Random photo #28: This little light of mine.

A light shines in the livestock barn at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton.

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Readers Photo Challenge results: Pets

Pets can be our friends, companions, confidants or even family members. And as such we often take pictures of them as we would any friend or relative. The trick is to get a great photo of them rather than just a quick snapshot. That was the challenge of the pet assignment. 64 photos were sent in by 20 people. There were many great photos and it was difficult to chose the top ones. Here’s some of the best examples.

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There’s a phrase that goes “it’s a dog’s life.” According to the Web site World Wide Words, it once meant that life is hard and unpleasant because in the 16th century when the idiom was first recorded, dogs were often working dogs kept as hunting dogs or watchdogs. They lived hard lives and died young. Today, most are kept as pets and have pretty easy lives. The meaning now is just the opposite than that of a few hundred years ago.

Laura Johnson of Valley Springs used her Canon EOS Rebei T2i DSLR to photograph her 13-year-old yellow Labrador Ione and captured her dog enjoying the latter meaning of the phrase “it’s a dog’s life.”

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Darrin Denison of Stockton photographed his 1-year-old Egyptian Mau cat Daphne with his iPhone 4. He used some nice soft window light to illuminate his pet which brought out exquisite texture in her fur.

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Richard Scott Thomas of Stockton combined the pet assignment with the reflections challenge of a few months ago for his picture of his pet SnowKitty. Using a Pentax K7 DSLR to photograph his 16-year-old cat with its image caught in the still water of a birdbath at his home in a moment of “reflection.”

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Pets are a lot like children. Like little kids, don’t know that they’re cute, they just are. They don’t know that they’re doing cute things in cute places, they just do them.

Natalie Holcomb of Stockton used her iPhone4 to photographer her 8-year-old miniature poodle Sadie sticking her nose through a gape in the slats of a fence at Holcomb’s home. It doesn’t get much cuter than that.

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Our pets can be active and lively animals especially dogs. Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton captured her 5-year-old vizsla Miley in a playful romp. Normally I’m not a big fan of crooked horizon lines particularly ones done in the extreme, but the considerable tilt in Spurgeon’s photo helps to accentuate her pet’s playful antics.

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One reason that we like to take pictures of our pets is that they can be cute or funny. Teresa Mahnken Morada used a Nikon D3200 DSLR camera with a 18-55mm lens to photograph her 6-year-old yellow lab Sammy. Sammy’s pose on his back with kind of a goofy grin on his face makes this photo both cute and funny.

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If your pet is camera shy one way to approach them for a picture is when they are sleeping. Margaret Long used a Samsung Galaxy 4 smartphone to photograph her cats Mickey and Minnie for a cute picture as the slept together at her home in Stockton.

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There is a photo gallery of all the entries at Recordnet.com. Stay tuned for a new challenge assignment next week.

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Random photo #27: Always remember to floss

5-year-old Ayden Louie of Manteca poses for a picture by his mom Ashley Louie inside of the mouth of a giant tyrannosaurus rex’s head at the Discover the Dinosaurs exhibit at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton.

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Natural studio

Sometimes we’re called to shoot just a head and shoulders portrait of a person (often referred to as a mugshot). In a studio a photographer can control the light, but out in the field the lighting conditions usually aren’t ideal. You can often ameliorate bad light by using a fill-flash technique or simply moving your subject into the shade.

I had an assignment to get a mug of Tokay High baseball pitcher Alex Dentoni during a game at Stagg High School in Stockton. It was about 7 p.m. or so, and the game had just started. I went into the Tokay dugout to shoot the game as well as get the mug of Dentoni. He wasn’t playing that night, and between innings I asked for Dentoni to shoot his picture.

The sun was very low in the sky, just above some trees and buildings to the west. The light was beautifully warm and came in at a nice low angle. Some of it bounced around the narrow dugout and gently filled in the shadows on Dentoni’s face. The roof of the dugout created a nicely angled soft shadow on the bright yellow background of one of the walls. The sun created some nice sparkling catch lights in his eyes.

In the studio it would have taken me at least several minutes to set up the strobe lights to create such light, but in the field it was already there for the taking, courtesy of Mother Nature herself.

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Random photo #26: Captian Hook’s hook

A play of late afternoon light reveals Captain Hook’s hook in a shadow of a door handle on an equipment building at Delta College’s DiRicco Field in Stockton.

