The need for speed

I need a faster car.

I have a 1995 Honda Accord. It’s reliable, durable and economical. Fast? Well, not so much.

I was traveling home after work up I-5. It rained that day, but had mostly ended. Heavy storm clouds swirled around the sky, parting here, closing up there. The clouds opened up slightly in the west and the sunset shone through onto just the center of one large cloud bank near the western horizon. The light bathed the center of the thunderhead in a warm yellow-orange glow like a spotlight, yet leaving the surrounding clouds unaffected in their shadowed tones of blue and gray.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 48mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

I tried to pull over to get a shot, but I was in the thick of rush hour traffic. Finally, I was able to pull off the freeway at Eight-Mile Road at the northern edge of Stockton. I hustled down the road looking for an open spot from which to shoot. I cursed the trees and power lines that clogged the skies. Although I couldn’t see it, I knew the gap of light was closing. Then I saw a western kite hovering right in the middle of the glowing cloud looking for some prey and I thought it would make a great addition to the shot. I needed to find a spot to shoot from, fast. I pressed down on the gas pedal.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 95mm. Exposure: 1/160th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

By the time I was able to find a spot, get out of the car and get my camera, the light faded, leaving only a glimmer of what was some glorious color. Even the bird flew out of the prime spot. I quickly shot about 10 frames before it was gone completely, but I had missed the best shot literally by seconds. Like I said: I need a faster car.

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As luck would have it

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

They say that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. There have been a couple of times recently where its happened to me.


University of the Pacific engineering student Megan Kalend helps United Cerebral Palsy day program participant Jim “J.J.” Johnson use a communication device developed for him by members of the University of the Pacific’s Society of Women Engineers at UCP’s facility in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 18 mm. Exposure: 1/25th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

The first time was during an assignment to photograph a man with cerebral palsy for who the University of the Pacific’s Society of Women Engineers’ had built a touch pad device that allowed him to communicate with others. I had finished with a previous assignment earlier than expected and showed up at the United Cerebral Palsy’s office about an hour early. Just as I was finishing up photos of Jim “J.J.” Johnson demonstrating the device, a young woman came into the room. She was one of the UOP students that help develop the machine. She just happened to show up to do some final tweeking of the device. Having her in the photo showing J.J. how to use it added just a little something more to the context of the shot.


San Joaquin County public works employee Julio Hernandez patches pot hole on Thornton Road near Highway 12 at Flag City near Lodi. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

A few days later I had an assignment at Thornton Road and Highway 12 near the Flag City truck stop in Lodi on how bad road conditions were. The assignment wasn’t time specific, just show up and get a shot of the road, not too inspiring. After shooting a couple of other assignments in Lodi, I headed to the truck stop. As I pulled up I saw two San Joaquin County public works employees shoveling asphalt into potholes for temporary fixes.

Of course, when luck gives you an opportunity, you have to be ready and know what to do with it, but it’s always nice to get a break now and again.

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Share and share alike

Yep, that’s a picture of mine, nice and big on the cover of the sports section, it’s just not The Record’s sports section.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/14w/ flash. ISO: 200)

My friend Randy Allen, a photo editor at the Sacramento Bee, emailed me and Record photo editor Craig Sanders to see if our paper was going to cover the Sac-Joaquin Section championship football game between St. Mary’s of Stockton and Pleasant Grove of Elk Grove at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. Elk Grove is in their coverage area, but they weren’t planning to send a photographer to the game. He asked if we could send some pictures his way as a favor.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/14w/ flash. ISO: 200)

I’ve been at the Record so long that it’s a little weird to see one of my pictures and my byline in another publication, especially when it’s so well played (usually they’re run small and buried on the inside pages). The sharing of photos and/or stories is something we occasionally with other papers. Sometimes there’s a fee involved, but mostly it’s a done as a professional courtesy and they’ll return the favor sometime in the future.

Thanks Randy for the great display, but you still owe us one.

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Deja vu


St Mary’s John Sanguinetti tackles Pleasant Grove’s Michael Madkins during the Sac-Joaquin Section football championship game at the University of the Pacific’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Memorial Stadium in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/640th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

As I was editing my take from the San Joaquin Section championship football game, I got a sense of deja vu when I saw this shot. It took a little while to put my finger on it, but then I remembered a similar picture I shot in 2004.


9/4/2004: Delta College’s Nick Marshall tackle’s Modesto Junior College’s Jason Wyatt during Delta’s football home opener at DiRicco Field in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

During the home opener between Delta College and Modesto Junior College, I got a shot of Delta’s Nick Marshall tackling Modesto’s Jason Wyatt at DiRicco Field in Stockton. Different teams, different circumstances, separated by four years, yet a similar shot. To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu, all over again.”

Posted in Delta College, High Schools, Sports | Tagged | Comments closed

Brrrr


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)

All of the games I shot over the 08-09 high school football season have been on Friday nights, with nights being the operative word. It wasn’t too bad. Most of the evenings were relatively warm and I only got rained on once (even then only lightly). Most of the stadiums even had decent light. Saturday’s championship game was at the University of the Pacific’s A.A. Stagg Memorial Stadium during the day. Great I thought. No more using high ISOs and razor-thin depth of field from using wide-open apertures.

I got to the stadium about an hour before the start of the game and though the forecast called for rain, the sky was mostly sunny and blue with a smattering of light clouds. I wore my warm wool coat, perhaps a mistake I thought. I had left my wool cap and gloves at work, but kept my coat just in case things got cold.

Just before the game started, dark gray clouds rolled in and a stiff, steady breeze developed. I zipped up my jacket all the way. For most of the first half, it was cold and dark. My hands and ears stung from the bitter cold. I was really missing my hat and gloves.

