Throwing a little light on the subject

I’m from the K.I.S.S.(Keep It Simple, Stupid) school of photography. The more basic, the better.  In the newspaper business, speed is essential and the less complex a photo is to take, the quicker it will go. That’s not to say the photos should be unsophisticated, but they can be done simply, yet effectively.

I used just a single light for these two food shots. I positioned it above and behind the subjects to play up the highlights and bring out the texture of the food. The main problem in shooting this is the placement of the lights creates shadows and the loss of detail in the front of each subject. I could have used another light or two to fill in the dark areas. Instead I used a couple of simple makeshift reflectors and they did a fine job.


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/125 sec. @ f/14. ISO: 100)


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125 sec. @ f/14. ISO: 100)


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/125 sec. @ f/14. ISO: 100)

For the shot of the mashed potatoes I used a white binder that was lying around the office. I just stood it up next to the plate on which the potatoes sat and it bounced light into the shadows.


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/13. ISO: 100)


(Camera: Nikon D2H. Lens: Nikkor 14mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/13. ISO: 100)

In the sushi shot (try saying that three times fast), I needed slightly more fill light. The reflector I made was a little more involved, but still simple. I just used a large sheet of paper. I cut a hole the size of my lens and stuck it on the front. With the reflector attached to the front of the camera I was able to move around and have the same amount of light no matter where I stood.

In both cases a simple reflector was an easy and elegant solution to the problem at hand.

Posted in Equipment, Food, Studio, Techniques | Tagged | Comments closed

Seeing sunsets

“I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.” – John Glenn


The sun sets behind a tree across the deep water channel at Buckley Cove Park in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. 1/500 sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Creativity involves exploring a subject in different ways. I could have just shot this sunset as is and walked away. I decided to stay a bit longer and work the situation a little more.

(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 92mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

A simple lens change gave me a different view.  Instead of the wide-angle lens’ overall, taking in the full sky, the telephoto’s narrower angle of view and compression gave some visual weight to the scene.


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

Training the camera on the the glistening, shifting reflections of the water made for an impressionistic photograph.


Michael Williams of Stockton prepares his rod while fishing at the deep water channel at Buckley Cove Park in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. 1/60 sec. @ f/8. ISO: 250)

I hung around even longer and the sunset’s orange hues turned magenta. Some of the clouds parted and part of the blue sky opened up to add its color to the scene. A fisherman showed up and I shot him getting ready against the colorful backdrop before the light faded away.

Posted in Enterprise, Pictorial | Tagged | Comments closed

Talking heads


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 112 mm. Exposure: f/2.8 @ 1/125 sec. ISO: 500)

The talking head is more than just a mug shot, it’s an action mug shot! Sometimes the person can be sitting or standing or behind a desk, table or podium. They can be talking with a reporter or a friend or giving a speech. The common denominator is that they’re speaking. It can be just a tight shot of just their face, but more likely the talking head is a little wider to include some hand gestures. The goal is to show a little more personality than just a headshot. Perhaps some thoughtfulness and/or a little emotion.


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 105 mm. Exposure: f/2.8 @ 1/125 sec. ISO: 500)


Public figures and politicians are among the main subjects of the talking head. They give interviews and speeches to the media on a regular basis. Those that gesticulate freely and have mercurial expressions are easy to shoot. There are others who take more patience and observation.


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 155 mm. Exposure: f/2.8 @ 1/125 sec. ISO: 500)

Stockton Mayor Edward Chavez is someone who plays it close to the vest and is always calm and composed. Every time I’ve shot him, he’s been reserved and his gestures and facial expressions have been restrained and understated. It’s probably something that people look for in a public leader. After all, who wants someone who appears out of control or unstable (think back to Howard Dean’s 2004 Iowa caucus yell)?


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 175 mm. Exposure: f/2.8 @ 1/125 sec. ISO: 500)


Getting a talking head of someone who’s reserved takes time and patience.  It usually entails shooting a lot. You have to keep the camera up to your eye all the time. If you don’t, the fleeting expression or gesture will be gone in an instant and you’ll miss it. It may take a little more work and patience than a simple mug shot, but it can give some insight on what your subject is like.

Posted in General news, Portrait | Tagged , | Comments closed

Goose, goose, duck


(Camera:Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)

I was out at Oak Grove Regional Park in north Stockton looking for a shot of Canada geese. I wanted to use a wide-angle lens shot, but for that the birds had be close up for the shot and that just wasn’t happening.  I got some telephoto shots of them, but when I tried to get close enough to use the wide lens, they would swim away.


