Random photo # 43: Clouds and kites

Allen Lee of Stockton enjoys the mild temperatures and partly cloudy skies by launching a kite during a family outing at the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton.

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Readers Photo Challenge: This land is your land

The subject of this month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment is landscape photography. There are several types of pictures that you can take of the natural world. Close-ups can capture the small realm of flowers and insects. Wildlife photography records the beauty of animals. Landscapes capture the grandeur of the great outdoors.

Fourteen readers sent in 51 photos. Some traveled far afield to get their pictures while others went no further than their front yards. There is a gallery of all the images at Recordnet.com. Here are some of the top picks.

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What many people often forget to do in landscape photography is include a foreground. Sam Doan of Stockton used a Canon EOS 5D Mk II to photograph the Bixby Creek Bridge and the coastline along Highway 1 near Big Sur. Doan used the bridge in the foreground at the left side of the photo as an accent to lead the viewer’s eye into the beautiful vista of the ocean bluffs.

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Closer to home, Christopher Khan of Stockton not only showed that inclement weather doesn’t have be a deterrent to taking landscape photos but it can enhance them as well. Khan used a Canon 60D DSLR camera to photograph an oak tree on Morada Lane during a storm in Stockton. The swirling clouds picked up the color from the golden hour sky and at the same time the rain-soaked street reflected that same color in the foreground.

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The legendary photographer Ansel Adams captured the grandeur and power of landscapes in black and white but sometimes, as another famous photographer Galen Rowell practiced, photos can be all about color. Stan Steele of Stockton used a Canon SD1200 IS point-and-shoot camera to photograph the sunset over Fourteen Mile Slough in Stockton. A sunset imbues gentle clouds with a rich golden color while the light reflecting off of the slough provides a picturesque foreground as well.

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The close-up or macro shot has it’s own place in nature photography but there are ways to get a close-up and an overall landscape at the same time. Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton, focused her Nikon D90 DSLR camera on a stalk of wild mustard in a field off of Highway 4 in Stockton. While the shaft of flowers is perfectly sharp a relatively wide aperture throws the background out of focus bringing more emphasis to the main subject. However, you can still make out that its in an entire field of the same flowers, thus showing both the close-up and overall at the same time.

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When most people think of a foreground they probably imagine something at the bottom edge of the photo leading the viewer into the rest of the image. Lindsey Shepherd Wanner of Milford, Illinois used a Nikon D5100 DSLR camera to photograph the sunset view from her front yard. Wanner uses a bare tree and branches in the foreground at the top of the photo to frame the cold Midwestern winter scene.

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“Beauty,” “grandeur” and “majestic,” are among the words that most people probably think of when they envision a landscape picture. “Desolation” probably isn’t high on that list. However, Kelly. Yaksich of Centennial, Colorado found beauty in what could be an otherwise bleak scene. Yaksich used a Canon EOS 60D DSLR camera to photograph an abandoned store near Ironwood National Monument, 60 miles northwest of Tucson, Arizona. The seemingly forsaken store serves as a focal point to the desert scene where the clouds and sky seems to almost mystically swirl around the building.

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Landscapes have been the subject of artists for centuries. Photographers have shown that, from the redwood forest to the gulfstream waters, this land was not only made for you and me but for our cameras as well.

A new challenge assignment will be issued next Thursday.

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It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer

The World Press Photo contest recently announced the winning pictures from 2014. These are considered some of the best images in the world. By and large they were all taken with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, which are the tools of choice for the photojournalist.

The Spanish photo website Quesabesde analyzed the EXIF data (information imbedded in each image) of 38 of the 45 winning pictures. From that data they created a graphic of which cameras were used in each case. Had they dug a little further they could have even found out what exposure each picture was shot at. I supposed all that information is mildly interesting but ultimately useless. It doesn’t tell anything of how the pictures were taken. There’s no information on how they approached their subjects or how they chose the decisive moment of when to press the shutter button. We know nothing from the data on how the photographers composed their photos or the extent of the emotional impact of each shot.

Often people will see me on the job with my camera and say something like: “that’s a fancy/big/nice camera. I bet it takes great pictures.” I usually just smile and thank them for noticing. I understand where they’re coming from. A big camera usually with a big lens attached to it can be an impressive sight. But there’s an adage that professional photographers know and live by: It’s not the camera that takes the picture, it’s the photographer.” Sure, it’s nice to have fancy equipment and certain types of jobs require certain types of gear, but without a photographer’s training, expertise and vision, a camera, not matter how fancy or advanced, is just a lump of metal, plastic and glass.

Beginning photographers should keep thing simple. Don’t go hog wild with equipment, even if you can afford it. Get something basic and then concentrate the rudimentary principles of photography: Getting close and watching your backgrounds. You should explore the quality of light and learn how different exposures can affect your photos. As your abilities expand then you can get gear that matches your skill.

