Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Water, water everywhere

With all the recent storms we’ve had, I think it’s a great opportunity to revisit one of our first challenge assignments: Water.

Over the past few years the drought has made water a scarce commodity, but the aforementioned storms have eased the dry conditions if not eliminated them in some parts of the state.

Water is the source of life. It quenches our thirst and grows out crops. People fish and boat on the nearly by California Delta’s miles of waterways. There are a myriad of locations and opportunities for photos of water.

The first water challenge was issued in the summer of 2013 so there were a lot of opportunities for recreational photos of water with people swimming in pools, skiing on rivers and so forth. It’s wintertime now so most of those options are limited (though, you can find people out fishing or boating). Still, you can find other advantages that this time of year as to offer.

Rainy weather can make for an excellent water pictures. There’s sure to be a storm or two within the two weeks before the challenge’s deadline. you can get shots of people with umbrellas, raindrops clinging to a window or onto leaves or flowers.

Recent storms have left of lot of standing water. Flooded fields and large puddles can be excellent sources for photos. They can be subjects in and of themselves or they can provide surfaces for reflections.

If you’re not adventuresome enough to travel outside in inclement weather, then try thinking about a still life-type photo. You can photograph a glass of water on your kitchen counter or windowsill as gentle window light filters in.

Lastly, try looking for water in other forms. Snow and ice are solid forms of water that aren’t usually found during summertime and are valid subjects. So if you happened to be headed for snow country then there will be plenty of opportunities for you to find your water shot.

How to enter: 

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

2. Photos have to be shot between Feb. 2 and Feb. 16.

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, and if they’re related to you. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in a pile of snow at Kirkwood Ski Resort).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Feb. 16. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on Feb. 23 at

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Reader Photo Challenge: Winter wonderlands

Winter is the theme for the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. Most people don’t consider winter as the time that we’re likely to go out and look for pictures. Inclement weather often keeps people inside away from many photo opportunities. But those opportunities can abound for those willing to brave the cold and wet conditions.

Ten readers sent in 38 photos. Here are the top picks.


In the Central Valley, winter usually means cold, wet weather. While that may not seem appealing to some, beauty still can be found under those conditions

Luis Rodriguez of Stockton used a used a Motorola Moto X smartphone he photographed his mother Maria Rodriguez as she walked along the promenade on a winter’s day at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. He converted the picture to black and white, which emphasizes its bleakness. With the wind blowing at his mom’s coat and the grey, overcast skies Rodriguez found the beauty in a dreary winter’s day.


Color doesn’t completely disappear during winter. Sydney Spurgeon find some color while on a trip to snowbound Lake Tahoe. She used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera to photograph the needles of a branch of a pine tree. Spurgeon captured the subtle greens of the needles and the deep red-brown of the branch itself all covered in a light dusting of snow.


Janet Baniewich of Stockton stayed closer to home to find her depiction of winter. She used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to take a picture of frost on a verbena plant in her backyard garden. The rays of the morning sun graces the ridges of the leaves before it starts to melt the thin and fragile film of ice.


Sometimes, especially in California, the weather can be nice during the winter. Ervin Rifenburg of Lodi used his Apple iPhone 5 to photograph his yellow Labrador retriever Penny as she rested during a break while they were duck hunting at the Oh So Hi Duck Club near Los Banos. The low rays of the morning sun seem to be warming her up as she sleeps in their duck blind.


Wintertime in the Central Valley is also a time for migratory birds. Kelley Jennings of Stockton used a Canon EOS 7D DSR camera with a 100-400mm lens  to photograph a sandhill crane as it walked though the stubble of a harvested cornfield at Staten Island near Walnut Grove.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Nikon D3200 DSLR to photograph a dusting of snow on some leaves while on a trip to Coupeville, Washington.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph his 6-year-old grandson Carlos Lopez reflected in a puddle as he got off the bus from his first back at school from winter break on Bowman Road in French Camp.


All the photos sent in can be seen in a gallery at A new Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be issued on February, 2.

