Learning light

I recently visited my old alma mater Sacramento City Photo department. About a year ago they completed a new facility that’s completely different from what I knew when I took photo classes decades ago.

Instructor Paul Estabrook (who himself is also a graduate of the program) gave me the 5-cent tour. There was a large gallery space and computer lab and nearly half of the new space was dedicated to studio photography with 2 large, well-equipped studios.

If you’re a photo student looking toward a career in the field I suggest taking at least an introductory course in studio lighting, even if you’re not interested in that field.

Learning the theories and practices will help you learn how light works, both in and out of the studio. It will help you recognize good quality light and how to correct problems when they occur.

I recently watched a live-streaming event on Facebook from the Nikon booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in the Las Vegas Convention Center. It featured veteran photographer Joe McNally giving a quick off-camera lighting demonstration. While he’s a lighting master he does the bulk of his work on location, not in a studio. It was amazing to watch the ease at which he breezed through different lighting solutions to overcome the poor lighting in the convention hall.

During his presentation McNally said something interesting. The ultimate goal of photography, whether in the studio or in the field, isn’t about the technique, it’s about communicating what’s important in a photo. Through properly and effectively lighting your subject you can convey that importance to the viewer.

A lot of photographers eschew flash photography and/or studio lights. They make claims that it looks harsh or artificial and that they prefer the natural-looking ambient light, but that’s because they often don’t understand how to use flash properly. If one takes the time to learn the skills it can help to make you a more complete photographer.

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Outtakes: The last from 2017

Due to deadline constraints, both my slideshow of my top 52 photos of last year and my Top 12 list had to be done before the end of the year. I finished them in early December which still left a few weeks left in the year. So here are my top 10 photos from the waning days of the last month of 2017.









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Throwback Thursday: The first MLK Day

(1/20/86) Eight-year-old Dewayne Jackson of Stockton watches a tree-planting ceremony at Emmaunel Baptist Church in Stockton during a ceremony in the memory of slain civil rights leader the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Rock the house

The first Readers Challenge Photo assignment will give you an opportunity to rock the house because the subject is “rocks”.

In the animated TV special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” the characters go trick or treating during Halloween. Each child would excitedly proclaim the kind of candy they got after every stop except for Charlie Brown who would look in his bag and disappointedly say, “I got a rock.”

Now, like Charlie Brown, you may be a little skeptical in the choice of subject but fear not, your photo doesn’t have to be just a boring picture of rocks. With imagination in either a found situation or a created one, and you can come up with an interesting picture.

Rocks are easy to find. From the mountainous boulders of the Sierras to the tiny gravel pebbles under your feet, they’re everywhere. The levees of the nearby Delta are lined with miles and miles of riprap. Many homes and local businesses employ stones as part of their landscaping.

Inanimate objects can be difficult to shoot well. Carefully consider things like lighting and composition. Harsh lighting can bring out the features of a craggy rock to enhance its textures. A smooth, round stone can be best shot in softer light.

Rocks can be a part of a still life, a part of an overall landscape or even a place to pose a person for a portrait. Use a macro lens or closeup filters to shoot the minute details of a rock.

Rocks are often neutral in color which can be played against things such as flowers or a bright colorful background. You can do just the opposite with a colored rock. Set one in a field of grey ones and it will stand out.

You can shoot a found scene such as smooth pebbles on a beach or the jagged rocks of a mountain pass. You can also create your own composition like those rock balancing artists.

Any kind of mineral will do, granite, sandstone, even crystals. You might want to think about alternative meanings of “rock,” too. All are acceptable.

This is an assignment that requires some careful thought for your photo to stand out. With a little imagination being between a rock and a hard place can be a creative a endeavor.


How to Enter:

1. Email your entries to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Rocks” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between January 11 and January 25.

3. Entries are limited to up to 12 photos from each photographer.

4. 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: Pershing Avenue, Stockton. Camera: Canon Rebel T3 w/ 55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos and where they are. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 6, of Stockton sits on rock along the Calaveras River in Stockton).

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

7. The deadline for submission is January 25. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on February 1 at recordnet.com.

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Twelve from 17

In addition of producing a yearend slideshow of my top 52 favorite photos from 2017, I also made a list of my top 12 pictures. Why 12? One for each month of the year but unlike the slideshow, each of the top 12 represents an actual month.


