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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Meet Artie D, the…

Also seen in the Stockton Chinese New Years Parade was “Artie D” the mascot for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District. Like so many other business mascots, Artie is portrayed by a person in a plush costume. The thing is, I don’t know what Artie is supposed to be.

Pacific Gas and Electric’s mascot (which was also in the parade), the unimaginatively named Helmet, is a helmet. It’s got big cartoony eyes and sprouts arms and legs, but at least you can tell what it is.

Artie D (a clever play on the district’s name: RTD), is a mystery to me. It’s got a large head/body combo wearing a giant RTD cap and it spouts arms and legs. There’s a large pleasant, if bland, face on the front. It’s all covered in a light grey felt with a couple of black spots on its side. Finally, also in grey felt, there are 2 large circular, uh, things with serrated edges that are hard to describe.

If you think of Artie as a bodiless head, then they’re in a place where the ears would be. If his head and body are somehow combined into 1 entity then, they could be wings. They’re shape also suggest circular saw blades.

There are some mascots that aren’t supposed to be a representation of a real thing, animal or person. The Stockton Ports “Splash” come to mind. But I liked the Ports’ old mascot Casey better because he was a more identifiable thing. Artie is fine and children seem to like him. I would just like to know what he’s supposed to be.

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Luck of the…

It is a Chinese tradition to give out small red envelopes during special events such as a wedding or New Years. They’re supposed to represent good luck and prosperity. The envelopes are red, a color that’s supposed to represent good luck in Chinese culture. They’re usually stuffed money and given as gifts. The sum can be quite high when given to family members or close friends. However, when given out en masse, they normally contain a token amount, anywhere from a penny to a dollar. Sometimes business put coupons in them as well.

At the Chinese New Year’s parade on March 6, in downtown Stockton, Pacific Gas and Electric’s entry in the parade consisted of a cheerful contingent of children all dressed in bright PG&E blue t-shirts. As they marched down the street they handed out the traditional red envelopes to the spectators lining the streets. One kid even gave one to me as the group passed me and then moved on down the street.

I was busy shooting the parade so it took me a few minutes to open it up. When I did I saw that it was empty. I thought that maybe that it was isolated one that accidentally didn’t get its contents.

Jim Tabuchi, executive director of the Sacramento-based Mandarins Drum and Bugle Corps, was accompanying a small contingent of the band marching in the parade. He must have seen me discovering my packet was empty. He came over to me to show me that the one that he got contained only air too. “Does this mean bad luck?” he said.

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Mother Nature Monday # 14: Jimson weed sunset

11/12/2014: The blossom on a jimson weed plant blooms on the banks of the Calaveras River between Pacific and Persing avenues during sunset in Stockton

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The University of the Pacific’s 2014-2015 Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet has been named the best undergraduate college small jazz combos in DownBeat magazine’s 39th annual Student Music Awards. In addition, the group’s vibraphonist Joel Ross was named best Soloist in Undergraduate College Outstanding Performances and drummer Jalon Archie was named best Jazz Soloist, Undergraduate College Winner. Congratulations to UOP, the Brubeck institute and the young talented musicians.

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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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