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Random photo #70: Fair weather runners

Members of the San Joaquin Delta College swim team are reflected in a puddle left by recent storms as they jog by during dry land training on the track at Delta’s DiRicco Field in Stockton. Ironcially, the daily practices are canceled if if the weather is too rainy.

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A timeout for timeouts

There are 2 words that many sports shooters hate to hear, or at least I don’t when I’m photographing sports: “Media timeout.” For those who attend a sporting event that’s being televised, you will inevitably hear those words at some point during the game. It means that play is being stopped for a commercial break for the television viewing audience.

Viewers at home don’t notice a thing, except commercials for beer, sneakers or sports drinks or other goods and services. Of course, fans at the game do not actually see them.

Most sports have a flow to them and one needs to get into the rhythm of the game to get a good shot. Too many timeouts can disrupt that rhythm and annoy and frustrate many photographers.

Most pro games are televised on broadcast or cable networks and so are many college games. Some sports like baseball and tennis have natural commercial breaks, such as end of innings. Other sports, such as football and basketball, don’t have those breaks and instead have media timeouts.

In the Stockton area, this means University of the Pacific basketball. Knowing if a particular game will be played close under the basket or one shot from 3-point range, or if the game will be a defensive or offensive one can be determined by keeping track of the tempo of the game. It’s when one is getting into the swing of the game that the whistle is blown, play is stopped and the announcer calls a media timeout.

When the TV viewer comes back to the game after the timeout is over, it seems to them as if not much has happened and they’ve returned to the point at about which they left. But a lot goes on in that minute or so of stoppage.

In the case of a Pacific basketball game, the teams pull chairs out onto the court and go into their respective huddles to talk strategy. A couple of guys come out with sweepers to mop up the sweat dripped onto the court by the players. The Tiger dancers may come out and do a full routine or a simple time-keeping step while the band or recorded music plays. The university mascot, PowerCat, may work the crowd while a promotions crew throws T-shirts out into the crowd or gives away free pizzas. As the timeout ends, the teams leave their huddles and attendants mop up any perspiration that may have fallen to the floor during the huddle.

All this takes only a minute or two before the game starts again, but that can be enough. In college basketball, media timeouts occur at the first dead ball after four-minute intervals; that’s four for each half. There are also the three timeouts each team gets per half. That can add up to 13 stoppages of play. I often wondered if all those breaks affected the timing of the players, but during a fast-paced game like basketball, even a small pause can be enough to throw off a photographer’s pace and timing.

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In a fog

When walking to school as a kid, around 8 or 9 years old, on chilly winter mornings I would see the condensation from my billowing out of my mouth and the mouths of others. On one foggy morning, my kid logic put 2 and 2 together: fog came from people.

A day with a light mist must have meant that there were just a few people out and about. A thick fog meant that there were a lot of people outside breathing heavily. When the fog lifted, that must have meant that people got tired of the cold and went inside.

When I got older I eventually learned that fog is actually formed when there is a temperature difference between the ground and air and the humidity is high enough to form fog. It was the technical explanation but I’ve always remembered the little kid’s reasoning to keep the enchantment of a foggy day.

Photographing the fog can be a bit tricky. If there’s too much of it, you can’t see anything, but If there’s too little fog can then it can just look like an ordinary day. You have to find the right balance between too much and not enough. If it’s too thick then you can always wait until it starts to burn off then take your pictures. Try having something in the foreground that’s fairly clear in the picture and other elements fade off into the fog the further away they get.

Lens choice can make a difference in a fog picture. A telephoto lens tends to compress the scene thus enhancing the “fogginess” of the photo. It may make your pictures look foggier than they may really be, a boon for a day with light fog. A wide-angle lens will have just the opposite effect, making the scene look less foggy.

Be careful when using an auto exposure mode. Like with snow, your camera may read a white foggy scene as too bright and will adjust its settings to underexpose the picture. Try switching to manual and checking your results on the camera’s monitor.

The more adventuresome photographers may want to try photographing in the fog at night. The misty condition can give streetlights and lit signs an almost mystical glow.

It’s winter so cold is an issue. Always dress warmly. Also keep an eye and ear out for traffic as the fog will make you harder to be seen by drivers.

