Coming through with flying colors

Color is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment but not just your garden-variety everyday color. Readers were tasked to use color as a part of the composition or as the main subject of the photographs entered. From bright color comprising most of the photo to just accents, color is an essential part of each of their pictures.

Eighteen readers sent in a total of 56 pictures. Here are some of the best examples.


Sometimes inspiration can pop up in the most unlikely places. Nancy Buckenham of Stockton was washing dishes in her kitchen sink when saw something worth taking a picture of. In the sink was a large pot and some silverware that was about the same tone and color as the metal sink, as were the soap bubbles in the pot. But also in the sink was a bright red frying pan, which stood out against the near monotone of its surroundings. Buckenham grabbed her iPad to photograph the bold color of the pan against the silver/grey of the rest of the sink.


There are times when just a little bit of color can add the right accent to complete the composition of a photo. Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a red winged blackbird perched on a cattail at Buckley Cove in Stockton. She has the bird framed nicely by a curled tule reed in the foreground. Most of the photos is in either neutral or beige earth tones. The splash of red on the bird’s shoulder adds a little extra charm to an already strong composition.


A trip to Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington netted Janet Baniewich of Stockton an image of bright color. She used a Nikon D3300 to photograph a fish monger’s fresh catch. The bright orange fish stands out among the other duller flounders.


Some photos are all about vibrant eye-catching color but that doesn’t mean images with subtle color don’t have a place. Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera equipped with a 60mm macro lens to photograph an African daisy at the demonstration garden at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. He captured its delicate white petals with its purple tinged center and tips.


Pre-visualizing what you want in a photo can be helpful but it can be also beneficial to keep an open mind. Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton took her Nikon D90 DSLR camera to Daffodil Hill in the Mother Lode town of Volcano to photograph the bright yellow flowers. But Spurgeon saw a peacock roaming the grounds and was flexible enough to switch gears and capture the color of the elegant bird.


In photography there’s the concept of complimentary colors, which are colors that are the opposite of each other. Yellow is the opposite of blue, cyan is the flipside of red. Darrin Denison of Stockton used an iPhone to photograph a flower in some landscaping in a parking lot in Concord. The bright magenta flower contrasted with the complimentary green of the surrounding grasses.


All of the entries can be seen in photo gallery at A new challenge assignment will be issued next Thursday.

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Random photo #44: Green gathering

Under cloudy skies Deborah Brock of Stockton collects greens from some wild mustard growing near Buckley Cove at the west end of March Lane in Stockton

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Memories saved

On Feb. 19, 1986, a levee in the Delta broke letting the waters of the Mokelumne River inundate Tyler Island. The tiny town of Walnut Grove where my parents lived was threatened as the flood waters crept up from the southern portion of the island to the more populated north. The residents were ordered to evacuate and I remember helping my parents pack up their belongings to move to higher ground. One of the things that my mom and dad nearly forgot was to take the family’s photos. Pictures of my dad with his Army buddies in basic training, my mom in bobby sox, their wedding album and more were nearly left behind. I threw the photos and negatives into a suitcase so that my parents could take them along with the rest of their things.

Fortunately, the evacuation only lasted about a day or so. Truckloads upon truckloads of dirt were brought in to build a hastily erected levee at the southern edge of the town which stemmed the tide of the flood. Only a few businesses and farmhouses outside of the temporary dike were lost.

We all consider photographs and the memories that they represent irreplaceable. When a natural disaster strikes they are often among the first things that we should decide to pack up to take with us. But sometimes events occur so rapidly and so unpredictably that there’s no time to take anything.

On March 11, 2011 a powerful 9.0 earthquake hit northern Japan. More devastating than the temblor was the resulting tsunami that reached heights of up to 129 feet and traveled inland up to 6 miles in some areas. Many residents had barely enough time to get out with their lives let alone with any belongings.

More than 15,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Raging waters wiped away their homes and belongings. Soon after the disaster, first responders (police, firefighters, self defense forces) participating in the rubble cleanup were ordered to save any photos that they found in the debris. Then the Japanese electronics company Ricoh almost immediately after the quake implemented its “Save the Memory” project. They set out to collect, clean, catalog and return as many of the found pictures that they could. It may seem a bit odd that a company that, in this country at least, is mostly known for its line of office copiers, but Ricoh also owns the camera company Pentax.

It was a monumental task to reunite hundreds of thousands of cherished memories with their owners. Ricoh set aside portions of several factories for the cleaning of the photographs. The pictures were first organized by where they were found. Ones that were found in albums were kept together as group. Volunteers then gently brushed any dirt on the pictures then washed them with water one at a time and hung them to air dry. The cleaned photos were individually scanned and digitized and given a reference number. They were then saved onto computers into categories such as “weddings,” “children,” etc. The prints were then sent back to the areas from which they were originally found.

Ricoh then set up “photo centers” in the various townships where people could browse computers containing a database of the pictures to search for pictures they had lost. Once found, the photos were retrieved using the previously assigned number. The company continued this for four years finally concluding the program this month.

In the end 418,721 photos were saved with 90,128 of them finding their way back to their owners. Although Ricoh spearheaded the efforts they worked in conjunction with several other companies, and local governments and countless volunteers. Together they found, cleaned and returned the missing photos and indeed “saved the memories” of the victims that might have otherwise been lost forever.

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Outtakes: February faves

“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.” – William C. Bryant

From superheroes to super sports to super skies February shared a lot of photographic love. Here are 10 favorite previously unposted photos from the month.















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Readers Photo Challenge: True colors

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “color.”

We all see in color so taking pictures in color would seem no big deal. But we’re not talking about your garden variety color image. There are times when it doesn’t matter whether a photo is in black or white or in color but sometimes a picture is all about color.

You can use color as a compositional element in a few ways. Introducing a spot of color into a neutral scene of grey, black or white, can help to draw attention to your subject. The color will pop out against a drab background. A few weeks ago on a grey and overcast day I photographed a tree trimmer as he pruned a sycamore while hanging from the tree itself. He wore a bright red jacket which stood out against the slate colored sky and helped to bring the viewer’s eye to him.

Conversely, you can have a subject of a neutral or even contrasting hue against a field of bright color to help make it the main focal point of a photo. An example could be something I’ve shot many times: a bird set in a field of yellow wild mustard. In the sea of color the bird instantly becomes the point of focus of the image.

Color can also be used as a unifying theme of an image. There can be several instances of the same color within a photo that ties in the composition together. Think of the family that are dressed in the same hues in a group photo or sports fans wearing their team’s colors. Or you can have differing shades the same color. I recently shot a wall of the La Nueva Popular furniture store on Weber Avenue and Airport Way in Stockton. Overall the building was a mild beige with portions of a brighter orange-yellow that was all complimented the pale yellow of a nearby fire hydrant.

The subject is up to you. It can be a found situation or a created scene but color, preferably vibrant color, has to be a significant part of your photo. It can’t be just some incidental splash of red, blue or whatever but rather something that enhances the composition and or content of the picture. Sorry, but selective color, where a photo is in black and white except for selected portions of color, is not allowed. The ideas is to either see or conceive of a photo as a color image from the start.


Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Color” in the subject line.

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

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton, Weber Avenue and Sutter Street, downtown Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti”)

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, March 19. The top examples will be published on Thursday, March. 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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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 Here are some of the top picks.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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 (

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 Follow him at




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 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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    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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