Beat the heat on the cheap

Summer has started early this year with a week-long heat wave with temperatures in the 100-degree range. In the old days one could run through lawn sprinklers, set up a slip-n-slide in the front yard or just play with a garden hose to cool off. However, with drought–induced water restrictions in place those options are now limited. Here are 5 places you can beat the heat on the cheap.


5: Valverde Park

In 2007-2008 Lathrop’s Valverde Park underwent an improvement project which included a veterans memorial, new basketball courts and a water feature. While small, the interactive fountain is big enough for good cool fun for children. Location: 15557 5th St., Lathrop. Cost: Free.


4: Mossdale Landing Community Park

The park, which, backs up to the San Joaquin River is located in the newer part of Lathrop, west of I-5. The water fountain has typical jets at spout from the ground and also a feature in the shape of a water tower that shoots out water from above. Location: 700 Towne Centre Dr., Lathrop. Cost: Free.


3: Micke Grove Park

Micke Grove Park features a interactive water fountain near its Camanche shelter picnic area. It’s separated into to sections. It has a smaller part for toddlers and larger area for older children. Location: 11793 N Micke Grove Rd, Lodi. Cost: The fountain itself is free but there is a charge to get into the park. $5 per car weekdays, $6 on weekends and $10 for holidays (Load up the car or van with kids and it can be quite a bargain).


2: Central Community Park

Located in the community of Mountain House west of Tracy, Central Community Park offers a nicely done interactive water feature surrounded by palm trees as a centerpiece to the park. Location: 25 Main St, Mountain House. Cost: free


1: Weber Point Event Center

The Weber Point Event Center fountain is biggest and the arguably the best free water interactive feature in the county. It features several different water patterns shooting out copious jets of water. The fountain can accommodate dozens of people at a time. Location: 221 N. Center Street, Stockton. Cost: Free.



Both Manteca and Ripon each offer a water feature – Library Park, 320 W Center St., Manteca and Mistlin Sports Park, 1201 W River Rd., Ripon- both are free but they have been closed the last few years due to the drought.

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Mother Nature Monday #17: Blue bird of…

4/9/2011: A western bluebird rests in a tree near the south shore of Camanche Lake near Burson.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Return calls

Our latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment, cellphone photography, is an encore of one we did in 2013. The results of that one was impressive and this one did not disappoint.

Cellphones and the pictures that we take with them are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. They have replaced point-and-shoot cameras as the most popular imaging devices. Most of those photos aspire to be nothing more than simple snapshots and there’s nothing wrong with that. But some can reach the level of art.

29 people sent in 117 photos. Here are some of the best examples.


One way of elevating cellphone photography, or any kind of photography for that matter, is to look at things in a different way. For most people seeing a beautiful sunset is easy and direct to shoot. Just point your phone/camera at and click away. Carrie Walker saw such a pretty sunset but thought of more than shooting it directly. Using her Apple iPhone 6, she caught the sunset’s orange-red hues in the back window of her brother’s pickup truck parked at her home in Stockton. It’s a perfect example of seeing things in a different way.


Rick Wilmot of Lodi also looked at things in a different way. Most people look at plants as a whole. Wilmot looked closer. With his Samsung Galaxy Note 5 smartphone he photographed a frond from a palm tree in his backyard. He captured the strong lines of the frond as they radiated out from a central point. Combined with its bright green color, it makes for a great graphic composition.


Cellphone photos are so popular that there is a thriving demand for aftermarket accessories for them. Darrin Denison of Stockton won a set of supplemental lenses for his iPhone6 by winning first place in a photo contest by the website Viewbug. He used a macro lens to photograph a ladybug crawling on a dusty miller plant in his backyard. It allowed him to get in close to captured the red of the insect as it popped out against the neutral white of the plant.


Ann Dann of Sacramento used an Apple iPhone6 to photograph a raindrop on a leaf in her backyard. Her phone allowed her to get in close to the large raindrop without any supplementary lenses. I liked how she was able to get some of the other plants in her yard reflected in the drop.


One of the problems that often befall all photographers but also especially phone shooters is not getting close enough. The term “fill the frame” should be a mantra for everyone with a camera and that’s what Robbie Swan of Lathrop did. With a Samsung S5 he photographed some backyard flowers. He got in close enough so that the flower on the bottom dominates the picture and helps lead the eye into the composition and to the rest of the flowers in the scene.


When taking cellphone pictures people often forget some the basic rules of photography. It’s too bad because adhering to a few key principles can improve your photos greatly.

Joan Erreca of Stockton used her Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphone to photograph the view of the Pacific Ocean at Julia Pfieffer State Park in Big Sur. Instead of just taking a shot of the wide open ocean, she used the trees to frame the sea for a more interesting photo.


Stay tuned for a new challenge issued in 2 weeks on June 9.

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Random Photo #62: A California summer?

Sacramento-based saxophonist Shawn Raiford performs in the kickoff concert to the 2016 Stockton Summer Jazz Festival series as storm clouds approach McLeod Lake Park in downtown Stockton.

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Graduation day

May is the season for graduations and soon the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance will be playing at high schools, colleges, arenas and stadiums throughout the country.

Graduations are among the milestone moments of our children’s lives and it’s only natural that we want to preserve those moments in photographs.

The best and easiest times to take pictures of the grads are before and after the ceremony. During the graduation it’s a bit harder to do. In larger schools you may be seated in an arena or stadium far away from your child and it may require a long telephoto lens just to see them let alone get a shot of them.

Some schools may have an official photographer to take pictures of the grads as they receive their diplomas or just after. It may be easier to get a photo of your graduate from the school than try and get a shot yourself. There may or may not be a fee involved but it’s probably a nominal one and may worth the hassle of trying to get one yourself.

