Readers Photo Challenge: Fine feathered friends

Birds are popular subjects for photographers. First, they can be found everywhere, from out in nature to urban cityscapes to to one’s backyard. Secondly, they are graceful creatures. Whether perched on a branch or in flight they are beautiful sights to behold. Lastly, given the skittish nature of many birds, it can be challenging to get a shot of them, but that can be part of the appeal. Whether through stealth or innovation, it’s very satisfying to be able to photograph a bird that could fly away at any moment. Readers were up to the challenge in capturing images of our fine feathers friends. Eighteen of them sent in a total of 125 photos. Here are some of the top picks.


Cynthia Barker of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel T3 DSLR camera with a 75-300mm lens to photograph a wild turkey in a wooded area near her brother’s home in Fair Oaks.

Part of photographing birds is trying to capture their behavior. One must have to have some patience in order to wait for the birds to do something other than sit on a branch or take off flying. Cynthia Barker of Stockton was walk though a wooded area near her brother’s home in Fair Oaks. With a Canon EOS Rebel T3 and 75-300mm telephoto zoom lens, she was able to catch and image of a wild turkey as it flapped its wings and proudly strutted like the cock-of-the-walk.


Dave Skinner of Stockton used Nikon D7500 DSLR camera to photograph northern harrier flying over a fog-shrouded field at the Cosumnes River preserve near Thornton.

Stockton resident Dave Skinner’s image isn’t a bird picture, per se. It’s more of a landscape photo with a bird in it. It’s a perfect example of using a bird as an accent to enhance an already picturesque scene. With his Nikon D7500 DSLR camera, Skinner photographed the early morning fog as it rose from the wetlands at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. It’s a beautifully moody picture with the fog, reeds and water. A lone tree is just off to the right in the frame and a northern harrier flies to the other side of the picture to balance out the composition.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Nikon D7200 DSLR camera to photograph an egret in a field at the Nature Conservancy at Staten Island near the Delta town of Walnut Grove.

Teresa Mahnken’s photo is similar to Skinner’s in that the bird that photograph is just a small part of the entire image. During sunset at the Nature Conservancy at Staten Island near the Delta town of Walnut Grove. With her Nikon D7200 DSLR camera, Mahnken of Morada captured an egret as it foraged in a field. Behind it are couple of cows grazing and a beautiful golden sunset breaking through the clouds. Mahnken used the egret’s white plumage to set it apart from the darker grasses around it.


Kurt Gaetjen of Elk Grove used a Nikon D610 DSLR camera with a Nikkor 200-500mm lens to photograph an egret at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton.

Getting a shot of a bird in flight is no easy feat. One has to be able to quickly focus and track the animal and keep it in the frame while panning the camera along its flight path. Kurt Gaetjen of Elk Grove did just that. With his Nikon D610 DSLr camera equipped with a 200-500mm telephoto zoom lens, he captured an egret taking flight at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. A fast shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second freezes the bird’s graceful motion. The bird’s white plumage stands out against the brown/beige of the dried grasses in the background which is just out of focus enough to eliminate any visual distractions.


James Hoagland of Stockton used a Nikon 850 DSLR camera to photograph a hawk flying over the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve near Woodbridge.

James Hoagland of Stockton also captured a bird in flight. His photo emphasizes the power and strength of a hawk as it soars over the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve near Woodbridge. its clear, steely eyes are focused straight ahead, perhaps scanning for prey. Its wings are upswept, nearly to their full extension, about ready to make a powerful down sweep.


Christine Morrissey of Stockton, founder of the Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, used an Apple iPhone to photograph rescued turkey Sadey at the sanctuary.

You don’t normally think of birds as having personalities like a dog or cat, but Christine Morrissey’s photo of her turkey Sadey is full charisma. Morrissey, the executive director of the Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary, takes Sadey, a rescued turkey, to schools and libraries for visits where she’s become somewhat of a celebrity. Morrissey says Sadey likes the attention. With an Apple iPhone Morrissey photographed Sadey on her porch, neatly framed by the porch’s pillars, eaves and steps, with Sadey looking as though she’s ready to go on another outing.


