Readers Photo Challenge assignment: About face(s)

The newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment should be as clear as the nose on one’s face. The subject is “faces.”

(8/18/15) Brothers Calisto, left, and Hector Madera are boxers that started at Felipe Martinez’s home gym in Lathrop. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Taking pictures of people can be problematic for many photographers. Even those who are adept at photographing landscapes, nature or architecture can be stymied when it comes to people.

[8/15/20] Stockton spoken word performer and America’s Got Talent contestant Brandon Leake performs a poem at the Words Outspoken spoken word and art summit live streamed from the Podesto Teen Impact Center in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

You don’t need fancy equipment to take a portrait. A mild telephoto lens, something within the 70mm to 100mm range works the best. Most point-and shoot and DSLR kit lenses fall within that range. With cellphones some slight zooming in may be necessary to avoid that wide-angle bowed out look that can happen when you get too close with the camera.

(9/11/20) Beth Lambdin sits with her former CASA foster child Zachary Cobarrubias, center, at their home in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Some photographers like to use multiple lights when doing portraits and if you’re experienced that may work for you, but for most people I suggest something very simple. Try having your light source slightly off to one side or the other. I like indirect window lighting. It’s soft and pleasing and flattering to your subject. If you’re outdoors you might try using your flash to fill in any harsh shadows that may develop.

(6/28/20) Local musician Kelly Foley performs rock and folk classics under the art installation of Umbrella Alley next to the Catalyst health and art studio in the Yosemite Street business district in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Be aware of your backgrounds. Distracting elements behind your subject can ruin the esthetics of your photo. Look for a clean, unobstructed backdrop. The face of your subject has to be clearly visible for this assignment. Try to get in close as possible. Getting close can also help eliminate some of the clutter that may be in the background.

(7/15/09) Volunteer judge Anne Matson-Khasigian sniffs a glass of wine at the State Fair home winemakers competition judging held at the Win and Roses Inn in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Focus on your subject’s eyes. This may sound simple, but all too often photographers have missed the mark by not paying enough attention to detail. Always look closely at what you’re doing and emphasize the eyes.

(6/19/20) James Jones, left, gets a free haircut from Nina Young at the Juneteenth celebration at Victory Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

The most difficult thing in photographing people is making them feel at ease. Many are uneasy with having in their picture taken. Whether if it’s a stranger or someone you know, try spending s a a little time talking with them, perhaps while you’re setting up. A little bit of a connection with them can go a long way to make them feel at ease.

LEFT: (12/4/15) Lincoln High’s Kennedy Greenwood is on the Record’s All-Area volleyball team. This is an example of a tight headshot. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD] RIGHT: (1/3/17) St. Mary’s quarterback Jake Dunniway is the Record’s all-Area Football Player of the Year. This example is a looser upper torso shot. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

You can shoot what’s known as a “headshot.” It’s a simple portrait of a person’s head and shoulders. It relies mostly on lighting and expression and less so on composition. An environmental portrait takes in more of the surroundings of the person. Lighting and expression are just as important but you have the element of composition. Try to arrange the surrounding elements so that they all serve to emphasize the subject.

[8/16/20] Amateur musician Scott Minott of Stockton, took to practicing his guitar in the morning on a bench under a large tree at Louis Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

You can have your subject looking straight at the camera or not. Having them look into the lens shows that they were aware of your presence. If they look away it gives a feeling that the photographer is more of an observer rather than participant. The choice is up to you.

(8/18/15) Rob Luckell, left, Brian Folgar, R.J. Tisdell, Tremayne Willis, Diego Chavez and Anthony Santos are standouts on the Lathrop varsity football team. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

Your photos can be of a single person or of a group of people, but forewarned, the difficulties of a group shot are multiplied by the number subjects you have. The more people that are in the frame, the harder it is to get everything right.

(12/16/16) Christmas lights are reflected in the window of Paulette Daniel’s car as she looks at the impressive holiday display at the home of Jim Galindo at 122. E. Gibson Street in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

As I said in the beginning, photographing people can be daunting for some, so you’ll be getting and extra week to complete the assignment. That should be enough time to step up and face the music.

(3/2/20) Tim Ulmer owner of Ulmer Photo, is collecting plush animals for children in the bereavement programs of Hospice of San Joaquin and Community Hospice at his business on Adams Street and Pacific Avenue in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE STOCKTON RECORD]

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be taken between October 13 and October 27.

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 in Stockton).

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 doe sits for a portrait in the rose garden at Victory Park 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 October 27. The top examples will be published on November 3 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at

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