Random photo #73: Cold play

Despite a cold wind and approaching storm clouds, Edgar Mangato of Stockton takes time to practice his 12-string guitar on a bench at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton.

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Circle of life, in a small pond

A few weeks ago, while looking for a spring-time picture I found myself in a nature reality show like the ones on BBC narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Often in those programs there is the scene when the predator chases the prey. I always root for the prey to escape. I know logically that that means that the predator and its family goes hungry, but I just want the happy ending for the little guy to live. It’s the circle of life: happy moments balanced with sad.

I was at an assignment at the Hilton Hotel and I knew there were a couple pairs of Canada geese that live near the ponds along the two blocks at Grand Canal Boulevard and Venezia Boulevard in Stockton.

A family of geese, a mated pair and 4 goslings, were crossing the street. By the time I got out the car with my gear they had headed toward the pond, I got a few frames off and saw that the babies climb through a 4-ft tall wrought iron fence and plop into the pond. The baby geese easily hopped through the vertical fence posts, but the adults couldn’t fit through.

At first the goslings swam around happily. But it was soon evident that the goslings couldn’t get out of the pond. There was a about a foot between the water’s surface and pond’s edge. It was too far for the flightless young birds to clear. The baby geese swam the perimeter of pond peeping plaintively while the adults honked in response.

Small wooden ramps on either side of the pond lead out of the water, but the goslings just kept swimming right passed them. At first I thought it was because the goslings were afraid of the red-eared slider turtles who were sunning themselves on one ramp, but then I could see that the little birds just didn’t get that the ramps were a path to safety.

A shopkeeper came out to see what I was doing. I told him that the goslings seemed to be trapped. He thought it was how the geese parents teach their young how to get out on their own. Sometimes the young geese make it, sometimes they didn’t.

Logically I know I shouldn’t have, but in my head I had already named them. The shopkeeper’s words were ominous and I worried for Huey, Dewey, Louie and Ryan.

I walked along the edge of the pond to encourage them toward the ramps. When I got too close, one of the adult geese hissed menacingly. So I backed off.  A woman passing by saw their distress and tried reaching between the rails to catch them, but they swam beyond her gasp.

After almost an hour, one of the goslings, Huey I think, headed up the empty ramp, but it was too steep and he slipped back into the water. A few minutes later, he found the other ramp and navigated the resting turtles to the safety of his parents and I breathed a sigh of relief

I expected the other goslings to follow their brother’s lead, but they continued to swim around, just as clueless as before.

Huey wandered across the street on to a grassy median. His parents soon followed, leaving the other three in the pond by themselves. I turned my attention away from the pond and followed Huey and his parents.

Just a few minutes later, Huey and his parents returned to pond’s edge. I looked out and could only see Dewey and Louie. Ryan was gone.

Quickly, I looked to each ramp to see if Ryan had made it out. He hadn’t. Then I saw a horrifying sight. Just beneath the surface, a dark, foot-long fish, a catfish maybe, swished its tail as it headed toward the bottom of the pond. Just for a second I could see a tiny pair of webbed feet being dragged down as the monster fish disappeared in the murky depths.

After several long seconds I could breath again. Just like those nature shows. The only thing missing was Sir Attenborough’s voice. My concern for the Dewey and Louie became more acute.

A little later, resident Bill Brownlow rode up on his bike. He said he built the ramps several years ago to make it easier for baby geese to get out. Then he tried without success to scoop up the goslings with his bike helmet.

Not too long after that Dewey found his way up the ramp and to freedom. Only Louie was left swimming alone and peeping. I had other assignments to get to so I had to leave poor Louie, hoping that he would find his own way out of the pond.

The next day, I went back to the pond, worried about what I would find. I was relieved to see the 2 adult geese resting just outside of the pond with 3 goslings. Louie had found his way out somehow and was safe and with his family.

It was a “circle of life” acted out in the little pond. At least for now, the goslings had a happy ending.

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April outtakes: 2017

“Long stormy spring-time, wet contentious April, winter chilling the lap of very May; but at length the season of summer does come.” – Thomas Carlyle

After a wet and relatively cool spring, April has come and gone heralding the warmer days of summer soon to come. Here are 10 of my favorite unposted pictures from April 2017.



















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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Trees


“Trees need not walk the earth

For beauty or for bread;

Beauty will come to them

Where they stand…”

Trees Need Not Walk the Earth
By David Rosenthal

Stockton has been designated as a Tree City USA for more than 30 years which is the inspiration for the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Trees.

