The people’s court

“Jury: A group of 12 people, who, having lied to the judge about their
health, hearing, and business engagements, have failed to fool him” -
Henry Louis Mencken

Accused I-5 strangler Roger Kibbe, right, talks with attorney Peter Fox an appearance in Superior court in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens:Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

Comedian Norm Crosby once said, “When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.”  Yes, I was one of those unlucky 12 who couldn’t think fast enough. No, not on the trial pictured above, which I shot about a month ago. If it were, it would’ve been grounds enough to dismiss me from service, but no such luck. Like most of the other people called for duty, I tried my best to think of ways I could get out of it. On the voir dire questionaire I put down the all the law enforcement officers I knew, but to no avail. In the end, there I was, raising my right hand, being sworn in, the very last juror to be picked.

I’m usually and observer of the criminal justice system, photographing various stages of trials from arraignments to sentencing hearings. It was interesting actually being a part of the process.

Court is wasn’t like it’s portrayed on TV. It’s a just-the-facts-ma’am kind of affair. No courtroom histrionics, no emotional confessions, no dramatic echoing “ka-chung” sound like at the beginning and end of TV’s Law and Order. Court is really, really boring. Direct examination, cross-examination, redirect and so on, testimony can ping-pong back and forth between the prosecution and defense. They can go over the same things again and again, lasting what seems forever.

Court never started on time. The best we did was 10 minutes past the time we were supposed to start. Once we had to wait 45 minutes before the doors to the courtroom opened. The rest of my fellow jurors and I had to wait in a crowded hallway, with a limited amount of hard seats. I know that there can be court business that needs to be attended to, but I wished that the jury could go in the courtroom to wait on the comfy chairs while the judge and attorneys had to confer in the hall.

The judge and the court staff made our experience as pleasant as possible. The judge used his good humor to keep things light as possible. Whenever the the judge and attorneys conferred in chambers, the court reporter would turn to us and kept us from nodding off by asking us what our favorite jokes were, what good books we were reading, where we went for lunch etc.

The judge admonished the jurors not to talk about the trial with each other or anyone else. During a breaks and lunch recess, the we would talk about our jobs, movies we’ve seen and even the weather, sometimes struggling to say anything other than what happened in court. Once deliberations started, though, the floodgates were open, everyone gushed forth their thoughts and observations. After a while things calmed down and we went over the testimony and evidence with more order.

The end of the trial was when the term “doing your civic duty” really hit me. We twelve people from varying backgrounds listened to the arguments and examined the evidence. We rendered a verdict that we could stand by and justice was served, no Law and Order “ka-chung” needed.

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Blast from the past: Forty winks



Meetings aren’t really my thing. City council, board of supervisors, planning council, et cetera, all make my eyes glaze over. Oh, I know they are necessary and important decisions are made at them, but the sooner they’re over, the happier I am. Part of it is that the meetings are usually in the evenings and can go long enough to push right up to deadline. I’m always eyeing the clock, hoping something, anything, interesting will happen. Another part is that the opportunity for taking a great picture is limited. The meetings rarely produce much more than just a bunch of talking heads.

In 1992, I had an assignment to cover a planning council meeting. As usual, I had to sit through a bunch of agenda items and public comments before the matter I was there to cover was to come up. While I waited, my brain started to slip into neutral when I noticed this council member catching a few winks. I know it was how I was feeling at the time.

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Blast from the past: The face of hunger

2-year-old Cheyenne waits in line with her family for the Emergency Food Bank in Stockton to open. (Camera Nikon D1H. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: f/4 @ 1/250, ISO 200)

An effective story-telling tool is to tell a general story with a specific example.

6/26/03: I had an assign on hunger in San Joaquin county. Reporter Paula Sheil and I went out to the Emergency Food Bank in Stockton to see what we could find. I shot volunteers preparing bags of food for the needy and those picking them up and I even followed someone to their home to get a shot of her empty cupboards. But to me, the picture that told the story with the most impact was a portrait of a little girl standing in line with her family waiting to pick up their package of food. She had a haunting face that I couldn’t turn away from and became the face of hunger in the county.

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Skim light


(Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/60 sec., @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

No, skim lighting isn’t light that has 1/3 less brightness than regular light. It’s lighting that is at such an extreme angle to the camera that it appears to “skim” off the subject. Exposures can be tricky, but the effect can be quite impresssive.

I had an assignment at Quality Office Liquidations on Rough and Ready Island in Stockton. They purchase used office furniture and resell it at a discount. It’s a green alternative to buying new stuff. The 40,000 sq-ft warehouse was cavernous. It was dark as a cave too. A few tiny lights were the only illumination from overhead. Fortunately, a couple of large loading bay doors were open allowing diffused sunlight to bounce into the center of the warehouse.  It strained in through the few openings and supplemented the weaker incandescent lightbulbs. However, the building, being so large, swallowed up most of the solar energy, but not before it lit up everything near the door openings. Light skipped off a long row of chairs and turned a mundane scene into one with a dramatic flair.

