2019’s Top 12

2019 is coming to a close and it’s a time for reflection. I’ve produced a slideshow of 52 of my favorite photos from the year (which you can view here). You may ask “why 52?” Well, there are 52 cards in a deck and 52 weeks in a year. In other words, it’s just an arbitrary number. It turns out that around 50 photos is a good number for a 3-4 minute slideshow, I just added a couple more.

I also picked my top 12 favorite images as well. Why a top 12 instead of the ubiquitous top 10? You may think that it’s as subjective as my top 52, but it’s not. Each one represents a favorite photo from each month of the year.

Editing the hundreds of favorite photos down to 52 was tough enough, but cutting them down to 12 was an even more gut wrenching experience. It took a lot of time and hair-pulling to pick them all. So here, without further ado, are the best from each month of 2019.


A Stockton firefighter battles fires in 2 large dumpsters full of cardboard to be recycled at the Goodwill facility on Market and Grant streets in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

January started out with a dumpster fire, literally. On Jan. 2, I was on the Crosstown Freeway in Stockton on my way back from an evening assignment, I spotted a large fire near my exit of Stanislaus Street. It was in the back lot of the Goodwill facility in downtown Stockton. I quickly exited the freeway and around a block to get to it. It turns out it was a dumpster full of recycling material (mostly cardboard). Most fires I usually arrive well after the fire’s out, but with this one I got there almost simultaneously as the fire department. While it was a simple dumpster fire, the bright orange flames leapt high into the air. The firefighters made quick work of the fire and kept it from spreading.


A horse stands in a snow-covered pasture along Highway 4 on Sunday after storms left several inches of snow in the Mother Lode town of Douglas Flat, elevation 1965′. (Camera: Nikon D5. Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 120mm: Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200).

February herald in a series of storms which brought snow the Mother Lode elevations as low as about 1,200 ft. On Feb. 10. I took a quick jaunt up to Calaveras County. It was. Bright sunny day and by the time I got to Angels Camp (1,378 ft.), there was still a good inch or two sticking to the ground. When I got to Murphys (2172-ft.) people were sledding and making snowmen. On my way back down, just outside of Murphys at Douglas Flat, a horse wandered a snow-covered pasture next to a leafless, gnarled oak tree covered in a dusting of snow.


Delta College track shot putter James McClain winds up for a throw under ominously cloudy skies during a team practice at the Raydell Barkley Track Throwing Area on the Delta campus in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D5. Lens: Nikon 24-120mm @ 24mm: Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/10 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200).

Sometimes you just need a single element to help complete a composition. Dramatic clouds filled the skies over Stockton on March 5. I was driving around looking for that certain something that would serve as a focal point against a cloudy backdrop. Then I saw the Delta College throwing team practicing at the Raydell Barkley Track Throwing Area on the Delta campus. Using fill-flash to fill in the shadows, I got a shot of James McClain as he wound up to throw the shot as the clouds swirled in the background behind him.


Sharan Hira of Sacramento has a reflective moment while resting at about the halfway point of the Stockton Gurdwara’s annual Nagar Kirtan parade on San Joaquin Street at Washington Street in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D5. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm: Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 1600).

Stockton Gurdwara’s annual Nagar Kirtan parade was held on April 14. Thousands of Sikh from all over northern California descend of Stockton to march from the Sikh temple in south Stockton to downtown and back again. When it gets to downtown the procession takes a short break under The crosstown Freeway for it’s participants to rest and partake in free food donated by a cadre of volunteers. The shade of the freeway overpass creates some nice, soft indirect light. I got a shot of Sharan Hira of Sacramento bathed in that beautiful light that enhanced a reflective moment.


The referee declares a knock out of Eduardo Pereira, left, by Stockton’s Gabe Flores, Jr., right, in a lightweight bout at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D5. Lens: Nikkor 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 6400)

On May 4, 19-year-old flyweight Gabe Flores, Jr. fought a bout against Eduardo Pereira in front of a hometown crowd at the Stockton Arena. The sellout audience of more than 10,000 chanted “209, 209!” as Flores entered the ring. He dominated the match and with a sharp left hand to the chin at 1 minute, 14 seconds into the 3rd round, Flores sent Pereira to the canvas. My favorite shot from the night (and the whole month) was of the referee kneeling over Pereira, waving his hand as he called the fight while Flores stood in a neutral corner.


Eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn Avila with the Ripon FFA relaxes in a pen with her pig Zuri at the annual AgFest at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D5. Lens: Nikkor 24-120mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 1600)

The annual Agfest at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds is all about young future farmers showing their livestock. The kids dress up in their organization’s uniforms (FFA, 4-H) and parade their animals for judging. There are quieter moments as well. On June 9 I got a shot of Eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn Avila with the Ripon FFA relaxes in a pen with her pig Zuri between judgings.


Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea, who has been injured since September, has his form captured in a multiple exposure photo as he delivers a pitch against the Visalia Rawhide while on a rehab assignment with the Stockton Ports at the Stockton Ballpark. (Camera: Nikon D5. Lens: Nikkor 200-400mm @ 330mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

July’s photo stretches the parameters of the 1 photo per month a bit. It’s actual 8 images in one. On July 8, Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea, on a rehab assignment, started a Ports game against the Visalia Rawhide at the Stockton Ballpark. I used my camera’s multiple exposure mode to capture Manaea’s form as several different points in a pitch in a single frame.


A visitors check out pictures on their phones at the art installation Field of Light at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro, which consists of more than 58,800 LED lights on stalks nestled in a gently sloping ravine a few miles out side of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County. (Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mk II. Lens: Canon 16-35mm @ 16mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/3.2. ISO: 6400) [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The Paso Robles art installation of the Field of Lights at Sensorio by artist Bruce Munro opened in May but I wasn’t able to get down there until August 3, but it was worth the wait. The installation featured 58,000 small glowing globes mounted on 2-ft tall stalks. The lights were situated in a 15-acre, gently sloped ravine a mile or so outside of Paso Robles. The each of the solar-powered lights slowly cycled through a rainbow of colors. I got a shot of a couple looking at a picture of the lights that they took with their phone. The light of the illuminated their faces as the field of lights glowed in the background behind them.


Lodi’s Lucas Padilla, left, Korbin Mason and Christian Zamora celebrate a touchdown by Zamora during a varsity football game at Tokay High in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

My first high school football game came on Sept. 9. It was Stagg against Lodi High on Tokay High’s new artificial turf field in Lodi. Other than game action two staples of sports photographers are jubilation and dejection photos. Usually it’s one or the other. One can get athletes celebrating winning a play/game or the opposing side agonizing over a missed play or lost game. I got a shot that from the Lodi/Stagg game that incorporates both. Lodi’s Christian Zamora scored a touchdown. Immediately afterward teammates Lucas Padilla and Korbin Mason leapt in the air with Zamora in a victory dance. In the foreground is a Stage defender bent over in frustration. It’s the classic “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” in a single shot.


Brenda Sanchez competes in the Catrina Pageant at the Dia De Los Muertos Street Fiesta in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The Mexican Heritage Center held it’s second Dia De Los Muertos Street Fiesta on October 26 which featured the Catrina Pageant. La Calavera Catrina was an etching by artist Jose Quadalupe Posada in the early 1900s that has become an icon of the Mexican Dia De Los Muertos. Contestants dress up in extravagantly colored costumes while wearing Day of the Dead face paint. I got a shot of Brenda Sanchez in her monarch butterfly-themed costume as she stoically paraded before some of the contestants who had gone before her.


Evan Botley, left, and his mother Leeanna Botley pray before eating during the Thanksgiving dinner at the St. Mary’s Dining Room in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

It’s always heart-wrenching to cover the St. Mary’s Dining Room’s annual Thanksgiving day meal. Hundreds of homeless individuals and families who are down on their luck are given a hot holiday dinner. I photographed Leeanna Botley and her 24-year-old son Evan Botley as they sat down to eat their meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and the rest of the fixings for Thanksgiving. Before they ate they held hands, closed their eyes smiled and said a prayer of thanks. The day for me went from heart-wrenching to heart-warming in that moment.


Ripon coach Chris Musseman ,left, congratulates Nathan Valdez who kicked the game-winning field goal in the CIF Division IV-AA football state championship game against Highland at Ripon High School. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

My last high school football game came on December 14. Ripon played at home against Highland for the Division IV-AA football state championship. The weather forecast called for a clear, rainless night. The first half ended with Ripon leading 21-6. I retired to my car to download what I had shot to my laptop computer, caption & tone them and finally transmit them back to the office. I got back to the game in the early part of the 4th quarter. In my absence, Highland had taken a 22-21 lead. Ripon came back and scored another touchdown to make it 28-22. Highland made another TD but failed on the 2-point conversion leaving the score tied at 28. With just a few minutes remaining Ripon took the ball for the last time. The forecasted rainless night began to rain, lightly at first. At first things looked good for Ripon. As the rain picked up, they methodically marched the ball down the field from their own 38 to Highland’s 20-yard line. The Ripon drive then stalled. On 4th down with about 32-seconds left on the clock, kicker Nathan Valdez came out to make a field goal attempt. After both sides called time outs, the ball was finally snapped to placeholder quarterback Nico Ilardi. The rain blew in Valdez’s face. It was as if weather gods were conspiring against Ripon, but, Valdez kicked the ball through the uprights and won the Ripon’s first state title. When it came time for someone to hoist up the first place trophy at the post game awards ceremony, Ripon coach Chris Musseman rubbed Valdez’s head and said “you deserve it” and sent him to accept the championship plaque on the team’s behalf.

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