Random photo #45: High pressure clouds

Against a backdrop of cloudy morning skies Antonio Contreras with the Stockton-based Odyssey Landscape uses a high pressure water sprayer to clean the brick beneath the shade structure at the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton.

Posted in Enterprise, Feature, Weather | Leave a comment

Practice, practice, practice

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I often hear people say: “I take terrible pictures.” When they say that an old joke comes to mind. A tourist happens upon famed violinist Jascha Heifetz on the streets of New York City. The tourist asks him how to get to Carnegie Hall to which Heifetz says to the tourist: “Practice, practice, practice.”

Perhaps it’s the age of instant gratification but some people see that if they can’t do something well right away then they often just give up trying. But doing anything with proficiency takes time and practice. Oh, sure some people may have a particular talent for a skill but it still takes a lot of work to do it well.

We all lead busy lives and I know it’s hard to find the time, but the best way to improve your photography is to get out there and shoot. You can learn about certain techniques and theories by reading books, online articles, taking a class or just asking a more experienced photographer on how to do a specific task, but to really learn how to do something there’s nothing like getting out there in the field and actually doing it.

Don’t worry about making mistakes because you’re going to make a lot, some of the same ones more than once. I know I have. The trick is learning from them. There will sometimes were the your progress seems slow. Don’t get discouraged. Try your best to keep plugging away, for the more you shoot, the better you’ll get. If you do come away with pictures that you like, try to remember what you did right. If not, then you have to ask yourself: “what did I do wrong?” and “what can I do to make the picture better?”

When I was a beginning photo student at Sacramento City College there would be some classroom instruction then I’d go out and shoot an assignment a week for the class. When I moved up to an intermediate level the next year I also joined the staff of the college’s newspaper. That roughly doubled the number of assignments I was shooting and my skills grew even more. In a couple years I got a job as a part-time photographer at a weekly paper in Sacramento. The number and variety of assignments grew even more and my photo skills improved commensurately. In the mid-1980s I landed the job at the Record. I started shooting several assignments each day and my abilities increased exponentially from my previous experiences.

Looking back at beginning of my photography education, my skills were at best amateurish. But through practice and patience I steadily built a fairly successful career in photography. Not everyone wants to become a professional photographer or even an advanced amateur, but even for a casual picture taker the best way to improve your photographic skills is to practice, practice, practice.

Posted in Column, Tips | Tagged | Leave a comment

Seeing in black and white

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment issued last week is black and white. Many of today’s digital cameras have a setting to make them shoot in a colorless mode, German camera manufacturer even has a digital model that shoots black and white exclusively. There are free apps that you can get for your cellphone for black and white photography. But to get a good black and white photo it takes more than buying a certain kind of camera or flicking a switch. You have to learn to “see” in black and white.

We all see in color but there isn’t button to press to make our eyes see colorlessly or special glasses to covert the scene in to black and white (although it would be helpful if there were). One has to learn to see in tones and shades rather than in color. For instance, red and green are two distinct and opposite colors. In color, a red rose will visually pop out against a field of green leaves. But in black and white, those two colors are the same shade of grey. The rose will dully blend in almost indistinguishably with the surrounding leaves. A bright blue sky in color can turn to a slate grey or even a night-like black in black and white depending on the lighting.

A black and white photo should have clean whites and deep inky blacks but also gradations of grey in between. You need to work on trying to ignore color and concentrate on composition, shape, tone and light, especially light. Flat light certainly uninteresting in a color photograph but in black and white picture it can be the kiss of death. Consider sidelight or even back light to make the scene more visually interesting.

You can set out to look for black and white photos when your out shooting or look through color pictures that you’ve already shot and convert them but either way, if you learn to see in black and white, you’ll get the best out of your colorless images.

___________________________________________________

There is one week left until the challenge deadline. Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “BW” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between April 2 and April 23. The can be of any subject but they must be in black and white.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

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, April 23. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 30 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

Posted in Column, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment

Outtakes: March madness

March marked the end of the prep basketball season with the playoffs. Many teams suffered the March sadness of defeat while a select few enjoyed the March gladness of victory. Here are 10 of my favorite unposted photos from 2015’s 3rd month.

______________________________________________
3/1/15:

______________________________________________
3/2/15:

______________________________________________
3/4/15:

______________________________________________
3/10/15:

______________________________________________
3/11/15:

______________________________________________
3/17/15:

______________________________________________
3/18/15:

______________________________________________
3/19/15:

Posted in Month in review, Outtakes | Leave a comment

As clear as black and white

 

While the previous Readers Photo Challenge was all about color, the new assignment is about the lack of it.

