Random photo #42: Catchin’ some clouds

Under a canopy of clouds Garrett Gaige, 16, of Stockton catches some air while riding his skateboard at the skate park at the Generations Center in Lathrop.

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Omission inclusion

The rules to the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment were inadvertently left off of the print version of my column on Thursday (They’ll be published in the Record on Saturday on page B2). Here they are for those of you who may have missed them. Let your friends and neighbors who might be interested that they can find out how to enter here.

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

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

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).

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Feb. 19. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Lay of the land

Very few places in world have such varied scenery as does America. From the Sonoran deserts of the southwest to the sweeping plains of the Midwest to Rocky Mountains to New England’s fall forests and of course Yosemite and the Sierras of California, there are very few places in the world that can match the beauty and variety of landscapes of the land of the free. This month’s Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “Landscapes.”

If you want to travel (and have the time and opportunity to do so) to the far flung reaches of the county you’re more than welcome to do so, but there are places closer to home where you can find great places for photos. To the east, the foothills and Sierras are natural subjects for landscapes. In the other direction Mount Diablo has miles of hiking trails and great views. Right in our backyard is the Delta with its 1,000 miles of waterways.

No special equipment is needed. While you can use a long telephoto or ultra wide-angle lenses, the kit lens that comes with most DSLRs (usually in the in the 18-55mm to 24-70mm ranges) will work just fine. Point-and-shoot cameras as well as cellphones can work well too.

Try to include a foreground. Properly done it can help to lead the viewer’s eye into the picture. You can also use the branches on a tree, to act as a frame around your subject. Don’t forget the sky. A billowing canopy of clouds and add some visual excitement to your photo. While tilted horizons can be effective in some genres of photography, a straight and level horizon line is preferred for most types of landscapes.

Many people think that landscapes should be scenes untouched and uninhabited by human beings. That’s fine for sure but sometimes some manmade objects, such as a farmhouse or barn, can provide a focus point or accent to an overall scene.

Adding a water element, a river, lake, pond or even puddle can increase some visual interest to your photo. It the water is still enough you can use it to capture the reflections of your subject.

Try to avoid shooting during midday. The overhead sun washes out most of the contrast and colors of the scene. The golden hours of sunset and sunrise tend to be the best times for landscapes. The sun’s low angle provides directional light and enhances colors.

So whether it’s mountains majesty or amber waves of grain, keep an eye out for the beauty of the natural world.


Here are the rules:

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

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

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).

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

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Feb. 19. The top examples will be published on Thursday, Feb. 26 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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Random photo #41: True California dreamin’

University of the Pacific student Tyler Sutherland takes advantage of the sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60s by sunbathing as other students play a game of ultimate frisbee on Knoles Lawn on the UOP campus in Stockton. Sutherland who hails from Washington state says it been rainy back home.

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Readers Photo Challenge: Open to all

My photo instructor Dick Fleming once hypothetically posited that given two photo students, one with unlimited resources (film, access to any piece of equipment, time, etc.), the other with limited means (1 camera & lens, only a few frames of film), the student with only a few choices would do a better job on the same assignment. Why? Creativity, he said, doesn’t come from an abundance of choices but rather working within the restrictions that you have. It forces one to think and plan first before shooting.

The latest subject for this month’s challenge was open to any one of the 22 previous assignment issued since the beginning of the challenge in April of 2013. While 14 people sending in a total of 48 photos aren’t disappointing numbers, I was bracing myself for even more. I think that perhaps there were so many choices that some people couldn’t make up their minds on which one to pick. Still, most of the ones that were sent in were outstanding.


Darrin Dension of Stockton missed the very first assignment, which was “flowers” issued in April of 2013, but he made up for it by entering it in this month’s “open” challenge. Now winter isn’t normally the time one would find flowers but that wasn’t a problem for Denison. Thinking out of the box he went out and got some store-bought flowers. He sprinkled a little water on the flower for an added accent and used his iPhone to photograph the bold and bright colors of the blossom.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton was one of the few people to retry a people-based assignment. She chose to revisit the “smiles challenge (May 2014) and photographed her friend Mary Massod on the campus of the University of the Pacific in Stockton with her Nikon D90 DSLR camera. Spurgeon used the open shade of a building for some nice soft light and an unusual overhead angle for a flattering photo of her friend.


