Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Bridges

In Stockton and San Joaquin County there are many rivers, sloughs and creeks that make their way through the city. With those bodies of water come many bridges that cross them and thus the inspiration for the next Readers PhotoChallenge assignment: Bridges.

I grew up in the small Delta community of Walnut Grove. It’s nestled along the Sacramento River and if I wanted to go anywhere, even just to visit some friends, it’s like that I had to cross at least one bridge. Today, while on my rounds for The Record I often travel over bridges on one sort or another several times a day.

We normally think of a bridge that spans over a river but also look for structures that carry the road over railroad tracks or even other roads. Overpasses, freeway bridges and train trestles are acceptable in this challenge.

Some bridges are unique structures. Unlike, say, an office building, they often don’t have an exterior “skin” The skeletal supporting architecture of beams and/or suspension cables is its aesthetic appeal. You can use the beams or supporting columns to frame other things in your picture.

Years ago my wife and I took one of those boat tours of San Francisco Bay. At one point the boat went under the Golden Gate Bridge. One usually sees the famed span from afar and our view from below gave us an unique perspective on the often photographed bridge. Try photographing whatever bridge that you choose from different angles to get a new viewpoint.

Instead of getting all or most of the bridge in your shot, try shooting a smaller section or detail of it. Sometimes a small part can be as good or greater than the whole.

Don’t forget the scenes around a bridge as well. Many bridges are in rural or semi-rural areas. Wildlife, birds, turtles and even otters or beavers, can often be seen in those areas. Boaters and fishers can make a nice accent in the foreground of your photo. You can use the bridge as a backdrop for a nice portrait.

The time of day is as important to a bridge photo as any other, perhaps more so. The morning/evening light of sunrises or sunsets can give a warm, pleasing glow to an otherwise cold, grey of steel beams. A bridge can be a nice part the composition along with a rising or setting sun or moon. Some bridges are lit up after the sun goes down which can make them perfect for a night shot.

With about 1,000 miles of waterways in the nearby Delta finding a bridge shouldn’t be difficult. If you want to do a little driving, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate are only a few hours away in the San Francisco Bay Area. The bridge that you photograph can be big or small, famous or obscure. You can photograph it with a set plan in mind or improvise on the spot. Either way, you can cross that bridge when you get there.

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between July 3 and July 17.

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: Highway 4 & San Joaquin River, 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 fishes from the bridge over Honkers Cut on Eight Mile Road 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, July 17. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on July 24 at

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Readers Photo Challenge: More than window dressing

Windows is the subject of the latests Readers Photo Challenge assignment. Using something in the foreground to frame your subject is a compositional technique that’s often used in photography. What better frame to use than a window?

Twenty six readers sent in 96 photos. Many delved beyond the subject matter and entered photos that were more than mere window dressing. Here are some of the top picks.


Donn Sperry of Stockton returned home from work on Flag Day, June 14. A flag that he put up in his window was backlit from a light inside the house. With a Sony Alpha NEX-7 mirrorless digital camera Sperry photographed bright flag standing out against the darker frame of the window.


Erv Rifenburg of Lodi went on a fishing excursion to the Gulf of Alaska. The skies were rainy and the seas were rough and the fishing was so-so. But he managed to come back with a great photo. Rifenburg used a Nikon P510 digital point-and-shoot camera to photograph fellow fisherman Mike Kosmide through the front window of their charted fishing boat. Kosmide wearing a bright yellow rain slicker, stands out against the neutral colors of the darker interior of the boat and the grey sky and ocean.


Susan Scott of Stockton photographed the reflective windows on the UOP Professional Development Building on March Lane in Stockton. With a Canon Rebel DSLR camera she captured reflections of the surrounding trees with the angles of the window panes reminiscent of the rigid geometric patterns of abstract Dutch painter Piet Mondrian creation.


Most people thought about photographing houses of other structures for their entries. Janet Baniewich of Stockton did a little out of the box thinking for her photo. While on a visit to Billings, Montana, she used an Apple iPhone 8 to photograph a portrait of her 2-year-old granddaughter Rose Holland as she looked out the window of her playhouse.


