Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Hold the phone!

Most of the challenge’s assignments are geared towards DSLR users. Those “big” cameras have great controllability in terms of exposure and depth of field and flexibility with their interchangeable lenses. But for this challenge, we’re going to ask you to put down those cameras, reach into your back pocket and use your cellphone.

(2/9/15) A basketball hoop is silhouetted against a cloudy sky in the Delta town of Courtland. Shot with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

Cellphones, and the pictures we take with them, are almost a ubiquitous as the air we breathe. Nearly everyone has one (some people may have multiple phones for home and work). They are small enough to slip into your pocket and just as easy to take out to take a picture. And that can be a problem.

(11/20/17) Fallen leaves lay at the base of an ornamental pear tree in a yard in Elk Grove. Shot with an Apple iPhone 6s. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

I believe that since cellphones are so easy to use to take a picture that many, if not most, people tend to think of those pictures as “throwaway” shots and so they don’t put any effort into taking them. But I believe just the opposite can be true. If you take extra time, care and effort, you can come up with photos that can rival the best DSLR.

(9/22/13) A parasol at Cafe Ventana on the campus of the University of California at San Diego. Photographed with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

The cellphone camera takes care of everything for you, focusing, exposure, etc. Still, there are some things that you can control. Most cellphone cameras allow you to do some focusing and exposure control by taping on the screen. Some also have editing tools that allow you to control parameters such as lightness/darkness, contrast, color and cropping.

(7/26/14) A pair of red slippers sits at the edge of the Stonelake Clubhouse pool in Elk Grove.. Shot with an Apple iPhone 5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Most of all, this is an exercise in creativity. Slow your picture taking process down and think about what you’re doing. Most cellphone cameras have digital zooming capabilities which degrade picture quality. If you want to get close to your subject you will have to get physically closer, which is a good thing. Look for good light. Avoid the middle of the day Early morning/late afternoon are best for outdoor light. If you’re shooting indoors, some nice soft window light is best. Keep an eye on your backgrounds. Avoid cluttered, distracting backdrops. Look for ones that are clean and simple. Think about your composition. Use techniques like the rule of thirds, framing, and adding interesting foregrounds with your photos. Most of all be mindful about what you want to accomplish, take your time and don’t try to rush the results.

(9/120/19) Cloudy skies seen through 2 windows cat Clifford Oto’s home. Shot with an Apple iPhone XS. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The challenge is an open one. You can think back to past challenge subjects, landscapes, architecture, portraits, still lives, etc., for inspiration, or come up with your own ideas. The subject is up to you but you must use your cellphone to take the picture.

(10/4/13) A leafs is stuck to a chain link fence at Don Nottoli Park in Elk Grove. Taken with an Apple iPhone 5.[CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Phone” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be taken between May 26 and June 9.

3. The number of photos is limited to 10.

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used, how you got your close up and where the photo was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon Rebel T6i with 50mm macro lens. At Victory Park). If you use a filter indicate what kind.

5. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “Jane Done, 9, sits for a portrait with her dog fluffy at their home in Stockton”). Please indicate how they are related to you (friend, mother, father, daughter, son, etc).

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

7. The deadline for submission is June 9. The top examples will be published on June 16 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at

(1/11/19) A hanger lays on Clifford Oto’s bed. Shot with an Apple iPhone 6s. [CLIFFORD OTO/STOCKTON RECORD]

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