In the beginning of photography technology limited things to one choice: black and white. Great art was born out of this single choice. Photographic legends such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Henri Cartier Bresson took the medium to great heights even as their careers overlapped into the color era.

It may sound odd but color can be a distraction in a photo. It can draw the viewer’s attention away from the picture’s main focus. Slight imperfections such as misplaced or unavoidable foreground/background objects tend to have less importance in the frame when in black and white.

Working in black and white, one needs to concentrate more on composition, lighting and expression. Light and shadow can also add mood, feeling and drama to your colorless photo.

When I started at the Record in the mid-1980s we shot exclusively with black and white film. About a decade later we were shooting almost entirely with color film (in 2001 we switched completely to digital). During the transition we had to decide what kind of film we needed for each assignment.

Today, with digital cameras, it’s easier. Everything we shoot is in color then converted to black and white if needed. Even the simplest (re: cheap) photo editing programs have some sort of “convert to black and white” or “remove color” function. You may have to add some contrast to make up for the lack of color.

Black and white photography can cross nearly all genres. It can work well with any subject from landscapes to portraits to sports. So the choice of subject is up to you but your photos should be as clear as black and white.

________________________________________________

Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “BW” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between April 2 and April 23. The can be of any subject but they must be in black and white.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

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, April 23. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 30 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

Posted in Column, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment

Coming through with flying colors

Color is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment but not just your garden-variety everyday color. Readers were tasked to use color as a part of the composition or as the main subject of the photographs entered. From bright color comprising most of the photo to just accents, color is an essential part of each of their pictures.

Eighteen readers sent in a total of 56 pictures. Here are some of the best examples.

_____________________________________________

Sometimes inspiration can pop up in the most unlikely places. Nancy Buckenham of Stockton was washing dishes in her kitchen sink when saw something worth taking a picture of. In the sink was a large pot and some silverware that was about the same tone and color as the metal sink, as were the soap bubbles in the pot. But also in the sink was a bright red frying pan, which stood out against the near monotone of its surroundings. Buckenham grabbed her iPad to photograph the bold color of the pan against the silver/grey of the rest of the sink.

__________________________________________

There are times when just a little bit of color can add the right accent to complete the composition of a photo. Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a red winged blackbird perched on a cattail at Buckley Cove in Stockton. She has the bird framed nicely by a curled tule reed in the foreground. Most of the photos is in either neutral or beige earth tones. The splash of red on the bird’s shoulder adds a little extra charm to an already strong composition.

______________________________________________

A trip to Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington netted Janet Baniewich of Stockton an image of bright color. She used a Nikon D3300 to photograph a fish monger’s fresh catch. The bright orange fish stands out among the other duller flounders.

_____________________________________________

Some photos are all about vibrant eye-catching color but that doesn’t mean images with subtle color don’t have a place. Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera equipped with a 60mm macro lens to photograph an African daisy at the demonstration garden at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. He captured its delicate white petals with its purple tinged center and tips.

_____________________________________________

Pre-visualizing what you want in a photo can be helpful but it can be also beneficial to keep an open mind. Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton took her Nikon D90 DSLR camera to Daffodil Hill in the Mother Lode town of Volcano to photograph the bright yellow flowers. But Spurgeon saw a peacock roaming the grounds and was flexible enough to switch gears and capture the color of the elegant bird.

_____________________________________________

In photography there’s the concept of complimentary colors, which are colors that are the opposite of each other. Yellow is the opposite of blue, cyan is the flipside of red. Darrin Denison of Stockton used an iPhone to photograph a flower in some landscaping in a parking lot in Concord. The bright magenta flower contrasted with the complimentary green of the surrounding grasses.

_____________________________________________

All of the entries can be seen in photo gallery at Recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued next Thursday.

Posted in Color, Column, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment

Random photo #44: Green gathering

Under cloudy skies Deborah Brock of Stockton collects greens from some wild mustard growing near Buckley Cove at the west end of March Lane in Stockton

Posted in Enterprise, Feature, Random Photo | Tagged | Leave a comment

Memories saved

On Feb. 19, 1986, a levee in the Delta broke letting the waters of the Mokelumne River inundate Tyler Island. The tiny town of Walnut Grove where my parents lived was threatened as the flood waters crept up from the southern portion of the island to the more populated north. The residents were ordered to evacuate and I remember helping my parents pack up their belongings to move to higher ground. One of the things that my mom and dad nearly forgot was to take the family’s photos. Pictures of my dad with his Army buddies in basic training, my mom in bobby sox, their wedding album and more were nearly left behind. I threw the photos and negatives into a suitcase so that my parents could take them along with the rest of their things.

