Readers Photo Challenge: Open season

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment didn’t have a specific subject but rather it was open to any subject from the previous assignments. In other words readers were encouraged send in their best pictures of whatever they wanted. From sunsets and close-ups to flowers and animals, whatever piqued their interests.

Fourteen readers sent in 126 photos. Here are some of the top picks.


Rick Wilmot of Lodi revisit the night photography assignment when he photographed 2 palm trees lit up by parking lot lights at the Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento. Wilmot has entered the challenge previously and usually uses a Canon 5D Mk III DSLR camera, but for this shot he used a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 smartphone. The trees’ fronds boldly radiate out from their trunks and set against the black night sky almost look like fireworks exploding in the air.


Susan Scott of Stockton was on an Audubon field trip to the nature area at Lodi Lake in Lodi. She used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a deer in the underbrush to revisit the landscape challenge. When Smith first spotted it the surrounding vegetation blocked much of her view, but she remained patient and waited for the deer to slowly move into an opening. I liked how the backlighting gives the photo a soft, quiet feel and the way she used the trees and vegetation to frame the deer.


Carrie Walker did everything right that you need for a great shot for an outdoor portrait. With her Sony Cyber Shot DSC f828 point-and-shoot digital camera, she got in close and filled the frame with her 5-year-old niece Billie Walker as they waited to got to school at her home in Stockton. Carrie Walker made sure there was a simple, clean and distraction-free background. She took advantage of the flattering, warm morning light to illuminate her niece. I like how the girl’s hair partially covers her face in almost a veil-like fashion. It gives the image a feeling of introspection and thoughtfulness that’s rare in pictures of children.


Tom LaBounty of Stockton used a Fujifilm X-Pro2 mirrorless digital camera to redo the indoor light challenge. He photograph Carlos Caro performing with Simon Rowe’s Latin Project at the Take 5 Jazz club at Valley Brew in Stockton. Images of musicians are often best when they capture the emotion and feeling of the music and the people who make it. LaBounty caught Caro as he played the conga drums being swept up by the beauty of the sounds that he was creating.


Sometimes you need a studio full of all kinds of elaborate lighting gear to create a great photo, But Carolyn Silva of Jackson proved that sometimes all you need is a kitchen. Silva bought an arrangement of flowers at the San Andreas Farmers Market. She randomly placed them on her kitchen counter and later during dinner saw the shot. An overhead light shined down on the flowers sitting on the granite countertop. The light falls off quickly yet gracefully leaving the background a deep black, which the flowers’ colors pop out against. The relatively harsh light from above creates a sharp, well-defined shadow on the counter, which adds to the composition. Silva photographed the scene with her Nikon D5000 DSLR camera.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton revisited the reflection assignment with imagination and cleverness. With her Nikon D90 DSLR camera she photographed a selfie of sorts by placing a cracked mirror on the ground and taking a picture of herself from above. There’s sort of a “through the looking glass” vibe to it with the inclusion of her feet on the “real” side of the glass.


As always there will be a gallery of all the photos sent in at A new Readers Photo Challenge assignment posted in two weeks on October 6.

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Mother Nature Monday #24: Bishop Cut sunset

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A bokeh primer

Apple recently released it new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus smartphones. One of the features of the 7 Plus that the company touts is its ability to create bokeh, an effect that was previously only done by digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLR).

The bokeh effect is known by most experienced photographers, but probably not by many of the uninitiated. The term is attributed to Photo Technique magazine editor Mike Johnston back in 1997. back in 1997. It refers to the large out of focus highlights in the background of photos created by a shallow depth of field and is a pleasing effect, especially in portraits. Pronounced bo (as in bows and ribbons) and keh (as in kettle), it comes from the Japanese word boke, meaning blur, haze or fuzziness.

With a DSLR, bokeh highlights are created under certain conditions. It is easier to produce with a telephoto lens. A wide-angle lens has too much inherent depth of field. Simply put: you need to have a shallow depth of field for bokeh to be created and there’s often too much that’s in focus with a wide-angle lens.

Even with a telephoto one has to use wide aperture to create an effective bokeh, this usually means low light situations like night time or indoors photos. Outdoor photos taken under a full sun usually means smaller apertures that are too small to make an effective bokeh.

You also have to have your subject far enough away from the background to throw it out of focus. Too close to the background and everything will be sharp or close to being in focus to create an bokeh.

Lastly, there needs to be a source for the bokeh to begin with. Specular highlights in the background will be thrown out of focus to make those large rounded balloons. Any kind of light in the background will do: streetlights, porch lights, even flashlights. Christmas lights make the perfect background for the bokeh effect.


Apple’s new iPhone 7 Plus takes a different path to create bokeh. It has dual cameras, one with a wide-angle lens (as most smartphone cameras do) and another with a telephoto lens. To say “telephoto” is a bit of a stretch. It’s the equivalent of a 52mm lens on a DSLR camera, a little too short for a proper bokeh. Apple uses what it calls “computational photography” to create its out of focus highlights. The phone creates “layers” of focus and then melds them together to create an artificial bokeh.

No matter how bokeh is created, whether the old school camera/lens combination or new-fangled artificial intelligence way, to me, the effect in of itself alone is not enough to make a good picture. Photos of just bokeh alone can get old very quickly, but when you use it to serve as a colorful backdrop for your main subject, it can spice up your images.

