August Outtakes: Just in time

My how time flies, I nearly forgot the August outtakes, too. Here are 10 of my favorite photos from the 8th month of 2018.

Posted in Month in review, Outtakes | Tagged | Leave a comment

July outtakes: Oops, I did it again, again

Once again I got busy and I missed posting a monthly outtakes photos, this time for July, and I’m late for August as well. Without further adieu here are 10 of my favorite photos from July.

Posted in Month in review, Outtakes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Safety first

On September 10, an 18-year-old Israeli tourist fell to his death while taking a selfie at Yosemite National Park. He was at the top of Nevada Falls when he tried to take a picture of himself, lost his balance and plunged 820-ft to the bottom.

A 2015 report found that selfies now lead to more deaths than shark attacks. Part of the problem is that when someone is taking a selfie, quite often they’re looking up while holding your phone high above themselves in order to get in the background or for a more flattering angle. It’s a posture that can cause one to lose their balance. Another complication can be that people are concentrating on taking the picture of themselves that they aren’t paying attention to things like their footing or their surroundings.

While photography isn’t necessarily a hazardous endeavor, there can be other dangers when taking photos other than selfies.

My wife is the self-appointed “safety officer” of our family. When our kids were younger she made sure that they avoided dangerous places of situations. They were lessons that they learned well.

On a recent trip to San Francisco with my now adult son and daughter, we visited the Sutro Baths ruins along the coast. My son and I explored a dark tunnel bored into the seaside bluffs. At the south end a metal barricade allowed access to the tunnel but blocked people from venturing to some precarious rocks just outside. The fencing at the north end let people to see out onto the ocean but kept people from going all the way through the tunnel. I thought about skirting around each obstacle, which I could have easily done, but my son assumed the role of safety officer and convinced me from doing so.

Photographers are always looking for a different angle or new vantage point to take their pictures and sometimes they can get into dangerous situations. Sometimes they don’t realize the extent of the danger or even willing to ignore or circumvent the warnings.

In 2012, 52-year-old instructor at St. Francis High Kathy Carlisle was photographing a moving train from an adjacent track when she was struck and killed from behind by another train headed in the opposite direction in Sacramento.

More recently in August, 63-year-old Jiyoun Park of Lodi, died after he fell from a parking structure in downtown Lodi while taking pictures. Apparently Park was leaning over the edge when fell about 40-feet to the street.

In both these cases being aware of and alert to one’s surroundings could have prevented these tragedies.

It’s never recommended to take pictures while on railroad tracks. The dangers are numerous. Trains are big, lumbering machines and can’t swerve out the way, nor can they stop on a dime. Photography often takes our full attention and one’s can be concentrating so much on taking the picture one can lose track on what’s going on around them. It’s likely Carlisle didn’t hear the second train due to noise from the first one. If you want to take photos of a train do it well away from the tracks. Try shooting at a crossing where there are warning bells lights and crossing arms that can alert you to an approaching train.

As people age they can lose some physical abilities and you may not be able to do something that you did when you were younger. On my trip to San Francisco, near Fort Point I scrambled down some rocks to take a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. On my way back up, I realized that I wasn’t as spry and agile as I used to be and had to carefully climb out with focus and thoughtfulness in my actions. I don’t know if something similar happened to Jiyoun Park in Lodi but it could have been a factor.

I always advocate a going out to take pictures with what I call a “photo buddy.” They can be fellow photographers or someone who’s there just to keep you company. It’s fun to go with a friend or group of friends on photo walks. More importantly, they can look out for you and you them.

The phrase “safety in numbers” is true with photography. Your photo buddies can alert you to unsavory characters and help to keep them at bay. They can advise you on the safety or hazardousness of a location or situation. Finally, if you do get in trouble, they can give aid or call for help.

Whether you go with a group or alone, when taking pictures it’s always good to have a situational awareness and to be able assess the risks to minimize any danger that might potentially occur.

Posted in Column | Tagged | Leave a comment

Practice makes perfect

One of the main goals of the monthly Readers Photo Challenge is to have you go out and actually take some pictures. Occasionally, someone will come up to me an say that they like the tips that are given in this column but they can’t take good pictures. To that I say “practice, practice, practice.”

Photography is a practical art and there’s only so much you get out of reading a book or taking an online class about it. You need hands on experience for things to sink in.

