Out with the old

“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” - Bill Vaughn

Many people take time at the end of the year to look back over the previous 12 months before moving onto the new year. Almost invariably the review of the year ends up in some sort of list. While any number from 5 to 100 can be employed, the most popular is the top 10. Top 10 movie, songs, cars, etc., these lists abound.

My look back list is a little different. I compile 12 of my favorite photos of the year. “Why 12?” you may ask. No, it’s not a top 10 plus 2. The answer is pretty simple: one picture from each month. It’s an arbitrary list to be sure and far from perfect.

For instance, there were a few months where I had multiple shots that were better than some of the best pictures in other months. But it’s the criteria that I chose for this list so I limited myself to the best from each month. So here are my top 12 favorite photos from 2015.


January 14:

In 2014 Misty Holt-Singh was taken hostage in a botched bank robbery in Stockton. Holt-Singh and 2 of the robbers were killed in a hail of police gunfire. About 6 months later, Misty’s sister, Dawn Holt, campaigned for a bench to be placed as a memorial near the site of her sister’s death.

I photographed Dawn Holt cleaning up a roadside memorial at the site of the bench on Thornton Road and Otto drive in Stockton. The memorial was approved by the city and erected. It was Dawn Holt’s last act of devotion for her sister. Dawn died of cancer a few months later at the end of July.

February 8:

I was on my way back to Stockton on Highway 99 from an assignment in Lodi late in the day. It had been raining pretty hard that day but began clearing up just before sundown. The setting sun created a rainbow to the east. As the sun lowered in the sky, more and more of the rainbow disappeared with the waning light.

I hurriedly pulled off of the freeway at Eight Mile Road and headed eastward, looking for something to uses as a foreground accent to the rainbow. Finally reaching Alpine Road, I saw a red barn behind a long white fence that was perfect for the scene. I spotted a large puddle left by the rains in an orchard across the road. I used it to catch the reflection of the rainbow which only lasted a few more minutes before disappearing.

March 1:

I was driving through the University of the Pacific after covering a UOP softball game against Montana when I noticed small groups of people, 2 to 5 each, running through the campus. Which wasn’t too out of the ordinary except for the fact that they seemed to be dirty, well, dusty to be exact. They looked like they were coated in a thin patina of dust of varying colors.

I stopped and found out that about people (50 runners and 50 volunteers) were participating in the Phi Delta Chi pharmacy fraternity’s 3rd annual Color for Cures 5K run fundraiser for St. Jude’s Research Hospital. Runners followed a course through the campus with people stationed every so often to throw colored cornstarch at them. At the end of the run a free-for-all was held between all the participants in a great rainbow-hued dust-off.

April 24:

I was looking for a wind photo on a blustery day when I spotted Rick Cooper at Victory Park in Stockton. What caught my eye was that he was a rather buff, macho-looking guy and he was trying to launch a small kids’ kite (ironically, he didn’t have any kids with him).

Then I noticed that the image on the kite was that of the Marvel super-strong character the Hulk which sort of matched Cooper’s physique. Though the winds were strong that day, they swirled around the park from different directions and the kite wouldn’t fly. But Cooper kept his calm and didn’t turn green with frustration.

May 22:

Sports photographers try to capture that perfect moment of action or at least as close to it as they can get. The favored St Mary’s was playing Tracy in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South final at UOP in Stockton. If St. Mary’s won the game they would go on to play the North final winners. If they lost they would get a second chance and play Tracy in another game immediately after the first.

In the opener Tracy built a built a big lead, scoring 8 runs in the first 3 innings. St. Mary’s fought it’s way back but Tracy managed to hold them off and win 9-7. After a short intermission they started the second game which was also another nail-biter. St. Mary’s managed to hold onto a 3-2 win.

My close-to-perfect shot came in the first game when Tracy’s Christian Rosette slid into home plate and knocked the ball out of St. Mary’s catcher Joey Cortopassi’s glove to score a run.

June 6:

Sometimes it’s fun to see the world of wonder through a child’s eyes. I captured the sense of awe on 6-year-old Chard Scott’s face as he whipped up a storm of soap bubbles at the Regional Transit District’s 50th anniversary celebration held at the Stockton Ballpark in downtown Stockton.


