Good moon rising

On January 31 the country was witness to a rare celestial event and I was determined to photograph it. A so-called “super blue blood moon” occurred in the wee hours of the morning of the month’s last day.

The event was a heavenly hat trick of sorts. First, it was a “supermoon.” That’s when a full moon is at its closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit. The moon appears slightly larger and brighter in the sky than a normal full moon. Secondly, it was a “blue” moon, the second of 2 full moons in a single month. The first was on January 1, coincidentally also a supermoon. Finally, it was also a full lunar eclipse, also known as a blood moon for the orange-red color that it turns at the peak of the eclipse.

The eclipse started at about 3:45 a.m. and ended about 7:00 a.m. but the period of totality was from about 4:50 a.m. to 6:07 a.m.

I decide to photograph the moon away from the distraction of city lights, choosing the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. It’s relatively remote and dark but I wouldn’t have to travel for hours to get there. It also has a paved parking area were I wouldn’t have to worry about tripping over anything in the dark.

My biggest concern was the weather. If it was a cloudy night, then the moon wouldn’t be visible. Weather forecasts all predicted a partly cloudy morning. I went to sleep with my fingers crossed.

I opened my eyes around 4:00 a.m. and to my relief that sky was clear. The eclipse had already begun with about 1/3rd of the moon being covered by Earth’s shadow. I had gone to sleep on the living room couch and already dressed so not to disturb my wife when I woke up so, I was ready to go. But it turns out the clouds weren’t the weather condition I should have been worried about.

Once I was on the road I drove into a thick bank of fog. The further I drove, the thicker the fog became. At some points I only could see less than 50 yards ahead of me. It did not bode well that the fog would likely become even denser near the preserve due to all the standing water surrounding it, but still I hoped that luck would be with me and soldiered on.

When I arrived and got out the car, I realized the mist was tule fog: thick at ground level but less dense the higher you go. In fact, I could look straight up and see the stars. The moon, however, was at approximately a 45-degree angle from the ground right at the edge of the boundary between thick and thin. What’s worse it was setting, slowly descending into the fog.

Still, I held out hope. I set up my camera on a tripod and waited. The crescent slice of the white moon grew thinner and thinner. It was pretty cold but I had a nice heavy coat with a hood that kept me warm enough. I was surprise that a chorus of frogs also croaked in the dark coldness. A flock of what sounded white-fronted geese started their high-pitched honking about 200 yard north of my position.

After a little while I noticed that the fog was ever so slightly seemed to be ebbing away, almost imperceptibly at first. Then I could see the very top light of one of several TV transmission towers, which range from 1,000 to 2,000 feet tall, that were several miles eastward. A few more minutes and more of the towers’ lights could be seen.

Then the moon was completely enveloped in shadow. It grew redder as it the shadow deepened and stars that were obscured by the moon’s brightness became much more visible. Better yet, the fog continued to lessen.

I quickly got to work, getting telephoto shots at first then overall wide angle shots. I got photos with trees and water in the foreground and I thought to myself “what I need is to have people in the foreground.” As luck would have it, nearly as soon as that thought entered my head, a car pulled up and a young man and woman got out.

Siblings Angela and Samuel Tsubera from Elk Grove came out to see the super blue blood moon themselves. Samuel Tsubera had a camera and tried to take some photos but to no avail. He didn’t have a tripod so he could use the long exposures needed for the shot. I told him about a technique of nestling the camera on a bean bag in lieu of a tripod. Bean bags are something one normally has laying about, but you can use anything soft, like a wadded up towel or blanket to the same effect. He took off his coat and bunched it up atop of his car and nestled his camera in it, which seems to do the trick.

After a while the siblings stopped shooting and just stood by the edge of a flooded field to take in the scene. I got a shot of them as the fog dissipated even more revealing more stars and more of the towers in the distance.

By about 6:00 a.m. the totality was nearly over and the fog was starting to rise and thicken again. I could have stayed longer but I decided to call it a quits because I figured I had used up all the luck that I was going to get that morning.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Into the blue

Blue is a primary color along with red and yellow upon which all other colors are based and it’s the subject of this month’s Readers Photo Challenge.