For the record Canon cameras took lion’s share of the winning photos in the World Press contest with 23 prizes. Nikon was distant second with 7 and the remaining pictures were spread evenly over several other manufacturers. Most interestingly one of the winners was taken with a “lowly” iPhone. Yep, it’s the photographer, not the camera, that makes the difference.

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Put your left hand in…

“I admit it, you are better than I am.”
“Then why are you smiling?”
“Because I know something you don’t know.”
“And what is that?”
“I am not left-handed.”
– An exchange between Indigo Montoya and the Man in Black from “The Princess Bride”

In photography there are very few absolutes. Rarely is there an “always use this” or a “never do that.” However there is one constant that has been ever since the beginning of photgraphy was invented: Cameras have always been made to be operated by the right hand. Shutter buttons are always pressed by the right index finger. Ergonomically, today’s cameras designed to be used by the right-handed. Sure, you can contort yourself to shoot with your left hand, but it’s not the easiest thing to do and very few can do it gracefully.

Master photographer Steve McCurry, who’s photo of an Afghan girl with haunting eyes which graced the cover of National Geographic some years ago is perhaps his most famous, shoots with his left hand. He doesn’t make a big deal about it. I read in an interview that he injured his hand as a small child and it never healed properly. Now he holds the camera with his right had via a special grip attached to the tripod mount at the bottom of the camera. To take a picture McCurry reaches under, across and then up with his left to press the shutter button on the right side of the camera. He does it quickly and seamlessly that you almost think that the camera was designed to be used that way. But McCurry is among the elite photographers in the world and has had years of practice of using a camera his way. It may not be so easy for other lefties.

Florida-based photographer Sylvia Cacciatore is petitioning Canon to build a left-handed DSLR camera. She suffered a brachial plexus injury at birth which left her left arm undeveloped and paralyzed. She contacted Canon to tell them she wanted to upgrade to a professional grade DSLR camera to follow a career in photography. Their rather inadequate response was to suggest that she consider their PowerShot line of point-and-shoot cameras. Frustrated with this answer Cacciatore has started a petition to garner public support for a left-handed camera (https://www.change.org/p/canon-inc-design-left-handed-cameras).

British and Japanese car manufacturers make left-hand versions of their right-hand drive cars for the American market, so perhaps a left-handed camera might be a possibility. However, making a left-handed camera may not be as easy as just putting a button on the left side. Today’s digital cameras are not symmetrical and while they some controls may not have to be moved from one side to the other, the ergonomic grips are designed to be side specific. Camera bodies may have to undergo some extensive and expensive retooling for left-hand use.

About 10% to 15% of the world’s population is left-handed. The entire digital camera industry has been suffering diminished sales due to the popularity of cellphones. Perhaps it may be possible for camera companies to find a whole new market of lefty photographers.

Contact photographer Clifford Oto at (209) 546-8263 or coto@recordnet.com. Follow him at recordnet.com/otoblog.

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There’s one week left before the deadline of latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment of “landscapes.”

Here are the rules once again:

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

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

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown).

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Feb. 19. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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January Outtakes: 2015 out of the gate

2015 has had a roaring start. Basketball season was in full swing and the weather, while dry, had its mix of cold and warm days. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from January.

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1/2/2015:

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1/8/2015:

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1/13/2015:

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1/14/2015:

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1/19/2015:

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1/21/2015:

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1/22/2015:

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1/26/2015:

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1/28/2015:

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Random photo #42: Catchin’ some clouds

Under a canopy of clouds Garrett Gaige, 16, of Stockton catches some air while riding his skateboard at the skate park at the Generations Center in Lathrop.

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Omission inclusion

The rules to the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment were inadvertently left off of the print version of my column on Thursday (They’ll be published in the Record on Saturday on page B2). Here they are for those of you who may have missed them. Let your friends and neighbors who might be interested that they can find out how to enter here.

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

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

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown).

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Feb. 19. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Lay of the land

Very few places in world have such varied scenery as does America. From the Sonoran deserts of the southwest to the sweeping plains of the Midwest to Rocky Mountains to New England’s fall forests and of course Yosemite and the Sierras of California, there are very few places in the world that can match the beauty and variety of landscapes of the land of the free. This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “Landscapes.”

If you want to travel (and have the time and opportunity to do so) to the far flung reaches of the county you’re more than welcome to do so, but there are places closer to home where you can find great places for photos. To the east, the foothills and Sierras are natural subjects for landscapes. In the other direction Mount Diablo has miles of hiking trails and great views. Right in our backyard is the Delta with its 1,000 miles of waterways.

No special equipment is needed. While you can use a long telephoto or ultra wide-angle lenses, the kit lens that comes with most DSLRs (usually in the in the 18-55mm to 24-70mm ranges) will work just fine. Point-and-shoot cameras as well as cellphones can work well too.

