Up in the air

Like many California families we tend to drive to our vacation destinations. This time though, for our trip to San Diego we boarded a plane and took to the skies. My wife and I haven’t flown since before our kids were born and they’ve never even been on a plane, let alone flown in one. All of our airline experiences are pre-9/11 based.

The sierra mountains viewed from 32,000 feet. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon  70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500sec., @ f/9. ISO: 200)

We got to Sacramento International Airport about 1-1/2 hours before our flight on Southwest at 9:30 a.m. We had to stand in line just to remove our shoes, belts and keys to get through airport security. Then it was just a matter of sitting and waiting for our plane to arrive.

With boarding procedure intricacies being what they are, we were nearly the last ones to board the plane. My kids and I were able to find seats together, but my wife had to sit a row away. Tins of sardines came to mind as the seating definitely reflected the economy nature of our flight. Still it was less than 1-1/2 hours of flying, complete with soda and peanuts.


A aerial view of San Diego. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon  16-35mm @ 16mm. Exposure: 1/400sec., @ f/8. ISO: 200)

The kids were wide-eyed and awe-struck as the 737 revved up and rumbled down the runway. The ride smoothed out as we became airborne. The view from 32,000 feet up was spectacular to say the least. Clear skies followed us. I recall seeing a only one wisp of a cloud on our trip. My son marveled at how everything looked ant-sized and my daughter thought it was a kick to see the swimming pools in the people’s backyards.

We arrived in San Diego at about 11:00 am. and it was a relatively smooth touchdown. Our flight path took us so close to some tall buildings near the downtown area of San Diego, it looked as if we could almost reach out and wash the windows as we flew by.


A view of downtown from a Boeing 737 on approach to San Diego International Airport. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon  16-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/500sec., @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

It would have taken us an estimated 9-10 hours of driving had we traveled by car. We were able to catch our flight, get our rental car, check in at our hotel, eat lunch, and tour the mission in less time that it
would have taken us just to drive. With all the quirks of flying, it was still better than driving.

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Mission Statement

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one” – Elbert Hubbard

I’m back from a bit of a furlough and like all vacations, it was too short. I could’ve used another day or two, but still it’s nice to be back and get back into the swing of things.

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The Mission Basilica San Diego de Aclala in San Diego. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 16-35mm @ 16mm. Exposure: 1/800sec., @ f/11. ISO: 200)

Every parent of a California fourth grader past and present knows that with Spring comes the California Mission’s project. Three years ago when my daughter had the assignment, she chose the Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. Built in 1824, it’s the northern most and last of the state’s 21 missions. It’s was relatively close by, being about a 1-1/2 hour drive from our house. Instead of the building the traditional scale model, she opted for making a video tour of the place.

A window at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Aclala in San Diego. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 115mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)


A statue of Father Junipero Serra at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Aclala in San Diego. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon  16-35mm @ 16mm. Exposure: 1/500 sec., @ f/8. ISO: 200)

This year, it’s my son’s turn. He too decided to do a video, but he chose the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala in San Diego. It was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1769 and was the very first mission built.  A part of the Diocese of San Diego, the mission is still a working church.

The bell tower of the Mission Basilica San Diego de Aclala in San Diego. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 16-35mm @ 16mm. Exposure: 1/500sec., @ f/11.  ISO: 200)


The interior of the Mission Basilica San Diego de Aclala in San Diego. (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 16-35mm @ 16mm. Exposure: 1/20sec., @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

As we toured adobe-brick church, faint strains of chanting could be hear in the sanctuary. We couldn’t tell if it was coming from actual priests or monks, or if it was was being piped in for effect. Either way It helped to convey the sanctity and he sense of history of the mission.

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G’day mate


(Camera: D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/13. ISO: 200)

I drove by the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton when out of the corner of my eye I saw a guy hunched over in a corner of the park. My curiosity piqued, I quickly pulled into the parking lot at the south end. I causally wandered over to see if there was any potential for a feature picture. After all it could’ve been, well, just a guy hunched over for whatever reason (in downtown, that’s something you approach with caution, if at all). As I got closer I could hear a rhythmic droning noise. Tony Kiser of Stockton was taking advantage of the day’s nice weather to practice the Australian aboriginal instrument the didgeridoo. He said the instrument takes a lot of training to master the circular breathing technique that’s required to play it without stopping for air. The concrete steps at the north end of the park provided Kiser with an acoustic sweet spot for him to listen to his sound. He told me that he’s played at open mic events at various music venues around Stockton and he’s honed his craft to where he’s almost ready to play professionally. Kiser believes that since there are very few didgeridoo players in Stockton, he’s go a lock on the market.

PS: I’m off on a well-deserved (and probably too-short) vacation. I’ll be back on March 24. Until then here’s a video of a what a didgeridoo sounds like. Enjoy and I’ll see you when I get back!

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No country for old men

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” -  Henry David Thoreau


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/80 sec., @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

I just recently celebrated a birthday and I’m getting close to the “old-guy” territory. Next year I’ll be crossing a certain demographic line (let’s just say I’ll no longer be able to call myself a “forty-something”). Even though I’ve been a photographer for nearly 25 years, I love what I do and I’m having a great time doing it. But for some, there are signs that some people have been on the job too long.

A friend sent me a video of a couple of TV guys who are well into the “old-and-crotchety” zone and it’s a kick. Wait for the about the one-minute mark, then things start getting good.

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I bet their office
Christmas parties are, to say the least, interesting.