July 16:

A year later after she was killed in the previously mentioned botched bank robbery, a candlelight vigil for her was held for Misty Holt-Singh at the site of a memorial bench on Thornton Road and Otto Drive in Stockton that Misty’s sister Dawn Holt, lobbied for.

Dawn Holt, too sick with cancer, didn’t attend but her mother, Karen Farmer and Misty’s husband Paul Singh spoke of their memories of Misty to a group of family, friends and supporters at the vigil and to express their heartfelt thanks for everyone’s caring and support.

August 28:

The end of summer brings the start of a new school year and with it the beginning of prep football season. My first game was Lincoln at Stagg in Stockton. My favorite shot from that game (and also for the month) was Lincoln’s Isaiah Downes (left) breaking up a pass intended for Stagg’s Cutrell Haywood.

September 27:

On this day I went out to shoot a uncommon celestial event: A supermoon eclipse. A supermoon is when the moon is at its closest to the Earth in its elliptical orbit. It appears slightly larger and brighter than a normal full moon. It’s very rare when it coincides with a lunar eclipse. The next one won’t be seen until 2033.

It was to appear early in the evening, just after sundown. I went out to the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton to try to catch a glimpse of it but the too-thick cloud cover blotted out any view of the moon. Sert Keo of Stockton was also there to view the eclipse as well and like me was thwarted by the clouds.

However, the setting sun turned those clouds into a beautiful fiery cloak across the sky. Keo stood up and took a picture of the sunset and I got a shot of him doing so. We both were a little disappointed that we didn’t see the supermoon eclipse but at least we didn’t leave empty handed.


October 8:

There are times when you run across something that’s just a little out of the ordinary. I saw Dennis and Doris Savage of Stockton walking through Louis Park in Stockton with what appeared to be a very large goose in their arms. Indeed it was their pet Toulouse goose Petey. The Savages take their 19-year-old water fowl on a twice-a-week walk to give him a little exercise but sometimes end up carrying him because he has callouses on his feet.

November 27:

A family that plays together…The day after Thanksgiving I saw Anthony Dal Porto of Petaluma playing soccer with his daughters at Grupe Park in Stockton. Dal Porto and his family were visiting relatives in Stockton when they took time out to get a little exercise.

His 6-year-old daughter Cecelia took shots on him while he defended the goal while carrying his 3-year-old daughter Gabriella on his shoulders. Dal Porto gets the super dad of the year award.


December 9.

You can see it from space! Every year James Galindo puts up what is arguably the best Christmas light display on a home in Stockton and perhaps San Joaquin County. Nearly every tree in his front yard is covered with what he estimates as around 400,000 brightly colored strands of lights. It’s an impressive sight and it should be. He starts putting them up in August!


It’s a daunting task to cull more than 1,100 assignments (both assigned and found pictures) down to a dozen individual images. So, in addition to these photos, I’ve also assembled with another yearend list. I picked 52 of my best photos from 2015 that are displayed in an online photo gallery at recordnet.com.

I chose 52 to represent each week of the year, but it too is a subjective list. Due to sick leave, and vacations, I didn’t actually work every week of the year. Perhaps some day there’ll be the perfect number for the perfect yearend list. Until then 12 and 52 will be the best numbers for me.

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Leafing an impression

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

This time of year has nights that are filled with color from Christmas lights. But there is also brilliant color that can be found during the day as well. Mother Nature puts on a last hurrah as the fall foliage changes color before the dormancy of winter. It’s a revisiting of a challenge issued a year ago and entrants outdid themselves the second time around. Fourteen readers sent in 80 photos. Here are some of the top entries.


Jackson resident Carolyn Silva of Jackson showed great dedication in getting her fall leaf shot. With her Nikon D5000 DSLR camera in hand, Silva braved chilly early morning temperatures in search for a photo. She found beautiful liquidambar leaves that had fallen from a tree and lay in the gutter all covered in a layer of icy frost. Her fingers stung from the cold as she pulled her gloves on and off to operate her camera while shooting the scene.

