Give the gift of time

Christmas is coming up and you may be wondering what gift to give a loved one who is a photographer.

You could buy them a new camera or lens, or even a photo workshop, but those can cost from several hundred to several thousand of dollars.

Photography is nothing if not expensive. So what can you get them if you’re on a budget? There’s one gift that is useful and affordable: the gift of time.

Frequency and quantity are the best ways to improve one’s photographic skills, so shoot often. But we all live busy lives and it may be tough to find time to go out and take pictures. Even though I am a professional photographer, I often find it hard to find the time to work on personal projects.

So offer to do chores for a day or two for your shutterbug. If they don’t have to think about washing clothes, painting a room or getting the oil in the car changed, then they can more freely turn their energies toward picture taking.

If they normally do the yard work then take it over for a weekend. Mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges and pruning the roses can take away from valuable shooting time. But if you do it for them then they can go out on a photo excursion.

If they’re in charge of getting the kids off to school in the morning then offer to do it to allow them to go shoot a sunrise. Or if they’re responsible for making dinner in the evening then you do it for a night or two so that they can photograph the sunset.

If you’re a parent or grandparent of a budding young photographer who’s not yet old enough to drive, offer to chauffeur them to a place or event that they want to take pictures of.

There’s another way to give your time to the photographer in your family. Go along with them. A few years ago I shot the setting of a supermoon over the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. Even though it was early morning before the sun came up, there were a few other people there for the same reason I was. I talked to a woman who was there to photograph the celestial event and she said her husband came with her, albeit waiting in the warmth of their running car. Quite often going out to take pictures can be a solitary activity. Not many people want to get up early to photograph the rising sun or stay up late for its setting. Night photography of the stars is always best away from the city lights, where it’s the darkest. It can be a lonely affair taking exposures that last long seconds or even minutes. It’s nice to have someone to talk to and ward off the spookiness of the darkness.

If you’re already on a trip then try scheduling at least some of the itinerary around the best times to photograph. As I mentioned before, try to arrange to go out during early mornings and late afternoon for sunrise/sunsets and evenings for night photos.

Lastly, photographers are always looking for a willing victim…er..subject. You can offer to pose for them so that they can hone their portraiture skills. It’s always nice to be able to work with someone you know before moving on to taking pictures of strangers.

Even though it’s not something that you put in a box, gift wrap or put a bow on, time can be the best and most useful gift of all.

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All you need to do is ask

The other day I got a haircut. It was at one of those haircut franchises where you can get a trim quickly at a reasonable price, nothing fancy. The stylist that cut my hair was young, barely out of cosmetology school. She spent a lot of time with me and when she was done she handed me a mirror for me to look. It was not great but I could live with it. Then she did something that I thought was very smart. She asked the stylist who was working on another customer to check her work. The stylist, Marcelino, who was also the manager of the place, diplomatically told her how she could improve her work, talking about “style lines” and other jargon that went over my head, pardon the pun. He then proceeded to fix her mistakes giving her helpful tips along the way. He turned a so-so haircut into one that looked pretty good.

One way to improve your work in any field is to ask someone more knowledgeable or experienced their opinion and photography is no different.

Joining a camera club is one way to expand your knowledge of photography. In this area there are groups in Stockton, Manteca and Tracy. I’ve judged the Stockton Camera Club’s monthly contest a few times and I’ve been impressed by the quality of the members work. They have a wealth of knowledge, experience and talent. The club holds workshops and goes on photo outings.

Of course, taking a photo class is a way to improve your skills. When I was a photo student way back in the dark ages the darkroom that other students worked in consisted of of about 15 enlargers and communal developing trays. After being taught how to use the equipment, the instructors often us to our own devices. While we would take our photos out into the light to show the teachers, we also would learn from each other just by watching our photos develop and asking questions. So if you take a class, remember that the shared learning experience can be as important as the lessons from the instructor.

Finally, you can ask someone who’s more experienced than you. You may know a person who’s a camera buff or an advanced amateur photographer. more than likely they’ll be more than happy to give you a tip or two. You may see a professional photographer working a job. While it may be inappropriate to ask your questions right in the middle of their assignment, you could strike up a conversation or ask to email them when it’s complete.

I know it’s hard to ask some times. You can be too shy or embarrassed to ask. But don’t worry about looking foolish. As the saying goes, there are no dumb questions. The only questions that one regrets are the ones that go unasked. Knowledge is out there. All you need to do is ask.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Sky high

The sky’s the limit for the newest Readers Photo Challenge because the subject for the assignment is literally the sky.