The sun came out for a short time in he second half and though I tried to stay in the sunny spots the best I could, the damage was done and I was still chilled to the bone.

I got back to the office and it took some time for me to thaw out. It could’ve been worse, I guess. At least it didn’t rain.

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

Football finale

It’s nice to have my Friday nights back again. From September 12 to December 13, the 2008-09 high school football season has finally come to an end*. Of the 14 weeks of games, I shot 12 of them, including every Friday of the 10-week regular season. Every game I shot were blow outs with one side completely dominating the other.

(*But wait…football isn’t quite done just yet. St. Mary’s has been selected to compete in CIF division II State Bowl game against Cathedral Catholic of San Diego on Saturday in Carson. We’re sending someone else to cover the game, so at least for me, the season is over.)

The season culminated in the Sac-Joaquin section football championship game between perennial Stockton powerhouse St. Mary’s Rams and upstart Pleasant Grove Eagles of Elk Grove held at the University of the Pacific’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Memorial Stadium.There seemed to be an almost palpable perception that St. Mary’s was going to handle Pleasant Grove easily. The Stockton team has a long tradition of excellence and has been in playoff and championship games many times before. On the other hand, this was only the Elk Grove school’s third varsity season.


Obadiah Johnson from Pleasant Grove hits St. Mary’s QB Cody Vaz as he releases the ball for an interception in the championship football game at UOP in Stockton Saturday. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)


Josh Harper is helped off the field after he was injured when tackled by Pleasant Grove’s Kevin Harris. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/ 5.6. ISO: 200)

Although the Rams scored first, the Eagles surprised everyone by scoring two quick touchdowns to take the lead. The Pleasant Grove defense, for the moment stymied St. Mary’s. The Rams’ quarterback Cody Vaz was harassed all day by the Eagle’s Obadiah Johnson (what a great name). Josh Harper, St. Mary’s standout receiver/safety was injured in the first quarter and did not return.


St Mary’s Maurice House makes a move on Pleasant Grove’s Donnie Pettenger during Championship football game in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/5. ISO: 200)


St Mary’s Louie Lechich catches a pass over Pleasant Grove’s Russell Vonschoech during the Sac-Joaquin Section football championship game at the University of the Pacific’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Memorial Stadium in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5. ISO: 200)

St. Mary’s then showed the stuff they were made of. The rest of the team stepped up to fill Harper’s void and methodically worked through Pleasant Grove’s road blocks to take back the lead. The Rams kicked it into high gear and shut out the Eagles for the rest of the game.


St. Mary’s High receiver Louie Lechich dives over the goal line to score a TD on a pass form Cody Vaz during the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game against Pleasant Grove High. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)


St. Mary’s High fans cheer for their team in the championship football game against Pleasant Grove High from Elk Grove. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)

This game seemed at first to have the makings of a close game, in the end it was like the rest of the games I shot during the season, a one-sided contest.

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And the answer is…

(Camera: Nikon D300: Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

A marble statue of St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers, stands in front of the hospital of the same name (affectionately referred to as “St. Joe’s” by area residents) on California Street in Stockton.

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Viewfinder: If I had a hammer


(Camera: Nikon D300: Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

The Viewfinder feature that ran on Saturdays in the LENS section of The Record has ended its two year run in the paper. It featured a detail of a landmark or building in the paper’s coverage area that people pass by every day and left it up to the readers to figure out what and where it was. The answer was published on the Tuesday of the following week.

Viewfinder will live on as an occasional feature on this blog. I’ll post a picture on a Friday and publish the answer the following Monday. Feel free to send your guesses in the comments box and I’ll post as they come in.

The above photo is of a landmark that is of someone who looked over those who work for a living. Have fun guessing and see you on Monday.

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Get real

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 190mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8.ISO: 200)

I was at the Delta College flea market in Stockton and as I walked past some art work for sale, I saw a very realistic painting of an automobile’s rear fender and tire. It had an incredible amount of fine detail and the color and shading was unbelievably lifelike. It was like I was standing right next to a real car. Oh… never mind.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 32mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8.ISO: 200)

Posted in Delta College, Enterprise, Observation | Tagged | Comments closed

“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”

Sometimes we’re given assignments to shoot someone without actually showing them. It may sound like an impossible task, but it’s something that we’re occasionally called upon to do. I had an assignment to shoot photos for a story on the Youth and Family Services’ Safe House program for teenagers in Stockton. It’s a place where runaway, abandoned or otherwise homeless kids, ages 12-17 years-old, can find shelter. Because the subjects were all minors, we agreed not to identify them.


Program director Jennifer Jones talks to a 15-year-old boy at the at the Youth and Family Services Safe House in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 23mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

There are a few ways to photograph someone without showing their faces. on the Safe House story, I used three of them. A typical shot is from behind, but not always the most appealing. It helps if there is something else in the photo, another person or some sort of landmark, to give the reader a point of reference.


A 15-year-old boy sits in his room at the Youth and Family Services Safe House in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/50th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

Another way is simply to crop the heads off. It can be done effectively but should be use sparingly because whoever you shoot may end up looking like Ichabod Crane’s worst nightmare.


A 16-year-old girl talks about staying at the at the Youth and Family Services Safe House in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

As the reporter interviewed one of the teens at the safe house, a single bare light bulb threw the 16-year-old’s shadow against a portion of a wall. I was able to get it along with some homey nicknacks on a shelf in the shot. To me, it told the story of the organization’s attempt to create a safe haven for those escaping a troubled home life.

Posted in Techniques | 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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