Dave Skinner of Stockton captured the art of decay and dilapidation in his photo. He used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera to photograph a broken window pane on an old west replica building at the Amador County Fairgrounds in Plymouth. Hazy reflections are caught on the dirt-covered glass while the cracks make an interesting pattern.


In the old days of film there was a process called reticulation in which the film was processed in very warm to hot developer and then doused in a cool fixing bath. The method distorted the film giving it an pronounced grain pattern and sometimes even damaged the film to the point where parts of the emulsion sloughed off the base celluloid. It all created an artistic effect that nowadays you can just add a filter to a modern digital image.

Rick Wilmot of Lodi recently visited the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg. A former sugar manufacturing plant that stood vacant for years, the building has been repurposed to house several different wineries. With his Canon 7D Mk II DSLR camera Wilmot photographed a window that had been painted over long ago. Shot from the inside, the backlit glass shows a grainy texture and the scratches and cracks in the paint make it look like a frame of reticulated film all without scalding developer or digital filter.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton is currently on a trip to Munich, Germany. On her travels she visited the former Dachau concentration camp which now stands as a memorial to the horrors of the Holocaust. Through the windows of a set of barracks she photographed others across the garrison compound. The think windows and its sills, silhouetted against the brighter outdoor light, almost look like prison bars, adding to the solemnity of the scene.


Ward Downs of Stockton visited his stepdaughter Katelin Holloway at the Original Joe’s restaurant in San Francisco. He snapped a picture with his Samsung S8 smartphone as she held up her 4-month-old son Juno Ramirez to one of the restaurant’s windows for her 3-year-old son Luca Ramirez to see.


On a trip to Columbia State Park in Tuolomne County, Diane Beltz of Stockton photograph a window with a sign panted on the glass. The sign, that said “Entrance on corner” with a finger pointing in that direction, stood out against the dark interior. A curtain falls in the opposite side of the frame from the sign and what appears to be the end of a wooden hangar peeks out from behind the far edge of the curtain and timidly points back at the finger.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada who’s a realtor used a Samsung Galaxy 8 smartphone to photograph a window latch in a house she was showing near Victory Park in Stockton. Indirect light gently illuminates the old-fashioned latch and window frame to make the picture warm and inviting.


Marty Kuslich of Stockton was sitting in his car eating for a meeting to start in Jackson when he saw a dog peeking out of a window of a nearby house. He used a Apple iPhone 8+ to photograph the pup as it did its job as a watch dog.


Most of the entries concentrated on one or two windows but Carrie Walker of Stockton found a building that’s almost nothing but windows. She used an Apple iPad to photograph the new San Joaquin County Courthouse at night. The interior lights makes nearly every window in the building to glow against the black night sky.


Steven Rapaport of Stockton used a Canon EOS 5D Mk IV DSLR camera to photograph his daughter Annie Hunt near a window at her home in Washington, D.C. He captures Hunt as she works on her computer and a raindrops from a storm outside obscures the view through the window.


All of the photos can be seen in an online photo gallery at A new challenge assignment will be issued on July 3.

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Make ‘em laugh

There’s an old adage in show biz that goes “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Photography can be similar. It’s easy to show some emotions in pictures. You can tell when someone is happy, sad or angry without much effort. Showing humor is another story. I think part of the problems that humor is very subjective. Everyone has a little different take on what’s funny.

The San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association (SFBAPPA) used to have a monthly photo contest for its members and one of the categories was “humor.” Sometimes I would see the humor in some of the winners, other times not so much. Don’t get me wrong. They were excellent photos, they just weren’t that funny to me.

Several years ago I entered the SFBAPPA contest of a girl feeding animals at a petting zoo at the San Joaquin County Fair. She was feeding a llama with one hand while trying to keep a goat from eating an ice-cream cone filled with feed in the other hand. I thought it was cute and mildly amusing, but not out-and-out funny and I didn’t expect to win. It got a first place.

