population 84) which wasn’t much more than wide spot in the road. It was the biggest and only sign of civilization for miles around. At some point we crossed into Utah, though we didn’t see any road signs indicating that we did so.

After about 45 miles from I-80 we turned onto an unmarked dirt/gravel road that lead out into the desert and I was a bit dubious. It wasn’t evident that this was still a public road or a private one. In fact, it seemed to barely be a road at all.
We could hear the gravel churning beneath our wheels as we drove mile after mile, kicking up a plume of dust behind us. For 7 miles we drove. Occasionally, we should see a small wooden signs in the shape of arrows stuck in the dirt with words “Sun Tunnel” pointing vaguely in the direction of the “road.” A one point we crossed a dry gully. Thoughts of the van getting stuck in a rut raced through my mind. I could picture our bleached bones behind the wheel of the truck being found by some archeologist 1,000 years hence.


As we drove further into the desert, small groups wild antelope, about 30-40 yards ahead of us, would stop to look at us out of curiosity then bound across the road off into the sagebrush.

Surprisingly, when we arrived at the site, 2 young women were already exploring the site. Pulling up in the moving van in the middle of the desert, we must have looked like a scene from “Breaking Bad” so I assured the them that were weren’t there to make methamphetamine.

First impressions of the site were less than inspiring. What looked like 4 large concrete pipes, 9 feet tall by 18-feet long, lay randomly on the desert floor. They kind of looked like leftovers from some large sewer main project. On closer examination, the “pipes” were arranged in and “X” or a cross so that 2 were aligned in one direction and the other 2 were lined up 90 degrees from the first set.

Large 6-inch holes have been cut into the top of the pipes in the pattern of different star constellations so that light from the midday sun would repeat the pattern on the floor of each tube.

The tubes are aligned so that the setting sun can be seen straight through them during the summer and winter solstices. Unfortunately we weren’t able to scheduled out trip on those dates.

About a half-hour after we arrived the sun began to set beyond the Pilot Mountain range to the west and that’s when things began to get interesting. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the clouds that filled the heavens became more dramatic.
The sun pierced the clouds with orange beams as it neared the horizon. Even though it wasn’t the solstice the tunnels were still impressive. The warm sunset light skimmed off the curved surfaces of the concrete a golden glow transforming what looked like some abandoned random sewer pipes into works of art that both framed and accentuated the surrounding landscape and making them a part of it as well.

Our detour from our main journey took us roughly 3 hours out of our way. Although at first it seemed like it was a waste of time, in the end it was worth to find the desolate beauty of the desert.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Beyond the postcards

The subject of the current readers Photo Challenge assignment is “vacation.” When people think of vacation pictures they think of postcards of iconic places such as the Eiffel Tower, Washington Monument or Statue of Liberty, but the best travel photos go beyond showing the standard cliché pictures. They show a sense of place and the experiences that the photographer had, whether those locations are famous or not. They delve deeper into their subjects, show us what we might otherwise overlook on your typical tour and go beyond the postcards. Twenty-two readers sent in a total of 184 photos. Here are the top picks.


Sometimes vacations are not only for going to new places but for doing new things as well. Teresa Mahnken of Morada with her husband Art took a relatively short trip to the ranching community of Felix outside of the Mother Lode town of Copperopolis. She wanted to try her hand at night photography for one of her first times. With a Nikon 3200 DSLR camera on a tripod she did a long 15-second exposure of the Salt Spring Valley School house. Her photo captured a sky full of stars and the Milky Way. Light pollution embues the western horizon a pinkish/purplish hue as a flashlight held by her husband Art illuminates the front of the school house


Vacations are for making family memories. Steven Rapport of Stockton went on a trip to the Columbia State Historic Park in the Mother Lode with his extended family. With an Apple iPhone 7 he photograph his 3-year-old grandson Elliott Hunt panning for gold, assisted by his father Brandon Hunt at the living gold rush town. Rapaport’s grandson may be too young to remember but when he gets older he’ll have the memories that grandpa captured.


Traveling is not  just about the places you go but also about the people that you meet along the way. Lillian McDonell of Stockton was on a family road trip to Montana when they stopped the Red Light Garage Inn in the quaint, picturesque town of Wallace, Idaho for some huckleberry ice cream. They met a man who went by the name of “Wild” sitting with his dog outside of the restaurant/antique store and got to talking. He told McDonell that his wife passed away a few years ago and that his friends got him the dog for companionship. The bench in front of the place had become his favorite place to socialize. With her Apple iPhone 6 McDonnell took a picture of “Wild” and his dog, then Wallace, Idaho became more than just a quaint little town with huckleberry ice cream.