This time of year is the perfect time to get photos of the sky. One can almost call it the “sky season.” With the ending of daylight savings time and the turning of our clocks back an hour on November 5, the sun goes down at around 5:00 p.m. That means you can get a nice sunset shot without staying up too late. If you’re an early riser then you still can get a sunrise as well. It takes a little bit of experience to know when a sunset/sunrise will be at its peak. If you stop shooting too soon and pack up and leave you may miss the peak. Start too late you may miss it altogether. It’s best to pick out a place to photograph from a little before the start of a sunset then shoot until it’s dark.

Another reason that fall is a great season for the sky is the weather. Gone are the featureless blue skies of summer. Storms and the clouds that come with them are more common place. Clouds, whether puffy cumulus or high wispy cirrus ones, can add some visual interest to the sky and your pictures.

The sky in and of itself can be the subject or it can make for a perfect background for other types of photos.

A bright blue sky can add color to a landscape or portrait. Clouds can add visual and/or compositional elements to your photos.

Birds are denizens of the sky and the sky makes for a natural background for them whether they’re in flight or at rest on a fence, power line or tree branch.

Don’t forget shooting at night. A rising moon or starry night are great subjects for you sky photos. While the moon is bright enough to hand-hold your camera, a tripod is necessary for long time-exposures (of 30-seconds or more) needed to capture the much fainter stars.

The sky must comprise a significant portion of the picture or the reason for taking the photo. It shouldn’t be only a small portion of the frame of just an incidental to the picture.

Whether the sky is the subject itself or just the background for your photo, your assignment is the capture the beauty of the great blue yonder.


How to Enter:

1. Email your entries to Type in “Sky” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between November 16 and December 7.

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 plays at Victory Park 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 Thursday, December 7. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on December 14 at

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The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

LEFT: 102-year-old WWII Marine veteran Bill White, left, and Iraq War veteran Maria Estrada post the flag at the Veterans Day observance at the Bob Hope Theater in downtown Stockton. TOP RIGHT: 94-year-old WWII and Korean War Marine veteran Ted “Gunny” Salisbury attends the Veterans Day observance at the Bob Hope Theater. UPPER MIDDLE RIGHT: Vietnam Veteran Al Baker salutes at the Veterans Day observance. LOWER MIDDLE RIGHT: Vietnam veteran Rupert Rivera attends the Veterans Day observance in downtown Stockton. BOTTOM RIGHT: Navy veteran Dave Lurgio, left, salutes at the Veterans Day observance at the Bob Hope Theater in downtown Stockton.

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Cloudy skies

TOP: Clouds move in fill the skies over Lodi Lake in Lodi. The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies for the next few days with the possibility of rain on Monday. BOTTOM LEFT: The leaves of a vine on an arbor turn yellow against cloudy skies at Lodi Lake. BOTTOM RIGHT: Kyle Loock of Lodi and his 19-month-old son Hunter fish under of cloudy skies at Lodi Lake.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Open season

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment is an open one, meaning the subject was up to each photographer to choose on their own. Entries ran the gamut of possibilities. Most sent in pictures of the natural world while others tried their hand at portraits, pets and even sports.

Seventy-five photos were sent in by 14 readers. Here are some of the top examples.


Even before the Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival opened Dave Skinner of Stockton was out photographing the majestic birds. Skinner, an early bird himself, ventured out into the cool mornings to the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. Armed with his Nikon D7100 DSLR camera he captured the antics of the birds before they took off to hunt for food during the day.


Carolyn Silva of Jackson ventured further into Sierras to capture the colors of fall. She intended to photograph in the Hope Valley area along Highway 88 but was too late. However she did manage to find some color in the Tahoe Basin. Silva used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph a grove of aspen trees along S. Upper Truckee Road in South Lake Tahoe as they turned to their golden yellow hues.


Steven Rapaport of Stockton was out shooting the sunset from the Village West Marina in Stockton when he saw a family of otters swimming towards him. They swam under the dock he was standing on and onto the nearby shore, but not before Rapaport got a photo of the with his Canon EOS 70D DSLR.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp took on the dual challenge of sports and low-light photography. He used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera to photograph Manteca varsity QB Gino Campiotti on a quarterback keeper behind a wall of blockers during a Friday night game at Weston Ranch.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton visited her brother and his wife in Denver, Colorado. Their dog Bohdi was eager for attention due to a newborn baby in the house and Spurgeon was happy to oblige. Using an Apple iPhone 6 she photographed the 1-year-old Hungarian retriever ready to play fetch with a tennis ball looming in the foreground.