Excited to see her pictures, Silva started to download her photos to her computer when she got back home. Unfortunately, the camera’s memory card was somehow corrupted and she couldn’t retrieve the pictures from it. So, Silva ventured with out the next morning armed with a new memory card. She fought off the cold once again and recaptured the scene of icy beauty.


As Carolyn Silva demonstrated, quite often inclement weather can actually enhance a photograph. Laurie Eager of Stockton also took advantage of a rainstorm for her fall leaf photo.

Waiting until after the rain had stopped but before everything dried off, Eager photographed a leaf on a Japanese maple in her backyard with a Nikon D5100 DSLR camera. Light skims off of the surface of the leaf, not only enhancing the clinging raindrops but making the leaf pop out against a black background which made for an eye-catching photo.


Fall leaves weren’t the main subject of Stockton resident Susan Scott’s photo but more of an accent. Scott used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a sparrow on a branch of a sycamore tree in her neighborhood. The small grey and brown bird nearly blends with the surrounding scene. But the dried leaves still holding onto to the branch gives a subtle fall flavor to the entire scene.


Holly Stone of Lodi used an iPhone to photograph willow leaves floating on the waters of her pool in her backyard. The bright yellow leaves stood out against the vibrant blue of the pool’s floor. The patterns of light created by the water’s ripples also made for some nice accents to the photo.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton one of the sycamore trees lining Brookside Road in Stockton with a Nikon D90 DSLR camera. Shooting from near the base of the tree upwards, she deftly uses the tree’s trunk as a compositional element to draw the viewer’s eye into the photo and to the canopy of colorful leaves.


Rick Wilmot of Lodi used a Canon 5D MK III DSLR camera to photograph fallen leaves from an apricot tree in his back yard. Shot in open shade the bright colors are muted against the neutral color of the grey fence that they sit on. The scene has a quite quality of a Dutch still life.


As always there is an online photo gallery at Recordnet.com. The challenge is taking a bit of a break and a new assignment will be issued on January 7.

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Season of lights

I’m currently working nights and this is a great time of year to be on that shift. There are many Christmas displays all across the Stockton and San Joaquin County that are quite spectacular and a treat to see. I know that everyone has their favorite but the best use of lights that I’ve come across is Jim Galindo’s home at 122 East Gibson Street in Stockton.

Nearly every tree in his yard and some of the house is covered with what he estimates as around 400,000 lights. He says that it takes him a about 4 months to put them all up and had to put a second fuse box in his home to handle the load.

There are a couple of different ways of photographing holiday lights. The first is to increase your camera’s ISO (light sensitivity) enough so that you can shoot at a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. The downside is that bumping up the ISO brings with it an increase in noise in the photo. The solution to that is to use a tripod to steady the camera. Doing that, you shoot at lower ISOs and keep the camera still at the same time. Also, if you have a DSLR camera, try putting it on manual. The bright lights and dark backgrounds may throw the automatic settings off and give you incorrect exposure (many point-and-shoot cameras have a “night” setting, try using that). If you operate both shutter speeds and apertures yourself you’ll have greater control of the outcome in your pictures (while every scene is different, try something like 5 or 10 seconds at around f/8 or f/11 and an ISO of 200 and, of course, the camera on the aforementioned tripod). Nowadays it’s easy to check your work by review the images on your camera’s monitor and adjust your exposures accordingly.

Along with Galindo’s home there are many other great holiday lights across the county. 3909 Estate Drive in Stockton has a very festive combination of lights and Christmas props in the yard. Sam Reid’s home on the 800 block of Banbury Drive in Stockton is an impressive sight. The best neighborhood display has to be the 1500 to 1700 blocks of Meadow Drive in Stockton. Nearly every house on those 3 blocks is decorated with enough lights for each to be a showstopper in any other neighborhood. The most impressive single tree is the one at Barbara Mata’s house at 5 E. Cleveland Street in Stockton. Mata eschews light son her house and concentrates all of her efforts on that one tree in her front yard, covering it from head to toe with lights. But it’s not your typical conical-shaped Christmas pine tree but rather a weeping cherry tree. It’s that umbrella-shape that helps it to stand out along with the fact that there are very few other Christmas lights on her street. She’s had some people name it “Tiffany” in reference to the classic Tiffany lamp that it also resembles. The best display that doesn’t involve lights is one at Miner Avenue and E Street in Stockton. Every inflatable decoration, from Grinch to Snoopy, fills the yard.