Some schools (usually the smaller ones) allow parents and friends a spot to get photos of the graduates as they leave the stage with their diplomas. Its best to approach that spot just before your child’s turn, perhaps kneel down so that you’re not in the way of others, quickly take your shot and then head back to your seat. Don’t linger too long afterwards because there are family members of the other students wanting to do the same for their children.

Getting a picture before is a good time. You can get a photo of your grad as he or she waits in line. The main problem is that, depending on when you get to the ceremony, you may not have a whole lot of time. Try to factor in some time for photos. Also some students may be nervous and anxious so it might be difficult to get a natural picture of them.

After the ceremony is also a good time to get pictures. You should have plenty of time to shoot and every one is pretty happy so it should relatively easy to get a natural smile out of them. The biggest drawback is that there are a lot of people milling about and its hard to get a shot without someone accidentally photo bombing your shot.

Try to take your grad and family aside to a quite spot to get your photos and be aware of who and what’s in the background before you press the shutter button.

Soon, our children will be off to college, the military or finding jobs and making lives for themselves. Graduations are among the last times that we’ll see them as kids before becoming adults and the one of the last times we’ll be able to photograph them as such.

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April outtakes

“Here cometh April again, and as far as I can see the world hath more fools in it than ever.” –Charles Lamb

My apologies for the tardiness of the last couple of outtake posts. Here are my top 10 previously unposted photos from April.













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Mother Nature Monday #16: Valley oak

1/25/2013: Storm clouds approach an oak tree on Live Oak Road near Lodi.

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Lens culture

Occasionally I’ve been asked: “what’s your favorite lens?” My answer is: “the one I need at the time.” It may sound a bit flippant but I don’t have any single lens that I use over the others. Instead, I’ll use a lens that I need for a particular job.

Each type of lens has its own characteristics and properties. It’s the knowledge on what a lens can do and how to use it.

A wide-angle lens is good for capturing overall scenes such as landscapes or group shots.

Portraits are usually done with a short telephoto lens in the 70mm-100mm range.

When you need to bring in something from a distance, like wildlife or sports, then a longer telephoto lens is what you need.

Perhaps you do a lot of intricate detail work. A macro lens allows you to get very close, within inches, to your subject.

Zoom lenses are a good choice for most people. As their name implies they “zoom” in and out through out a range of focal lengths and are a good value. I used to be a fixed focal length believer but now nearly all the lenses I use are zooms.

Back in the old days when I started, zoom lenses were heavy, expensive, and lacked the sharpness of a fixed lens. Today, zooms are virtually as sharp as any other lens. They are still heavier and costlier but considering that you may only have to buy and carry 1 lens instead of 2 or 3, that point is moot.

Zoom lenses can cause distortions in photos taken with them. Barrel and pincushion distortions are when lines that are parallel in the photo bow out or inwards. The effect is more pronounced at the edges of the photo as well as with the cheaper lenses. However, for some people the distortions may be outweighed by the convenience of not having to constantly change lenses.

A carpenter may have a hammer and a screwdriver at his disposal but he wouldn’t use the hammer to set a screw or the driver to pound in a nail. It’s the same with choosing a lens for your DSLR camera. You should use a lens that fits what you’re shooting.

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Mother Nature Monday #15: King of the butterflies

10/24/2014: A monarch butterfly lands on a flower along the shore of the deep water channel near Louis Park in Stockton.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Hold the phone

A couple of weeks ago I was driving around Stockton when I spotted a gardener pruning roses on the UOP campus, which I thought would make a nice spring weather photo. I got out the car and introduced myself, but when I pulled my camera out of my bag I noticed that it felt a little lighter than usual. I looked at it and saw that I made a rookie mistake: the battery was gone. I realized that I had left it on its charger at home.

What was I to do? I could have gone back to the office to get a spare battery, but the gardener may have been done and gone by the time I made the 20-minute round trip. Then I remembered my back pocket, specifically what was in it: my cellphone. I pulled out my phone and quickly got some shots of the gardener doing his thing.

We’ve already had a Readers Photo Challenge assignment on cellphones but that was way back in December of 2013. My recent experience made me think that we should revisit the challenge.

Many people approach cellphone photos as trivial endeavors. The photos are often taken as throwaway snapshots, but they can just a serious as ones taken with a “big” DLSR camera. You just have to take a little more care in doing so.

Approach cellphone picture taking with thoughtfulness and care. Always get in close to your subject and fill the frame. Take care with finding clean, uncluttered backgrounds.

The phone cameras have essentially wide-angle lenses. Try to include a foreground to help lead the eye into or to frame the composition.

Most cellphone cameras have a zoom function but they involve a digital rather than optical zoom. In other words they digitally zoom into a portion of the frame instead of doing it using a zoom lens. This compromises resolution and sharpness. Try to avoid using it if possible.


While focusing and exposure is normally done automatically with a cellphone camera you can make some adjustments in both. By simply tapping on your phone’s screen where you want to make the adjustments, you can make some minor corrections.

Low light situations aren’t cellphones forté so you might want to invest in a tripod to help hold the camera steady. Fortunately, the phones are lightweight so a small, cheap tripod is all you need.

Many of the challenges have been skewed towards DLSR cameras (its what I use everyday, afterall), but this assignment is a chance for the cellphone photographers to shine.

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “cellphone” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between May 5 and May 19. The can be of any subject but they must taken with a cell/smart phone,

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of phone you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. iPhone6s”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos.

5. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, May 19. The top examples will be published on Thursday, May 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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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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