Some people think they’re photos aren’t improving so they give up. I think part of the problem that many people think that they should be perfect right from the start, that they shouldn’t make mistakes. But often, we learn when we make those mistakes. It could be that people are afraid of looking foolish or ignorant. But to really learn something, especially when you’re first starting out, there are no dumb questions, as they say. As Mz. Frizzle from the children’s program The Magic School Bus would say “ Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Another part of the problem is that change comes incrementally. Often we don’t notice our improvement because it happens so slowly.

My wife is currently taking piano lessons once a week. She then does some additional practice on her own during the rest of the week. She, like everyone else, has a busy life with work and other obligations, so she isn’t always able to practice as much as she likes and her progress has been slow. However, progress has been made. Now, as I hear her practice from the other room, she is much better than when she started. But she thinks her skills have been stagnant, and even though she’s not at concert pianist-level yet, I can tell that she’s better than before.

I realize that everyone has busy lives and that you can’t go out to take pictures everyday, but don’t be discouraged. If you keep at it progress will come, perhaps slowly, but It will come.

The great photographer Henri Catier-Bresson once said that “your first 10,000 pictures are your worst.” You’re going to take a lot of bad pictures before they start getting good. It’s just a part of the learning process.

Posted in Column | Tagged | Leave a comment

Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Glass

Glass is the subject of the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment.

Glass objects are notoriously difficult to photograph. Take time in looking at the subject carefully before taking a picture of it. Unwanted reflections, including your own, can be a problem. Take steps to remove those reflections. If it’s a light, turn it off. Sometimes turning the object or moving your vantage point, even just a little, can cause the reflection to go away.

Lighting glass can also be tricky. You can purchase or even build for yourself what’s called a “light tent” to help. I’ve made my own out of PVC pipe. It can be a box-like frame in which you drape a relatively thin white cloth or paper around. Set your glass object inside it and place lights or flashes outside the fabric. The light passes through, bounces around inside the box and gives a nice even light with minimal reflections.

While unwanted reflections are undesirable, you can sometimes use a reflection to your advantage. Mirrors or even dark glass can be used as a compositional element in your photos by having your subject reflected in them.

You can also approach the assignment like a still life. Glass figurines are acceptable subjects as well as stained glass. You can shoot close ups of glass baubles or jewelry, too. A glass cup or goblet with wine or other drink are also good objects.

There are all sorts of things you can shoot that contain glass in them. Windows, buildings with glass exteriors, cups, even portraits, but remember, the glass should be the subject of your picture and not necessarily what you can see through it. Just take your time and really look at what you’re taking pictures of and things should go as smooth as glass.

How to enter:

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

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

3. Entries are limited to no more than 12 photos from each photographer.

4. Include your first and last name, where you live, the kind of camera /lens you used and where the photo was taken (e.g.: “Photographer: John Doe of Stockton. Location: Victory Park in Stockton. Camera: Canon Rebel T3i w/55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they’re doing in the picture (e.g: “Janie Doe of Stockton, 15, takes a sip from a water glass at her home in Stockton).

6. Please feel free to add any anecdotes or stories about how and why you took the photo.

7. The deadline for submission is Tuesday, September 18. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on September 25 at

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

Readers Photo Challenge: Fair play

“Play” is the subject of the current Readers Photo Challenge. Play is essential to modern human life. It helps to relax, recharge our batteries and, most importantly have fun. Eleven readers sent in 33 photos of people in various iterations of play. Here are the top picks.


Children are naturals at playing. The fun they have is filled with joy. Steven Rapaport of Stockton photographed his grandson Elliott Hunt running on the playground equipment at Atherton Park in Stockton. He’s seems to having so much fun that he isn’t even aware of that his picture is being taken and Rapaport took advantage of that fact and captured the moment with his Apple iPhone 8.


Beaches are great places to find people playing, especially children. Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Samsung Galaxy smartphone to photograph her grand nieces Harper Jordan, 8, left, and Wren Jordan, 6, as the jumped over a approaching small wave while playing on the beach at Oak Harbor, Washington.


There are some other definitions of “play” that some readers considered. Sabrina Mastin-Hill of Stockton used an LG Aristo smartphone to photograph her son Eben Mastin, 9, at the Adventure Playground in Berkley. The park, built near the Berkley marina in 1979, kind looks like a derelict amusement park filled with dilapidated objects, but it was designed for kids to exercise their creativity and imaginations. Mastin-Hill photographed Eben as he played an old piano at the park.