There are these displays and many more across the city and county that are worth taking pictures of. Dress warmly and bring your camera to capture the festive beauty of the holiday season. And oh, did I mention to make sure and use a tripod?

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November outtakes

“November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.

With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.”

- Clyde Watson

Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from November.

















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Random photo #58: Fall rain

Rain, rather than blue skies, greets University of the Pacific student Alexandria Chan. However, she did sport a bright blue umbrella to shield herself from the rain as she walked past rows of ornamental pear trees in their fall colors lining the Baxter Walkway on the UOP campus in Stockton.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Fall colors revisited

For the next Readers Photo Challenge assignment we’ll be revisiting popular one that was done last year. Tis the season once again for fall colors.

According to Science Made Simple the shorter days of Autumn makes trees stop delivering chlorophyll their leaves. Without the chlorophyll the leaves lose their green color and what remains are the yellows and oranges. Reds and purples are created by cold weather when the remaining sugars are trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis ends. This explains how the leaves turn colors but not the beauty that they can convey.

One of the best ways to capture the leaves’ color is to shoot them backlit. Their translucency allows sunlight to pass through them and illuminate them and their colors like holiday lights. If you can, photograph them against a dark or black background, which will make them pop out even more.

A natural inclination is the take overall picture of trees or forests of trees, which is just fine. However, fall leaves are a perfect subject for a macro or close up photo. Shooting just the leaves or portion of a leaf can provide great detail for your shots. You’re not limited to the leaves on the trees either. Fallen leaves on the ground can make for great shots too.

You can combine the great color of fall leaves with the late afternoon autumn light to use as a great background for portraits.

This challenge requires no special equipment. Anything from DSLR cameras to point-and-shoots to cellphones will work just fine.

You can go to the mountains or even to New England to find fall color or you find some closer to home. The valley’s agricultural land and the waterways are close by and are great sources of Autumn leaves. You even find some great color as close as your own backyard.


How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between Dec. 3. and Dec. 17. They can be of any subject but must include fall leaves. Please try to identify the type of tree, if possible.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (ie: “John Doe, Stockton. Pool Station Road and Highway 49, San Andreas. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos.

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Dec. 17. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Dec. 24 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Random photo #57: Soccer dad

Anthony Dal Porto of Petaluma plays goalie with the help of his 3-year-old daughter Gabriella on his shoulders while playing soccer with his 6-year-old daughter Cecelia at Grupe Park in Stockton. Dal Porto and his family were in Stockton visiting family for the holidays.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Everything under the sun(set)

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.”
― Jo Walton

Nearly everyone loves a nice sunset. I’ve gone to places to photograph some only to find people already there ahead of me just to watch the sun go down. Along with sunrises, sunsets are the most beautiful times of the day. The normally blue sky can to a golden orange to hues of reds and pinks. For this challenge 16 readers sent in 77 photos which captured all those colors and more. Here are some of the top examples.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton went to the Village West Marina in Stockton and used an iPhone 6 to photograph the sunset. The evening clouds soaked up the sunset’s brilliant pink hues and reflected them in the waters of 14-mile slough.


The first inclination of most people approach a sunset as the main subject of the photograph. Mitch Bazzarre of Stockton
Used the sunset to enhance the main subject of his photo. Bazzarre used a Canon Rebel T5i DSLR camera to photograph the leading lines of the edges and center line of Armstrong Road near Lodi to create a vanishing point in the distance. Those lines lead to the remaining light of a fading sunset in the sky. That light skims also off of the asphalt road and gives and infuses the entire scene with an overall warmth.


Sometimes the addition of just a little something can make a big difference in a photo. Kenneth Buck of Stockton used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera to photograph the sunset on Tyler Island near Walnut Grove. The orb of the sun hangs low in the sky just before sinking below the horizon line. The heavens are painted in the sun’s orange glow and the color is also reflected in the waters of the Mokelumne River. In the lower right corner of the picture swims what appears to be an American coot. It’s just a small detail but it adds just some visual interest in a portion of the picture that is nearly featureless and provides a counterbalance to the sun I the upper left of the photo.