The dry years of the drought meant that foggy days became few and far between. But the rainstorms we’ve had recently are sure to mean more foggy days. It can be a problem for those who have to drive through it or crave sunny days. But it can be a blessing for those looking to capture the misty wonder of winter.

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Outtakes: December

The new year has started but before we venture farther into 2017 there’s one more look back at 2016 that needs to be done. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from December.













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Reader Photo Challenge assignment: Winter

The next Readers Photo Challenge will be the last of the season-themed assignments. So far we’ve done spring, summer and fall. Photographing winter  is your next task.

Most people don’t think about photography during the winter months. It’s usually cold, wet and miserable and they probably opt to stay indoors where it’s nice and warm. But winter can yield some pretty interesting pictures if you’re brave enough to brave the elements.

The most obvious aspect about winter is snow. If you’re lucky enough to live in snow country, then you don’t have to travel far. But if live in the valley like most of us then you’ll have to drive a couple of hours to find some snow. Most people will think of snow-covered landscapes as subjects, but pictures of people dealing with the snow, skiing, snowboarding, or digging out from a storm, are valid subjects as well.

The biggest problem with photographing snow is exposure. Your camera’s metering system will likely read a scene with lots of white snow in it as too bright. If it’s on automatic, it will turn down the exposure, thus underexposing your shot. Try switching to manual and reviewing the image on your camera’s monitor.

If you’re not fortunate enough to live in the mountains or aren’t able to travel there, don’t worry, there is plenty of wintry weather here in the valley, albeit without snow.

While it may not snow very often in the Central Valley, it can get down to around freezing. Its common to find frost covered lawns and rooftops in the morning. Be sure to get out early before the rising sun melts it all. Shots of people bundled up against the cold are good subjects as well.

Rain is a sure sign of winter in the valley so look for things like people with umbrellas, reflective puddles and raindrop covered plants or windows.

Finally, a word of caution: Wherever you decide to find your winter photos its cold and wet out there so be sure to dress warmly and watch your step.

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between Jan. 5 and Jan. 19.

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 (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in a pile of snow at Kirkwood Ski Resort).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Dec. 19 A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on Dec. 26 at

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12 from ’16

In addition to my 52 favorite photos slideshow, I’ve also compiled shorter yearend lists over the last several years.

Top 10 lists are popular but they can be a bit limiting. if you had several great photos in just a month or two, that would leave the rest of the year unrepresented. That could be resolved with a larger list, such as a top 100, but a lineup like that can be overwhelming and cumbersome.

Any criteria one uses will be a compromise, but the one I’ve chosen is a top 12, a favorite picture for every month of the year. It keeps the list small yet it keeps track of my progress throughout the year. Like I said, I’ve been doing it for the past several years and at this point its become tradition for me.


January 27: The year started out not with a bang, but with a bump. While driving through the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton looking for a feature picture, I noticed several large inflatable spheres lying on the lawn outside of the DeRosa University Center.

The Theta Chi fraternity was holding a recruitment event by playing “bubble soccer” to entice new students to join their organization. They donned the spheres and ran headlong at each other in what looked like a cross between soccer and bumper cars. I don’t know how many new members toe got that day, but I was a convert.


February 10: Sports photos are all about peak action and intensity. When covering an Edison at McNair boys varsity basketball game in Stockton, I captured McNair’s Darrell Harris as he attacked the basket. He’s frozen in mid-air with a look of ferocity and concentration on his face.


March 31: During the NorCal Classic softball at the Tracy Softball Complex, I photographed the precise moment when Tracy catcher Cierra Hylton applied a tag for the out as Gregori’s Nichole Alexander tried to sneak around her at home plate.


April 22: I photographed a tattoo removal event at Mary Magdalene Community Services in downtown Stockton. Derek Salceda, who had done previous treatments and had yet many tattoos to go, sat down for the laser procedure. He said that having it done to one’s fingers is the most painful part. Judging from Salceda’s grimaces and writhing in his chair, he was right.