Dan Hackley of Stockton used a Nikon D500 with Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm Lens to photograph a great blue heron in flight over the Mokelumne Fish Hatchery day use area near Clements.

Scientists have linked modern day birds to the ancient dinosaurs. Stocktonian Dan Hackley’s picture of a great blue heron seems to give weight to that theory. Using a Nikon D500 DSLR camera with 200-500mm telephoto zoom lens, he photographed the bird as it flew over the day use area near the Mokelumne Fish Hatchery outside of Clements. With it’s outstretched wings and beak slightly agape, you could almost see the lineage of a pterodactyl in its features.


Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel XS DSLR camera at photograph a turkey at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton.

Susan Scott of Stockton photographed a wild turkey at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton. With a Canon EOS Rebel XS DSLR camera she captured the feathered fowl in front of a large stand of dried wild grasses which seem to be radiating out from the center of the frame behind the turkey thus helping to bring the viewer’s eye to it.


Donn Sperry of Stockton used a Sony Alpha NEX-7 digital mirrorless camera with a 18-105mm lens to photograph a flock of cormorants taking flight on Brookside Lake in Stockton.

Donn Sperry of Stockton photographed a flock of cormorants as they take flight for the surface of Brookside Lake in Stockton. Sperry used a relatively slow shutter speed and panning technique with his Sony Alpha NEX-7 digital mirrorless camera for the fast moving birds. The technique allowed him to blur the background, giving a sense of motion while the bird at the center remains relatively sharp.


Ward Downs used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph a crow sitting on a gate at Oceanside, California.

Ward Downs used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph a crow sitting on a gate at Oceanside, California. The photo has a Edgar Allen Poe-esque feeling, seismically given the warning signs on the gate.


You can also see these top picks are at the recordnet’s Instagram. All of the photos sent in can be seen in an online gallery at The challenge is going on a bit of vacation for the holidays. A new assignment will be issued on January 7.

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To infinity and beyond!

(8/26/15) The Twin Jet Nebula, or PN M2-9, is a striking example of a bipolar planetary nebula. Bipolar planetary nebulae are formed when the central object is not a single star, but a binary system. Via Hubble Space Telescope. [NASA]

Last month I wrote about the Library of Congress’s Digital Collections where anyone can browse and download any images from the collection for free. Now there is another great online asset that one can find some great and/or historic images.

(8/20/01) This image of the International Space Station (ISS) was photographed by one of the crew members of the STS-105 mission from the Shuttle Orbiter Discovery after separating from the ISS. [NASA]

The NASA Image and Video Library has made available the thousands of pictures, artist renderings and videos for anyone to look and and download all for free and all royalty-free.

(3/15/09) A nearly full Moon sets as the space shuttle Discovery sits atop Launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. [NASA/Bill Ingalls]

If you’re into astronomy, space flight or history this is for you.
There are historical photos of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. From rockets sitting on the launch pad to lifting off from the Earth to orbiting the planet, there are pictures of spacecraft from every era of spaceflight, photographed from every conceivable angle.

(4/19/13) Astronomers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light to mark the 23rd anniversary of the famous observatory’s launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. [NASA]

There are images of our solar system and beyond. The Hubble Space Telescope is perhaps the most famous telescope in the world and there are images of stars, nebulae and galaxies taken by it in the catalog. But there are images from other telescopes as well, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the Solar Dynamics Observatory to name just a couple. Often there are images of celestial bodies that are a combination of several of the telescopes.

(1/31/18) This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle on Vera Rubin Ridge. Directly behind the rover is the start of a clay-rich slope scientists are eager to begin exploring. In the coming week, Curiosity will begin to climb this slope. [NASA]

There are also pictures from the different probes and crafts we’ve sent out to explore the universe. Photos of the distant worlds and moons of our solar system taken by the Voyager spacecrafts. Detailed photographs of the Martian surface have been sent back by the Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers as well as the Viking lander.

