“To the last, I grapple with thee…" Herman Melville

Stagg’s Charlie Seang, left, grapples with Merced’s Ray Valenzuela in the 119-lb weight class of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South wrestling tournament held at McNair High Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 130mm. Exposure: 1/320 @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

One of my favorite sports to watch is wrestling. It’s not only a test of the athlete’s strength and stamina, but of their will and heart as well. I think the sport gets the short shrift in the TV-viewing arena. The only time you can really watch it is once every four years during the Olympics (sorry, the pseudo-sport of professional wrestling, a pet peeve of mine, doesn’t count). That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy shooting high school wrestling. I usually right down there on the mat with them and you can see the genuine dedication, concentration and power of each athlete close up.

This year, Stagg High’s Charlie Seang (above) will be competing in the 119-lb weight-class in the state tournament in Bakersfield. Seang is one of eight area qualifiers, but it’s the first time that a Stagg wrestler has made it to the state meet since 1999. The state tourney used to be in Stockton until it was moved down south in 2003. Bakersfield is a little too far away to justify the paper sending one of us to cover the event, which is too bad because it was fun to see how our local athletes fared against the best in the state. Even though we can’t be there, good luck to Sean and all the other local wrestlers competing in the tournament.

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“…Show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

“…The sun’s still shining in the big blue sky
But it don’t mean nothing to me
Oh, let the rain come down
Let the wind blow through me
I’m living in an empty room
With all the windows smashed
And I’ve got so little left to lose
That it feels just like I’m walking on broken glass…”-Annie Lennox

(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125 @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

The sun had just dipped below the western horizon as I left McNair High School after shooting the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South wrestling tournament in Stockton. It was starting to get dark as I walked to my car. I saw a glint of light on the ground about 10-15 yards away. Curious, I walked towards what looked like gleaming jewels. As I got closer, I saw that they were shards of glass left over from a broken window of a car that was long gone. The individual pieces of glass were reflecting the light of the fading sunset. They looked as if a portion of the sky opened up and dropped glistening stars upon the ground.

(Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/60 @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

As I got closer still, the angle of light changed relative to my position and the sparkling points of lights all but disappeared. The darkly tinted glass looked like charcoal with just a few embers still burning. To recreate the original angle of light, I placed my camera on the ground next to the glass and shot with the sunset in the background and re-ignited the coals to turn them into shimmering diamonds again.

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Size matters

For some photographers with deep pockets (and strong backs) size matters. This behemoth is made by the Sigma Corporation (that’s full sized DSLR camera attached to the end). It’s a 200mm-500mm f/2.8 super telephoto zoom and weighs about 16 kg or roughly 34 lbs. It’s 28.6 inches long and has a front element diameter of 9.3 inches. It even has its own dedicated rechargeable battery to power its massive focusing and aperture mechanisms. Sigma hasn’t released a dollar amount for the leviathan, but it’s been rumored to be in the $10,000-$12,000 range.

As big as the Sigma is, it’s just a popgun compared to the Howitzer that is the Canon 1200mm 5.6. Built from 1993 to 2005, the aptly named Canon is about 34 inches long, has a diameter of 8.9 inches and weighs over 36 pounds. It’s no longer in production and it’s said that there are fewer 20 in existence, but you can still buy a used one at B&H Photo for a cool $99,000. That’s right, ninety-nine grand for a used one.

(Here’s an update: B&H is selling the Sigma lens for double the first estimated price. $24,000 is quite a bit more than first reported, but still a lot less than the Canon.)

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Idle time

“The hardest work is to go idle.”  – Yiddish proverb

I hate being idle during an assignment. Sometimes I get a little antsy, feeling like I should be doing something. The other day I had a few minutes of down time when shooting the City Four-Ball golf tournament held at the Reserve at Spanos Park golf course in Stockton. It took a little time for my guide Tim to grab a golf cart and track down the leaders of the tourney on the course. As I waited at the front of the clubhouse, I noticed a couple of potted camellias. I remembered an assignment way back from one of my beginning photo classes. It entailed taking a subject then lighting it from the front, side and back.

(Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500 @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Front lighting can evenly illuminate your subject, but it tends to flat and, in most cases, pretty boring.


(Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500 @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Side lighting can give your subject more of a 3-D look and can enhance it’s texture.


(Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500 @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)

While you have to watch out for lens flare (light that refracts in the lens which can cause tiny circular highlights or wash out the whole scene), backlighting can be bold and dramatic.

The lessons we learn when we were younger can stay with us. We can use them on big important jobs, or just to pass the time.

Posted in Light, lighting, Nature | Tagged | Comments closed

Come out fighting

“Don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in” - Saturday’s Alright (For Fighting) by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

Stockton Thunder’s Spencer Carbery, left, fights with Utah Grizzlies’ Travis Rycroft during an ECHL hockey game at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250 sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Fights break out in every sport where there’s head to head competition and physical contact. In sports like basketball, football and soccer they occasionally occur. And the referees step in as quickly as possible to break them up and then assess penalties.

In hockey it’s a different story. The refs will step in if they see trouble brewing, but once a fight gets started their attitude is: “just jet ‘em.” Once the gloves and sticks are thrown down, a brawl is inevitable. The combatants dance around, grab each other’s jerseys and start punching away. The referees only step in when the skaters fall to the ice. Then they smother the players to stop any further blows from being thrown. From there the offenders are sent off their respective penalty boxes to serve out their two minutes.

During one game a fight went on so long that the players involved got tired. With each blow that was thrown, they grew more and more fatigued. Soon they were holding each other up by clutching onto each others shirts. At the end, I could see them give pleading glances to the refs to stop the fight. The officials mercifully stepped in and sent the players to the penalty box.