There’s a difference of people being funny and others “doing” funny. For comedians, clowns and the like, It’s their job. Photos of the them can be naturally humorous. But if you can capture people doing something ordinary in an unusual way or something unusual as if it were an everyday occurrence, that can be even funnier.

Way back in 1995 I was out covering a heavy rainstorm. I spotted three pre-teen boys in the Lincoln Village neighborhood of Stockton. They were asking home from school when they stopped near an intersection that was flooded with several inches of rain water. The boys were prompting passing cars to speed up to cause large splashes of water to spray on them. They were soaked to the bone but having a great time. I have often wondered what their mothers said to them when they got home.

Sometimes all you need is just a little twist on a normal take to make things funny. In 2011, I shot a Stockton Thunder Hockey game at the Stockton Arena. The Thunder’s Garet Hunt got into a fight with Bakersfield Condors’ Pascal Morency. Hockey players fight all the time. Nothing inherently unusual or necessarily humorous about that. But a woman just on the other side of glass partition that surrounds the rink was laughing and having a grand ol’ time watching the two men pummel each other. The fight wasn’t funny but how the woman reacted to it was.

Another saying goes “brevity is the source of wit. To communicate it’s intent, a photo, like a joke, should be concise and to the point. Any extraneous information or rambling explanations can kill a joke. In the same vein, a photo that’s cluttered or takes to long to show the viewer what’s going on in the picture, will fail to communicate its humor. If a picture that has any chance to be funny, it first has to be what’s known in the business as a “quick read.” Mastering that is as key to photographing humor as is learning how to do a punchline, pratfall or pie in the face is to comedy.

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AgFest costume contest

TOP: Nine-year-old Gracie Irola with the Escalon 4H dressed as Cleopatra while her steer Harold was made up as King Tut in the annual costume contest where animals are dressed up by the kids who raised them at the AgFest at the San Joaquin County fairgrounds in Stockton.  BOTTOM LEFT: Fourteen-year-old Erin Grogan, left, and 15-year-old Emma Bracco, with the Escalon FFA dressed up themselves as well as their respective goats Tank and Mepe as Dr. Seuss characters Thing 2 and Thing 1. BOTTOM RIGHT: Eleven-year-old Belle Begllinger with the French Camp 4H puts a Hawaiian lei on her turkey Gloria Gobbles to make her a “luau girl” in the annual farm animal costume contest. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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Sounds of Swenson

TOP: Austin James performs with his band at the first Sounds of Swenson concert at Swenson Park in Stockton. The concert in the park series is presented every second Thursday of the month from June to September in association with Save Swenson. BOTTOM LEFT: About 200 to 300 people listen to Austin James perform with his band at the first Sounds of Swenson concert at Swenson Park in Stockton. BOTTOM RIGHT: Guitarist Bill Stevens with the James Austin Bands, plays a riff on his guitar at the first Sounds of Swenson concert. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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Fair’s first day: For the young and young at heart

TOP: Duane Falls, left, and Kassie Smith from Cullman, Alabama ride the Super Sizzler ride on opening day of the San Joaquin County Fair at the fairgrounds in Stockton. BOTTOM LEFT: Seven-year-old Armand Adames of Stockton, right, is watch by his 9-year-old cousin Andrea Kashaka of Stockton as he tosses ping pong balls into floating dishes to an attempt to win a prize in the Buoy Pitch game on the San Joaquin County Fair’s Midway. BOTTOM RIGHT: Four-year-old Bethany Hensley of Ripon waves to her family as she rides the Lollipop Swing ride on the Midway on opening day of the San Joaquin County Fair. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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Bullets, balloons and paintball

When people think of the word “photojournalist” they often think of a photographer covering some war-torn corner of the globe, however, I have never desired to be one of those photographers.

For a couple of reasons, I have always preferred to take local photos of the people and places much closer to home.