Selfies are a staple of vacation pictures. People often take photos of themselves in front of buildings monuments or statues to remind them of their travels. Janet Baniewich of Stockton was on a trip to northern Montana when she took her selfie. At Flathead Lake in the Flathead National Forest she took a picture of her feet with a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera standing among the smooth, rounded rocks on the shores of the lake. The cool, clear water wash over her toes like a clean, natural pedicure.


Lodi resident Jeff Maier’s summer vacation was a Disney cruise to Alaska. He was on a smaller boat while on a side excursion to the Tracy Arm Fjord in the panhandle of southeast Alaska near Juneau. Maier spouted a pair of seals resting on a ice floe as the boat cruised by. With his Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR camera he captured an image of the seals just as a wave hit the floe.


Maier’s mother Shirley Locke was also on the cruise to Alaska and got a memorable picture herself. With her Nikon,Coolpix P610 compact digital point-and-shoot camera she got a photo of a bear on the banks of the Chilkat River while on a River Adventures tour on its way to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines, Alaska.


Pam Johns of Stockton took a 9-day solo hiking trip through he Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Inyo National Forest in Madera County. With her Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX90V compact digital point-and-shoot camera she took a picture of Minaret Lake, elevation 9800 feet. The photo shows the snow-covered, treeless crags set against a cloud-filled sky.


On a visit to her sister Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D5 DSLR camera to photograph the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois. Most people might think about taking an overall shot of the whole thing, Spurgeon chose to take a closer detail of the bean-shaped artwork. The distorted reflections make for and interesting abstract photo.


Holly Stone of Lodi got her photo with an Apple iPhone 7 while vacationing in Glacier National Park in Montana. You can see rocks beneath the surface of the crystal-clear waters of the lake in the foreground and unused boats stored on dock capturing the serenity of Lake McDonald.


On a day trip to San Francisco Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III to photograph a water Lilly illuminated by a shaft of light in the Golden Gate Park conservatory of flowers greenhouse in San Francisco.


As always a photo gallery of all of the entries can be seen at A new challenge will be issued in 2 weeks on September 21.

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Make time

File this under “do as I say, not as I do.” In vacation photography, I always recommend building in some time to take pictures when traveling. Stop for a few days or even just a few hours to get out of your car, look around and get a sense of the place. Well, recently I broke that cardinal rule.

A few weeks ago, I moved my daughter Claire cross country to an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia so that she can attend grad school in Washington D.C. With her possessions and furniture stuffed into a 15-foot long moving van, she, my son Chris and I stuffed ourselves into the tight cab and headed off on a journey across America. Chris and I planned to drop off the truck in Virginia, then take a plane back to California. According to Google Maps its about a 40-hour trip to D.C. from the west coast. We estimated that 4-days (96 hours) should get us there with plenty of time to spare. What we failed to factor in was that roughly half of that time would be spent stopped in motels along the way. Aside from one relatively short side trip, nearly all of our time was spent either driving, eating or sleeping.

We followed Interstate 80 eastward across 12 states. I’d named them all, but then I’d start sounding like Johnny Cash singing “I’ve Been Everywhere.” It was a great way to see how vast our country really is. The only problem was that we didn’t have any time to stop and really explore it.

Once in Utah we stopped on the shoulder of the freeway, which was ill-advised. We saw a salt lake, not the Great Salt Lake, but picturesque nonetheless. The traffic was light so we pulled over to the side of the road. We got our shots and got back into the van. Getting back onto the freeway proved to be more difficult. While there weren’t many vehicles, they were spaced out just enough to make pulling back into traffic a white-knuckle affair. We learned our lesson and didn’t try it again for the remainder of the trip, no matter how much we were tempted.

The cab was cramped, so much so that we were forced to leave our camera bags in the cargo hold of the truck. That left us to photograph what we could through the windows with our cellphones, and sometimes even that wasn’t possible. Often, long stretches of countryside went without a picture because while one of us drove and subsequently couldn’t take photos, the others would try to catch some sleep in the tight quarters the truck. The entire state of Indiana didn’t produce any pictures for us because we passed through all of it at night without stopping.

Another problem with shooting out the window is that after a while all pictures tend to look the same. A mountain range in Utah can look a lot like one in Wyoming. Was that photo of a cornfield from Nebraska, Iowa or Ohio?

