"February, sweet and small, greatest month of all." – Eric Lies

February may have been the shortest month, but there wasn’t a shortage of photo opportunities. From a dog wearing goggles to a fire at the Port of Stockton, it was a full month of shooting. Here are ten of my favorites from year’s second month.



Stockton Cougars’ Matt McDougall reaches out to stop a shot by La RaZa de Monterey’s Victor Quiroz during PASL soccer game at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.5 w/ Elinchorme strobes. ISO: 200)



Edison High student Ellen Arcala ponders a question during the super quiz of the 28th annual Academic Decathalon held at the Scottish Rite Temple in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 3200)



An onlooker at Dad’s Point watches a plume of smoke from a warehouse fire at the Port of Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/14. ISO: 200)

Delta College track team member Aamir Khan is greeted by cloudy skies as he practices his triple jump at Delta’s DiRicco Field in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 400)



Students are reflected in a rain puddle on the campus of the University of the Pacific in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 110mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)



Hero, a 1-1/2-year-old chihuahua/poodle-mix, wears his goggles (called Doggles) while riding in the side car attached to a motorcycle on El Dorado Street near Oak Street in Stockton. His master, Ferdinand Marcos of Stockton, said that Hero has been learning to ride in the sidecar for a few weeks now. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)



Stagg’s Anthony Salter, bottom, and Lincoln’s Alex Enright chase after a loose ball during a boys varsity basketball game at Stagg High in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 3200)



13-year-old Shannon Terry, Jr. of Stockton, is greeted by a canopy of cloudy skies while taking a few swings in a batting cage at All Start Baseball and Softball training in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)



California Conservation Corps crew members Serey Horn, left, and Howard Tisdale place plastic sheeting on the banks of the Mokelumne River to prevent erosion to the Lodi Lake Nature Area in Lodi. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)



Children are greeted by partly cloudy skies as they play on playground equipment during an after school care program at Jenny Lind School in Valley Springs. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

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The Lodi Unified School board announced cuts to staff and programs to make up for a $25 million
budget shortfall. The McNair High theater was packed. Educators,
parents and students showed up to support their various concerns. At
the beginning of the budget agenda item, a Power Point presentation was
given by the board to review the proposed cuts. When the presentation
over, the final slide on the screen read, in large letters, “The End.”
It stayed up on the screen even as dozens of people lined up for the
public comment portion of the meeting.

Teachers and pupils gave reasoned arguments and impassioned pleas to keep jobs and programs and even advice on how the district could save money. Through it all, those words loomed large behind the board’s seated positions. It seemed as if the people in the audience were trying to counter act the image on the screen by holding up signs of their own, but one could almost hear Darth Vader’s menacing theme in the background. At the end of the night the board voted to eliminate 390 staff jobs as well as 7 administrative positions.

Sometimes image can be important and it’s not enough to be fair, but to be perceived as being so. Perhaps someone should have told the board how ominous an image it was to those in the audience.

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(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 86mm. Exposure: 1/320th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 2500)

I covered a girls varsity basketball game at McNair High School in Stockton between the McNair Eagles and the Edison Vikings. The attendance was far under the gym’s 2,467 capacity. I estimated that there were under 100 people there, and that included the coaches, refs and players. The fans looked a bit forlorn as they dotted the desolate stands.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1250)

That same night, at the same time, the Lodi Unified School District was holding its board meeting in the Mamie Starr Performing Arts Center theater, also on the McNair campus. On the agenda were proposed cuts to staff and programs due to an extreme budget shortfall. Irate educators and students wanting to have their say, filled the hall. Although a few empty seats could be found here and there, they pushed the theater’s capacity of 736 to its legal limit.

Too bad the theater’s stage wasn’t big enough to set up a basketball court. Then the two events could have traded places and there would have been plenty of room for everyone.

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My fifteen minutes?

Navin R. Johnson: “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!”
Harry Hartounian: “Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.”
Navin R. Johnson: “Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now!” -  Steve Martin and Jackie Mason from The Jerk (1979)

When searching for locations with Google, along with a map, a photo pops up on certain addresses. The pictures are a part of Google’s Street View feature. Clicking on the photo allows the view to use a mouse to get a 360-degree view of the street. It also lets you visually move up or down the street.

Gizmodo: The Gadget Blog has documented some of the more unusual things serendipitously caught on Street View including a drunk passed out on his mom’s front lawn and a house on fire. Police in Massachusetts reportedly used it to help solve a kidnapping.

I was driving westbound on March Lane in Stockton near Quail Lakes Drive and I-5 when I saw an unusual contraption atop a vehicle a few cars ahead of me.  It looked like some sort of weird periscope. I caught up with it and saw a Google decal on the driver’s’ door. The device on the roof of the teal blue Chevrolet Cobalt was a camera that takes photos in every direction as the car travels down the street.