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Spring is in the air


Grower Michael Fondse checks out blossom in an almond orchard on Carrolton Road in Ripon. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

“Spring fever, spring is here at last
Spring fever, my heart’s beating fast
Get up, get out spring is everywhere” – Elvis Presley


A bee searches for nectar from a blossom on an almond tree in an orchard on Carrolton Road near Mello Road near Ripon. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/800 sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Officially, the first day of Spring is on March 20. For many parts of the country, Winter still holds on with a firm grasp, but not in sunny Central California. It’s been typically beautiful here. The sun has been is shining, the weather’s been warm and, much to my dismay, plants are in bloom. My allergies are kicking in with a vengeance. I went straight from sneezing and coughing from a cold to more of the same from a different cause: Spring.



Blossoms grow in an almond orchard on Carrolton Road near Mello Road in Ripon. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Over the last five or six years my allergies have become increasingly worse. Now, it’s almost as if I can feel each individual spore of pollen being released into the atmosphere.

A blossom grows in an almond orchard on Carrolton Road near Mello Road in Ripon. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/1000 sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

It’s ironic that, as a kid, I didn’t have any allergies at all. I grew up in a small rural valley town and I could roll around in the grass, climb blossoming trees and run and play in the great outdoors. All with nary a sniffle or even a minor “ah-choo.” My mom and brother and some friends had it bad though. They carried wads of extra tissues and took care on how long and where they could be outside. Its taken about 40 years, but I can finally understand what they went through.

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Bang, bang, you’re dead


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 3200)

I remember playing cops and robbers with my friends when I was a kid. We would chase each other with sticks or a pointed finger shouting “bang, bang, I got you!” Invariably, the game would devolve into an argument on who shot who or who wouldn’t stay dead.

In the Lodi Police’s active shooter training exercise, there weren’t enough Air Soft pellet guns to go around. Those officers who weren’t in the point group making first entry had to make do with a pointed finger to simulate their guns. If they came across a suspect who survived the initial assault and was still a threat, the officers would point and yell, “bang, bang, bang!” Sometimes, in the confusion the officers would fail to stand guard over the suspect after shooting him, and he would get up and runaway or start shooting again. Much like when kids play shoot ‘em up, only with a more serious purpose.

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Shoot ‘em up


Police officers secure the scene after “shooting” a suspect as a part of an “active shooter” scenario training at Sequoia Hall on the Stanislaus State Campus Stockton Branch in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 3200)

The Lodi police department held it’s active shooter training exercise at on the Stockton campus of California  State University, Stanislaus. The idea is to give a realistic scenarios to simulate events like the Columbine school shooting. It was realistic enough for me, thank your very much.


Tokay High student Lauren Saldana, 15, screams for help while playing a victim in an “active shooter” scenario training at Sequoia Hall on the Stanislaus State Campus Stockton Branch in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 3200)

The drill was held in an unused building, Sequoia Hall, on campus. Tokay High School drama students, covered with fake blood and wounds, played panic-stricken victims and a smoke machine filled the halls with an eerie mist. While the suspects fired blanks to create realistic sounds, while the officers used Air Soft guns which shot small plastic pellets.


Police officers enter a hallway  as a part of an “active shooter” scenario training at Sequoia Hall on the Stanislaus State Campus Stockton Branch in Stockton.
(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 3200)

When the drill started the students screamed and some activated small screeching smoke detectors. Some ran down the hazy, darkened corridor, others lay on the floor, writhing in mock pain. It was a mass of confusion. Amid the chaos, the shooter began firing away and then the cops burst into the hall. A clutch of four-five of them moved together as one with guns drawn. They began firing when they caught sight of the suspect. I was in the hall with the victims and over the course of several run throughs of the exercise, I was shot once in the cheek and a couple of times in the chest. It was no more painful than a flick of a finger (albeit a rather strong flick). Mostly, it was startling to realize how easily getting shot can happen. Like I said, the drill was realistic enough for me.

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Our inner child


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/160 sec., @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

Pixie Woods is an institution in Stockton and San Joaquin county. With its fairy tale-themed attractions, train and boat rides and the ever-favorite carousel, the amusement park has been place of wonder for children for 54 years now. Even though my kids are a little bit too old for it, they still remember it fondly.

Rosemary and Steve Martin of Sacramento, above, visited the Pixie Woods on the park’s opening day last weekend. It was their first experience with the place and what was unusual was that they didn’t have any children with them. In fact, they were visiting with Rosemary’s mother. They said that their children were grown now, and they had heard about Pixie Woods through the California’s Gold public TV program, hosted by the hokey but sincere and enthusiastic Huell Howser. They were curious to see the place for themselves. It just goes to show that there’s a kid in us all.

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Cutting the mustard


Wild mustard grows in a almond orchard along Highway 99 near Hammer Lane in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500 sec., @ f/8. ISO: 200)

“The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick.” – L. Frank Baum



(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/22. ISO: 200)

With all the sunny weather we’ve been having lately has caused a plethora of wild mustard to pop up all over the valley. Anywhere an open lot or fallow field lay, the saffron-colored plants can be found. At times it seems the yellow plants are carpeting the valley with a lemony tinge.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/22. ISO: 200)

Look up the word “yellow” in a dictionary and it’s associated with negative connotations. It can mean cowardly, biased or envious. To me, yellow is the color of the coming of spring.

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Just a little light

Sometimes you need lots of lights to illuminate a subject, other times just a little can do the trick.


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: 17-35mm & 35mm. Exposure: 1/500 sec., @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Although this cherry tree near Pixie Woods in Stockton was in bright sunlight, the more interesting picture was on the shady side of thee tree. Just of sliver of light cut through the dappled blooms and kissed a single blossom.


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: 80-200mm & 200mm. Exposure: 1/500 sec., @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

A shaft a light sliced between two buildings and side lit this magnolia blossom near Budd Center on the Delta College campus in Stockton. The shady background went dark making the flower pop out even more.

Like they say, sometimes less is more.

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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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