Trees help clean the air, raise property values and provide cooling shade during the hot summers. Most importantly, for this challenge at least, they beautify the areas in which they grow.

You may think that earlier in the spring when blossoms are blooming or later in the fall when leaves are turning colors would be a better time for this assignment. This is true but I purposely wanted to avoid those visual tropes. This challenge is to think of other ways to photograph trees than those tried and true methods.

Finding a subject should be difficult. Most area cities and towns have their streets lined with trees. In addition, there are acres upon acres of cherry, walnut and other orchards in the close by agricultural lands of the Delta. If you want to travel a bit farther the Mother Lode is filled with all kinds of trees. Or you can stay at home and photograph trees I your own backyard.

You can shoot the trees individually, in a small stand of a several or a whole forest of them. The choice is yours.

The trees can be the main subject or you photo or they can be part of the background or foreground playing a supporting role to your main subject, say a portrait. A common technique is to use the branches of a tree to frame your subject.

You don’t even have to get a whole tree. Close ups of just some of the parts, branches, leaves, bark or roots, are also acceptable. Also, you can photograph the wildlife that used trees as their habitat such as birds, squirrels or insects.

Under a tree is a great place to take a portrait. The open shade can give pleasing and even lighting to your subject.

As with any other photo, light is always important. Try some backlighting which will help to bring out the color of the thin leaves. And of course, trees make perfect subjects to have silhouetted against fiery sunsets or dramatic clouds.

While money doesn’t grow on trees, hopefully this assignment and show that trees can produce a harvest of good photos.

How to Enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between May 4 and May 18.

3. Entries are limited to no more than 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: 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, if they’re related to you and the breed of flower. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton sits under an oak tree at Victory Park in Stockton). Try to identify the type of tree, if possible.

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, May 18. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on May 25 at Recordnet.com.

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“Here I come to save the day!”

“When criminals in this world appear
and break the laws that they should fear
and frighten all who see or hear
the cry goes up both far and near…”
– Underdog theme song by W. Watts Biggers, Treadwell D. Covington, Joseph B. Harris and Chester A. Stover

Today is National Superhero Day. Back in my day, if you read comic books as an adult it was something you kept quiet, lest you be ridiculed. Today it’s different. Comic books are now celebrated and are integral to pop culture. Many cities, including Stockton and even Lodi, have their own version of ComicCon.

Here’s a gallery of photos of caped crusaders that I’ve shot over the years.

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Readers Photo Challenge: The power of flowers

Winter and spring rains brought April flowers in abundance and helped to make the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment of Flowers a success.

Everyone sent in pictures of great flowers, but this is a photography column, not a flower column, after all. The best photos transcended the beauty of their subjects. They showed that it’s better to take a pretty picture of a flower than a just picture of a pretty flower. The latter relies on the beauty of the subject for its success, the former depends on the skill of the photographer to make a great picture.

Thirty readers sent in a whopping 193 pictures. Here are some of the top picks.


Mickey Maguire of Tracy used a Sony a6300 mirrorless digital camera to photograph a red lion amaryllis at his home. He used a 35mm lens equipped with an extension tube to help him get in close for a macro shot. He captured the subtle color and tone of the blossom. Maguire moved in close eliminating the petals from view, which most people probably would have wanted to include. His focus is perfectly aimed on the flower’s yellow pollen-covered anthers and the gentle curves of the filaments that hold them up.


Tom LaBounty of Stockton photographed an iris that he harvested from his front yard. He brought the blossom inside and essentially set up a miniature studio to photograph it. Against a black plexiglass background to eliminate distractions, he set up a pair of LED lights, one on each side of the flower and photographed it with his Fuji X-T2 DSLR camera. The even lighting captured the graceful detail, tones and colors of the flower’s petals, yet boldly sets it apart from the black infinity of the background.


After a recent storm Teresa Mahnken of Morada saw some of her daisies reflected in the raindrops clinging to a decorative chain on a birdhouse in her backyard. She added some corn syrup to the drops to help them keep their shape (glycerin would have done the same trick). She used a Nikon D3200 DLSR camera with just a kit lens to photograph those drops, which look like a picture of several of flowers but it’s just one blossom reflected in several water drops.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp used a technique called “painting with light” to make his flower photograph. Ratekin set up his Canon EOS Rebel T5i DELR camera on a tripod and placed a vase of roses with a set of rabbit figurines on a table in a darkened room. Using a long exposure (30 seconds), he then shined a small LED light onto the flowers with a constant random motion, hence the “painting” with light analogy. The movement of the light source avoids any hotspots that may occur if the light was stationary and gives a great amount of control to the photographer in where he/she wants the light to be. It’s not an exact science and takes a bit of practice to get it right. Ratekin’s photo has perfectly exposed blossoms with the vase and figurines being less well-lit, which brings more emphasis to the flowers.


Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton used a Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at the Marin headlands near Sausalito across the bay from San Francisco. Three delicate checkerbloom blossoms growing among wild grasses are sharp and prominent in the foreground with Highway 101 and the Golden Gate Bridge fading off out of focus in the background. It shows that nature can be found not too far from any urban area.


Dave Skinner of Stockton checked out Electra Road near Jackson looking for wildflowers for his entry to the challenge. Unfortunately the display of flowers was disappointing compared to years past but Skinner was undaunted. He actually found a great photo growing in his backyard. With his Nikon D7100 DSLR camera equipped with a 55mm micro lens, Skinner photographed a bearded iris covered with a smattering of raindrops. His close up approach emphasizes he rich purple and orange of the alien looking flower.


Holly Stone of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph gulf fritillary butterfly on a bouquet of flowers in the butterfly garden of San Francisco Flower and Garden Show at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. The butterfly’s bright orange wings contrasts with the green and purple of the amethyst phlox it’s perched on.


Frank Whitney of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph wildflowers at Soda Lake, Carrizo Plains National Monument near Taft. The blossoms cover the nearby hills in a carpet of gold as a small herd of cattle graze unknowingly in the foreground.


Steve Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon 70D DSLR camera to photograph a field of tidy tips, goldfields and lupine at Keegan Ranch near Williams, California. It’s a bucolic scene with the field in the foreground and a vast sea of clouds above.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph a flower vendor’s wares at the ferry building in Stockton.  There’s a certain playfulness in the way she captures the random arrangement of the bouquets and their colors.


As always all of the photos will be posted in a gallery at Recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued next Thursday.

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Lighting design

There was a peculiarity to light shining on the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial. Overall it’s well lit except at the center where there is a falloff in illumination. There seems to be lights on either side of the monument to light up the ends but they don’t overlap much at the center leaving a dead spot in the center, lighting-wise.

I don’t know if it was an oversight or a part of the building’s lighting design, but that darkness makes Lincoln’s seated statue, which is well-lit within the building, stand out even more.

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My kingdom for a horse.

As I’ve stated previously, it seems that there’s a statue of a guy on a horse nearly everywhere you go in Washington D.C.

Not true, of course, but there are a lot of them. According to dcmemorials.com there are 29 equestrian statues in the D.C. area (28 men and 1 woman – Joan of Arc).

There’s an unofficial statue code which states that the number of hooves that are lifted into the air on an equestrian statue indicates how the rider died. One hoof raised means the rider was wounded in battle. Two hooves in the air means the rider died in battle. All 4 hooves on the ground means the rider survived combat unharmed.

However, the code is more of an urban myth. Of those 29 statues in Washington D.C. only 7 adhere to the “code.”

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Library of Congress

I briefly mentioned the Library of Congress earlier. It was one of the most impressive places that we visited in Washington D.C. I have to admit that before out trip all I knew about the Library of Congress is what I saw in the movie National Treasure II, where the film’s heroes go running through the circular stacks of the Main Reading Room (it’s ironic that that portion of the building is only open to those doing research, not the casual sightseeing public).

The Library of Congress actually is comprised of 3 buildings. The James Madison Memorial Building, which opened in 1980, the John Adams Building built in 1938 and the Thomas Jefferson Building, the one that most people think of as the Library of Congress, built in 1800.

The exterior of the building is an ornate and imposing edifice. But it’s in a city full of such buildings so it’s easy to become a bit jaded and dismiss it as just another one. Once inside, the story changes dramatically.

There, in the Great Hall, you’re greeted by tall, bold columns supporting arched and vaulted ceilings. Those ceilings are either covered in colorfully painted murals or intricate mosaics.

The venue is as much museum as it is library. There are historical exhibitions shown in several galleries in the building. One is a re-creation of Thomas Jefferson’s library in the Southwest Pavilion on the Second Floor. It assembles more than 6,000 volumes that founded the Library of Congress, many of which were the original books of one our country’s greatest thinkers.

Also on the second floor in the Northwest Gallery, is the Exploring the Early Americas exhibit, which examines the country’s indigenous cultures and the encounters between Native Americans and early European explorers.