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Cheers

The sports of baseball and softball share many similarities. They both involve someone throwing a ball while an opponent tries to hit said ball with a bat. They’re both played on a diamond-shaped infield surrounded by a large outfield. There are 3 bases and 1 home plate, which the players run around counterclock-wise. If you described both games to a foreigner who had never seen either before, they might think the games were one in the same. But there are some important differences.

While the fields are similar in shape, the ones used in softball are much smaller. The balls in softball are much larger than their baseball equivalents. The pitchers in baseball throw overhand from a mound while softball pitchers throw underhand from flat ground. But the biggest difference is that baseball is played by boys/men while softball is played by girls/women (I know there are recreational softball leagues that are co-ed but I’m referring to high school/college organized games).

There is one more important difference between the two: cheering. Softball players engage in what can be called “cheerleading.” They chant and cheer for their respective batters or pitchers in ways that would be the envy of any cheerleading squad. Baseball players may give an occasional “hey batter, batter” or “hum baby” and can raise quite a ruckus when a lot of them do it at the same time, but their cheers lack the organizational power and unity of the chants of softball players.

Boys/mens basketball and football have traditionally had cheerleaders, but baseball never has. I would think they’d be welcome through those long, slow innings of nothing going on. Softball, on the other hand, never needed any because the players are their own cheerleaders.

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Take me out to the ballpark

I know a lot of people love baseball, but I’m not a big fan of the game. It may sound funny coming from someone who’s photographed hundreds of games over the course of a 30-year career, but I don’t.

Years ago I photographed a cropduster pilot who once described his job as “hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror.” That’s kind of how I feel about the game of baseball. There can be inning upon inning without any action. It’s then, as my mind wanders from the sheer boredom, that a flurry of activity suddenly happens. If I’m lucky I’ll be quick on the draw and manage to get the shot, but almost as often as not, I’ll miss the opportunity.

Former Seattle Times photographer and sports shooter extraordinaire Rod Mar once wrote about baseball in his blog The Best Seat In The House: “Sometimes there are innings — whole game — entire homestands where nothing happens.” After all the so-called “perfect game” in baseball is one where a pitcher doesn’t allow any hits at all.

But there’s more to baseball than just the game. To borrow a new age term, it’s more of a “holistic” sport. Sitting in the stands with the sun in your face and a cool breeze wafting across your brow; having a brew and a ‘dog while “take me out to the ballgame” is played during the seventh inning stretch, is all a part of a complete experience of going to the ballpark. It’s more than just the sum of watching a bunch of guys throw, hit and catch a small white leather-covered ball.

As a sport, football is more intense. Basketball is faster paced. Even soccer has more constant action. But baseball isn’t called America’s game, it’s called America’s “pastime.” Over the years it has woven its way into the fabric of history and culture of the country. It’s something that’s best expressed by James Earl Jones’ soliloquy in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”

“Ray. People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around”, you’ll say, “It’s only $20 per person”. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack…“

These days in Major League Baseball ballparks much of that feeling is lost. The stadiums are huge. Sure you can pay extra for closer seats but up in the nosebleed stands the players look like tiny ants. Fans are much more removed from the whole experience. It’s much more difficult to make a connection to the players than in the old days. And the cost of tickets and food can be a big stretch for the average person.

But at the minor league level, like the Stockton Ports, that feeling of being connected of the culture and history of baseball is still alive. You can easily hear the crack of the ball against the bat and see the intensity of a pitcher’s eyes as he sizes up a batter. At the Stockton Ballpark nearly everyone has a great view of the game. Fans are close enough to the field to hear the players talk.

“…And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray…”


Although Stockton’s population is more than 300,000, in many ways it still has a small town feel. And to me the experience of baseball works best as a small town event. Things that might seem hokey at a MLB ballpark can be endearing at the minor league one. From a local children’s choir singing the Star Spangled Banner to fireworks that are just a step above simple bottle rockets can be adorably charming. It’s the kind of small town Americana that binds us all together and harkens us back to a simpler time.

