12 from 18

For the past several years, I have compiled a top 12 list of my favorite pictures from the the year. Why 12 and not 10? This list is a little different because I pick one favorite from each month, thus 12.

Every list is imperfect and arbitrary. With a top 10, a list may not always reflect one’s efforts for the whole year as it’s possible that a majority of the photos could weighted from a certain quarter, month or even week of the year.

I also do a yearend slideshow featuring 52 photos from the year. Why 52? I chose that number because there are 52 weeks in the year, though, because of vacations and such, I don’t work every week. But it shows more of how my work progress throughout the year.

However, while 52 is a good number for a slideshow, it’s far too large for an easily read list. A top 12, one from each month, is much more digestible and shows my work throughout the year.

So, without further ado, my top 12 from 2018.


January ended with a celestial event in the sky: A super blood moon. While it sounds rather ominous the event is rather benign. The “super” part refers to when a full moon is at it’s closest in its slightly elliptical orbit to the Earth and the “blood” describes the deep red-orange color the moon turns at the height of a lunar eclipse.

The 2 coincided in the wee hours of January 31. It was a foggy morning and I took a chance, hoping it would clear.
I drove out to the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton for the rural darkness would. After waiting alone in the preserve’s parking lot a while the fog did clear enough to reveal the blood moon. I thought to myself that the scene needed something or someone in the foreground. Almost as soon as I had the thought, a car pulled up a 2 people got out. Siblings Angela and Samuel Tsubera, like me, wanted to see the eclipse. They stood in the dark stillness and watched as they became a part of my photo.


On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and staff members and injuring 17 others.

On February 28, students from the San Joaquin County Office of Education’s Venture Academy participated in a walkout around the school’s campus at the San Joaquin County Office of Education in Stockton in support of the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to protest gun violence.

The students ended their walkout in a large athletic field. The formed a large circle, grasped each other’s hands and held a moment of silence. I focused on a pair of students’ hands with the rest of the circle in the background which symbolized the unity they shared with their fellow students in Florida.


March 15 brought the installation of Stockton Catholic Diocese Bishop Myron Cotta who replaced the retiring Bishop Stephen Blaire. The ceremony was held at St. Stanislaus Church in Modesto and was full of pomp and circumstance one would expect of such an occasion. At the end, the newly consecrated bishop made his way out of the large, modern church, waving to the people along the way.

Outside, Cotta remained to greet well-wishers. People shook hands and hugged him. While I was taking pictures of this informal, post-ceremony scene, Myrna Taa of Modesto took a selfie with Cotta, making him not only a man of God, but of the people as well.


I started with more than 1,600 favorite photos for the year and to get them down to 52, one has to be brutal in editing. It was just a luck of the draw that April’s top pick didn’t make the 52 of my yearend slideshow.

On April 29 I was looking for photos along Dad’s Point in Stockton. The point is a long finger of land that separates the boat launch ramp at Louis Park from the deep water channel across from the Port of Stockton. I didn’t see anything on my walk out to the end of the point, but on my way back I noticed something unusual.

Monrovia-flagged cargo ship Ken Giant was moored at the port’s Rough and Ready Island. At the rear of the craft, on it’s rudder they was partial exposed above the water, lay a sea lion sunning itself. I didn’t noticed it at first because it’s brown color nearly blended in with the rust color paint of the ship’s hull.


May 20 brought the Calaveras County fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee which is always a great event to shoot and always produces fun images. And this year was no different. My favorite from the frog jumps and the month was a shot of Aurora Lewis with the VG Frogs team jumping her frog, Bubba Lewis in the international Frog Jump finals. Aurora is bent over with a scowl on her face as she yells at Bubba, trying to get him to jump. Bubba, for his part, is in mid-leap as he starts togged airborne.


On June 21, Weston Ranch librarian Jackie Rea came up with a novel idea to get people into her branch of the library system. In June, She combine the latest craze of paint parties with the popularity of late PBS painting show host Bob Ross. In the library’s community room, she held a painting session where participants got to follow along with a video of Ross painting. In the spirit of things she wore a t-shirt with Ross’ likeness on it and sported a wig that was similar to his signature afro.


July is typically one of the hottest months of the year in the Central Valley. The Pixie Woods children’s amusement park installed an interactive fountain for the kids to play and cool off in several years ago and is a popular attraction on a hot day. On July 12, I shot 8-year-old Malachi Brown of Stockton as he enjoyed being blasted by jets of water at the park for some cooling fun.