(Camera:Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)

After a while a large, odd-looking duck swam up to me. It hopped out of the pond and waddled toward me. It wagged its tail in a dog-like fashion and came to a stop at my feet. There, it preened itself and seemed happy as a…well, a duck in water. It was so docile that it didn’t even flinch when I got down on a knee to get a closer shot of it. It almost seemed eager to have its picture taken.


(Camera:Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)

When I got back to the office, I checked online to see what kind of bird it was. According to FeatherSite-The Poultry Page, it turns out it’s a Muscovy duck. They are a South American breed that are very personable and intelligent. You can add hams for the camera to that, too.

Posted in Animals, Enterprise, Nature | Tagged , | Comments closed

Winners and …


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/30 @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

“If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?” -  Vince Lombardi

I saw this on the scoreboard at the University of the Pacific’s Spanos Center gymnasium in Stockton after a recent women’s basketball practice. The Pacific women’s team is off to a slow start this year with a record of 5-9 so far. Perhaps they need to come up with a little more than just the power of positive thinking.

Posted in Sports, University of the Pacific | Tagged , | Comments closed

In-vested


(Camera: Nikon D2X. Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500 @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

In a standoff/hostage situation here’s a lot of preparation that the police do to make sure everything goes safely. Everyone has a job and to show who does what, zippy blue and yellow vests are given out those in charge. S.W.A.T. members and crisis negotiators have other jobs in the department and are called in, sometimes when off duty, when the need arises. They arrive from the different parts of the city and there’s a need to get them up to speed as quickly and efficiently as possible. PIO (public information officer) Pete Smith said that, while it was a small incident, that it was good practice to follow procedures so that when something big happens everything is second nature.

(Camera: Nikon D2X. Nikkor 17-24mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500 @ f/8. ISO: 200)

However, Smith himself didn’t wear his vest. He said it was sort of a running joke that he doesn’t don one Another officer walked up and gave him a vest and suggested he put it on. Occasionally other officers would walk by and say “Hey Pete, you should wear your vest”, in a wink, wink, nudge nudge kind of way. He would give them a quick smile and a “OK” or “Sure thing”, but just held onto it. Smith said if it was a larger scenario with multiple agencies, he’d be wearing the vest, but because there was a minimal media presence at this scene (just me) and the local media are familiar with him, there wasn’t a real need.

Posted in Spot news | Tagged | Comments closed

When you gotta go

Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 120mm. Exposure: 1/500 @ f/8. ISO: 200)

I covered a standoff situation in North Stockton yesterday. Neighbors heard a couple of gunshots and called the police. In the end it turned out to be nothing.

The Stockton PD called in their S.W.A.T. team and rolled out their zippy Mobile Command Post (MCP). It’s a 45-ft long trailer filled with all kinds of crime-fighting goodies. It’s got a extendable boom with a video camera on top. There’s a separate room for hostage negotiators to communicate during standoff situations without distractions. There’s a device that can translate all the different radio frequencies that the various law enforcement and emergency agencies use. It brings down all those channels down to one for more efficient communications during disaster situations.

Stockton Police public information officer Pete Smith pointed out a door at the back of the unit. It’s to a very important part of the MCP: the bathroom.

Hostage/standoff scenarios can take anywhere from a few hours to all day. It’s not very practical for the officers involved to pop down to the nearest gas station or shrubbery when nature calls. A bathroom is a necessity during a long, drawn-out situation. They just might want to rethink the placement of the sign on the back of the vehicle.

Posted in Observation, Spot news | Tagged | Comments closed

Building the perfect mug


The mugshot is not a very creative venture and it’s really not supposed to be. The goal is to make the person look like who they are, but also relaxed and natural. No more no less.

Tokay High girls basketball player Sylvonya Moore. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/60 sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

First off a definition: A mugshot is a head-and-shoulders picture. The most common mistake for a mug (or any photo for that matter) is that the photographer isn’t get close enough. Get in as close as possible.

Brookside Christian High school basketball player Parris Hill. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

Use a mild telephoto lens. One in the 70-135mm range is suitable. A normal (50mm) to wide-angle lens can distort the subject’s face giving them that fish-eye look. A longer telephoto can compress the subjects features and bring the background in too close, but if the choice is between a short or a long lens, go with the longer one. If you only have a wide-angle lens, then break the get-in-close rule. Shoot a torso or even a full body photo and then crop the picture to avoid that bowed-out look.

St Mary’s High School football player Ron Henderson. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 100mm. Exposure: 1/60 sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

Have the subject stand at an angle to the camera (about 45-degrees). Then have them turn their heads back toward the camera. This helps to break up the lined-up-against-the-wall look. You can have them just turn their shoulders, but it’s more comfortable for them if their whole body is at an angle.