Floria Libres of Stockton used a Canon Rebel T5 DSLR camera to take on the “reflections” assignment (March 2014). She captures the nearly perfect mirror image of the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel as it’s reflected in the still waters of McLeod Lake in downtown Stockton, creating a bold eye-catching photo.


Tom LaBounty of Stockton chose a hard assignment for his entry. When it was originally issued in October of 2014, only 6 people entered the “sports” challenge (and LaBounty wasn’t one of them). Using a Canon 7D Mk II DSLR LaBounty photographed Lincoln’s Cameron Kiser as he shot a jumper during a junior varsity game against West High at Lincoln in Stockton. A fast shutter speed help to freeze Kiser in mid-air and the grimace of exertion on his face showed the effort of his play and made for an excellent photo by LaBounty.


Susan Scott of Stockton revisited the “motion” assignment (Oct. 2013). She used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a small bird as it flitted between the branches of a tree at Buckley Cove Park in Stockton. The long thin crop helps to give a graceful horizontal sweep to the photo and its minimalistic quality gives it a Japanese watercolor painting feel to it.


Dave Skinner of Stockton used a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera with a 55mm macro lens to revisit the “close-up” assignment (Sept. 2013). He photographed a fallen oak leaf as it lay on an old telephone pole and created a nice juxtaposition between the natural and the man-made.


Although she missed the original “silhouette” assignment issued in Feb. of 2014, Carolyn Silva of Jackson made up for it in the open challenge. Silva used a Nikon D5000 DSLR camera to capture the beauty of the leafless trees in her backyard rising out a morning fog.


Nicole Hazel of Stockton entry was from the “pets” assignment (June 2014). She used a Nikon Coolpix L820 digital point-and-shoot camera to photograph the face and eyes of her cat Patches.


All of the pictures entered can be seen in a photo gallery at Recordnet.com. Stay tuned to next Thursday for a new challenge assignment.

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Always watch your backgrounds

You can never talk too much about how important backgrounds are to a photo. A good one can enhance a picture’s readability. A bad one can obscure your subject and distract from the image’s overall appeal.

Here are two examples of how a slight and simple change in the background can make a big difference.

The first photo is of KWIN DJ Amanda King speaking at the Junior Giants rally at the Stribley Park Community Center in Stockton. Some nice soft light poured in from some high but wide windows behind Kind at the north end of the gymnasium where the event was held. I shot her from the side so at least some of her was illuminated, but her face was mostly in shadow. In the background a support pillar created a shadow against the far wall. Whenever she stood between that shadow and the camera, the darkness of the shadow and the shadows on her face blended together, making it more difficult to distinguish between the two.

In the second photo, King had stepped back a few feet. The shadow on the wall was now out of the picture, and the background was of a light, nearly featureless wall, thrown out of focus due to the shallow depth of field that I was shooting at. Her face was still in shadow but her profile was easier to make out because of the cleaner background.

From backgrounds to lighting to exposure to composition and more, there is a lot to consider even before you press the shutter button. It’s easy in the heat of the moment to forget about one thing or another, but with practice and patience, one can put it all together for a good photo.

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When is photographing wild birds like shooting a football game? The two different genres of photography, wildlife and sports, may seem very dissimilar but the skills to shoot each are actually related.

While there are always exceptions to the rule,  most sports photography requires a telephoto lens to bring athletes who can be far away on the field of play in close. Likewise in photographing wild animals that may be skittish to a human presence a long lens is also needed to prevent spooking them. In sports a fast shutter speed is often used to freeze players action. In the same vein, wildlife photographers use fast shutter speeds to eliminate the dreaded camera shake and also to stop the motion of a bird in flight or animal on the run.


Knowledge of the game also helps in getting a good sports photo. It can help you to know where to stand to get the best shot or how to figure out where a player is going to be. Similar knowledge is needed for a wildlife picture. Knowing the habits of the animals you are photographing can help in finding them to get your shot.