On August 19 a water main broke under Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard between Harrison and Lincoln streets in south Stockton flooding portions of each street. When I arrived on the scenes 2 California Water workers were in a water-filled hole that their crew dug with a backhoe. Water was still pouring from the pipe and they were standing in a chest-high pool of it. While trying to stem the breach, one of them would dive under for several seconds with only the soles of his work boots visible. While it was wet, miserable work, I guessing that they were thankful that the break happened during the heat of August rather than in a frigid December.


On September 22 I covered an event for the first time. The annual CoyoteFest is held in the Mother Lode town of Coulterville. The quaint festival features folk/country music , a parade and, what I was most interested in, the “coyote howl.”

The howl is a contest where humans give their best impression of the wild canine that’s the festival’s namesake.
Individuals went first. All gave impressive performances. Then came the group howl. At one point Morgan Dalke, 10, Alexandria Rivette, 8, and Anna Botani, 8, stepped up to the microphone held by emcee Leslie Farrow. The discordant harmonics of the 3 girls was ear-piercing, much like dogs howling to a fire siren, causing a stunned look on Farrow’s face.


About a week before Halloween, the University of the Pacific held it’s annual Safe Trick or Treat event on October 24. Thousands of children and their families swarm the Stockton campus and were given treats by the faculty and students. This year, I took a sweet photo of 7-year-old Ben Blicharz of Lockeford, dressed as Batman, giving his 4-year-old sister Ivy a bite of some of his candy as they and their mother took a break from trick or treating.


Sometimes getting a picture requires the patience of a fisherman. You need to cast your line and hope for a bite. On November 26, I saw and egret sitting on a dock across Smith Canal in Stockton. I got out of my car, put a telephoto lens on my camera and waited for it to do something.

The bird stood still and silently as it peered into the water for a tasty fish to swim by. After several false starts, the egret dove into the water, wings spread wide. I caught it just reflected in the water before it broke the surface. Just as fast as it dove in, the bird leapt back onto its perch. I didn’t see a fish in its beak so I’m guessing it was unsuccessful but it didn’t matter to me because I was.


December brings the annual Christmas light display at the home of Jim Galindo on Gibson Street in Stockton. The thousands of lights are community show-stopper. He actually starts putting up the lights that are mostly on the trees in his front yard, in August. On December 12, his family gathered at the house for the first official lighting. This year, I caught Galindo’s 7-year-old granddaughter Alivia Mitchell admiring the lights of the tree with the wonder only a child can bring.

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Favorites of 2018

Here is a yearend collection of my photos from 2018. I chose 52 of my favorites and presented them in the slideshow above. Why 52? I figure that there are 52 weeks in a year and while I don’t work all 52, due to vacations and such, it’s as good a number as any. Here’s to looking forward to a new year!

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A portrait of a family

The annual Help-Portrait event was held at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless as it has for the previous 10 years. Each year I help gather talented local photographers, hair stylists and makeup artist to provide Christmas portraits for those living at the shelter. This year’s event was on December 1.

Every year there has been one or two adults who only want to have pictures take of the kids but not of themselves and this year was no different.

Shelter resident Special Valdovinos brought her 3 sons, Jacob, 10, Joshua, 4, and Lincoln 2, to our makeshift studio in the the facility’s multi-purpose room in the morning, one of our first clients. She wanted photos of them but not of herself. She watched as Shumesa Mohsin, a University of the Pacific student and talented young photographer, took their photo.

I sidled up to Valdovinos and suggested that we could take a photo of her with her sons but she demurred. She suggested that she wasn’t picture worthy referring to her appearance. Several months pregnant, she was searing sweatpants and a t-shirt. She wore no makeup and her shoulder-shoulder-length black hair was pulled tightly back in a bun. I told her that she looked great but if she wanted, we had people there to do hair and makeup, but she shyly declined. I then told her that we’d be there most of the day in case she changed her mind.

The day got busier after that with a flurry of activity of photos being shot, edited then printed. At one point I went to check on the women doing the hair and makeup to see how they were doing when I ran into Valdovinos in the hallway. I once again offered to have her and her kids photographed and once more she gave a shy smile but declined. Then I told her that when her kids were older, they are going to want a photo of them all together. It would be a reminder to them that, even in hard times, they were a family. I lost track of Valdovinos after that.

