Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Spring fever

The next Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be a little different than most of the previous assignments which have been about specific things or techniques. This assignment is more of a theme. And that theme is “spring.”

Just because there isn’t a specific subject it doesn’t mean that there won’t be plenty to shoot. Many of the subjects from past challenges and the techniques you’ve learned from them can work for this assignment as well.

Spring is the time of rebirth and renewal, which is perfect for a revisiting of the flower/wildflower challenges from the past There are plenty of places from the mountains and foothills to the Delta to you own backyard, flowers can be plentiful and easy to find this time of year.

It’s also the time for wildlife, especially newborn animals, so lessons learned from the pet or recent bird challenges will come in handy. Insects can also make for good subjects. Bees, butterflies and ladybugs are plentiful during the spring.

With springtime comes a nicer climate and people spend more time outdoors, released from being cooped up inside from winter’s cold wet, weather. For this you can revisit the past assignments of motion and sports. There are several spring sports that you can photograph including baseball, softball and track and field. In addition any outside activity will do, cycling, picnicking, gardening, etc.

These subjects as well as any other that you can think of that represents spring will be acceptable.

Since we’re in the middle of spring, the time period for the challenge is extended retroactively to the first day of the season (March 20) as well as forward the normal 2 weeks.


How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between March 20 and April 21.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe of Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 55-300mm lens. The photo was taken at Oak Park in Stockton.”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown), what they are doing in the photos and their relationship to you.

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 21. The top examples will be published on Thursday, April 28 with an online gallery at of all the photos on the same day.

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Mother Nature Monday#10: Dandelion drops

4/10/2012: Rain drops cling to a dandelion in a yard on Pine Street in Walnut Grove.

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April 1st News update: Breaking news

At about 1:00 p.m. Friday big news broke low in the skies over Stockton sending hundreds of people fleeing in fear. The large breaking news event sent shards of smaller news raining down over a 8-mile radius over the city. The resulting chaos contributed to an exponential increase in emergency calls involving minor shoving matches, fender bender accidents, dumpster fires and cats stuck in trees.

Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones, Fire Chief Erik Newman and Mayor Anthony Silva held a quick press conference at City Hall to call for calm in the face of the disaster. “We don’t know what cause the breaking news but I’m sure that it wasn’t my fault,” said Silva.

While the minor calls for service were numerous, major calls were strangely absent. “There haven’t been any robberies, rapes, assaults, or homicides since the news broke” said Jones. “Nor major structure fires or automobile accidents, though we’ve had a high number of trip-and-fall incidents that required ambulance service for minor bumps and bruises” added Newman.

No one knows how or why the news broke or how to fix it, but the chiefs anticipate the breaking news to dissipate on its own in a day or so. The event has played chaos with the city’s 911 system but the upside is that there has been an increase of stranded cat videos posted to social media.

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April 1st News: 2016 edition

Prank goes wrong

In a practical joke that went awry, teen singing sensation Hunter Hayes had his lip accidentally glued to his microphone during a recent concert in Stockton. Apparently, a member of his road crew applied superglue to Hayes’ microphone as a prank before the performance.

“We thought he’d get stuck during pre-concert sound checks and we’d all have a laugh but he (Hayes) decided skip the check to have dinner at Yasoo Yanis in downtown Stockton” said another crew member who only spoke under the condition of anonymity. “We forgot about it until the first song. Then we remembered as soon as he brought his lips to the mic. By that time it was too late to warn him.”

Hayes was a showbiz trooper, though. He continued through his 90-minute show and was even able to kiss the cheek of an exuberant fan who rushed the stage. After the performance he was taken to San Joaquin County General Hospital where the mic was removed without further incident or injury.


Police test new riot gear

The Stockton Police Department tested new riot equipment yesterday with mixed results. Giant inflatable bubbles were tried out by several officers at the department’s gun range near Rough and Ready Island at the Port of Stockton. The move to the new gear was an attempt to reduce costs due to budget cuts. While the spheres provided excellent protection, officers were able to run into each other and even fall to the ground without injury, the fact that they were unable to use their hands proved problematic.