“…The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

On April 10, I covered the Stockton Ports’ opening day game against the Visalia Rawhide. I photographed T.C. Wingrove getting autographs from the players before the game. When I asked Wingrove where he was from he said: “Plymouth, Michigan.” I assumed he was in town visiting relatives but I was wrong. He said that was on a business trip to San Francisco and took in the Ports game during some off time. Wingrove said that he loves the game so much that he plans his work trips around the game of baseball wherever he goes and finds a local game that he can watch. “People will come” indeed.

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Artichokes

I don’t particularly care for artichokes, but I know that many people do. They’ll steam the artichoke, perhaps add a little melted butter and scrape off the fleshy insides of the leaves with their teeth (my mom liked them with mayonnaise). To me they’re too much work for too little reward. Because I don’t like the veggie, my interest never went any further than passing them up in the produce aisle at the supermarket.

What I didn’t know until recently is that the part of the plant that we see in the grocery stores, the part that is cooked and eaten, isn’t the end result of it’s mature growth. According to the vegetablegardener.com, the artichoke, a part of the thistle family, is actually the closed bud of an undeveloped flower.

I recently was at the Boggs tract Community Garden where a plot of artichokes was growing. There were a few closed buds but most had grown past that point. A few were fully opened with a spiky lavender bloom bursting forth similar to that of a milk or bull thistle. Even those blossoms that weren’t fully opened were attractive too. The previously green outsides leaves were in different stages of turning to a purple/red color on the outside. On the inner leaves the changing colors varied from a white to a light gold.

Visually, artichoke buds were always a bit on he ugly side to me. They always reminded me of the hand grenades that soldiers used to throw in those old WWII movies. But now having seen how they grow, I have a greater appreciation of their life cycle and their potential beauty from a photographic standpoint.

As a vegetable and a food I’m still not a fan of artichokes, but as a flower, I’m now a believer.

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Random photo #25: Woman on a ledge.

A woman stands on the third floor balcony of the Franco Building on Washington and Hunter Streets during the “Blue hour” in downtown Stockton.

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A tip on tips

I once heard a feature story on the radio about holiday cooking traditions. A woman said that she cut the end off of a roast before cooking it because that’s the way her mother did. Her mother said she did it that way because that’s how her mother did it. Finally she asked her grandmother why she cut the end off of the roast. The grandmother replied that she did just to make it fit in her pan. Often we do things because it’s the way we see them done or we are told that’s the way to do it without knowing the reasons why.

A few years ago while my family and I were on vacation/kid’s soccer tournament in the Sonoma area we stopped for lunch at the roadside cafe called the Fremont Diner. It looked like a dive, not much more a shack really. There was even a rusting pickup truck out front that looked like it hadn’t moved in years but the place was packed. The small dining room was full and it was hard to find a spot at one of the 10 or so outside picnic tables that the restaurant had set up.

While we ate out meal at one of the outside tables I noticed a woman with a DSLR camera taking a photo of her child. It was in the middle of the day in open sunshine and she had a flash attached to the top of the camera. The flash, which swiveled and tilted as many do, was pointed straight up.

Now to me this was someone who got some tips from perhaps a friend who had a little more photographic knowledge than she did or maybe she got it from reading an article in print or online. But it also seemed like a case of only getting and using a limited amount of information.

Using a flash in the middle of the day, a technique called fill-flash, is a sound photographic practice. It helps to fill in the hard shadows beneath the eyes and nose created by the harsh noonday sun for a more pleasing portrait.

Pointing the flash upward is also a method know to many advanced amateur and professional photographers. It’s called bounce flash and it’s used indoors to bounce the light from the flash off a relatively low ceiling and around the room to create a softer light and more pleasing shadows.

Somehow this woman must have got into her head that she should always use her flash and she should always bounce it, but because she was outdoors the flash had nothing to bounce off of. Its light went straight up and into the ether rendering it ineffective. All she was doing was running down the flash’s batteries.

Now there are ways to use a bounce flash outdoors. One can bounce the light off of a nearby wall or a reflector but perhaps she hadn’t read that far or had been told that technique yet.

I considered telling her what was happening and how to correct things but I didn’t want to embarrass her. After all I was just some stranger off the street to her.

There are many ways to learn about photography these days, from books to online courses to the camera gearhead next door. People like to have hard and fast rules, especially if they’re novices and are just learning them. But in photography most “rules” are more like guidelines and aren’t set in stone.

I guess the moral of the story here is that when you try out new tips and techniques, try to learn not just the “how” of what you want to do but why you’re doing it as well.

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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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