Near the end of the day we were finishing up the last portraits when I noticed Valdovinos again. She was waiting for her pictures to be printed. At first I didn’t recognize her. She had changed her clothes to black pants, a black leather jacket and a red shirt. Her hair and makeup made her the envy of any fashion model. I found out later they were done by volunteer Lissette Andrade who did and incredible job bringing Valdoinos’ inner beauty to the surface.

Valdovinos held the 4 x 6- inch prints in her hands and smiled at her happy family in the pictures.

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November outtakes

November is done and the end of the year is right around the corner. Here are my favorite photos from 2018’s 11th month.



Stockton Kings’s Kalin Lucas scrambles for a loose ball past Oklahoma City Blue’s Abudl Gaddy during the Kings’ debut at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton.



Dancer Sammy Rodrigo of Stockton, left, performs in the inaugural Te Fa’a No Te ‘Ori Polynesian solo dance and drumming competition hosted by Mata’irea Polynesian Culture Preservation at the Atherton Auditorium at Delta College in Stockton.



Jennifer Sila of Florida takes pictures of sandhill cranes during sunset at the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve west of Lodi.



Mayra Ramirez does a power clean lift while participating in the WOD (workout of the day) for Warriors event at ASAP Fitness in Stockton. The event featured an 11-minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workout of  power clean lifts, burpees, push ups, pull ups and dead lifts. The proceeds from the event goes to the Team RWB veterans service organization in observance of Veterans Week in Stockton.



Ripon’s Rachel Sausedo digs for the ball during the state girls volleyball playoffs quarterfinal match against Western Sierra at Ripon High School.



St. Mary’s Joe Fontes, left, reaches for a pass while being guarded by Sheldon’s Dillon Juniel during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I football quarterfinals at St. Mary’s Sanguinetti Field in Stockton.



An egret is reflected in the water as it dives off of a dock in an attempt to catch a fish from Smith Canal in Stockton.



Mike Stewart, left, and Terry Reaves with the City of Stockton, work to assemble the frame and secure power cords for the city’s lighted holiday tree at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. The branches will be attached on Wednesday.



Randomly designated as “low income” Tayler Silacci eats beans and rice from a paper plate with a plastic fork while sitting on the floor at the Hunger Banquet at the Alex and Jeri Vereschagin Alumni House on  the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton. The event was a unique dining experience that helped participants understand the plight of the millions around the world living in hunger.



Kenna Fenton of Los Altos looks at Christmas trees at the Festival of Trees event at the San Joaquin County Historical Museum at Micke Grove Park in Lodi.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Open season

The current Readers Photo Challenge assignment was an open one meaning the choice of subject matter was up to each photographer. Many chose to send in images of the natural world like landscapes and sunsets/sunrises. There were quite of few of animals, whether wild or pets. Children were also a popular subject.

Twenty-five readers sent in a whopping 148 photos. Here are the top picks.


As the saying goes “the early bird gets the worm,” or in Stockton resident Steven Rapaport’s case, gets the picture. Rapaport captured a beautiful sunrise on Eight Mile Road at White Slough in Stockton with his Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera. The ground is glistening with the remnants of an overnight rain shower and overhead the breaking storm clouds are painted with the morning’s warm glow. The picture has subtlety of tones and colors, yet also a dramatic impact at the same time.


Dave Skinner of Stockton is also an early riser. He used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera to photograph a sandhill crane in a flooded field at Staten Island near Walnut Grove. The surrounding water is imbued with the color of the golden sunrise as the crane, silhouetted against the warm morning light, gracefully wades in the shallow water.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp photographed his 10-year-old granddaughter Josephine Ceja as she sits on a bench on his porch. Using a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera he got her as she raised her hand to make it look like she’s holding the setting sun peeking out from beneath some dramatic storm clouds. Ratekin used a fill-flash technique, using a flash during the day, to illuminate the shadows.


Janet Baniewich of Stockton used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to photograph a man looking at a Christmas tree on a rainy night at Union Square in San Francisco. Just enough light passed through the umbrella to just make out the silhouette of the man while the tree’s festive lights are reflected in the wet ground.


There’s an old adage in show business attributed to comedian W.C Fields that goes “never work with children or animals,” meaning that they can upstage the star. However, if they are the main subject of your picture then their inherent cuteness can work for you.

Valerie Loza of Stockton used an Apple iPhone to photograph her 6-year-old granddaughter Nora Perez and her puppy Nana at her home. Loza got in close to the pooch and child as they crouched down on her carpeted floor to capture their adorableness.