 January 11:

I was driving down La Jolla Drive in Stockton when I turned onto Mission Road. There in the middle of the street sat a Stockton Police Ford Explorer just idling. Peering around the large vehicle I saw street basketball hoop and a pickup game being played. Officer Manuel Ortiz, one of several strategic community officers with the department tasked with outreach within the neighborhoods of Stockton, had seen twin 13-year-old brothers Nickolas and Pete Regohos shooting hoops in front of their home and decided to join in. Ortiz’s partner move the cruiser over to the curb and I was able to get by, but not before I was able to get a shot of their impromptu game.


 February 24:

Every February the Sac-Joaquin Section Boys Masters Wrestling tournament is held at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. Athletes from all over Northern California compete to be the best in their weight classes. Due to the nature of the tourney, its often difficult to get to local competitors in the same bout but I managed to get Edison’s Muhammad Lateef and Manteca’s Tyler Welch in the 152-lb class. The tension in their muscles and faces show the extreme effort and the high level at which the competition is held.


 March 9:

 In a Big 8 baseball game between Delta College and  American River College at Delta’s Ceccetti Field in Stockton, a fly ball was hit in the no-man’s land of short center field. Delta College outfield Braeden Oki rushed forward as infielder Jack Walsh scrambled back in an attempt to save the rapidly falling ball. They both missed the impossible catch but I managed to freeze their supreme effort to save a dying quail.


 April 16:

 The Stockton citywide Easter sunrise service is held annual at the Weber Point event Center in downtown Stockton. As Pastor Christian Simas of Reality Stockton gave the sermon near the end of this year’s event, the morning sun broke through the trees at the eastern edge of the park. The golden sunlight was cast on the inside of the park’s shade structure highlighting the arg cross set up on the stage at the event.


 May 25:

 I was set to go home at the end of the day when a call came over the police scanner about a fire at a business in the 2100 block of east Weber Avenue in Stockton at about 5:15 p.m. Upon arriving on scene I was witness to a conflagration of Biblical proportions. A warehouse and had full of wooden pallets had caught fire was was burning out of control. The scene was chaotic. The blaze threaten not only homes across the street but more than a block away as well. I ran down an alley to get to the other side of the fire with smoke and embers swirling around me. A woman was trying and a police officer was trying to breakdown a wooden gate to get to her pets. In just a few seconds the flames grew too intense and to officer had to pull the panicked woman to safety. I saw the eaves of one house catch fire and told a nearby firefighter. He replied that there were 5 other houses just like that. I was able to get far enough back to get an overall extent of the fire. Flames leapt close to 50 feet in the air and a plume of black smoke was reportedly seen as far away as Lodi. In the end the warehouse and 5 homes were destroyed by the fire.


 June 11:

AgFest was created in 2014 for 4-H and FFA kids to show their livestock after the San Joaquin County Fair took a 2-year hiatus. Even when the fair returned in 2016, AgFest continued as a parallel but separate entity. At this year’s event I photographed 16-year-olds Jo Reich and Jessica Harlan with the Ripon FFA  as they used Reich’s pig “Kalani” as a pillow while resting in the livestock barns at the fairgrounds in Stockton.


 July 22:

 For me the opportunities to for a creative photo while shooting a motorsports event are few far between. Locally races are run on ovals where racers drive counter-clockwise making left turn after left turn. As bad as it sounds, the only thing that breaks up the monotony is the occasional crash. I was in the infield while shooting the Stockton Half-Mile motorcycle races in the late afternoon at the Stockton Dirt Track at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton. The sun was setting as a rider dove deeply into turn 4. Light clouds graced the heavens as the sun created a halo around the rider’s head as he past in front of it and was silhouetted against a still blue sky.


 August 25:

At the start of the school year the University of Pacific holds its Weekend of Welcome for incoming freshmen and transfer students. A series of events are held to help them get to know the school as well as their fellow students. The first of them is a 5-K color run. Students run through scours across the campus in Stockton all the while being showered with colored powder reminiscent of the Indian festival of Holi. I captured upperclassman Anthony Maximov as he nailed new student Cassandra Gaal with a handful of the powder. Welcome to Pacific.


 September 28:

 In this day and age of video games and and cellphone SnapChats its refreshing to see kids enjoying the simple pleasure of life. I photographed 9-year-old Jacob Bonilla, left, sat on a skateboard while holding onto his twin brother Peyton’s hoodie which was tied to his backpack as he pulled his brother along on his scooter down Brookside Road near March Lane in Stockton on their way home after school.