“To make an arrest, officers would have to remove the bubble, thus exposing themselves to physical harm” said Police Chief Eric Jones. Additionally, several of the officers involved had to be taken to the hospital after nearly dying of embarrassment during the exercise.


Food photos now mandatory

Beginning today, taking pictures of food that you’ve ordered in restaurants will be mandatory. Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that passed unanimously in both the state senate and the assembly that now requires everyone to photograph their meals.

“I love seeing a good steak or some steaming veggies on Facebook. I’m sure everyone does too” said Brown during a short signing ceremony held at Capitol in Sacramento.

The law also calls for the pictures to be posted to social media within 1 hour of finishing the meal. While there is a minimum of 1 picture per person, there is no upper limit that you may take.

For those who don’t take pictures of their food a fine of $10 will be imposed for the first offense, increase by $10 for every subsequent infraction. Social media privileges will be suspended after 20 infractions.


Ghost driver wins race

In a bizarre turn of events during the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series at the Stockton Dirt Track, the spirit of Don Radbruch, the pioneer of sprint car racing, appeared in spectral form along with a ghostly version of his 1922 Noel Bullock race car just before the start of the qualifying laps of the event.

“He insisted that he should be entered in the race because the ‘father of sprint cars’ and that we wouldn’t have a sport without him, blah, blah, blah.” said driver Joey Saldana of Brownsburg, Indiana. “I agreed to let him race just to shut him up.”

“I figured ‘what harm could he do?’ After all he’s just a ghost. Boy, was I wrong,” said Andy Forsburg of Auburn. “He sped away from the start at an unnatural – a supernatural- speed. When he passed someone he didn’t go around them, he just passed right through them. It sent a chill down my spine seeing that.”

Veteran driver Donny Shatz of Fargo, North Dakota said “whenever anyone did manage to get close to him, blue-white fireballs would shoot out his tailpipe causing which ever car they hit to spin wildly out of control.”

Radbruch‘s ghost was the fastest qualifier with a lap time of 8.378 seconds. He also won every heat and was the winner of the finale.


That’s all from the 2016 edition of the April 1st News. Have a happy and pleasant April Fool’s Day.

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Mother Nature Monday #9: Goose and gosling

4/28/15: A Canada goose and its gosling swims on a pond at the Venetian Bridge apartment complex in Stockton.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Kid’s stuff

Children are our pride and joys and the apples of our eyes and they are the subjects of the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. Kids are natural subjects for many photos. They tend to wear their personalities close to the surface and are easily photographed.

Six readers sent in 26 photos. Here are the top examples.


It’s easy to get pictures of openly gregarious children. They tend to be very open to cameras and sometimes even look forward to having their pictures taken. Shy children can be a bit harder to get a shot of.

Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera to photograph a friend’s granddaughter 1-year-old Izabella Martinez. Spurgeon said that Martinez wasn’t a big fan of the camera and was very serious. But Spurgeon was patient and spent time with the girl. After about 10 minutes she opened up to Spurgeon and she was able to get a very beautifully introspective picture of the girl.


Kids can be mercurial and their moods can change quickly one has to be ready and act fast to get a good shot.

Holly Stone of Lodi photographed her 10-month-old grandson Jeff Stone held by his mother Brandy Stone at their Manteca home. Stone was at the ready with her iPhone as Jeff turned to giver her an impish little grin.


Kids do the darnedest things. That’s one of the things we adore about them. We all have pictures of our toddlers doing funny thing such as spilling a bowl of spaghetti over their heads at the dinner table or something like that (much to the chagrin of our kids when they get older).

Rick Wilmot of Lodi was on a trip to visit his son’s family in Waxahachie, Texas. With a Canon 5D Mk III DSLR camera photographed his 6-year-old granddaughter Shyanne Wilmot with shaving cream on her face that she got from her father who was shaving in the bathroom their home in Waxahachie, Texas.


There is a gallery of all the photos at Stay tuned for the next challenge assignment issued in 2 weeks on April 7.

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Mother Nature Monday #8: Tree shadow

3/23/2013: A Japanese maple casts a shadow on a window shade at the Southern Exposure beauty salon on the Miracle Mile along Pacific Avenue in Stockton.