Reed Fujii, a longtime Record business reporter who retired last year, sent in a photo of a hummingbird in his backyard in Woodbridge. He used an Olympus OM‑D E‑M1 mirrorless digital camera to photograph the tiny bird as it perched in a fig tree. The graceful arc of the branch lends an elegance to the photo and the surrounding featureless blue sky in the background created negative space around the bird.


While on a bike ride Rick Wilmot of Lodi spotted the flowers of a plumbago plant growing through the slats in a neighbor’s fence in an alley behind his home. Wilmot used a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 smartphone to photograph the light blue blossoms as they stood out against the drab color of the wood.


With her Canon Rebel DSLR Susan Scott off Lodi was able to photograph a doe while on a walk through he Nature Area of Lodi Lake in Lodi.


Peggy Gutierri of Stockton used an Apple iPhone to photograph herself and Melanie Parker in the chromed grill of a vintage Chevrolet at the Dia De Los Muertos Fiesta in Stockton.


All the entries can be seen in an online photo gallery at A new challenge assignment will be issued on November 16.

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Outtakes: Images of October

“October proved a riot a riot to the senses and climaxed those giddy last weeks before Halloween.” – Keith Donohue

October is the heart of fall and with its passing Autumn starts it’s slide into winter. Here are 10 of my favorite images from the month.



















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Getting the most out a situation

A few weeks ago I drove out to Santa Cruz to bring my son home for a weekend visit from college. I got there about 45 minutes before he got out of his last class of the day at 5:00 p.m., so I decided to kill a little time. I drove down to the West Cliff Drive area of town. It’s a picturesque 3-mile drive along the bluffs that overlook the ocean, starting from the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf and ending at Natural Bridges State Park.

I stopped about halfway to get some shots. What drew me to the spot was that I could see the spray from some waves flew high enough to be seen above the cliffs which rose some 30 to 40 feet above the water’s surface.

A walking/biking path paralleled the road along the coast and as I watched the waves, some passersby would stop for a few minutes to get a shot or two and then continue on their way. I’ve seen this happen before. People would go to a scene, take a few pictures then move on not knowing if they just spent a little more time looking around, there may be more to photograph.

I figured I had about a half hour to shoot before I had to leave to pick up my son. Even though I was time-limited I managed to take photos of several different things. 

Of course, there was the obvious shots were of the waves pounding the shore which I, along with everyone else got pictures of, but there other things to shoot if one would only take a little time and do a little visual exploration.

A trio of people moved out onto a rocky outcrop that was lower than the bluff and closer to the waves. One of the group edged even closer, and while he was well out of harm’s way, he was able to feel the spray from waves rain down upon him. A shot of him against the waves helped to give a sense of scale. 

The crashing waves exemplified the ocean’s power and majesty but the sea can also be calm a peaceful. The lull between the waves perfectly showed that serenity. A woman sat on a rock on the bluff as the sun sank in the late afternoon sky. She appeared to be in a contemplative state as quietly soaked in her surroundings. I got a shot of her silhouetted by the setting sun as a seagull flew into the tranquil scene.

Ice plants covered the hillsides up and down the bluffs. Purple blossoms bloomed every so often. I was able to get to a spot where I could get a shot of one of them with the ocean in the background.  Using a fill-flash technique where I used my flash during the daylight to fill in the shadows and balance the foreground and background exposures. It was then just a matter of waiting to time my shot to coincide with the waves buffeting the shore.

I got several different photos in a span of just a few minutes and all within five yards of each other.

Too often people will walk away from a scene without fully exploring its potential. Don’t be satisfy with what may the most obvious subject. Take a little time, look around and get the most out of a situation.

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The great last-minute pumpkin hunt

TOP:  Brittany Wait and her 4-year-old daughter Zariah look for a last minute pumpkin at the Phillips Farms pumpkin patch on Highway 12 near I-5 in Lodi.  BOTTOM LEFT: A variety of pumpkins for sale at the Phillips Farms pumpkin patch.  BOTTOM RIGHT: Three-year-old Andrew Seed, left, and his 4-year-old sister Olivia Seed pose for a picture with Raggedy Ann and Andy scarecrows at the Phillips Farms pumpkin patch on Highway 12 near I-5 in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD] 

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Girls Masters golf

TOP: St. Mary’s Vanessa Perez blasts out a sand trap during the Sac-Joaquin Section Girls Masters Golf Tournament at the reserve at Spanos Parkin Stockton. BOTTOM LEFT: St. Mary’s Ellon Madill hits from the 1st tee during the Sac-Joaquin Section Girls Masters Golf Tournament at the reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton. BOTTOM RIGHT: Lincoln’s Hadiya Kennedy hits from the 5th fairway during the Sac-Joaquin Section Girls Masters Golf Tournament at the reserve at Spanos Parkin Stockton.

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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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