 October 16:

In October I visited the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve near Woodbridge to photograph the birds as the flew in for the evening. When I got there were several people already there with cameras and binoculars. I went over to a knoll under a tree on the west side of the viewing area where about 4 or 5 people with cameras equipped with big lenses were there taking pictures. I took a few shots of the birds wading in a flooded field like the rest of them but I wanted something different so I started to move to the east end of the viewing area where no other photographers were. One of the other photographers quipped: “all done, eh?” I told him that I was just moving to the other side. Once away from the tree which blocked the sky I could see that the sun was setting in the west. I waited as the sun sank lower in the sky and became a glowing orange orb. A pair of sandhills graceful glided past the sun and I knew I got a shot that no one else did that evening.


 November 12: 

Lincoln Center in Stockton kicked off the holiday season with its annual Holiday Open House. Set up in an unused store, decorated Christmas trees led the path to Santa who sat for photos with children and their folks. Nine-year-old Gracie Hernandez’s 11-month-old German shepherd Granger decided to get into the act by trying to jump into Santa’s lap while Gracie sat with him for a photo.


 December 12:

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Show of slides

I’ve produced a yearend online slideshow of my work every year since 2010 and this year is no different. It showcases some of my favorite photos that I’ve shot throughout the year and can be seen recordnet.com, the Record’s YouTube channel and here.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about producing your own slideshow of any kind.

There are a number of different programs you can use to make your show. Adobe Lightroom and Apple’s iPhoto have features that allow you to make a slideshow. Up until recently YouTube had a slideshow creator but it seems to be gone now.

I like to use a program called Soundslides. It’s relatively cheap and easy to use. With it you can easily spread the pictures evenly to length of the music. If there’s any tweaking of the show can be done by manipulating thumbnails of the images on a timeline of the song.

I tend to like to use instrumentals for the music that accompanies the slides. You don’t worry about matching a specific picture with a specific lyric (However, if you have photos with a distinct theme then a song with words may be appropriate). The music should strike a balance. It should create a mood for the photos without distracting from them. It took me about an hour or so listening to different tracks to pick out just the right one.

For my 2011 and 2012 slideshows my friend Sacramento composer and pianist Chris Goslow allowed me to use some of his music. Using a song you hear on the radio or iTunes may be problematic. Unless you have permission you shouldn’t use a song. You may be able to get away with it if your show is posted in obscurity, but if becomes popular or if you’re doing it for some commercial enterprise you could get in trouble. At the very least they can demand that you take it down, at the most you can get sued. There is an alternative, however. There are royalty-free music sites that will let you use music for free. I got the music for this year’s show from YouTube’s Creator studio which has a large list of free music to choose from.

Another consideration for music is time. The optimal length for a slideshow is somewhere between 3 and 4 minutes. While there are exceptions, any shorter and the images will be on screen for a short time. Too much longer and no one will want to sit through it no matter how good the images are. If you have a lot of images you might want to consider breaking them up into 2 or 3 different shows.

Editing a slideshow is very important. Every year I chose 52 of my favorite photos of the year. Why that number? There are 52 weeks of the year, though due to vacations and such I don’t work all 52. I know it’s an arbitrary limit but then again so would any other number. It helps me to edit down to the very best photos. It allows each image to stay on screen for a good 3 to 4 seconds. I set aside my favorite photos as the year progresses so that It makes it easier to edit by the year’s end. This year that total came to more than 1,000 images. From that, I thinned down the herd to about 180. Then it took a series of increasingly painful edits to get to 52. It was a process that took about 3 days.

You don’t just want to pick the best photos but you should also arrange them so that they flow together well. In this year’s show, as in the past, I’ve grouped similar photos together – sports, animals, weather, etc. It starts out with a title slide and a drum intro. When the music starts the photos start with images of musicians. Those end with a woman playing the accordion with her pet chihuahua sitting atop of her instrument. The show then transitions to pictures of animals.

Speaking of transitions, I like a simple fade from one photo to another. To me fancy fade effects that swirl, crosshatch or explode the images can be too distracting. Simpler is better.

With slideshows, no matter what the subject, if you want your photos to shine, then simplicity is the key.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Reaching for the stars

Readers looked to the heavens to find inspiration for the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment: The Sky.

Some of them used the sky as the primary subject for their photos like the main ingredient in a soup while others used it a background like the broth for that soup, adding an overall flavor to their pictures.

Twenty- three readers sent int 118 photos. Here are some of the top picks that aimed high and hit their mark.


While on a trip to Idaho Falls, Idaho to visit relatives for Thanksgiving, Janet Baniewich of Stockton used a an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph a field of wild grasses. A low angle makes the tall grass reach upward to the heavens and creates a decorative veil for the dramatics clouds filling the sky.