Try to include a foreground. Properly done it can help to lead the viewer’s eye into the picture. You can also use the branches on a tree, to act as a frame around your subject. Don’t forget the sky. A billowing canopy of clouds and add some visual excitement to your photo. While tilted horizons can be effective in some genres of photography, a straight and level horizon line is preferred for most types of landscapes.

Many people think that landscapes should be scenes untouched and uninhabited by human beings. That’s fine for sure but sometimes some manmade objects, such as a farmhouse or barn, can provide a focus point or accent to an overall scene.

Adding a water element, a river, lake, pond or even puddle can increase some visual interest to your photo. It the water is still enough you can use it to capture the reflections of your subject.

Try to avoid shooting during midday. The overhead sun washes out most of the contrast and colors of the scene. The golden hours of sunset and sunrise tend to be the best times for landscapes. The sun’s low angle provides directional light and enhances colors.

So whether it’s mountains majesty or amber waves of grain, keep an eye out for the beauty of the natural world.

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Here are the rules:

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

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

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown).

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Feb. 19. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Random photo #41: True California dreamin’

University of the Pacific student Tyler Sutherland takes advantage of the sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60s by sunbathing as other students play a game of ultimate frisbee on Knoles Lawn on the UOP campus in Stockton. Sutherland who hails from Washington state says it been rainy back home.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Open to all

My photo instructor Dick Fleming once hypothetically posited that given two photo students, one with unlimited resources (film, access to any piece of equipment, time, etc.), the other with limited means (1 camera & lens, only a few frames of film), the student with only a few choices would do a better job on the same assignment. Why? Creativity, he said, doesn’t come from an abundance of choices but rather working within the restrictions that you have. It forces one to think and plan first before shooting.

The latest subject for this month’s challenge was open to any one of the 22 previous assignment issued since the beginning of the challenge in April of 2013. While 14 people sending in a total of 48 photos aren’t disappointing numbers, I was bracing myself for even more. I think that perhaps there were so many choices that some people couldn’t make up their minds on which one to pick. Still, most of the ones that were sent in were outstanding.

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Darrin Dension of Stockton missed the very first assignment, which was “flowers” issued in April of 2013, but he made up for it by entering it in this month’s “open” challenge. Now winter isn’t normally the time one would find flowers but that wasn’t a problem for Denison. Thinking out of the box he went out and got some store-bought flowers. He sprinkled a little water on the flower for an added accent and used his iPhone to photograph the bold and bright colors of the blossom.

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Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton was one of the few people to retry a people-based assignment. She chose to revisit the “smiles challenge (May 2014) and photographed her friend Mary Massod on the campus of the University of the Pacific in Stockton with her Nikon D90 DSLR camera. Spurgeon used the open shade of a building for some nice soft light and an unusual overhead angle for a flattering photo of her friend.

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Floria Libres of Stockton used a Canon Rebel T5 DSLR camera to take on the “reflections” assignment (March 2014). She captures the nearly perfect mirror image of the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel as it’s reflected in the still waters of McLeod Lake in downtown Stockton, creating a bold eye-catching photo.

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Tom LaBounty of Stockton chose a hard assignment for his entry. When it was originally issued in October of 2014, only 6 people entered the “sports” challenge (and LaBounty wasn’t one of them). Using a Canon 7D Mk II DSLR LaBounty photographed Lincoln’s Cameron Kiser as he shot a jumper during a junior varsity game against West High at Lincoln in Stockton. A fast shutter speed help to freeze Kiser in mid-air and the grimace of exertion on his face showed the effort of his play and made for an excellent photo by LaBounty.

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Susan Scott of Stockton revisited the “motion” assignment (Oct. 2013). She used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a small bird as it flitted between the branches of a tree at Buckley Cove Park in Stockton. The long thin crop helps to give a graceful horizontal sweep to the photo and its minimalistic quality gives it a Japanese watercolor painting feel to it.

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Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera with a 55mm macro lens to revisit the “close-up” assignment (Sept. 2013). He photographed a fallen oak leaf as it lay on an old telephone pole and created a nice juxtaposition between the natural and the man-made.

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Although she missed the original “silhouette” assignment issued in Feb. of 2014, Carolyn Silva of Jackson made up for it in the open challenge. Silva used a Nikon D5000 DSLR camera to capture the beauty of the leafless trees in her backyard rising out a morning fog.

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Nicole Hazel of Stockton entry was from the “pets” assignment (June 2014). She used a Nikon Coolpix L820 digital point-and-shoot camera to photograph the face and eyes of her cat Patches.

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All of the pictures entered can be seen in a photo gallery at Recordnet.com. Stay tuned to next Thursday for a new challenge assignment.

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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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