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Outtakes: August in review

August signals the end of summer and with it the advent of football season. Here’s one last look at summer with 10 of my favorite previously unposted pictures from August.



Lincoln’s Justin Watson tries to evade a tackle by Lodi’s Michael Graumann defender during a six-team scrimmage hosted by Lincoln High at Lincoln’s Spanos Stadium in Stockton



Four-year-old Sydney Ramirez of Stockton uses an umbrella to keep herself dry, but not too dry, from the spray of the interactive fountain at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton.



Pall bearers escort the casket of fellow officer Justin Kepler into Bear Creek Community Church in Stockton. Kepler was killed during an off-duty auto accident on Aug. 20 in Escalon.


CHP officer Kyle Kepler speaks at funeral service for his brother Stockton Police officer Justin Kepler at Bear Creek Community Church in Stockton.



Incoming University of the Pacific students Junalynn Caoli, left and Chris Argueta are surprised by a shower of confetti that’s a part of the “Tiger Roar” event as they leave the New Student Convocation at UOP’s Faye Spanos Concert Hall in Stockton. New students are cheered on by upperclassmen from various student organization, fraternities, sororities, sports team and the pep band as the head down the walkway in front of the hall to cap a weekend of welcoming events.


University of the Pacific men’s soccer team members cheer and throw confetti to welcome incoming University of the Pacific students during the “Tiger Roar” event as they leave the New Student Convocation at UOP’s Faye Spanos Concert Hall in Stockton.


University of the Pacific women’s soccer team member Eliza Hard throws confetti onto incoming University of the Pacific students during the “Tiger Roar” event as they leave the New Student Convocation at UOP’s Faye Spanos Concert Hall in Stockton.



Creekside Elementary 5th garders Ahzhanay Bernard, front, and Mina Fehoko’s homemade boat looks like it was going to sink in the 7th annual Stockton Bathtub Race held at the Louis Park boat ramp in Stockton, but the pair managed to finish the race.


Sandy Allen, left, and her niece Christy Richison capsize even before starting in the 7th annual Stockton Bathtub Race held at the Louis Park boat ramp in Stockton


Tim Jackson pilots his tricycle inspired craft to win the adult division of the 7th annual Stockton Bathtub Race held at the Louis Park boat ramp in Stockton.

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Mother Nature Monday #24: Bareback rider

A bird perches on the back of a sheep as it grazes with the rest of its flock in the hazy morning sun in an alfalfa field on Walnut Grove Thornton Road and Staten Island Road in Walnut Grove.

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Random Photo # 67: I went down to the crossroads

Early morning sunlight glints off of the intersection of the CCT and ST&E railroad tracks at the east end of Roosevelt Street in Stockton.

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Mother Nature Monday #23: Fly-in

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Open up

This is the 43rd challenge and we’ve covered many different kinds of photography, so this assignment it will be open to any of the previous 42 assignments. In other words, the choice of subject will be pretty much up to you. The only limitation is the normal 2-week period in which to shoot it.

You can choose from close-ups to action, from night shots to flowers. Just make sure to adhere to solid basic photography principals. Get in as close as you can, watch out for cluttered, distracting backgrounds and look for great light, composition and expression.

If you like nature, you can revisit our very first assignment “flowers” (April 2013). You can also redo the landscape challenge (Feb. 2015) or the cloud assignment (Jan. 2016).

Assignments that involve people tend to not be as well-received as others, but I’m partial to them (special consideration will be given to images involving people). If you like them too you can take another look at the outdoor portrait assignment (May 2013), the smile challenge (June 2014) or the children task (March 2016).

If photographing animals is your thing, then the pet (June 2014) and bird (Feb. 2016) challenges are right up your alley.

As I mentioned earlier, you should look for great light, that usually translates to time of day. The best light tends to be early in the morning or late in the day. You can revisit the sunset/sunrise assignment of the “golden hour” (July 2014) or the pre-dawn or dusk hours of the “blue hour” challenge (Aug 2018). You can even retry your hand at a night shot (March 2014).

This assignment can be shot with a DSLR camera, a point-and-shoot or a smartphone camera. The choice camera, as well as the subject matter, is up to you.

(Here’s a list of all the past assignments: Flowers, outdoor portrait, the county fair, water, indoor available light, close-up, motion, architecture, cellphone photos, still life, silhouettes, night shots, reflections, wildflowers, smiles, pets, golden hour, blue hour, vacation, sports, fall leaves, Christmas lights, open, landscape, color, black & white, ordinary, cityscapes, faces, vacation-2, cars, fill-flash, sunsets, fall leaves-2, clouds, birds, children, spring, cellphone photos-2, hometown, summer, heat)

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between September 1 and September 15.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (e.g.: “John Doe of Stockton. Location: Oak Park, Stockton. Canon Rebel T3 w/ 55-300mm lens”). Also try to mention the challenge assignment that you’re revisiting.

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton cools off in the water at the Oak Park Pool in Stockton).

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, September 15. The top examples will be published on Thursday, September 22 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Random Photo #66: Duck, duck…

7/13/2016: A white duck is reflected as it floats lazily on the still waters of one of the ponds at Victory Park in Stockton.

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Mother Nature Monday #22: Nectar hunt

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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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