How to shoot the sky without actually shooting the sky? Rick Wilmot of Lodi solved this problem in an elegant way. Instead of pointing his camera upward, he aimed it down. On a partly cloudy day at Lodi Lake Wilmot used his Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera to capture the picturesque clouds reflected in the still waters of the lake with a little out-of-the-box thinking.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada ventured out to the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve near Woodbridge. With her Nikon D3200 DSLR camera she captured a flock of Sandhills flying into the reserve at the end of the day. They are silhouetted against the lavender of the last remnants of a waning sunset.


Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photographed a cow on a hillside in Jackson. The bovine’s bold silhouette and wild brush stands out against the bright orange of the sunset sky.


Steven Rapaport of Stockton photographed the serenity of the sunset as a boat slowly cruised into the Village West Marina in Stockton. The low sun turns the sky and clouds a rich golden color while making a small starburst near the rear of the boat.


My wife and I used to make fun of her late mother’s vacation photos. She would take pictures out the car windows at various scenes as my late father-in-law would drive on their trips. Inadvertently, she would get the car’s side mirror in her shots. Lillian McDonell of Stockton intentionally used her car’s mirror as a compositional element. Using an Apple iPhone 6 to photograph the cloudy sky reflected in her car mirror along I-5 near Roseville.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera to photograph a garden sign his his yard. The sign, which says “love” is silhouetted against the sunrise. Tule fog hangs low on the horizon while light clouds and blue skies soar above.


Madeline Kummerle of Stockton used a Samsung Galaxy Core to photograph a hillside covered in pampas grass in Aptos, California. Bright blue skies and light clouds rise above The tall grass in the shadows of the foreground provide a nice frame for the scene.


Cyndi Moran of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR to photograph the sun as it lights up the wispy morning clouds and sky through the trees at Buckley Cove in Stockton.


Thomas Keeling of Stockton wrung the last bits of color from a sunset photograph the sunset over White Slough in Stockton. He used a Samsung SM-G890A smartphone as the clouds start to turn to grey with just a tinge of orange after the full sunset and before the blue hour of dusk.


All of the entries can be seen in an online photo gallery at recordnet.com. This is the last challenge assignment for the year. Stay tuned for the next one in January.

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November outtakes

“November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows…” - Clyde Watson

November 2017 has come and gone and winter is just around the corner. Here are ten of my favorite photos from the month.

















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Candlelight vigil for victims of violence

TOP LEFT: Four-year-old Kassandra Rivera was one of about 200 to 300 people participating in the Victims of Violent Crimes of San Joaquin County Support Group’s 20th annual candlelight vigil held at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. TOP RIGHT: Leticia Galvan hangs an ornament on a wire frame in memory of her son Luis G. Alvarez, Jr., who was shot and killed in Lodi in 2016, during the Victims of Violent Crimes of San Joaquin County Support Group’s annual vigil. MIDDLE: About 200 to 300 people participate in the Victims of Violent Crimes of San Joaquin County Support Group’s 20th annual candlelight vigil held at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. BOTTOM LEFT: People look at a quilt with the names and photos of victims of violence at the Victims of Violent Crimes’ annual candlelight vigil. BOTTOM RIGHT: Beatrice Barajas, center, and her 8-year-old grandson Ignacio Ramirez, right, light their candles from 6-year-old Alexa Monroy’s candle during the Victims of Violent Crimes of San Joaquin County Support Group’s 20th annual candlelight vigil held at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton.

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Team Trouble home opener

The Stockton Team Trouble American Basketball Association franchise held its home opener on Thursday, Dec. 7.

TOP LEFT: Stockton Team Trouble’s Erik King, center, breaks through California Golden Tigers’ Kareem Ramos, left, and Jermaine Worley during an ABA game against the Golden Stage Tigers at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. TOP RIGHT: Stockton Team Trouble’s Marvin Cotton, right, goes to the hoop against the California Golden Tigers’ Andre McPhail II. MIDDLE: Stockton Team Trouble’s Mike Nunnally, center, shoots over California Golden Tigers’ Justin O’Bannon, left, and Corey Douglas during an ABA game against the Golden Stage Tigers at the Stockton Arena. BOTTOM LEFT: Stockton Team Trouble’s Derek Wofford Jr., right, goes to the hoop against the California Golden Tigers’ Frank Scott. BOTTOM RIGHT: Fans watch as the Stockton Team Trouble basketball team takes on the California Golden Tigers at the Stockton Arena. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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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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