Readers Photo Challenge: Face value

“That face, that face, that wonderful face;
It shines, it glows all over the place.” – “That Face” by Alan Bergman and Lew Spence

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “faces.” Our faces are the most recognizable feature that we have. We often talk about it in song and literature. We put on a happy face, get red in the face and can have a long face. Whatever expression our faces wear, it’s something that photographers are drawn to.

For this challenge 8 readers sent in 24 photos. Here are the top examples from the assignment.


Lighting is of utmost importance in a portrait. It can make or break a photo. Nice soft light, either natural or man-made, is usually the choice of most photographers. However, sometimes light from an unexpected source can be just the right thing to spice up a photo.

Rick Wilmot used a Canon EOS 5 D Mk III to photograph his son, Ryan Wilmot, of Waxahachie, TX, lighting a sparkler for his 5-year-old niece, Abby Wilmot, of Woodland (also Rick Wilmot’s granddaughter) during a 4th of July celebration in his backyard in Lodi. The bright burning light made his subjects pop out from the background of the dark night.


Capturing a telling moment can be a daunting goal for many photographers. It’s easy to get caught up in observing the events unfolding in front of them and forget about taking pictures. One has to detach themselves from the moment and be prepared to record it. You have to keep your camera at the ready to use it as soon as you see things happening.

Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton was ready to capture a sweet moment. He used a Canon EOS Rebel T5i DSLR camera to photograph 5-month-old Jax Jerry Khaoone of Stockton who as born with tissue covering part of his airway which the doctors at the Oakland Children’s hospital quickly corrected with surgery. Bazzarre caught a tender moment as Khaoone, held by his aunt Veronica Eang, is greeted by an ICU nurse during a reunion at the hospital.


There is a device called a “softbox” that portrait photographers use in the studio. It fits over a flash unit and, as its name suggests, and transforms the harsh light of the strobe to even soft illumination. Using a Nikon D90 DSLR camera, Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton photographed 2-year-old Theodora Graham and her 4-year-old brother Thomas Graham at the Brookside Country Club in Stockton. She shot during the early evening, hoping to use the warm light of the so-called “golden hour” but clouds obscured the sun. However, the clouds acted like a giant softbox and created naturally soft and even light.


A great facial expression is something that all photographers look for in a portrait. For most people that means a nice, happy smile, but there are other emotions that can make for great pictures.

Janet Baniewich of Stockton photographed 1-year-old Lyell Rehbein of Stockton on his first birthday taken on camping trip at Dinkey Creek in the Sierra National Forest. Young Lyell reacted to his parents sitting the cold water of the creek and Baniewich captured it with her Nikon D3300 DSLR camera.


There is a gallery of all the photos entered in the challenge at Stay tuned for a new assignment next Thursday

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

Random photo #51: Shadows and form

Shadows created by the sun in a cloudless sky capture the form of Australian tennis player Storm Summers as she hits a forehand during her match against USA’s Allie Kiick in the USTA’s Stockton Challenger tennis tournament, a part of the 42-stop Women’s Tennis Pro Circuit Challenger Series, held at the University of the Pacific’s Hal Nelson Tennis Courts in Stockton.

Posted in Enterprise, Random Photo, Sports | Leave a comment

June outtakes: Summertime and the livin’ is easy

“Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” - Al Bernstein

June’s coming signaled summer’s start and with it the season’s unbridled heat. Hear are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from the year’s 6th month.














Posted in Month in review, Outtakes | Leave a comment

A hairy situation

“Give me a head with hair, long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Give me down to there, hair, shoulder length or longer…” – ”Hair” by James Rado and Gerome Ragni

Last week, I covered a press availability event for the 2015 Supra Boats Professional Wakeboard Tour at Mossdale Quarry Lakes in Lathrop. Photographers got take pictures of 5 pro wakeboard riders from the tow boat as they practiced their moves on the lake. It was a pretty easy gig to shoot. I only needed a middle-length telephoto lens (a 70-200mm zoom lens). Focusing was a snap. Each wakeboard rider followed behind the boat by holding a personal tow rope. Naturally, the rope’s length didn’t change so once the focus was dialed in there was no need to change it. It took much less effort and yielded much better results than shooting from the shore.

As I was shooting, I noticed that long hair seemed to be the hairstyle of choice among the wake boarders (the ones on the press shoot were all young men). Almost all of them had shaggy shoulder-length hair. I figured it was the fashion that went along with the surfer-like sport and lifestyle.