Blue is the color of the sky and sea (though technically the sea’s color is reflected from the sky). There are bluebirds, blueberries and bluebell flowers. Blue is the color can be the color of sadness but can also symbolize loyalty and courage. It is the color of law enforcement and for some sports officials. There is royal blue, baby blue and midnight blue. Turquoise, cyan and periwinkle are also alternative shades of blue.

You can approach using a color, in this case blue, in a few different ways. First and the most obvious is that most of your photo can be blue. Think of the deep blue sea meeting a blue sky at the horizon or a field full of blue wildflowers covering a hillside. It could be part of you background like a bird flying against a deep blue sky or white puffy clouds floating against that same azure sky.

You an isolate the color against a neutral or contrasting color to make it pop out, like blue on a field of red or yellow. Or you an do just the opposite with the opposing color on a field of blue. Either technique also works well with the rule of thirds; dividing the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically and where the lines intersect become points of interest. Placing your subject near one of those points can make your composition stronger.

Time of day is important. You can shoot during the so-called “blue hours” of just before sunrise and after sunset where the lowlight imbues the ambient light with a blue hue. Obviously there is less light at those times of the day so watch your exposure. You may even need a tripod to help you hold the camera steady as it gets darker.

So whether you’re close at home or out in the wild blue yonder, shoot until you’re blue in the face ad send in your photos.


How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between February 8 and February 22.

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: Victory Park, Stockton. Camera: Canon Rebel T3 w/ 55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos, and if they’re related to you. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in the grass at dusk 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, February 22. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on March 1 at

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Outtakes January: 2018’s first days

“Nature is infinitely creative. It is always producing the possibility of new beginnings.” Marianne Williamson

January is over and, so far it’s been a productive beginning to the year. Here are 10 of my favorites from the month.



Juliana Browning, left, pushes her 10-year-old daughter Alyssa Browning on her skates, center, who in turn pushes her 9-year-old step-sister Lucy Register riding a cart through Grupe Park in Stockton. The two girls were trying out their new Christmas presents with a little help from mom.



Human trafficking survivor Denise Estrada, right, is hugged by Family Justice Center project director and family crimes coordinator for the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office Suzanne Schultz at the 2nd annual Human Trafficking Community Summit at the San Joaquin County Office of Education in Stockton.

Welder Nick Campo with Cronos Constuction works on building a new 30-ft-tall, 2-million gallon, ground level water tank on El Dorado and Jackson streets in south Stockton. The new tank replaces the 100-ft. tall water tower built in the 1940s which was removed in May due seismic concerns.



Sign painter Rod Lundy, owner/operator of the Eugene, Oregon-based Goldnrod Graphix, paints a new sign for the Twisted Barrel wine tasting room in downtown Lodi. Lundy, was in the Lodi wine country visiting friends when he got the opportunity to pick up a little extra work.



The Lodi Arch is reflected in a puddle left by a rain that soaked the ground at Pine and Sacramento streets in downtown Lodi.



Gillian Moffitt with the Wine Country Curling Club wears her sentiments about curling on her shirt while waiting to competing in the Stockton-based Granite Curling Club of California’s curling tournament at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton.



Raksmey Roeum Castleman meditates with her 7-year-old twin daughters Rhaiya, left, and Raiyah at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton.



Glenn Glissman, scout master of Lodi Troop 295, cuts a stripe off of a 25-foot by 15-foot flag which flew over the Bank of Stockton Quail Lakes Drive location, during Boy Scout Troop 10′s flag retirement ceremony in the parking lot of the Lincoln Center shopping mall in Stockton. Each stripe was cut off of the flag an burned individually as well as the filed of stars on blue.



Resident Floyd Wilson asks Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs a question during a town hall meeting concerning Swenson Park Golf Course at Sierra Middle School in Stockton.