I pulled ahead and waited for it at the next red light. I quickly pulled my camera out of my bag and rolled down the passenger window. The light turned green and as I started to drive, the Google car passed by. I held up the camera, pointed it out the window and fired off several frames.

I’ve checked Google, but so far there’s isn’t a picture of me or the company car I was in, just shots of the street done some time ago. I don’t know how long it takes to update the pictures, but to paraphrase Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in the 1950 movie Sunset Boulevard: “All right, Mr. Google, I’m ready for my close up.”

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Cheap and easy

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/11 w/ Dyna-Lite strobe. ISO: 100)

I had a studio shoot of several dishes made from the “Biggest Loser” cookbook recipes. The first set up was of an asparagus and ham omelet. It was simple food, so I used simple lighting. A single main strobe was set behind for some backlighting. The light skimmed off the plate and food for a nice sheen. I needed just a little fill light to lighten up some of the shadows.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 28mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/14 w/ Dyna-Lite strobe. ISO: 100)

Instead of some elaborate and pricey reflectors (which we don’t have anyway), I simply used two white 3-ring binders. They can be opened to illuminate a larger area or closed to fill in smaller products. Simple sheets of paper can also work, but they’re flimsier and harder to place. The binders are just the right size and can stand up on their own.

Small product/table top photography doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment. Oh sure, like anything else, it’s possible to spend a lot, but sometimes it’s just as easy to get by on the cheap.

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In a blink of an eye

The cameras that we use are Nikon D300s. They’ll shoot at 5 frames a second which is decently fast from a professional photographer’s point of view. The frame rate increases to an impressive 8 frames a second when the camera is coupled with the MB-10 battery grip, in which the same battery as the top-of-the-line Nikon D3, can be used. The only cameras that are faster are the D3 itself (9-fps) and the Canon 1D mark III (10-fps). Even as fast as the D300 is, it helps to have a little luck as well.

Consecutive frames shot at 8 fps of Annunciation School student Nick Uota, 12, launching a water-pressure powered rocket at Victory Park in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 400.)

When I shot the Annunciation School’s Science Olympiad team testing their water-pressured powered rocket, it blasted off with such force and speed that it was almost impossible for my camera to track it. Even at 8-fps, the projectile was out of the frame in a flash. I held the button down as the missile was launched and didn’t let up until it was well into the sky. Out of the dozens of frames that I shot, most showed either the rocket sitting on its launching pad or a vertical stream of water left in the rocket’s wake as it soared out of the frame. Only two of the shots had the rocket in flight and those were right as the rocket left the pad. Speed isn’t always everything. Sometimes you need timing and just a little luck.

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Unlocking the creativity within

When I was a photography student
back in the stone age, one assignment that my instructors issued was to
take a picture of an egg. You might think it was a simple, boring task
to shoot such an everyday object, and taken that way, it was. But the
lesson was actually one in creativity. The challenge for the students
was to look at the ordinary in a new and different way, to think out of
the box as it were. I took the assignment to heart. Instead of one
photo, I came up with dozens, photographing long after the assignment
was over. To this day, I can’t buy a carton of eggs without thinking of
different ways to photograph them.

The other day Record reporter Scott Smith came to me with a story idea about the Medico-Dental Building on Sutter Street and Miner Avenue in downtown Stockton which was built in 1927. Not only is it the tallest building in the city, it’s surrounded by much smaller buildings, making it stand out even more. The county has proposed to build a new courthouse whose height is to surpass the commercial gothic style-building. Scott wanted to create an audio slideshow to go along with the story he was writing. Usually the paper would run at most a handful of pictures from a story like this. A slideshow usually requires much more.

Despite its presence, I’ve mostly treated the building as part of the visual background of Stockton, never giving it too much thought. I wondered how I was going to get a slideshow’s worth of pictures from this assignment. My mind harkened back to those days when I was in school. I approached the Medico-Dental building much like I did the egg assignment.  However, unlike the egg, the 12-story structure is stationary. I looked for different angles from which I could shoot it, front back, side. I got shots of it from the street and other buildings, even from the Medico-Dental itself. I had a field day. It was like looking at things as a student would, like I was seeing it for the first time.

Along with a couple of assignments made by Scott of people who know the building’s history and some who are tenants, I managed to get 66 different shots of the Medico-Dental. Although the assignment is over, It has become a creative touchstone for me. I’m still thinking of ways of getting new shots of the building. I guess I’ll continue to do so whether it’s still the tallest one in town or not.