At one point, the boat slowed to pick up a rider who pushed a trick a little too far and fell into the water. The boat’s driver turned to the rest of us in the boat and said: “I was wondering why there was a topless girl on the dock but then I realized it was just Daniel.” He was referring to wake boarder Daniel Powers of Orlando, Florida who was on the dock preparing for his turn on the water. From a distance, with his wavy golden tresses and slight frame, the shirtless Powers could have passed for a young woman.

In my head I questioned the practicality of long hair while wakeboarding. Most of the stunts involve a lot of energetic spinning and flipping moves and I thought that lengthy hair that could impair their sight.

Indeed, local rider Josh Twerkler of Discover Bay started his run by tying his long brown hair into a bun. But after only a few passes, the combination of wind, water and g-forces had his long locks whipping through the air like all the rest of the riders.

You’d think a guy named Austin Hair (also from Orlando), the last wakeboard rider of the day, would have the longest, most outrageous hair in a group of long-haired aquatic acrobats, but ironically his hair was the shortest.

Although I wear my hair short now (and have for some many years now), in my youth I used to wear it fairly long. It wasn’t until somewhere around my late 20s to early 30s did I begin to wear it much shorter, a businessman’s cut I’ve heard some hair stylists call it. It’s a generic sort of cut which suits me and what I do well. I often need to be an observer of the events I cover and the more I can blend into the scenery the better I can do my job. Getting in and out as unnoticed as possible is what I strive for.

In competition the wake board riders are judged on their runs and are awarded points. Being seen and noticed are the essential to their jobs. For them it’s not only about being athletic but visually exciting as well and I guess flamboyant hair can be a part of that too.

Posted in Column, Observation, Sports | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Making contact

A “ball on bat” photo is a picture, in baseball or softball, of exact the moment the ball makes contact with the bat (or soon thereafter) and it can be a daunting task for a photographer. The three most important things in shooting such a picture are timing, timing and timing.

There is a popular sports photo adage that goes “it you see it happen in the camera, then you’ve missed it.” It means sports action happens so quickly that if you see it happen through your viewfinder, by the time you press the shutter button the moment will be gone and you’ll have missed the shot. With most action pictures you have to anticipate what’s going to happen and press the button before it comes into view, especially so with ball on bat photos. The difficulty with photographing the batter is that you don’t know when, or even if, he/she will get a hit. They may strike out or be walked having not even taken a swing. I’ve shot a million of photos of players just standing there with the bats on their shoulders.

When I photograph baseball/softball I use both eyes. One eye is looking through the camera while the other, the one closest to the pitcher, is looking at the guy throwing the ball. With that eye I watch the pitcher go through his windup and throw, then I quickly switch to the eye on the batter. For a fraction of a second, the ball is out of sight as I change attention from on eye to the other. Then I anticipate when the ball will arrive over home plate. Now, due to balls out of the strike zone, blazing fast strikes or even hitters just taking the pitch, batters do not swing far more times than they do. After lots of practice one can determine when the batter will swing by changes in his/her stance and the tensing of their muscles. Even when they do swing, the best of them only gets a hit about 1/3rd of the time.

All this takes experience, practice and a lot of luck, and still getting a ball on bat shot is still pretty low. I say it’s around 10%-15% for me, probably a little higher for someone who shoots baseball all the time. As with everything else, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

For all that work you need to get them, ball on bat pictures aren’t my favorite from baseball. I find them rather, well, bland. I’d much prefer to shoot (and see) second base action, a home plate contest between a catcher and base runner or even the pitcher throwing the ball. The first two you get to see players from both sides in action emphasizing the idea of a contest between opponents and the last one you get to see the intensity of the pitcher as he/she throws.

There are a couple problems with ball on bat photos. Unless you’re positioned way out in centerfield with a super long telephoto lens in the 800mm-1000mm range (something that even a very experienced photographer isn’t likely to have), you’re going to have to photograph them from the side. That mean’s you’re probably not going to get the face of the batter. When they swing batters they drop their heads and their faces are often obscured by their helmets. If you’re lucky you might get a glimpse of their chin or nose. I prefer shots of just after they hit the ball. Their heads are usually up and you can see their faces as their eyes track the ball.

Secondly, The photos are just small slices of time. You can’t really tell the results of a ball on bat picture. A base hit can look like a grand slam, which can also look like a foul ball or a pop fly to right field which was easily caught by the outfielder. Video is different. With it you can see the batter hit the ball then the cameras can track it’s path. But with still photos you just can’t tell one from the other.

Having said that, ball on bat photos are still necessary at times. It’s nice to have a shot of someone hitting or a double that drives in the winning run or that grand slam. Just don’t expect for it to look like anything different than any other ball on bat photo.