Siblings Angela and Samuel Tsubera of Elk Grove watch a “super blue blood” moon from the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton in the early morning hours of Wednesday, January 30. The moon is a “supermoon” because it is closer the Earth than a normal full moon. It is also a “blue” moon because it is the second full moon in the same month (the first occurring on January 1). The blood moon references a lunar eclipse which at it’s peak colors the moon orange/red.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Rockin’ the house

Readers who sent in photos for the latest Photo Challenge assignment had rocks on their brains, but that was a good thing.

Some sent in rocks where they lay, others strategically placed them in their compositions. There were painted and/or decorated rocks while others shot rocks in their natural, undecorated state. There were photos of small stones while there were some that were literally mountain sides (one reader sent in the biggest rock of them all: the moon). Fifteen readers sent in 62 photos. Here are some that really rocked the house.


This challenge was the perfect opportunity for Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton to try out a new Christmas present. He took a drive out to Pacifica in San Mateo County. He put his present, a 10-stop neutral density filter, on the end of the 16-35mm lens attached to his Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera. The filter, basically a very dark piece of glass, cuts out a lot of light and allowed Bazzarre to use a very long 10-second exposure. That long exposure made the constantly moving waves to appear mist-like around the stationary costal rock formations giving an eerie, ethereal look to his photo.


After a recent rain Carolyn Silva of Jackson photographed water filling grinding holes at Indian Grinding Rock Historic State Park outside of Pine Grove in Amador County. With her Nikon D7500 DSLR camera she captured the surrounding bare tree limbs and the sun breaking through the clouds reflected in the water filling some of the more than 1,100 bedrock mortar holes created by Native Americans hundreds of years ago.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada did some out-of-the-box thinking for her rock picture. In her dining room, she set up a string of lights on a curtain rod in the background and then a small lamp to illuminate her subject, a drink with large cubes or ice, or “on the rocks.” The background lights create a pleasing out-of-focus “bokeh” effect which are also reflected in the shiny surface of the table.


Ward Downs of Stockton also did a little unorthodox thinking for his rock picture. He used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph a seagull on a light pole from Pier 39 in San Francisco with Alcatraz Island and prision, also known as the “Rock,” in the background.


Donn Sperry of Stockton went big with his rock photo. From the floor of Yosemite Valley he used a Sony Alpha NEX-7 digital mirrorless camera to photograph the Merced River with Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls in the background at Yosemite National Park.

All the images sent in can be seen in a photo gallery at A new challenge assignment will be issued on February 8.

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What it takes

When I was a photo student some of my classmates were extremely talented. Some of them, like me, went on to careers in photography, others never picked up a camera again. For me I can’t think of a better job. Its challenging, yet fun and creative . It’s been over 30 years since those days and I often wonder why those who didn’t go into photography made that choice. You may think that being a photographer is an easy job, but it’s more than just pressing a button and you’re done.

In organizing the monthly Record’s Readers Photo Challenge, I see a lot of great photos, some of professional quality in creativity and execution. There are a lot of amateur photographers out there who are very gifted. Sure, it helps to have talent, but it takes more than just talent to be a professional photographer.

My former photo teacher used to say: “the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional, is that when you’re a pro you have to be creative next Tuesday at 3:00 p.m.” What he meant by that was as a working shooter you can’t wait for inspiration to hit you to make a good picture, you have to be ready when the job demands it. Some of that comes from practice and experience. It’s the thing that will your clients or bosses know that you’re reliable and dependable and able to get the job done.

A career in photography can entail long or odd workings hours. Wedding photographers give up many if not most other weekends for their work. Sports photographers usually have to work nights. All shooters have to often carry heavy equipment, sometimes waiting hours just for the right light or moment. Hard work can make up a lot for any shortcomings in talent or bolster the talent that one has.

For photographers who self-employed, they have all the preceding considerations plus they have to be able to run their own businesses. They have to think about things like business licenses, rent for storefronts and insurance for their equipment. They have to try and get their name out there through advertising, social media or even business cards. If they have employees, they have to worry about making payroll and maybe even health insurance.

Like anything else photography can be a career or just a job. The best photographers that I’ve seen are able to weather the trials and hardships that the job can bring and still keep the joy of photography alive within themselves.