Fortunately, the evacuation only lasted about a day or so. Truckloads upon truckloads of dirt were brought in to build a hastily erected levee at the southern edge of the town which stemmed the tide of the flood. Only a few businesses and farmhouses outside of the temporary dike were lost.

We all consider photographs and the memories that they represent irreplaceable. When a natural disaster strikes they are often among the first things that we should decide to pack up to take with us. But sometimes events occur so rapidly and so unpredictably that there’s no time to take anything.

On March 11, 2011 a powerful 9.0 earthquake hit northern Japan. More devastating than the temblor was the resulting tsunami that reached heights of up to 129 feet and traveled inland up to 6 miles in some areas. Many residents had barely enough time to get out with their lives let alone with any belongings.

More than 15,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. Raging waters wiped away their homes and belongings. Soon after the disaster, first responders (police, firefighters, self defense forces) participating in the rubble cleanup were ordered to save any photos that they found in the debris. Then the Japanese electronics company Ricoh almost immediately after the quake implemented its “Save the Memory” project. They set out to collect, clean, catalog and return as many of the found pictures that they could. It may seem a bit odd that a company that, in this country at least, is mostly known for its line of office copiers, but Ricoh also owns the camera company Pentax.

It was a monumental task to reunite hundreds of thousands of cherished memories with their owners. Ricoh set aside portions of several factories for the cleaning of the photographs. The pictures were first organized by where they were found. Ones that were found in albums were kept together as group. Volunteers then gently brushed any dirt on the pictures then washed them with water one at a time and hung them to air dry. The cleaned photos were individually scanned and digitized and given a reference number. They were then saved onto computers into categories such as “weddings,” “children,” etc. The prints were then sent back to the areas from which they were originally found.

Ricoh then set up “photo centers” in the various townships where people could browse computers containing a database of the pictures to search for pictures they had lost. Once found, the photos were retrieved using the previously assigned number. The company continued this for four years finally concluding the program this month.

In the end 418,721 photos were saved with 90,128 of them finding their way back to their owners. Although Ricoh spearheaded the efforts they worked in conjunction with several other companies, and local governments and countless volunteers. Together they found, cleaned and returned the missing photos and indeed “saved the memories” of the victims that might have otherwise been lost forever.

Posted in Column, Photographs | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Outtakes: February faves

“The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.” – William C. Bryant

From superheroes to super sports to super skies February shared a lot of photographic love. Here are 10 favorite previously unposted photos from the month.

____________________________________________________________

2/6/2015:

____________________________________________________________

2/8/2015:

____________________________________________________________

2/11/2015:

____________________________________________________________

2/15/2015:

____________________________________________________________

2/21/2015:

____________________________________________________________

2/25/2015:

____________________________________________________________

2/28/2015:

Posted in Month in review, Outtakes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Readers Photo Challenge: True colors

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “color.”

We all see in color so taking pictures in color would seem no big deal. But we’re not talking about your garden variety color image. There are times when it doesn’t matter whether a photo is in black or white or in color but sometimes a picture is all about color.

You can use color as a compositional element in a few ways. Introducing a spot of color into a neutral scene of grey, black or white, can help to draw attention to your subject. The color will pop out against a drab background. A few weeks ago on a grey and overcast day I photographed a tree trimmer as he pruned a sycamore while hanging from the tree itself. He wore a bright red jacket which stood out against the slate colored sky and helped to bring the viewer’s eye to him.

Conversely, you can have a subject of a neutral or even contrasting hue against a field of bright color to help make it the main focal point of a photo. An example could be something I’ve shot many times: a bird set in a field of yellow wild mustard. In the sea of color the bird instantly becomes the point of focus of the image.

Color can also be used as a unifying theme of an image. There can be several instances of the same color within a photo that ties in the composition together. Think of the family that are dressed in the same hues in a group photo or sports fans wearing their team’s colors. Or you can have differing shades the same color. I recently shot a wall of the La Nueva Popular furniture store on Weber Avenue and Airport Way in Stockton. Overall the building was a mild beige with portions of a brighter orange-yellow that was all complimented the pale yellow of a nearby fire hydrant.

The subject is up to you. It can be a found situation or a created scene but color, preferably vibrant color, has to be a significant part of your photo. It can’t be just some incidental splash of red, blue or whatever but rather something that enhances the composition and or content of the picture. Sorry, but selective color, where a photo is in black and white except for selected portions of color, is not allowed. The ideas is to either see or conceive of a photo as a color image from the start.

_____________________________________________________

Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Color” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between March 5 and March 19.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton, Weber Avenue and Sutter Street, downtown Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown).

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

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

Posted in Column, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged | Leave a comment
  • Blog Authors

    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
  • Categories

  • Archives