May 21: The south side of Stockton near the Sierra Vista neighborhood had experienced a spate of violent incidences that left one dead and several wounded. Area activist Georgia Brownlee organized a prayer vigil to stand up against the violence. About 5 dozen people gathered in support of the cause in a lot Airport Way and 8th Street. As they stood in a circle, hand-in-hand, Pastor Ronnie Murray with the Christ Side Disciples Movement Center gave a prayer before they set out on a march to nearby Rev. A.E. Williams Brotherhood Park. I photograph Murray as he spoke framed by the clasped hands of two of the participants in the foreground.


June 8: I was on the look for a sunset shot on the deep water channel out on the west end of March Lane in Stockton. As the sun sank in the west I waited for a boat to cruise by or perhaps a flock of birds to soar past to act as subjects to be set against the colorful sky.

A couple of small boats zipped down the channel but I waited for something more. Then I saw something that I hadn’t noticed earlier. In the distance, mostly silhouetted against channel’s far levee, it looked like some sort building but it wasn’t there before, was it?

But then it appeared to be getting slowly larger. It took a while but I realized it was a cargo ship churning its way up the channel to the Port of Stockton. It was what I was looking for. The only problem was that I hoped that it would get close enough before the sunset lost all of hits beautiful color. The ship managed to get to my position while the sky still held a deep orange hue then rounded a bend to continued on to the port.


July 28: I got to a Stockton Ports baseball game a little early and saw Ports relief pitcher Carlos Navas taking the field while wearing a child’s pink backpack. Just after the game started I was shooting from the dugout when I asked a couple of players what was up with the backpack.

They said that Navas had lost a bet. The previous night he had a homerun hit off of him and as a part of the bet he had to wear the backpack. Not only that, but he had to wear it every game until another reliever had a homer hit off of them.


August 10: One of the things I look for is something with a slightly different twist. I photographed Sabrina Price as she waited to pick up her granddaughter from her first day of school at Acaia Elementary School in Stockton. Nothing to different there, but as she waited Price’s 2-year old Chihuahua happily balanced on her shoulder adding an element of the unusual to the photo.


September 27: In September 3-year-old Melanie Martinez was riding in a car driven by her mother when it was targeted in a hail of gunfire. Melanie was struck by one of the bullets. They drove to her directly to a hospital where she was pronounced dead from her wounds.

News of Melanie’s murder struck a chord with Stocktonians of all walks of life. A few days after her death a public vigil was organized at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown Stockton. Hundreds of people attended to show their sympathies and condolences for Melanie and her family. Her young parents, Lino Martine and Kimberly Botelo, sat during the vigil, quietly crying and embracing each, other surrounded by the love and support of an entire community.


October 20: Another thing I look for is people doing something in an unusual place. I happened upon James Macias and Jasmin Ordonez of Stockton as they practiced a salsa dance routine at the Louis Park boat ramp to the deep water channel in Stockton while Latin music played from their nearby pickup truck as they prepared for an October 29 Dia De Los Muertos performance at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi.


November 17: Army Sgt. John Perry was killed by a suicide bomber while serving in Afghanistan. A memorial service for Perry was quickly incorporated into an already scheduled flag retirement ceremony at One Stop Security and Technology in Stockton. During the solemn ceremony Perry’s father, Stewart Perry of Stockton fought back his grief as he was presented with a folded flag by Tino Adame, state chairman of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation.


December 17: Every year the Good Samaritan Training Center holds it’s Operation Dreamkeeper event at the county fairgrounds in Stockton. It’s basically a big Christmas party for hundreds disadvantaged youth in the community. After songs and treats, the highlight of the afternoon is the giving of free presents to the children who may otherwise not get one for the holidays.

Most kids express joy and excitement upon opening their gifts. Seven-year-old Tavi Smith, a bit overwhelmed by the experience, simply but gratefully hugged the Star Wars action figure that he got.

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Picks of the litter

This is a natural time for many people do yearend lists and for the past several years I’ve produced an end of the year slideshow of 52 of my favorite photos from the preceding year.

Why 52 you may ask? A top 10 seemed to be too few and 100 seemed too many. Some arbitrary number had to be picked. I settled at 52 because that’s the number of weeks in a year.