McNair High School head volleyball coach Patty Burnett. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 100mm. Exposure: 1/60 sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

Not every mug can be taken under the controlled situation of a studio. Quite often they’re shot in the field. You can set up a mini studio on location, especially it you’re going to shoot a lot of them in one sitting, but it’s not very practical for just a few shots.

Use some soft even light. Open shade or diffused window light are great. Under a tree or along the shady side of a building can work too. Avoid bright sunshine. You may think the sun is good, with lots of light, but the brightness can cause your subject to squint. Also the noon time sun shines straight down causing the raccoon-eye effect. Overhead indoor lights can cause the same problem. Avoid those situations if you can. When you can’t, use fill-flash to lighten up the shadows.

Linden High quarterback Charlie Palmer. The narrow angle of view and relatively shallow depth of field of a telephoto lens helps clean up the background on this mugshot. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)



A wide-angle lens reveals the cluttered background on this shot. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)

Find a clean, simple background. A plain wall will work. Outdoors you can get down low and use the sky as a backdrop. At all costs avoid a brick wall or trees. Make sure there are no branches or telephone poles sticking out of the top the subject’s head or out their ears.

All this seems like a lot of work just for a simple mugshot, but once you have it all down, it all goes pretty quickly and the result is a better photo.

Posted in High Schools, Portrait, Sports | Tagged | Comments closed

In a fog

“Best guess, Mr. Sulu. Fire when ready” – Captain Kirk from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

12-year-old Nikko Martinez, left, and 15-year-old Steve Beza both of Tracy, ride their scooters through a puddle on a partially flooded street on Lowell Avenue and Court Drive in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200 mm. Exposure: 1/250sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 640)

Near the end of the day on Friday, the downpour finally got the best of me. Or rather my camera. I spent so much time in the rain, that the inside of the eyepiece to my camera fogged up. I tried taking it off, but it was stuck. I figured that was it was all she wrote for me and started back to the office. Then I saw these two teenagers riding through a flooded street on their scooters. I stopped the car and brought the camera up to my eye only to see a field of grey. I could barely make out the specular highlights of the scooters. The teens made several runs through the puddles and I guesstimated where they were and shot. I let the camera do the focusing and then chimped the monitor after each run.

I used to eschew autofocusing. When it was first introduced, about 25-years ago or so, the lenses were slow and inaccurate (out-o’-focus lenses I used to call them). I could do better by focusing manually. Today, autofocus systems are as good or better than most humans can do by themselves. I couldn’t have gotten this shot without the camera’s help.

Posted in Equipment, Techniques | Tagged | Comments closed

It’s raining, it’s pouring


A flowering pear tree provides very little protection from the rain on the Delta College campus in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 22 mm. Exposure: 1/200 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 640)

The weather forecast called for a pretty serious series of storms over the next few days. Boy, they weren’t kidding.


A leaf lies in a puddle on the Delta College campus in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17 mm. Exposure: 1/200 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

Thursday was easy enough. The rain was relatively light and shooting it wasn’t a problem. Friday was a different story.


Lodi Public Works street division worker Dana Watt removes debris from the Ham Lane near Vine Street in Lodi. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17 mm. Exposure: 1/250sec. @ f/4. ISO: 400)

Wind blew in with gusts up to 50 mph and the rain came down non-stop all day. The rain hat I wore was nearly useless. It stayed on my head, but wind gusts blasted the rain under it’s wide brim and shot water into my ears.

Lodi Electric Utility workers work around a tree that fell onto a house as well as pulling down power lines on Crescent Avenue and York Street in Lodi. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 145 mm. Exposure: 1/250sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

Trees fell like dominos around the county. In an effort to keep my camera and lens dry, I tried to keep my back towards the wind while shooting. The rain drops pelted me like icy, wet BBs. While my jacket was waterproof, my pants were soon drenched. The water trickled down through to my socks and then into my shoes. My feet squished and squeaked with every step. What’s worse, the water was drawn up in the other direction. My underwear was soaked (I know, too much information) and the dampness migrated up my shirt to the middle of my back.

I shot storm related photos from Lodi in north San Joaquin county to Tracy in the south. I tried drying off by cranking up the heater while driving between shooting photos. Fortunately, I also found a beach towel in my car, which goes to show you when I last clean it out.

I’m dry now, but it’s days like these that remind me that you can’t take rain pictures without getting wet.

Posted in Enterprise, Weather | Tagged | Comments closed
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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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