First, there are some people in Stockton who have never seen parts of the city other than their own neighborhood. I believe that it’s just as important to show people the world around them and bring it to their doorsteps as it it is to show war-torn Syria or Afghanistan.

Secondly, I’ve learned that I don’t have the skills to be a combat photographer.

Several years ago, I covered the opening of a new paintball facility at the now-defunct Oakwood Lake Resort in Manteca. I was geared up for the game with a mask and helmet but within a few minutes of the start of a session, I was shot right between the eyes even though the paintballers were given the instruction “don’t shoot the photographer.” I think it was then it was cemented in my mind that conflict photography was not meant for me.

More recently, I covered the Balloons Over Bullets event in south Stockton. The idea was to give kids an fun activity, in this case a large water balloon fight, to help keep them away from violence. When the battle began mass chaos ensued with screaming, giggling kids running every which way. I was nailed three times, twice with water balloons thrown by unseen assailants and a third by a little girl who snuck up behind me and poured a bottle of water on me.

I believe that bringing images of war and conflict from far-flung places to us here at home is of great importance. If we’re to send in military aid or troops to a foreign land, then we should know why we’re doing it. In the tradition going all the way back to the legendary Robert Capa during WWII, the men and women who do this valuable and dangerous work bring back incredible images that show the world all while under fire. I’m just glad that they’ve chosen that line of photography because it means that I don’t have to.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Windows of opportunity

“If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.” – Tom Peters

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “windows.”

Windows allow us to see the outside world from the comfort of our homes. They allow light in and while keeping the cold or heat out. The can be ornate or merely functional.

They can also be very useful photographically. Framing is a compositional tool that is often used in photography. You can use something in the foreground, such as a tree branch, to help frame your subject. Windows are also an obvious choice for framing your pictures. Photographing through a window, leaving the sill and frame within the picture, can help to emphasize what you’re taking photos of.

You can create abstract photos by shooting through a window covered in raindrops. Focus on the glass and droplets and let the rest go out of focus and you have an impressionist painting-like image.

Don’t forget about the reflective properties of the glass in windows. You can use it to capture images of other buildings, the surrounding landscape or people. You can even get sunlight bouncing off of a window as a part of your composition.

You don’t have to limit yourself to the windows on buildings. The windows on vehicles, planes, trains and automobiles, will do nicely as well.

Your subject may be shot through a window, reflected off of a window or just of a window (or windows) itself, just as long that it’s clear that a window is involved (no shooting through a window without showing at least its edge or frame).

Windows are numerous and can be found everywhere, so much so that one may not even think of them or ignore their presence. So you need to keep your eyes open, think outside of the box and look for your window of opportunity.


Enter the Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Shadows

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

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

3. Entries will be limited to no more than 12 photos.

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: Oak Park, Stockton. 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, 15, of Stockton, walks in front of the windows of the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Tuesday, June 19. The top examples will be published in the Record on June 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Beyond a shadow of a doubt

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “shadows.” While a few had some trouble with the concept, the pictures were to showcase shadows and not just contain them, others stepped out of the shadows and let their work shine beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Fifteen readers sent in seventy seven photos. Here are some of the top picks.


With a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera, Oran Schwinn of Stockton captured the light coming through the blinds on an east-facing window and created shadows on the blinds of a south-facing window at his home. The horizontal lines of the south blinds are complimented by the diagonal bars of light and dark from the east window which creates and interesting pattern of lines and shades in his photo.


The patterns of shadow in Stocktonian Steve Rapaport’s photo creates interesting patterns for the viewer’s eye to explore. With a Canon EOS 5D Mk IV DSLR camera, Rapaport captured a woman and man having lunch along the Seine River in Paris, France. The pattern of shadows from a nearby tree that emanate from the bottom of the frame and lead to the couple. Sitting income of the darkest parts of the shadow they are almost silhouetted and become a part of the shadow.


While on a trip through the Mother Lode Gold County, Dave Skinner of Stockton came across a bike parked in front of a store in Jackson. Painted a hideous faded beige/yellow Skinner saw past the unattractive color and saw the artistic possibilities in the bike’s shadow. Using a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, he captured the bikes elegant shadow/silhouette on the pavement then later converted it to black and white.


