Meeting the challenge

The reasons I started the Readers Photo Challenge back in 2013 were two-fold. First, I had judged the San Joaquin County Fair’s photo show and the Stockton Camera Club’s monthly members contest and saw that there was a lot of talented photographers out there and the paper could an outlet for that talent. Secondly, the best way for anyone to improve their skills is to go out and shoot as much as possible, but often they need a reason to get out and take pictures. That’s where the assignments come in. Each one is designed not only to give an incentive to motivate people to go out and take pictures but also, hopefully, to stretch their technical and creative skills and improve their abilities.

While I’m always encouraging newcomers to enter the challenge, there are several people who regularly enter who’s work has steadily improved over the years. Here are a few of them.

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(3/5/16) Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera to photograph 1-year-old Izabella Martinez.

Sydney Spurgeon, 22, of Stockton has been interested in photography since 13-years-old. She had older siblings that were interested in sports but couldn’t follow their path due major back surgery at a young age, so she was given a camera by her parents. I would see her from time to time photographing sporting events at her high school, St. Mary’s.

TOP: (6/9/17) Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph 2-year-old Izzy Martinez at the West 12 Ranch in Lodi. BOTTOM LEFT: (12/5/18) Spurgeon used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph 2-month-old Calvin White of San Francisco. BOTTOM RIGHT: (6/21/17) Spurgeon used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph sisters and Ella, 7, left, and Layla, 6, Johnson in their pool in Stockton. [SYDNEY SPURGEON/PHOTOS]

At first she was self-taught. I would say her first entries to the challenge were typical for her age and experience, but with each time she entered, her work improved in control of the camera and her ability in follow the challenge theme.

TOP LEFT: (6/9/17) Sydney Spurgeon used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph 17-year-old twin sisters Taylor, left, and Gianna Thomas in at the Viaggio Winery in Acampo. BOTTOM LEFT: (6/9/19) Spurgeon used a Nikon D750 DSLR camera to photograph 3-year-old Lucas Tibon of Stockton and his dog Hank. RIGHT: (5/23/19) Spurgeon used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph singer/songwriter Calli Grace Ortega in downtown Stockton. [SYDNEY SPURGEON/PHOTOS]

After graduating from high school she took photography classes at Delta College. In the fall of 2018 she enrolled at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana. In 2019 she completed the program and returned to Stockton. From the start Surgeon has had an affinity for people, especially children, and now has started a career as a professional portrait photographer. She has found out what many photographers who take pictures of people know, that you not only take pictures of people but you make can a connection with them as well.

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(7/23/17) Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph an egret and some reeds at Lodi lake in Lodi.

Teresa Mahnken, 60, works as a realtor/property manager out of the Morada area of Stockton. She says that she’s had a lifelong interest in photography going back to when her grandfather and father used take family snapshots on trips and milestone events.

TOP: (8/18/17) Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph a night photo of the Salt Spring Valley Schoolhouse in Felix, Ca. near Copperopolis. BOTTOM LEFT: (2/14/18) Mahnken used a Samsung Galaxy 8 smartphone to photograph her sister Sheri Keane releasing a lantern at the Lantern Festival in Phoenix, Arizona. BOTTOM RIGHT (10/21/16) Mahnken used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph a horse at Marval Stables in Lodi. [TERESA MAHNKEN/PHOTOS]

About 6 – 7 years ago she bought a Nikon DSLR camera to more seriously take landscape photos. Self-taught, Mahnken has checked out some online tutorials and recently has been studying photographic masters such as Henri Cartier Bresson and Elliot Erwitt. Her work has steadily improved over time.

TOP: (8/5/17) Teresa Mahnken used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph clouds and a barn in Felix, Ca. near Copperopolis. sBOTTOM LEFT: (4/19/17) Mahnken used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera to photograph a flower reflected in water drops hanging on a chain. BOTTOM RIGHT: (11/2/19) Mahnken used a Samsung Galaxy 8 smartphone to photograph a mountain through the broken windshield of an abandoned car in the ghost town of Nelson, Nevada, near Las Vegas. [TERESA MAHNKEN/PHOTOS]

What strikes me about Mahnken’s photography is how she’s willing to try new things. Whether it’s landscapes, animals or still lifes, she tackles each assignment with equal enthusiasm, willing to extender herself technically and creatively.

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(8/31/19) Steven Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR camera to photograph a bridge through a waterfall at the Yards Splash Park in Washington, D.C.

Steven Rapaport, 71, of Stockton has show an interest for a long time, showning a talent for wildlife and travel photography. He was a SUSD teacher and a track coach at various local high schools. When he was coaching for Franklin, Edison and Lincoln high schools he would take pictures of the athletes.

TOP: (11/11/16) Steven Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon Power Shot SX 40 point-and-shoot digital camera to photograph a red fox at Swenson Golf Course in Stockton. BOTTOM LEFT: (4/9/18) Rapaport used a Canon EOS 5D Mk IV camera to photograph a golden-crowned sparrow on his backyard fence. BOTTOM RIGHT: (4/14/18) Rapaport used a Canon EOS 5D Mk IV camera to photograph a golden-crowned sparrow at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [STEVEN RAPAPORT/PHOTOS]

When he retired in 2008 Rapaport said that he was a 7-day-a-week golfer. Indeed, many of his first photos that he sent into the challenge were of his golfing buddies or of the wildlife he saw during his rounds of golf. He now says he rather go out to take photos rather than golf. It began when he and his wife Linda began to travel which help to broaden his interest in photography. He admits to taking very “touristy” photos in the beginning, setting his camera on auto and centering his subjects. In 2012, he took a photography course offered by National Geographic where he learned about the advantages of early morning and late afternoon light and getting close to your subjects. It made him look at photography in a different light (pardon the pun).

TOP: (7/19/15) Steven Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 70D DSLR camera to photograph Notre Dame cathedral while vacationing in Paris, France. BOTTOM LEFT: (4/9/19) Rapaport used a Canon EOS 5D Mk IV to photograph a couple embracing in a field of poppies and goldfields at the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve near Lancaster. BOTTOM RIGHT: (9/7/19) Rapaport used a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR camera to photograph the Institut De France from an entrance of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. [STEVEN RAPAPORT/PHOTOS]

Rapaport combined his and his wife’s passion for traveling with photography. He has taken other workshops in Paris, Amsterdam and Mexico. In the beginning his photos were just superficial pictures of places and buildings. Now, they give of a sense of the beauty of those sites. He says that he loves seeing the world though his camera and hopes to continuing his travel photography.

These are just a few of the many talented people who enter the challenge. They all have a couple this in common. First, they love taking pictures and have a passion for photography. Secondly, they are all looking to improve their skills, hoping that their next shot will be better than the last.

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