Frank Whitney of Stockton used an Apple iPhone 7 Plus to photograph his granddaughters Addisyn Whitney, 5, and Brooklyn Whitney, 3, as they waited for the Polar Express train ride in Jamestown. His photo has an anticipatory quality as the children wait to start a Christmas adventure.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D500 DSLR camera to photograph 2-month-old Calvin White of San Francisco. Asked to take a portrait of the infant by his grandmother, Spurgeon arrived at her home prepared to used artificial light but saw that there was a large picture window in the living room. She used the soft natural light coming through the window to create a gentle picture of the baby.


Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph blackberry vines near Clements. A blaze of color in the leaves that have turned to their fall colors pops out against the green of those that have yet to turn and the brown to those that have fallen from the vines and faded to brown.


Color is what Stockton resident Susan Scott’s photo is all about. She used a Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph the leaves of a flowering pear tree in her front yard. The images is awash in the orange-red of the tree’s fall colors and that of its small perfunctory fruit.


Donn Sperry of Stockton used an Apple iPhone SE to photograph the sunset at Buckley Cove in Stockton. Sperry use the branches of a tree in the foreground frames the subtle tones of the storm clouds as the sun sets.


Normally a photographer can only have 1 top pick photo chosen per challenge assignment but Steven Rapaport deserves a little extra recognition. Most people shy away from taking pictures of people, especially candid ones. Rapaport was substitute teaching at Kohl Open School in Stockton when he shot this picture of 3 students working on a supplemental English program in class. His shot shows them engaged in their activity seeming without awareness of or care for the camera.


All of the entries can be seen in an online gallery at recordnet.com. The challenge will be taking a bit of a break for a few weeks. A new assignment will be issued on January 8.

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In defense of the center

In photography there’s very few things that fall under “always do this” or “never do that.” One of the things that seems to have become an absolute over time is “never put your subject at the center of the picture.”

The goal of every composition should be to lead the viewer’s eye its subject in an interesting, yet efficient way. The reason that some advise against the middle is that pictures centering the subject can look a bit static and boring.

The rule of thirds, golden ratio and other techniques were created in part to address keeping your subject out of the middle, but all “rules” of composition are less like laws written in stone and more like guidelines. There are some times that putting your main focus in the center can work for you. Centering your subject is good for those configurations that are, or nearly are, symmetrical.

True center.

One of the problems that having the subject dead center in your photograph is that many times it’s combined with another photographic sin: being too far away. Not being close enough is a common problem that exacerbates the boring effect of centering. You don’t want to a lot of space for the viewer’s eye to wanter around. If you’re going to center you subject, then make sure that you fill the frame with it.

If you have a subject in motion, a bird in flight perhaps, you can center it with your fine-feathered friend going left to right (or vice versa). It’ll give the impression that the direction it’s headed in has a little more visual “weight.”

You can also have leading lines directing the composition to the subject at the center. Think the converging lines of railroad tracks or lines on a road leading off into the distance, for example.

You can also create a visually asymmetrical look with a center subject by adding other elements to one side or another. Maybe an off-centered shadow or reflection can throw more weight to one side of the image. Foreground or background elements can have the same effect as long as they aren’t too distracting.

The off-center center.

It may sound like an contradiction, but you can have a centered subject that’s not completely centered. That’s there are two dimensions to a photograph: Height and width. You can have your subject in the middle of one and off-center in the other. Place your subject at the center of the frame horizontally then position it/him/her below or above the centerline vertically, or the other way around, then you can have your cake and eat it too.

Centering gets a bad rap, sometimes deservedly so, but with a little thought and practice you make it an important part of your compositional skillset.

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Learning from the ordinary

Jim Richardson is a renowned photographer of incredible talent. His credits include the Topeka (Kansas) Capital-Journal and freelancing for publications such as Time, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times. In the last last half of his career he’s been a photographer with National Geographic for which he’s produced 30 stories. He’s certainly accomplished and established in the photography firmament but there is a quote that’s attributed to him that I humbly take issue with.

He’s reported to have said: “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.” This may have some truths for an advanced photographers, but, with all due respect, for those at the beginning to intermediate levels, I think it’s ill-advised advice.

It means that you as a photographer will be letting your subject determine whether a picture will be good and not your ability to photograph that subject.

I would posit that the opposite of Richardson’s quote stands even more true…”If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of boring stuff.”

A subject that’s, uninteresting, at least at first glance, will help you to explore it’s photographic potential for great pictures.