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The Reuters news service has a gallery of pictures called “Testify”. It features 33 pictures taken by their photographers of people testifying in front of congressional committees. It shows that interesting pictures can be found during humdrum assignments.”

At-the-microphone” assignments make most photographers cringe. They tend to have limited potential for creative or exciting pictures. Often times it’s bad or boring light with people who are stiff, their heads down as they read from a prepared statement. Many times they’re expressionless and bland. Recently I had three assignments that raised the podium pics beyond the level of the ordinary.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 170mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 3200)

Dr. Gary F. Dei Rossi, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at the San Joaquin County Office of Education, moderated the super quiz of the 28th annual Academic Decathlon held at the Scottish Rite Temple in Stockton. The venue is big enough to hold several hundred people, but the lighting is best described as dismal. There’s not much of it and the quality is poor. There was literally one shining light in the darkness. A lone bulb glowed brightly at Dei Rossi’s podium. Although he is of about average height, the light cast a giant shadow against the wall behind him. It gave him a commanding presence as he read the questions and answers for the decathlon’s signature event.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

Actors Felix Justice and Danny Glover performed their show, “An Evening with Langston and Martin” to a packed house at the University of the Pacific’s Faye Spanos Concert Hall in Stockton. Justice walked on stage to a podium and recited a speech once delivered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He spoke with dignity and authority. It was almost as if the audience was transported back in time to hear King himself speak

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

Justice left the stage and the more famous Glover walked on to rousing applause. Then he recited poems from the author Langston Hughes with a hip coolness and exuberant passion. At the microphone, Glover swayed and moved as he became the poet, author, humorist, playwright, biographer and historian.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 32mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/3.2. ISO: 800)

The Lodi Unified School District budget advisory council held a public comment meeting at Hutchins Street Square theater in Lodi. Educators, parents and students got up to speak on behalf of their respective programs to keep them from being cut. I got a number of standard shots of people speaking and started heading toward the door at stage right to get back to the office to meet deadline. Then parent Alina Stanciu walked up to the podium, located at stage left. With her was her 5-year-old daughter, Andreea, who playfully climbed about the speakers’ stand. I hustled down to get a shot, using a telephoto lens from across the theater. I got several shots but wasn’t satisfied with them. I needed to get in closer with a wide-angle lens to get a more intimate photo. As discreetly as possible, I moved within a few feet of the podium. I was able to shoot one frame before the kindergartener got bored with what she was doing and sat down in a nearby seat. The moment was fleeting, but it was all I needed to get a meaningful shot from some limited potential.

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If at first you don’t succeed…

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 400)

Recently I saw a small group of teachers and students from Annunciation School gathered in a large opening in the trees at Victory Park in Stockton. They were testing their water- and air-pressure-powered rocket in preparation for next month’s Science Olympiad. They poured about a quart of water into their rocket, made from a couple of two-liter soda bottles, attached a triggering mechanism to the opening, and forced in about 60 pounds of air with a bicycle pump. A simple pull of a string triggered a high-pressure stream of water that propelled the rocket like a … well, like a rocket.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 170mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 400)

The group launched the projectile several times. Each attempt yielded different results. A few times, the rocket soared into the sky, but its parachute (I can’t describe the design: the team has sworn me to secrecy) failed to deploy, and it fell to the ground like a stone. Other times, although the rocket’s altitude was disappointing, the ‘chute opened, and the missile floated gently into the students’ hands.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 400)

Then, finally, the rocket flew up far higher than the surrounding trees. Squinting against the midday sun, we could see the parachute perfectly blossom out of its nacelle as the rocket reached its apex. But instead of lightly wafting to the ground, a slight whisper of a breeze filled the parachute and the rocket smoothly drifted sideways. I could hear the teachers saying “No, no, no” as it slowly sailed into the branches of a 40- to 50-foot tall Charlie-Brown-kite-eating tree. The rocket hung hopelessly in the bony embrace of the bare tree. Occasionally the wind would pick up slightly, causing the gossamer parachute to billow out, which in turn caused false hopes to rise. In the end, the tree kept its prize. It took several tries for the Annunciation School’s team to get their rocket working perfectly, it just worked too well.

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But I digress: Don’t try this at home

Photographer Peter Gregg has an insane little video of a modification to a Nikon SB-800 strobe. The flash head on a normal SB-800 will turn 90 degrees to the right and 180 degrees to the left, but it won’t do that Linda-Blair-360-degree-spin all the way around. Gregg gives a tutorial showing how to break modify the flash in a chicken-neck-wringing fashion.

About half of the video is spent telling you NOT to do it, how you can void the manufacturer’s warranty or maybe even ruin the flash permanently. It gives me the willies just watching it. If you’re insane courageous enough to try, you can’t say he didn’t warn you.

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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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