Occasionally there are times in getting any kind of photo having a good vantage point is half the battle. Carolyn Silva of Jackson had a great view of a sunset and she didn’t go far to get photograph it. Silva used a Nikon D5000 DSLR camera top photograph the sunset from a field behind her house. The setting sun set the clouds ablaze and silhouetted a stand of trees on a hill overlooking her backyard.


Sunsets are usually associated bold and bright colors. Subtlety isn’t necessarily something one thinks of. Dave Skinner of Stockton used Nikon D5100 DSLR camera to photograph the sunset from his backyard. The near-leafless branches of a neighbor’s tree provided a delicate screen of a foreground. The out of focus clouds in the background picked up the nuances of the onset of twilight.


To see a gallery of all the photos sent in go to recordnet.com. Stay tuned for a new challenge assignment next Thursday.

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There are times when serendipity, chance happenings, produces some great photos. Who needs years of training and experience when luck is on your side? Sometimes, great photos are made just by being at the right place at the right time, or so it may seem.

Knowledge of things like shutter speeds, apertures and lens choices while help you get the proper exposure. Luck can provide those special moments. Experience will help you tie those two things together to make memorable pictures.

A few weeks ago I waited for a sunset to happen at the turning basin at the Port of Stockton. As the sun sank lower in the sky its warm light reflected off of the basin’s waters. As I looked upon the scene I thought to myself that it needed a little something more, a subject to act as a focal point to the composition.

A bird would be too small but a boat would be perfect situated in the bright patch on the water. However, there wasn’t one in sight in any direction. I repeated the mantra of “I need a boat” in my head. The sun lowered behind some of the port’s buildings and I knew I only had a few more minutes before it dropped below the horizon taking the sparkling light on the water with it. I was just about to leave when I spied a small dot moving at the far west end of the deep water channel.

It was a boat speeding towards me except to it was to far on the other side of the channel. It would be too small in the picture, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right? Then for some unexplained reason the board veered to its left and began carving its way up the center of the channel, right where I wanted it to, compositionally speaking. In a few minutes the boat was in optimum position and I fired off several frames as is skimmed across the water in front of me.

Momentarily hubris got the better of me. I thought to myself: All I have to do is conceive of it in my head, and then it will happen. Of course, nothing is further from the truth. I have no such super power but I believe that all things that can happen, will happen. Sunsets happen everyday, boats travel on the channel everyday. It’s serendipity that brought them both together.

The Karl Ross American Legion Post in Stockton held its annual Veterans Day observance which also rededicated the Vietnam Veterans memorial that was moved to the post from its site in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza in downtown Stockton to make way for a new memorial. The ceremony was held at the grassy circle in front of the post where the polished granite monument sits with other smaller stone makers and flagpole.

The post’s Silent Sentinel flags, flags donated by the families of deceased veterans, were placed at about 10-ft intervals around the outside of the circle. The flags hung limply in the still morning air. At one point in the ceremony, veteran Rick Caccam performed Taps on his bugle. As he played, a slight breeze welled up and unfurled a flag behind him making for a patriotic backdrop. Not only did the flag provide more context to the photo but it blocked the distracting elements of the out of focus people in the background.

We had our first foggy day in quite a while in downtown Stockton last week. I shot cars traveling down California Street as they made their way through the mist. The photos were OK but I felt they needed a little something else. There were very few people out and about due to the chilly weather that day, but I still hoped for a person to walk by for my shot.

Just then Patrick Garduno of Stockton emerged out of the morning fog walking up the sidewalk toward me. He sat down on a nearby bench and provided a nice counterpoint to the vehicles driving down the fog-shrouded streets. Was I lucky or was it skill that I was able to capture the scene?

So where does photographic knowledge and ability come in? Is it better to be lucky or good? The answer is: Both. There’s a saying “luck favors the prepared mind.” It means that, yes, luck does happen, but training, experience, knowledge and talent will help you recognize those moments of serendipity and be ready for them when they happen.

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Random photo #56: Puddle clouds

Clouds are reflected in a puddle left by recent rains on the tennis courts at Louis Park in Stockton.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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