You could try using different lighting or view it at a different time of day. Using a different lenses can help you look at a subject from multiple perspectives. Perhaps placing the subject in a different setting can make more picturesque. It could be that you need to look at your subject from a different angle or vantage points. The idea is not to just rely on the “quality” or strength of your subject. While it requires time and patience, you should to work a situation to get the best shot possible.

For found situations this helps develop your “eye” so that you can spot things that are unusual or eye-catching. For created photos such as a still life it will help you to build and compose your image thoughtfully.

When you’ve mastered the ability to find the extraordinary out of every day or even boring subjects, then you can make photos of ones that are interesting all that much better.


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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Your choice

This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be an open one, meaning that the choice of subject is up to you.

You can approach it in a couple of ways. First, you can shoot something that interests you. If you like landscapes, then a quick trip to the foothills or out to the Delta can be the places you where you look for your photos. The same if you like to shoot critters in the wild.

Maybe portraits are your thing. Those can be shot almost anywhere but look for a nice, scenic background. The University of the Pacific or Micke Grove Park are 2 great examples of locations to take a portrait.

If like to shoot sports, then you’d better hurry. Many high school sports are winding down right about now.

If these and the myriad of other subjects are your cup of tea, then make sure you use the basic photo techniques to get a great shot. Get in close and fill the frame with your subject. Watch for distracting things in the background, look for or use interesting/good light and use a good composition.

This is also an opportunity to do something that you haven’t done before or need practice shooting. Say photographing people isn’t your thing. Grab a friend, family member or even a stranger and ask them to pose for a picture for you (I like photos of people, so extra consideration will be given tp images with people in them).

Maybe you’ve never done a night shot before. Go out to someplace that’s away from the city lights, put your camera on a tripod and play around with exposures in the 10 to 30 second range.

Perhaps you like shooting cityscapes but don’t get an opportunity to do it very often. Give yourself an excuse to wander the city on a self-imposed photo walk.

Whatever you chose to do and however you chose to do it, have fun with this assignment. After all, the subject is your choice.

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Open” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between November 20 to December 4.

3. The number of photos is limited to no more than 12 per person

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of phone you used and where it was taken (eg.: “John Doe of Stockton. Micke Grove Park, Lodi. iPhone6s”)

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos (eg.: Jane Doe, 6, plays on the playground equipment 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 Tuesday, December 4. The top examples will be published on Tuesday, December 11 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Raders Photo Challenge: Pumpkins

Pumpkins are the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge. They are not only the symbol of Halloween, but of fall in general as well. Their bright orange color and rounded, ribbed shape are a part of their visual appeal.

Nine readers sent in a total of 40 photos. Here are the top examples.


Anthony Mignone of Stockton came across a herd of cows having a snack of leftover pumpkins in a pasture along Airport Road in Manteca a few days after Halloween. He used a Samsung J7 Prime Phone to photograph them through a nearby fence which he used to frame the bovines and pumpkins.


While most people concerned themselves with the outer appearance of their pumpkins, Susan Scott of Stockton decide to capture the inner essence of one. She used her Canon EOS Rebel DSLR camera to photograph the insides of a pumpkin that she was carving at her home. Her close-up photo makes the interior of the gourd look like a yellow-orange cavern with it’s inners and seeds looking like other-worldly stalactites.


Carrie Walker of Stockton used an Apple iPad to photograph her brother Bill Walker’s hands as he carved some Halloween pumpkins. Her photo shows that a detail shot can be as telling as an overall one.


French Camp resident Mike Ratekin’s grandson Andrew Gonzalez was born on Halloween. Ratekin and his wife Josephine bought and gathered some items with a fall motif and headed to hospital to commemorate the birth. Josephine dressed Andrew up in Halloween-themed clothes and placed him on a autumn-colored blanket with a small pumpkin and a few fall leaves. Mike Ratekin used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera to photograph their newest grandson who was all of 3 hours old.


Sometimes there are pictures that just make you chuckle. Ken Class of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph an old metal buoy painted like a jack-o-lantern greeting Halloween revelers near Thornton.


All of the photos entered can be seen in an online gallery at recordnet.com. A new challenge assignment will be issued on November 20.

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October outtakes

“In the entire circle of the year there are no days so delightful as those of a fine October.” – Alexander Smith

October is over and with it the harvest moon and Halloween. Here are 10 of my favorite photos from 2018’s 10th month.








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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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