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In the blink of an eye

In portrait photography a single blink can ruin a picture in, well, a blink of an eye.

We have all taken pictures of people – friends, relatives acquaintances – and at some point there will be photos of them with their eyes closed. Some people blink more often than others and we capture their bright smiles and eyes shut or worse, in mid-blink.

Some people will tell subjects who they know to be “blinkers” to try and hold their eyes open for the picture but often that leads to an unnatural wide-eyed look that can be just as bad a blinking.

People blink to help clean and lubricate their eyes. The human eye blinks automatically at varying rates, but on the average the eye blinks about once every several seconds. We can consciously hold back blinking for longer but eventually it will catch up to us and we have to close our eyes.

If you’re photographing someone outside, try not to have your subject face the sun. Its brilliance can cause many people not only to blink but to squint as well. Similarly, if you go from indoors where the light is relatively dim to the brightness of outdoors, allow your subject some time to become accustomed to the light.

You’ll often see portrait photographers take a lot of photos of a single set up. It’s because they know that people blink. The more photos you take, the more chances you’ll have of getting your subject with their eyes open, especially if he/she is a blinker. Try shooting a burst of 3 or 4 frames. You may get 1 or 2 blinks but it will increase the likelihood of getting one with eyes open.

Group shots multiplies the likely hood of getting a blinker by the number of people in the group. The bigger the gathering the harder it is to monitor everyone for blinking.

Some people unconsciously anticipate when you’re going to press the button and inadvertently blink right as you take the picture. A common technique used to get aground that is to tell your subject(s) that you’re going to fire the camera at the count of “three.” Firing the camera at the count of “two” instead of “three” will help thwart to anticipatory blinkers. It is still wise to take multiple pictures because some people may try to sneak in a quick blink before the third number is called.

A blinking subject can be frustrating for a photographer but with a little knowledge and a few simple techniques you can keep your annoyances to a minimum and your subject happy.

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Mother Nature Monday #7: Bees knees

7/30/2010: A bumble bee hunts for nectar on a flower in Medford, Oregon.

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Making the best of a situation

When we travel we all like to take pictures to capture the memories of the trip. It’s always preferable to find or wait for the best light of the day. That usually means the quality of light that one finds early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Sunlight at those times usually has a warm beautiful quality and comes in at a pleasing angle. It can enhance nearly every kind of photo from portraits to architecture to landscapes.

However, our schedules or itineraries may not allow us to shoot during the optimal time of day. In those cases you just have to do the best that you can but there are some things that you can do to increase your chances for a creative photo.

We all take pictures of our traveling companions but what if you only have time to photograph them during midday. The light tends create harsh, unflattering shadows. One way to alleviate that is to find some open shade. The light under a tree or in the shadow of a tall building can be even and pleasing for a portrait.

If you can’t find shady spot, try turning your subject away from the sun and photograph on their shaded side. While not optimum, this will keep the harshness to a minimum and help keep the subject from squinting in the sun

Say you want to photograph a family member or traveling partner in front of a famous landmark and the only angle you can get is one where the only light is bad. If you can’t come back when the light is better, then try creating some of your own. Fill-flash is a technique of using the camera’s flash during the daylight to fill in harsh shadows.

Perhaps you’re in a historic village, a quaint township or a scenic park and the lighting is uninspired. Rather than trying get an overall scene try looking for a detail or a close up of some aspect of the scene which can be less light-dependent for an interesting photo. A flower or and interesting architectural detail can be just as valid as a scene setting picture.

Interesting angles or framing can also help create compelling picture. By shooting with a wide angle lens up from the base of a tall building can make the dramatic angles of the structure converge into a vanishing point at top of the frame. Using other buildings or trees to create a frame in the foreground can also be another successful technique. You can even photograph one building or scene off the reflective windows or surface of another building.

If the weather is overcast and gray, color can be very eye-catching. Look for a something bright color to serve as a focal point in an otherwise bland scene.

Shooting when the light is best should be one of the most important factors in any photo. Unfortunately we don’t always have the opportunity to shoot during those times. However there are techniques that can help you make the best of what you’re dealt with.

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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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