Now, that doesn’t mean each picture in the show represents a specific week from the year. Due to vacations, sick leave and other days off, I haven’t actually work all 52 weeks. But it’s the number I’ve picked and I’m sticking to it.

I shot about 900 assignments over the course of 2016 and during the year I set aside photos that I liked for one reason or another. This year they came to nearly 850 pictures, which became the starting point for editing my yearend list.

The first cut culls them down to around 300 or so. A second editing brings the number down to about 100. It’s then the tough part begins.

Editing one’s own images is like choosing a favorite child. Each one has its own merits and interesting story behind it. As the number gets smaller and smaller, the harder it becomes to winnow down the selection.

When it gets down to the last 5 or 10 to eliminate, the choices become agonizing. There are dozens of images that I wished that I could include, but 52 was my self imposed limit.

So, here are my top pictures from 2016. I hope you enjoy them and here’s to a prosperous and productive 2017.

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Reader Photo Challenge: Backyard inspiration

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment was to find a subject to photograph no further than one’s backyard. The goal of the challenge is to find inspiration in something close to home as picturesque.

It’s common that one can see things that are familiar to them as ordinary and perhaps not worth a picture, but if you can learn to look at the mundane in a new light then you can find inspiration and great photos anywhere you go.

Eighteen readers sent in a total of 107 photos. Here are the top picks.


 With a Nikon D90 DSLR camera Ken Buck of Stockton captured an egret silhouetted against the golden sky at sunset as it was perched on the branch of a neighbor’s tree. Although it is now the fall/winter season, Buck’s photo evokes a feeling of a warm summer evening and one can imagine lounging in a hammock while sipping a fruity drink from a glass with a small paper umbrella in it.


 Weeds are the bane of my backyard but to paraphrase an old adage, one person’s weed is another person’s treasure. Teresa Mahnken of Morada used her Samsung Galaxy 5 smartphone and got close up to photograph a dandelion in her backyard. In her picture, the sun breaks through a tree in the background as its light illuminates the plant’s fluffy seed head turning an unwanted weed into a thing of beauty.


 Isolating your subject against a colorful background is a tried and true photographic technique, but so is the opposite. Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph a small thin branch on a birch tree in his backyard. Its 3 bright yellow leaves pop out against the near monotone of the white bark of the tree’s trunk making for a simple yet beautiful artistic statement.


 This assignment was of your backyard, the things within it or what can be see from it, but that didn’t mean that you had to be in it to take your picture. Ken Class of Stockton used his Apple iPhone 6 to photograph his backyard scene through a window overlooking his to Lake Lincoln, which backs up to his yard. The trick here is getting the focus right. It’s easy for a smartphone with its autofocus to be confused by the transparent glass and focus on the background leaving the raindrops looking like a messy smear in the picture. But Class’s smartphone handled it well, and he was able to capture a stormy day without having to go out into the storm.


 In many parts of the country winter cold shuts down the landscaping in one’s backyard but not as much here in Central California. Carolyn Silva of Jackson, using a Nikon D5000 DLSR camera, photographed a chrysanthemum blossom in her backyard. Its bright colors of purple and yellow shine through a thin layer of morning frost covering the flower’s petals for a picture that is uniquely Californian.


 Susan Scott of Stockton used her Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph the leaves of a flowering pear tree in her backyard. She approached the tree from its underside to get a close up shot of light shining through the backlit leaves, which intensified their fall colors.


 Lee Miller of of Stockton used a Olympus Camedia C‑3020 Zoom digital point-and-shoot camera to photograph a box of picked persimmons from a tree in his backyard. The picture’s soft light emphasizes the understated orange of the dusty fruit for a photo of subtle color.


Sometimes even California color, bold or fine, fails us. Its then you need to know how to switch gears and look for something else. Holly Stone of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 5c to photograph a rose bush in her backyard, but instead of finding a colorful blossom she focused on the glistening morning dewdrops covering one of the leaves.


As always all the pictures can be seen in a photo gallery at The next challenge assignment will be issued in 2 weeks on January 5.

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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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