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A joyful noise


Peter Neumann performs a song at the GospelFest at the the University of the Pacific’s Morris Chapel in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/30 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

“Gospel music is the purest thing there is on this earth.” – Elvis Pressley



Randall Ogans sins a gospel song at the annual GospelFest held at Morris Chapel on the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton.  (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 165mm. Exposure: 1/40 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

When I cover religious ceremonies or events at churches, I find it interesting how the practice of other faiths differ and are similar to my own. Jodo Shinshu Buddhist services are structured similarly to those of Western traditions. Sure, we do some chanting that’s probably unfamiliar to the average layperson, but we go to church, sit in pews, listen to sermons, even sing songs and hymns.


Wendy Boatman of Woodland is moved by the music at the annual GospelFest at the university’s  Morris Chapel in Stockton.  (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

However, I have to say none of the songs that I sing in church can hold a candle to those of the gospel tradition. I recently shot the Gospel Fest at Morris Chapel on the UOP campus in Stockton and was moved by the music.


Yvette Couvson sings a solo with the University of the Pacific Choral Ensemble at the annual GospelFest at the university’s  Morris Chapel in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/60 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

Music can move the spirit and instill reverence, but with songs like Buddha loves you little fishie and Sayonara Sensei, it’s hard to get inspired by the music at my church. I don’t think anyone ever converted to Buddhism because of the music.

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Chain mail


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 170mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

Although some teens may say that they dress they way they do to express their individualism, but I think it’s really they’re trying to find a place to fit in.

Like all high schools, at my school there were a number of groups: the jocks, band geeks, aggies, stoners, etc. My school was so small that groups  frequently overlapped each other. For example, I was on the football team, yet I was also played in the band as well.  But most students had a dominant clique that they identified with. Very few had the courage to really stand out from the crowd.

I saw 15-year-old Joseph Slankard, center, at Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp while covering a student-led tours of the school’s Ag Science Center. He was wearing a chain mail shirt and hood that he purchased at the Celtic Fair in Angels the weekend before. Now that’s being an individual!

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Stating the obvious, in really big letters


“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” – Winston Churchill


Stockton mayor Edward Chavez speaks at the 7th Annual Latina Business Luncheon held at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium in downtown Stockton.
(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200. Exposure: 1/125 sec., @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

At the 7th annual Latina Business Luncheon at the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium each speaker was heralded by their name projected in gigantic letters on a screen behind them. The titles stayed on the entire length of each speech. I guess the organizers didn’t want any one to forget who the speakers were.

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To flash, or not to flash

“Mirth is like a flash of lightning, that breaks through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment…”  -- Joseph Addison


Lincoln High’s Dewitt Stuckey tries to break free from Vintage High’s Levi Pruett (33), Trevor McLaughlin and Jake Lenning during a varsity football game at Lincoln in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/2.8. ISO :1600)

For many photographers one of the hardest things to figure out is how and when to use their flash. It’s usually the last discipline they master. The first time they see the effects of the dreaded red-eye or a blasted-out subject with a background that falls off into a deep and impenetrable darkness, they stuff the flash back into their camera bag. They only use it when there’s absolutely no other choice, and even then reluctantly.

Check out this great post on the subject on the “Night Photography Blog by Andy Frazer.” It shows a side-by-side comparison of shooting with and without flash.

Here’s a little something extra on this April 1st. Enjoy!

Posted in Equipment, Humor, Links | Tagged | Comments closed

Waiting, part 2


(Camera: NIkon D300. Lens: 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/5.6.ISO: 400)

Sometimes the “right” exposure
isn’t always the best exposure. I shot the water pouring from the
fountain in front of the Federal courthouse in Sacramento. If I had
used the “correct” exposure the picture would have been OK, but nothing
special. This first shot is “properly” exposed. There is detail in both
water and the dark stone of the fountain.


(Camera: NIkon D300. Lens: 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/4.ISO: 400)

In the second shot, I exposed the picture for the highlights on the water. This underexposed the dark stone, making it fall into blackness, which in turn made the glistening water stand out even more. The result is a much more dramatic photo than a perfectly exposed picture.

Posted in Light, lighting, Photography | Comments closed

Waiting, part 1


(Camera: NIkon D300. Lens: 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/4.ISO: 400)

“How much of human life is lost in waiting?” -  Ralph Waldo Emerson



(Camera: NIkon D300. Lens: 70-200mm @ 139mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/4.0.ISO: 400)


As I said, I had some time while waiting for Baxter Dunn at the federal courthouse in Sacramento, so rather than just stand around, I looked around for something to shoot.


(Camera: NIkon D300. Lens: 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec., @ f/2.8.ISO: 400)

In the entrance plaza sits a long, narrow fountain. On and around the fountain and plaza are short, whimsical bronze statues with a pioneer motif. They are the creations of artist Tom Otterness, installed in 1999. I’ve been to the courthouse several times before and I’ve always thought the playful, cartoonish figures helped to offset the somber seriousness of the the building.

Posted in Inspiriation | 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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