Posted in Column, Sports | Leave a comment

Advertising 101

Got your advertising space?

Check! It’s a large billboard along the heavily trafficked I-5 near the Mossdale “Y” in Lathrop.

Got you phone number so people know where to call?

Check! “(209) 915-0126,” in very large digits!

Got your name so they know whom to call?

Check! “Call Vince,” also in huge letters.

Got your picture so that they know who you are?

Check! A large-and-in-charge smiling mug.

Got a description of the goods and/or services that you provide so they know why to call you?


Posted in Enterprise, Humor | Leave a comment

Blast from the past: Fire in the sky

“I always have the most fun on the Fourth of July. You don’t have to exchange any gifts. You just go to the beach and watch fireworks. It’s always fun.” – James Lafferty

For the first time since 2008 the city of Stockton will have a fireworks show tonight at the Weber Point Events Center. I remember having to quickly get my shots and then get them back to the office for deadline due to the late hour at when they start. I had to hustle but it all added to the excitement of the event. Here are some of the fireworks photos that I’ve gotten over the years. Happy Independence Day!


Posted in Blast from the past, Night | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Random Photos #51-54: Baby, it’s hot outside


Top:  11-year-old Jesse Young of Lodi cools off by sliding down the water slide at the Anthony N. Gora Aquatic Center in Galt.   Center left: 7-year-old Ella Her-Xiong of Stockton plays in the interactive fountain at the Camanche picnic area at Micke Grove Park in Lodi.    Center right: 3-year-old Ni’imah Girley of Stockton leaps into the waiting arms of her mother Flora Morgan in the pool at Franklin High School in Stockton.   Bottom: 9-year-old Katie Jenkins of Manteca, right, splashes her 7-year-old brother Kyle Jenkins with a bucket of water at the beach area of Lodi Lake in Lodi.

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

Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Face-off

“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.” – St. Jerome

Portraits are all about the face. Looking at faces is the main way that we recognize others. We’ll often remember the face of someone we’ve met long ago even though we may not recall that person’s name. The next Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “faces.”

People and their faces are important in photography. We all want to see photos in print and online of people, whether famous or not, and what they look like. Some cameras even have face recognition software that enables the devices to seek out faces in a scene and focus on them.

Photographing people well is one of the hardest things for most budding photographers to master. Many people are shy and hesitant in approaching people to take their pictures, but part of photography is making a connection with your subject. When that is done the subject can relax and some of their personality can be captured in a picture. Spend time with them, take lots of photos so they can get used to you and the camera.

For most portraits the optimal focal length for a lens is in the 70mm to 135mm range. This tends to yield to most flattering results. Distortion from a wide-angle lens used too closely can give your subject oblong features and make them look comically cartoonish. However, used judiciously, a wide-angle lens can be used effectively to capture a person along with some of their surrounding environment.

It is said the eyes are the windows to the soul and with any portrait the photographer needs to carefully focus on the eyes. It sounds like a simple thing but it’s an important detail that many people miss. Some people prefer their subjects looking directly into the lens, which can help to create a sense of connection. Others have like to have their subjects looking off camera, which can create a feeling of candidness. Either is a valid technique.

A picture of a smiling face is what we think when we think of portraits. But other expressions, sadness, surprise, anger, etc., will work as well and can sometimes be more interesting than a simple smile.

Lighting is of utmost importance in photographing faces. Try to avoid the harsh light of a midday sun. The overhead light will create unflattering shadows and cause people to squint from the brightness. If you’re outdoors try for the open shade of a building or tree. Also the warm tones and low angle of early evening or early morning light can be appealing. If you’re indoors some soft window light is always good for portraits.

You can have your subjects sit for a formal pose, which is perfectly acceptable, or you can give them something to do. Another valid portrait technique is to have them engaged in an activity, which can make for interesting hand gestures and body language.

Lastly, this challenge is for human faces only. No pets or animals please. We’ll save those for another challenge. Your subjects can be young or old, male or female. They can be happy or sad, famous or commonplace. They can be friends, family members or even strangers just as long as you put their best face forward.


Here are the rules:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between July 2 and July 16. They can be of a single person or multiple people but they must include their faces.

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

4. Please identify the person in the photo, (name, age, hometown), their relation to you, where they are and what they are doing (eg: My niece Jane Smith, 10, of Lodi, sits at Victory Park 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, July 16. The top examples will be published on Thursday, July 23 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

Posted in People, Portrait, Readers Photo Challenge | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Random photo #50: Big wheel keep on turning

People wait to ride the ferris wheel at the Johnston Amusements carnival at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton.

Posted in Enterprise, Random Photo | 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