Another definition of “play” is to participate in a sport. That’s what Donn Sperry of Stockton captured in his photo. Sperry used a Sony Alpha NEX-7 mirrorless digital camera to photograph Anthony Alvarado of Stockton, 15, left, and Jack Hansen, 17, of Patterson fighting for the puck with Anthony Alvarado, 15, of Stockton during St Mary’s ice hockey practice at the Oak Park Ice Arena in Stockton.


Cosplay stands for “costume play” in which people dress up as fictional characters from comic books, movies, TV shows, video games or other pop culture sources. Freya Schwinn took a picture of her husband Oran Schwinn portraying Uncle Fester, Elisha Taasin as Wednesday Addams, and Cory Hunt lending a hand (literally) as Thing from the Addams Family while they posed for their own selfie at StocktonCon at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton.


All of the entries can bee seen in an online gallery at A new assignment will be issued on September 4.

Posted in Equipment | Leave a comment

Semper Gumby

Some photographers say that you should come up with your photos on the spot without any preconceived ideas. But I think that having some sort of outline or framework of what you want to shoot can be a helpful just as longs you don’t go into a situation with a rigid plan without being able to shift gears if things don’t pan out.

Last week, my daughter, son and I took a day trip to San Francisco to get away from the valley heat and smoke from the norther California wildfires. I had a loose itinerary of places that we could go to photograph. Fort Point, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, The Palace of Fine Arts, The Palace of Legion of Honor and the Sutro Baths were on the list.

We arrived in the City about noon. Our first stop was Fort Point. Built in the mid-1800s the fort stood guard at the mouth of the bay. Inside features formidable stone arches and beautifully moody lighting, great for portraits. Unfortunately, we went mid-week and, unbeknownst to us, the fort is only open on weekends.

The fort is situated at the base of the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge and you can get some great shots of the span. Fog started blowing in from the Marin Headlands across the strait. I climbed down onto the large rip rap boulders that lined to shore. I got down low and used some of the large rocks to help frame the foreground for my shot.

We stopped to regroup and have some lunch, then we went to the Hyatt Regency Hotel along the Embarcadero. Years ago, I saw a photo of the interior of the hotel in where the floor, which featured a mosaic-like pattern, was just an incidental part of the picture. I thought that if I could get a high enough vantage point, it could be used as the main compositional element for a picture. The hotel claims it has the world’s largest lobby. The hallways to its rooms of the 20-story structure look out onto it. I was able to go up to about the 9th floor and shoot down and get a shot of some people meeting within the geometric pattern.

The next stop was the Palace of Fine Arts. Built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition it features a large domed rotunda. The obvious choice of subject was the imposing and ornate structures of the palace itself, which I shot, but I wanted to get something a little different. I settled on a photo of a swan in the surrounding lagoon and a nice portrait of my son Christopher.

Driving around San Francisco is not like doing the same in Stockton. With traffic and street construction, it takes a long time to get from one place to another. By the time we got to the Palace Legion of Honor it was about 5:00 p.m. and it was closing. We went inside just to confirm and indeed and a guard told us that the museum was closed but to come back the next day. As we left, we managed to get a couple of shots of the grand courtyard featuring a bronze cast of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and an amusing picture of a tourist taking a selfie among the stately Romanesque columns of the museum.

Finally, we went to the Sutro Baths at the base of the bluffs where the famed Cliff House restaurant looks out onto the ocean. Built in 1896, it was billed as the world’s largest indoor swimming pool. It eventually burned down in 1966. All that remains are some concrete walls and foundations, They’re the closest things to ancient ruins that one can easily get to.

I wanted to get some sunset shots from the site which has a large pond/pool area that could make for some interesting reflections. Everything seemed to going as planned. The sun saw steady sinking in the west, growing more orange as it descended. But then, as it is wont to do in San Francisco, the fog rolled in from seemingly nowhere. In a few minutes the sun and it’s warm light was completely gone, replaced by a cold, grey mist. I turned my attention to a great blue heron hunting for some dinner, unperturbed by all the people. There was also a cave in the side of the bluff that I explored for some photos.

While all this was happening my daughter and I noticed a young photographer taking what seemed to be engagement photos of an equally young couple. Along with his camera he had an off-camera flash attached to a large soft box which is used to soften the harsh light of the flash. While the sun was out he seemed to be taking his time getting his equipment ready and by the time he started actually shooting, the fog had appeared and the light was gone. Now, he could have used the flash and created his own light on the couple while using the fog as a dark and moody background, but he never once touched the flash. From my vantage point it seemed as if he had an idea for his photos but wasn’t able or willing to deviate from his plan.