We did make stops for food and fuel, but most gas stations and roadside restaurants are picked their convenience, not for the aesthetics of their locations. When we did stop for lodging it was either too dark for and/or we were too tired to look for pictures.

For us, the trip was a lot like watching a preview for a movie without being able to see the entire film. There were some interesting things to see from the road, like Utah’s alien landscapes and the Midwest’s green rolling hills, but they were only a taste of what those places must really be like.

In the second half of our journey time became a precious commodity. Driving times became longer and sleeping times shorter as our deadline neared. But by the time we hit the outskirts of Virginia we could see the light at the tunnel. We arrived at our destination just a few hours later than we planned.

At the end of the trip a three of us were exhausted, but seeing the sights that we did and remembering the things that we passed up, we surprisingly all agreed that we’d like to do it again, but with two conditions. First, we’d need a more comfortable vehicle and second, and most importantly, we need to build in more time.

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Eclipse of the eyes

On Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will cut a 70-mile wide diagonal path across the country starting from Oregon and ending South Carolina. While we won’t be able to see the total phase of the eclipse here in Stockton, we will get a partial eclipse that will cover about 78% of the sun.

It is important to note that to view a solar eclipse one must use special eye protection or risk serious damage to your sight including blindness. Regular sunglasses won’t do.

For the last eclipse in 2014 I made a filter out mylar, which is a paper thin polyester coated with a metallic finish, for a 200-400mm telephoto zoom lens.

The lens has a front end diameter of about 110mm (about 4.3 inches), far too big for a conventional filter. Instead, the lens employs what’s called a drop-in filter, which is smaller (52mm) and fits into a holder that slides into a slot near the rear of the lens. I had made a filter by fitting mylar over a spare drop-in holder but I wasn’t totally satisfied with my results. The material scattered the a light a little too much but more importantly, sliver color of the mylar left my images looking bereft of color.

I have seen photos shot with a black polymer filter which gives the sun a nice orange hue, but those filters can cause a couple hundred bucks. A bit expensive for shooting something that only occurs every few years. I decided to try to make one myself.

A black polymer sheet, which is paper thin, transmits only 1/1000th of 1% of light through it. They too are a bit expensive, about $30 to $60 for a single 12”x12” sheet. Being a self-avowed cheapskate, I tried looking for another way.

I had a pair of eclipse viewing glasses leftover from the last eclipse. It has a thin cardboard frame (like those old 3D movie glasses) with the black polymer lenses.

I cannibalized the rectangular lenses but at about 1-1/2” x 1”, they were far too small to cover the front of the large lens. The solution was to adapt the round mylar filter that I had already made.The problem was to how to make a square peg into a round hole. I cut a rectangular hole in the mylar filter and simply taped the polymer lens into it.

I took a few test shots of the sun with the new filter and reviewed the images on the camera’s monitor. They were perfect. The sun appeared as a bright orange orb against a field of black. 
I lifted the camera to take more test photos to make sure. After a few more frames, the viewfinder was suddenly filled with a blinding white light. I quickly pulled away from the camera to avoid injuring my eye. I knew that the filter had failed. Pulling it from the slot, I saw that there was a pencil eraser-sized hole in the center. Because the filter was near the focus point of light, that created enough heat to melt the filter, much like using a magnifying glass to start a fire. The mylar was able to reflect enough the heat for it to stay intact, the black polymer was not.

Much the same thing can happen to your eyes if you look at the sun or eclipse without protection. It can seriously damage your retinas.

I broke down and got a bigger sheet of polymer for the front of the lens. It was a smaller piece (4.5” x 5.5”) so it only cost $13.50. I fashioned filter out of it and cardboard from an old shoe box and it fit nicely over the end of the lens. It’s not pretty, but I did some test shots with it and it worked and held up well.

The Stockton Astronomical Society in conjunction with Delta College astrophysics professor Lincoln Lee will be holding an eclipse viewing party at Delta starting at about 9:00 a.m. (the peak will occur at about 10:21 PDT) They will have a number of telescopes equipped with filters, indirect viewing devices and eclipse glasses. A solar eclipse is a fantastic celestial event to witness, just make sure you have the proper eye protection to view safely.

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Outtakes: Goodbye July

“Hot July brings cooling showers,
Apricots and gillyflowers.” – Sara Coleridge

The most patriotic of months has come and gone as summer turns the corner and heads down the backstretch. Here are some of my favorite previously unposted photos from July.

















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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Vacation

With children returning to school summer is starting to wind down which makes it the perfect time for the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Vacation.