Susan Scott of Stockton to a picture of a Lilly while on a walk along March Lane in Stockton. With her Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera she photographed the bright yellow flower in a delicate dance with its own crisp shadow in the pavement.


Shooting a shadow self-portrait was a popular subject with many of the people who entered the challenge, but Ken Class of Lodi put a little different twist on his. While flying back to Sacramento International Airport from a trip to Manzanita Beach on the north Oregon coast, Class used his Apple iPhone 7 Plus to photograph the plane’s shadow on the on the ground as it made its final approach to the airport.


Aisha Ahmed of Stockton was walking with her 2-year-old son Aayan Khan near San Joaquin Street and Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. With her Apple iPhone 6 she photographed their shadows as they held hands to make a touching mother and child portrait.


Lillian McDonell of Stockton submitted a double portrait for her shadow picture. She used an Apple iPhone 6 to photograph her 7-year-old grandson Leo Emigh capturing his and her own shadow while visiting him at his school in Roseville.


Donn Sperry of Stockton attempted to recreate a photo that he took years earlier of some balloons next to his kitchen for one of his kids’ birthday parties. For his newer version, he used a Sony Alpha NEX-7 mirrorless digital camera to photograph balloons as the light that came through the window blinds created subtle patterns of light and shadow on them.


Carrie Walker of Stockton used an Apple iPad to photograph her cat Panda as the late afternoon setting sun made the pet’s long shadow look like Batman.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada sent in a great example of a minimalistic photo. She used a Nikon D7200 DSLR camera to photograph a dandelion growing from an intersection of 2 lines in some concrete near her home. The flower’s long, free-form shadow created by an early morning sun stands stark contrast to the strain, rigid lines as does the flower’s color against the colors concrete.


All of the photos sent in can be seen in an online photo gallery at Stay tuned for a new challenge assignment on June 12.

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Travel Practice

May is coming to an end soon graduations will take place and then after that summer vacation and all the photos you’ll take while you’re on the road. Vacation photos are essentially the same as travel photography. Like all things, the more you practice at travel pictures the better you’ll get at it. But short of traveling all the time, how do you practice those travel photos? Do it close to home. It may sound counterintuitive but what you need to do is to treat your home town or city like a travel destination. The key is making time to go out and do some shooting. Plan a “photo walk” for yourself. That means you need to do some sightseeing as if you were on vacation. I know it may be hard since you may see these sights on a daily basis and might take them for granted, but try to see them with fresh eyes as if you haven’t seen them before. Look at things from different angles that you’re used to seeing them at. If you always pass by a certain building from one side then try looking at it from the other side. Look for interesting architecture. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty off the overall urban landscape of a city but don’t forget the details as well. The details of parts of a building can be just as interesting. Also look to see how shiny surfaces – windows, polished walls, etc. – can reflect other buildings too. Speaking of light, I know I go on and on about it but lighting can make or break a photo. The best light of the day is either during early morning or late afternoon. By going out locally at those times you can see how dramatically light affects the scenery. When you go on your trip you can plan some of your picture taking around those hours of the day. See how light affects and reflects off of those surfaces. One building may look very different in the morning than in the middle of the day. Night shots can yield great shots during your vacation but, with setting up the camera and finding the right setting, possibly under the limited time constraints of your itinerary, it can be stressful if you haven’t done it before. Getting some practice at home before you go can be very helpful. Photographing people is also something to look for on your travels but it’s one of the hardest photographic disciplines to master. One technique is to take your pictures clandestinely, on the fly, so to speak. You have to be quick on the draw and be able to react swiftly to rapidly changing situations. Another is to just ask people to take their picture. Both are valid but are harder to do than it may seem. Practicing in your own town can help a lot before you go on your vacation. So make some time before you go on your vacation to work on your travel photography techniques and, as the old joke goes, practice, practice practice.  

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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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