The U.S. military has an unofficial motto: Semper Gumby, meaning “always flexible.” If my daughter, son and I learned from our day in the City, it’s that it’s good to have a plan, but if things don’t go your way it’s even better to be flexible.

Posted in Travel, vacation | Tagged | Leave a comment

Raders Photo Challenge assignment: Play time

The new Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “Play.”

The old San Joaquin County Fair photography contest used to have a category called “people at work or play.” Since this is summertime and many people are on vacation we’re going to take up the latter half of that and do photographs of people playing.

Getting photos of people in general and of strangers specifically, can be a daunting task. One has to get over their initial shyness to ask to take a person’s photo but I’ve found that most people tend to be receptive if you as Kindly and politely, explaining why you want to take their picture. Of course, if it’s a friend or family member this becomes much easier.

This assignment is not just people sitting for portraits. It’s of candid photos of people having fun. Get them doing something. If its a hot day, maybe get them swimming rather than just sitting poolside. Instead of shooting selfies with your friends while out clubbing, photograph them dancing. Maybe you’re at a fair or amusement park. Get shots of people on the rides or enjoying a hotdog or cotton candy.

Expressions can make or break a photo of people. For this assignment look for smiles and laughter. If you have more than one person, look for them interacting with each other.

Looking for the right moment and timing your shots are key. You have to be looking for and anticipate these kinds of pictures and be ready for them. It’s much more difficult to shoot “off the cuff” to get these photos on the spur of the moment.

The can be doing a physical activity such as hiking, swimming or running. The activity can be more passive such as painting or playing a board game. Just as long as your subjects are having fun as they play.

I recognize how difficult taking pictures of people can be and it may not be everyone’s forté, so you’ll have an extra week to complete the assignment. Go out and have as much fun as the people in your pictures will be having as they play.

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between July 31 and August 21.

3. Entries are limited to no more than 12 photos from each photographer.

4. Include your first and last name, where you live, the kind of camera /lens you used and where the photo was taken (e.g.: “Photographer: John Doe of Stockton. Location: Highway 4 and the San Joaquin River in Stockton. Camera: Canon Rebel T3i w/55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they’re doing in the picture (e.g: “Janie Doe of Stockton, 6, rides the carousel at Pixie Woods in Stockton).

6. Please feel free to add any anecdotes or stories about how and why you took the photo.

7. The deadline for submission is Tuesday, August 21. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on August 28 at

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

Readers Photo Challenge: Bridges

The latest Readers Photo Challenge is “bridges.” A bridge can be photographed as an architectural structure like any other building. Some are famous and iconic and be approached like photographing a monument or a statue. Like beauty found in nature, man made structures can have an aesthetic quality in their own way. Twenty-three readers sent in 59 photos. Here are some of the top picks.


Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton was on a trip to the northern Sierras when he decided to stop for a shot on his way back home. Setting up his Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera on a tripod he took a night shot of stars and the milky way near Oroville. In the foreground was the Bidwell Bar Bridge over a portion of Lake Oroville. The night sky is perfectly exposed by a long timed exposure, but the suspension bridge is hidden in the darkness of a hillside with just the top being visible against the sky. Bazzarre tried to light it up with a flash light with a technique called “painting with light,” but it wasn’t strong enough. With a little patience Bazzarre waited for a car to drive over the bridge. Its headlights lit up the bottom portion and made his shot complete.


Paul Yang of Stockton used what’s known as the “blue hour” to his best advantage. It’s the hour of dusk between sunset and the time the sky goes to inky black. With a Canon EOS 7D DSLR camera he photographed the Tower Bridge over the Sacramento River in Sacramento. The bridge is illuminated by its own lights and Yang perfectly balance the exposure with the evening sky with a crescent moon and a star-like Venus in the background.


Freya Schwinn of Stockton got a shot of a bridge that is sometimes hidden from view. On a family trip to Yosemite National Park she used a Canon EOS 6D DSLR camera to photograph the Stoneman Bridge of the Merced River. Thousands, perhaps even millions, of tourists have taken photos of this bridge along with other attractions at the park. But Schwinn viewed it from a different angle. There are tunnel footpaths along either side of the bridge which are inaccessible during high water. But on Schwinn’s trip the water had receded and she was able to go into one of the tunnels to get a shot from the inside looking out. She captured the reflection of the high-arched tunnel and the natural scene outside in the shallow water at the bottom.