Vacation photos are basically travel photos. A good travel picture conveys the sense of place to land you’ve traveled to. A few years ago my son went to Japan on trip with his Boy Scout troop. When planning their itinerary, some of the boys suggested they go to the Tokyo Disneyland. That was voted down because others argued that they could go to Disneyland in Anaheim and the experience wouldn’t be much different.

You want to capture the unique feel of the place you’ve journeyed to. Sometimes it’s the architecture like in a place like New York City. It can be about monuments and statures which abound in Washington D.C. Other times it can be about the beauty of the landscape which can range from the serenity of a costal location like Bodega Bay to the mountainous grandeur of Yosemite.

Don’t forget about the people. Faces and people can add to the flavor to your photos. A photo of a street scene may look a little sterile without any people. Waiting for a person or group of people to enter a scene may add a little life to the image.

As with all pictures time of day is important. Late afternoon and early morning light is the best. It gives your photos a nice warm glow. Try night photos too. A boring scene during the day can may come to life at night.

Those of you who had a “staycation” at home can send in pictures too. Anything of you and yours having fun closer to home is acceptable as well.

Some of you may already have gone on your trips, so for this assignment the time period extends back to the traditional start of vacation prime time, Memorial Day, May 29.
If you have a trip planned in the next few weeks you’re in luck, too. in addition to the retroactive extension of the time period for shooting, and extra week has been added to the deadline as well.

How to Enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between May 29 and August 31.

3. Entries are limited to up to 12 photos from each photographer.

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

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. Also please identify the body of water you are photographing (e.g.: Jimmy Doe of Stockton stands near the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Aug 31. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on September 7 at

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Sunset, moonrise

On Saturday night I photographed the weekly races at Stockton 99 Speedway in Stockton. I set up in my usual spot atop the press box on the west side of the track. It affords me a relatively unobstructed view over the safety fence. At around 8:00 p.m. between races I looked to the west and the bright orange glowing orb that was the setting sun on the horizon.

I turned back towards the track and at the same time as the sun was setting, a full moon was rising in the east. The man-in-the-moon face smiled back at me as it slowly rose above the clouds tinged with the warm light from the setting sun directly opposite from it.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Down by the river

I grew up in a small river town in the Delta, so I know how wonderful river life can be. I remember as a kid splashing around in my favorite swimming hole and I know what its like when the heat of a summer’s day is dissipated by the cool evening river breeze. This is the inspiration for the current Readers Challenge assignment of “rivers” Entries ranged from sunsets on the rivers to people recreating on the water. Sixteen readers sent in 82 photos. Here are the top picks.


River life happens at a quieter and more peaceful pace than city living. Teresa Mahnken beautifully captured that serenity in her photo while on a kayaking trip on Lodi Lake.
With a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera she photograph a lone egret as it hunted for food among the reeds along a shoreline of the lake. The early morning light imbues her photo with warm tones. That warmth and the gracefulness of the egret are also reflected in the slightly shifting waters of the lake.


Rivers are perfect settings for sunsets. Sonia Avila of Stockton use a Nikon D700 DSLR camera to photograph a sunset on the deep water channel at Louis Park in Stockton. The reeds and pampas grass at the edge of the channel’s shore provide interesting foreground detail as while she captured the deep rich colors of the sunset.


Most people think of wide, slow-moving rivers, swiftly-flowing streams or even babbling brooks, but people don’t often think of that all these bodies of water have to start somewhere. Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III to photograph season runoff cascading down a mountain side off of Highway 120 near Tiago Pass in Mono County.


Yosemite Lake in Stockton isn’t exactly a lake but more precisely it is the head of Smith Canal in Stockton, Oran Schwinn of Stockton used a Google Pixel XL smartphone to photograph his 16-year-old daughter Naomi on a tree that had fallen into the waters of lake. He captured the branches of the tree and his daughter’s form reflected in the water making for a circular composition.


Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7000 DSLR to photograph members of the Stockton Rowing Club at the Stockton Sailing Club as they prepared to set out onto the waters of the deep water channel at Buckley Cove in Stockton. He caught their colorful reflections that were broken up by the small waves in the water making for an abstract composition


All the photos can be seen in a gallery at A new Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be issued next week.

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Throwback Thursday: A cool picture for a hot day

Here’s a wintry photo from 2010 that hopefully will cool you off on a hot summer day.

Jennifer Farrell of Woodside helps her 5-year-old daughter Elle Marsyla ski at the Soda Springs ski resort near Donner Summit. (1/30/10)  CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD PHOTO

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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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