Thunder forward Adam Huxley is the team’s brawler. The fans almost expect to see him fight. There are no fewer than 14 videos of him fighting on YouTube. Here’s one of them:

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Horse sense

The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse rides down Main Street in the annual Ripon Almond Blossom Festival parade  in downtown Ripon. (Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250 @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

I was a band geek when I was in high school. While marching in parades, we were supposed to play and step off in a straight line, regardless of whatever might be in our path (though I was never that disciplined-I always swerved). I quickly learned that the last place you want to be is behind the equestrian entries. Nothing against the horses, but when they have to do their business, there’s no stopping them.

(Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 185mm. Exposure: 1/250 @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

At some parades, there’s some guy with a shovel and a wheelbarrow following the horses. The Ripon Almond Blossom Festival parade was definitely a small town affair, but to the city’s credit they had a street sweeper to take care of the equine entries’ business ends.

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9-year-old Alaina Cornilsen spins a hula hoop while marching with Girl Scout Troop 2128 of Ripon in the annual Ripon Almond Blossom Festival parade. (Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250 @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

One of the skills a photojournalist needs to learn is walking backwards and shooting at the same time. As Girl Scout troop 2128 marched down Main Street twirling their hula hoops in the Almond Blossom parade, I shot them and then got their IDs all while walking backwards. It may not be something I use everyday, but from parades to perp walks, it’s a skill that comes in handy.

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Don’t rain on my parade

Christa Revelle of Ripon uses a Pikachu umbrella to keep dry while watching the annual Ripon Almond Blossom Festival parade  in downtown Ripon. (Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/250 @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

I wasn’t looking forward to shooting the annual Almond Blossom Festival parade in Ripon on Saturday.  It’s not because I don’t like parades, because I do. Both the participants and spectators tend to have a great time and they’re usually pretty fun to shoot. It’s just that the weekend forecast called for stormy weather.

Trish Gray of Tracy bundles up with her chihuahua Bella while watching the annual Ripon Almond Blossom Festival parade in downtown Ripon. (Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 19mm. Exposure: 1/250 @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

When I left Stockton, Saturday morning, the rain was coming down at a pretty good clip. But by the time I drove the 20 miles to Ripon, it had stopped raining. Although the skies were still threatening to break wide open and the wind was quite chilly, it only sprinkled a bit here and there during the entire time I was there.

Miss Ripon Mary Bell, 17, bundles up with a cup of hot tea as she watches the annual Ripon Almond Blossom Festival parade from bleachers near the reviewing stand on Main Street in downtown Ripon. (Camera: NIkon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 19mm. Exposure: 1/250 @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

I got some fun shots and headed back to Stockton. The rain came later in the day when I was safely back in the office. This was one day where it didn’t rain on my parade, at least not much.

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Shoot the moon

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm w/1.4 extender. Exposure: 1/8 sec., @ f/5.6. ISO: 800)

Here’s one last look at Wednesday’s total lunar eclipse. Shooting the moon under normal circumstances is simpler than you might think. A long lens is all that’s required, and not a necessarily a very fast one at that. That’s because the normal exposure for the moon is the same as the one for daylight right here on Earth. No need for any lengthy time exposures The light that we see striking the moon is relatively the same as the light that illuminates the dayside of our big blue ball. With some minor atmospheric differences (clouds, smog, etc.), it’s basically the same exposure.

A total lunar eclipse is a different animal. When the moon descends completely into the Earth’s shadow, direct sunlight is no longer hitting it. What we then see is the light that is bent through the Earth’s atmosphere to give our natural satellite an eerie orange glow. The exposure then drops to next to nothing. A tripod is a requirement as is a high ISO, a fast lens and a slower shutter speed. A long time exposure isn’t really an option because the moon is actually a moving object. Anything more than say 1/8-1/2 of a second will result in motion blur.

Shooting the moon isn’t an exotic affair, after all a full moon occurs at least once a month. Unfortunately the opportunity to photograph a lunar eclipse is a much rarer event. We won’t see another full one until December of 2010.

Posted in Nature, Photography, Techniques | Tagged , | Comments closed

Cabin fever

University of the Pacific students Joey Frantz, ,left, and Austin DeLong take advantage of the afternoon sun by playing some football at the university’s Knoles Lawn in Stockton with some fellow students. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200m. Exposure: 1/500 sec., @ f/8/ ISO: 200)

“I believe the stars keep shining all throught the night.
I believe if we just keep trying it will be alright.
I believe that someday we’re gonna find our way.
And I believe in a beautiful day…
…But not for me…”
- I Believe by Chris Isaak

16-year-old Lincoln High student Lulu Skafi, right, takes advantage of the sunny day to take a picture of her sister Shereen Skafi, 21, for a photo class project at Buckley Cove Park in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500 sec., @ f/8/ ISO: 200)

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve a bit under the weather lately. It started out as a cold and morphed into an ear infection. What I hated about being sick these last few days is that the weather has been mostly pretty nice. Temperatures in the mid-60s and bright sunny days. People were out and about in the sunshine, walking their dogs, playing frisbee, out for a jog, but not for me. I lay on my couch hacking and coughing away. The worst part is that I knew there were pictures out there to be taken and I wasn’t taking them.

The setting sun throws shadows of nearby trees onto the back ot the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D2X. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 80m. Exposure: 1/500 sec., @ f/8/ ISO: 200)

I’m back at work again and the weather is cold, cloudy and wet again with the forecast calling for more of the same. Go figure.

Posted in Enterprise, Feature, Weather | 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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