Steven Rapaport of Stockton took his bridge photo a little closer to home. He got a beautiful sunset photo over Honker Cut from the Eight Mile Road truss bridge that connects King Island with Empire Tract in Stockton. Rapaport used the support beams to frame the sunset, clouds and slough for a complete composition.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph a historic bridge. At the 330-ft long, the Knights Ferry Bridge, near Oakdale, is the longest covered bridge west of Mississippi River. The obvious choice of subject is try to get an overall representation of the historic bridge itself, which Spurgeon did, but she went a step further. Shooting from inside the bridge she got a more intimate photo of an elderly couple. As they walked towards the open end of the bridge, they were silhouetted by the bright daylight outside against the much darker interior.


Randy Bayne, formerly of Stockton but now of Newnan, Georgia, also photographed a covered bridge but this one is definitely east of the Mississippi. Bayne used a Canon EOS 60D DSLR camera to photograph the Red Oak Creek covered bridge in Imlac, Georgia. The bridge was built in the 1840s and still carries traffic today. The long horizontal of the bridge’s wooden railings helps to drawn in the viewer’s eye to the covered portion of the bridge on the left. A stand of dark trees on the right helps to balance out the composition.


Chris Holt from Stockton used a Sony A7II mirrorless camera to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Shot during the blue hour, the bridges orange color, enhanced by its artificial lights, stands out against the rich blue of the sky, the water and the Marin headlands in the background. In the foreground is the historic Fort Point. The light on a smaller building near the fort and headlights on a car in the parking lot helps to tie the foreground in with the lights on the bridge.


The fourth time was the charm for Janet Baniewich of Stockton in her attempts to get a shot of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. As a passenger in a car being driven over the bridge, she tried to get a shot of one of the support towers of the western span with the sun in it with her Nikon D3300 DSLR camera. Her exposure was off as they past the first 2 towers. She miss-timed the third shot and didn’t get the sun in the shot. But by the time they got to the 4th pillar everything came together and she got her photo.


All of the photos sent in can be seen in an online gallery at A new challenge assignment will be issued on July 31.

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

Hold still, please

Using a good, sturdy tripod is the best way to ensure that your pictures are shake-free. However, not everyone likes to carry one around all the time. Depending on the model, they tend to be bulky, heavy and awkward to use. I’m one of those people. If I have a subject that I definitely know needs a tripod to shoot, then I’ll bring one along. If not, then it stays home. I don’t carry one with me just as a matter of course. A telephoto lens can magnify the camera’s shakiness. To counter this the general rule of thumb is to match your shutter speed to the focal length of the lens. For example for 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be set at a minimum of 1/200th of a second. If you have a wider lens, say a 50mm, you can go down to about 1/50th of a second with decent results. When you’re caught without a tripod there are a few things you can do to mitigate camera shake. It is possible to hold the camera still for shutters speeds that are 1-2 stops slower than the lens’ focal length by turning yourself into a tripod. Pull your arms in tight and cradle the camera and lens in your left hand while holding on to the grip on the right side with your right hand and set your feet about shoulders-width apart. Try to control your breathing and shoot in-between breaths. If your prone to shaking or unsteadiness, try leaning up against something stable line a tree, pole or wall. There are very low-light conditions or times when you want to used a very slow sputter speed where the aforementioned techniques wont work. But there are other things you can do. Set the camera down on a stable surface, a table, fence or even the ground, anything that won’t move. The push down on the top of the camera to guarantee that if won’t move even in the slightest. Hold it down while you’re pressing the button and don’t lift up until the exposure is done. It’s possible to do a several-second exposure this way. Theoretically you can even do an exposure that last minutes in this fashion but practically one’s hand, arm of other body part could start cramping up, or you could have the urge to sneeze or get an itch to scratch and then you’d be forced to abandon your long exposure shot. There’s one big disadvantage of this technique. Whereas you can move a tripod around for the best angle, using some a flat rock or bench or something limits where you can take your shot from. One might be in the best spot, then again, it might not be either. If you know your going to be taking long exposures beforehand, there’s nothing better than a tripod to hold your camera still and one should be your first choice. But if you need to shoot with a slow shutter and you’re without one, there are things you might be able to do in a pinch.

Posted in Column, Equipment, Techniques | 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