We all have our own interests and preferences on what we like to shoot. Some people like portraits, while others prefer landscapes or sports. Sometimes when someone is proficient in or prefers one type of photography they may not consider another style. But you can learn from, and be inspired by, different genres of photography that you may not be interested in. By going out of your comfort zone you can expand your abilities and experiences by trying out new varieties of photography.

For instance wedding and landscape photography can be very different but I have seen some wedding photographs incorporate their bride and groom as a part of the landscape, especially if it’s a destination wedding, to great effect.

Portraiture photography is all about the lighting. You can’t have a great portrait without great light. In much the same way food photography benefits from how the light is presented in a photo. Done well, it makes the food look appealing and appetizing. One may not initially equate a nice family photo with a plate of ham and eggs but the skill to do a good job with either is the same.

We all can ensconce ourselves in our own interests and we may think that our own particular kind of photography is the cat’s meow. We may even look our noses down at other categories of photography but instead of poo-pooing them perhaps you should stepping into their shoes and try other genres. It may improve what you already like to do.

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Random photo #40: Golden cast

Angler Richard Thomas of Stockton casts his line against a colorful sunset while fishing at the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton.

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Dancing with my mother

One of the powers of a photograph is to make memories tangibly visceral. This is especially so when the photo is an actual physical print. A picture in one’s hand can bring to life emotions and recollections that photos on a computer monitor or cellphone screen may have a harder time realizing.

When I was a teenager, my parents used to love to go ballroom dancing. I was old enough to take care of myself for an evening and so they went to weekly dances at a local VFW hall. My mom and dad would also have a grand old time tripping the light fantastic along with my aunts and uncles at family weddings and such. I remember my mom trying to teach me dance steps such as the waltz, cha-cha, fox trot and the swing. Some of it stuck and some didn’t. Other than those impromptu lessons and at my wedding, my mother and I never really danced with each other. After my dad died in 1997 she never danced with anyone else again.

A little over 4 years ago my mom was diagnosed with dementia. My family managed to get her into an assisted-care facility where she was safe, comfortable and happy. In the last year her mental and physical abilities declined sharply. She could no longer walk without the assistance of a walker and then only unsteadily. She lost most of her ability to speak, only occasionally being able to say a few words at a time. She was still able to remember and recognize me but she had forgotten many people from her past and a very difficult time remembering new people.

The assisted care home would have social events where the residents and their families could gather. My daughter Claire and I attended one of those events last June. A small three-piece combo played jazz standards as light snacks were served on the lawn in the facility’s courtyard. Most of the music was from the Big Band era in which my mom grew up with and she tapped her hand on the table and swayed back and forth to the tunes. A small dance floor was also set up on the lawn. Recalling how much she and my dad liked to dance, I asked her if she wanted to do a little dancing with me. She nodded yes and I helped her totter to the dance floor. My mom was able to stand without her walker by leaning on me for support. It was a jaunty tune and I remembered the steps to the one-two, back-step pattern of the dance. She was able to do little more than sway to her left and right, but I could tell that she was enjoying the music and the dancing. I looked up and saw my daughter taking photos of us with her cellphone.

My mother finally succumbed to her disease’s merciless ravages and peacefully passed away at the end of October of last year at the age of 86.

This last Christmas Claire and my son Christopher gave me an unexpected present. Wrapped in colorful holiday paper it was about the size of a small paperback book. When I opened it I was speechless. It was an elegantly framed 5×7 picture of the picture that my daughter took of my mother and me dancing. Holding it in my hands it seemed to have a precious weight to it, like an ingot of gold. I stared at the photo. In it I’m smiling and my mother has an impish grin as we danced as we danced together. Fighting back tears and the large lump growing in my throat, I managed a feeble thank you to my children for the best Christmas present that I ever got.

I remember my daughter showing me the picture soon after she shot it and I thought it was nice. It could have stayed there stored in her phone forever and I would have been fine with the memory of that. But now the picture sits on my desk at work where it’s a constant and tangible reminder of the happy time when I danced with my mother.

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December outtakes: One last look

“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Suess.

It’s the start of a brand new year but here’s one last look at last year’s last 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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