Much like a book being better than a movie that was inspired by it, the Library of Congress was gave us much more in real life than what we had seen on film and became one of the highlights of our trip.

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Four days in Washington D.C.

Last month I took an all too short family vacation to Washington D.C. It was our first time to visit the city, which gave me an opportunity to put into practice some travel photography techniques.

There is so much to see in our nation’s Capitol, where it seems that there’s a statue of a guy on a horse on nearly every corner, it would be hard to see everything in 4 weeks let alone 4 days. When faced with limited amount of time it’s wise to plan your schedule and build-in some time for picture taking.

It may sound a bit strange, after all, can’t you just take pictures during your normal itinerary? Sure you can, but the best pictures are taken in the best light, which comes at the beginning and end of the day. Midday light tends to be flat and boring. Try to plan your indoor sightseeing when light is less important during that time and save the morning and afternoon light for the outdoor picture taking. We visited the national archives which houses revered documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Pictures aren’t allowed in the archives so they were perfect for a midday visit.

Of course there is plenty to shoot. Washington D.C.. has incredibly majestic buildings and grand monuments and getting overall photos of them is obligatory. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for details. Both the Capitol and the National Archives buildings, for example, have some incredibly detailed relief sculptures as a part of the edifices.

Speaking of time of day try to make time for some night photography. It’s the one thing that I wanted to be sure we did on our trip.  A city can take on an entirely different look at night. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington D.C. stands next to the White House. It’s a gigantic edifice built in the French Second Empire-style architecture. It’s very ornate but in the daylight it’s very imposing and a bit foreboding looking with its granite walls and columns. At night it’s distinctly different. It’s much more inviting looking more like something out of a Disney movie.

There are a couple of ways you can go about shooting night shots. The first and easiest is go out by yourself or a small group on your own which is good if you have time to do a little exploring. The second is to take a night bus tour. Many tourist destination cities like Washington D.C. and New York have such tours. Since we were on a tight schedule that’s what we chose.

The advantage of that is that you get to see many sights in the most efficient way. A knowledgeable tour guide can tell you interesting facts about the sights and the most popular vantage points from which to view or photograph them. The downside is that you’re on someone else’s schedule. While there may be some flexibility built into the tour, you only have so much time to spend at each stop.

On our tour, we were able to get off the bus at each stop to take pictures. Some of the stops allowed us time to get a lot of photos. At the Lincoln Memorial for example not only did we get exterior photos of the building but we were able to go inside the monument as well. On the other hand, we were only able to get shots of the Jefferson Memorial from across the Tidal Basin before moving on. All in all, given our limited timeframe I think the bus tour was our best option.

When you’re in a hurry it’s understandable that you might take one shot then move along to the next sight. Try to shoot different angles of the same subject for a variety of pictures. Fortunately in Washington D.C. there are several sights that can be seen from many vantage points. The Capitol dome can be seen from blocks away down Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Mall. The same can be said of the Washington Monument. As we moved around the city we can One of our favorite views of the Capitol was from the 6th floor balcony of the Newseum, which afforded us an unobstructed view from a high angle just a few blocks away.

Unless you’re facing a major storm, inclement weather doesn’t have to dampen your travel photo opportunities. In fact, it can actually be an enhancing factor to them. On the evening of our night tour, fog descended over the city. Not the low-lying tule fog that we have here in the Central Valley, but a high mist that hovered several hundred feet off of the ground. At times it obscured the top of the 555-ft tall Washington Monument. Some people might have been disappointed but the fog helped to add and air of mystery to the pictures shot that night.

Through the night the fog turned to a light rain, which continued into the morning. As the rain abated it left many puddles and I was able to get a shot of the Capitol dome reflected in one of them.

Lastly, even though a short trip may have limited time and opportunities but try to keep and eye out for unscripted and serendipitous moments. The Great Hall in the Library of Congress features neoclassical architecture and elaborately painted ceilings and it’s easy to get caught up in staring in awe at the spectacle. I managed to get a shot of a fellow tourist taking a picture as she stood in front of one of several large flags hanging over an archway to take a picture of the ceiling which made for a very patriotic scene.

After our night shooting outing we decided to take the Metro subway back to our hotel. Entering the McPherson Square station was surprisingly eye catching. The concrete ceiling and walls of the passenger loading platforms of both that station and our destination of Foggy Bottom were a rectangular, web-like pattern that gave the places a futuristic feeling.

Even if you’re on a short vacation with a limited amount of time, with a little planning and forethought, you can still bring home some great travel pictures.

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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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