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Random photo # 75: Night rain in Lodi

The Lodi Arch is reflected in a puddle left by a rain that soaked the ground at Pine and Sacramento streets in downtown Lodi.

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Learning light

I recently visited my old alma mater Sacramento City Photo department. About a year ago they completed a new facility that’s completely different from what I knew when I took photo classes decades ago.

Instructor Paul Estabrook (who himself is also a graduate of the program) gave me the 5-cent tour. There was a large gallery space and computer lab and nearly half of the new space was dedicated to studio photography with 2 large, well-equipped studios.

If you’re a photo student looking toward a career in the field I suggest taking at least an introductory course in studio lighting, even if you’re not interested in that field.

Learning the theories and practices will help you learn how light works, both in and out of the studio. It will help you recognize good quality light and how to correct problems when they occur.

I recently watched a live-streaming event on Facebook from the Nikon booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Convention Center. It featured veteran photographer Joe McNally giving a quick off-camera lighting demonstration. While he’s a lighting master he does the bulk of his work on location, not in a studio. It was amazing to watch the ease at which he breezed through different lighting solutions to overcome the poor lighting in the convention hall.

During his presentation McNally said something interesting. The ultimate goal of photography, whether in the studio or in the field, isn’t about the technique, it’s about communicating what’s important in a photo. Through properly and effectively lighting your subject you can convey that importance to the viewer.

A lot of photographers eschew flash photography and/or studio lights. They make claims that it looks harsh or artificial and that they prefer the natural-looking ambient light, but that’s because they often don’t understand how to use flash properly. If one takes the time to learn the skills it can help to make you a more complete photographer.

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Outtakes: The last from 2017

Due to deadline constraints, both my slideshow of my top 52 photos of last year and my Top 12 list had to be done before the end of the year. I finished them in early December which still left a few weeks left in the year. So here are my top 10 photos from the waning days of the last month of 2017.









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Throwback Thursday: The first MLK Day

(1/20/86) Eight-year-old Dewayne Jackson of Stockton watches a tree-planting ceremony at Emmaunel Baptist Church in Stockton during a ceremony in the memory of slain civil rights leader the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Rock the house

The first Readers Challenge Photo assignment will give you an opportunity to rock the house because the subject is “rocks”.

In the animated TV special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” the characters go trick or treating during Halloween. Each child would excitedly proclaim the kind of candy they got after every stop except for Charlie Brown who would look in his bag and disappointedly say, “I got a rock.”

Now, like Charlie Brown, you may be a little skeptical in the choice of subject but fear not, your photo doesn’t have to be just a boring picture of rocks. With imagination in either a found situation or a created one, and you can come up with an interesting picture.

Rocks are easy to find. From the mountainous boulders of the Sierras to the tiny gravel pebbles under your feet, they’re everywhere. The levees of the nearby Delta are lined with miles and miles of riprap. Many homes and local businesses employ stones as part of their landscaping.

Inanimate objects can be difficult to shoot well. Carefully consider things like lighting and composition. Harsh lighting can bring out the features of a craggy rock to enhance its textures. A smooth, round stone can be best shot in softer light.

Rocks can be a part of a still life, a part of an overall landscape or even a place to pose a person for a portrait. Use a macro lens or closeup filters to shoot the minute details of a rock.

Rocks are often neutral in color which can be played against things such as flowers or a bright colorful background. You can do just the opposite with a colored rock. Set one in a field of grey ones and it will stand out.

You can shoot a found scene such as smooth pebbles on a beach or the jagged rocks of a mountain pass. You can also create your own composition like those rock balancing artists.

Any kind of mineral will do, granite, sandstone, even crystals. You might want to think about alternative meanings of “rock,” too. All are acceptable.

This is an assignment that requires some careful thought for your photo to stand out. With a little imagination being between a rock and a hard place can be a creative a endeavor.


How to Enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between January 11 and January 25.

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: Pershing Avenue, 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 where they are. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 6, of Stockton sits on rock along the Calaveras River 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 January 25. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on February 1 at

Posted in Column, Nature, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment
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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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