(11/19/69) Astronaut Alan L. Bean holds a Special Environmental Sample Container filled with lunar soil collected during the extravehicular activity (EVA) in which astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander, and Bean, lunar module pilot, participated. Conrad, who took this picture, is reflected in Bean’s helmet visor. [NASA]

From training to spaceflight, there are photos of the astronauts as well. Some areas pedestrian as them a speaking engagements but there are others, such as spacewalks, that are truly awe-inspiring.

(6/28/95) The Space Shuttle Atlantis orbits Earth at a point above Uzbekistan and the southern Aral Sea, as photographed by one of the Mir-18 crew members aboard Russia’s Mir Space Station. The image was photographed prior to rendezvous and docking of the two spacecraft. [NASA]

The images taken by the astronauts and satellites that are incredible. There’s a saying in photograph that the best photos come from knowing where to stand, meaning you need to have the best vantage point. No telephoto lens or high flying drone can even come close to getting the angle at which pictures from the International Space Station or high flying satellite can be photographed from.

So if you’re a science/space buff take a look a the NASA Image and Video Library because this site is out of this world!

(7/20/6) Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon near a leg of the Lunar Module during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA). Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. The astronauts’ bootprints are clearly visible in the foreground. [NASA]

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Bird watching

(10/18/12) A sandhill crane “dances” in a field along Woodbridge Road near Van Excel Road outside of Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

There’s an old photograph phrase of “watch the birdie!” Well, for
the newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment you will literally be watching birdies because the subject is birds.

LEFT: (5/3/05) A pigeon makes its nest In the yellow light of a traffic signal on Yosemite Avenue and Fremont Avenue in downtown Manteca. RIGHT: (2/19/04) A scrub jay sits in a flowering almond tree on the campus of the University of the Pacific in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

From backyard sparrows to turkey vultures soaring over the countryside to a hawk sitting on a telephone phone along the road to a robin perched in a neighborhood tree, birds are everywhere. You’d think with the prevalence of our avian friends that getting a picture of them would be easy. But the actually task can be pretty daunting.

A flock of seagulls float on the waters of the Stockton Marina in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Most of our fine feathered friends are lower in the food chain and are preyed upon by predators from both the ground and the in sky. Thus they are very skittish and hard to approach. Try to get in close for a picture and they’ll fly away. This is there reason that most birders have very long telescopes/binoculars/lenses. The problem with getting a telephotos lens (in the 300mm or more range) is that they’re usually expensive. If you have the means to buy one, then distance isn’t a problem for you, but if you don’t it’ll make things more difficult.

LEFT: (4/2/18) A red-winged blackbird perches on a sow thistle in a field of wild mustard on Sperry Road near Airport Way in Stockton. RIGHT: (1/12/17) A meadowlark perches on a fence at the Phil and Marilyn Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve in Woodbridge. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

You don’t have travel to far to find a bird to photograph. A simple walk around your neighborhood or even just out your backdoor can yield a plethora of birds. Here’s where you don’t need a very long lens You can even set up a bird feeder just outside a window which can preclude the need for a long lens. Just set it up near the window (make sure it’s clean) close the curtains/blinds and wait. All you need to do is open up the curtain/blinds just enough to allow your lens through (without spooking the birds) and voila! You’ve got yourself a closeup bird picture.

A Canada goose takes off during the Ducks in Scopes event at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

There are plenty of places find birds in the wild. Locally the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton is habitat to a wide variety of waterfowl and other types of birds. I’ve even see pictures taken by others of a pair of bald eagles there. Sandhill cranes can be seen at Staten Island near Walnut Grove and the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve near Woodbridge.

(11/6/11) Sandhill cranes fly over the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve and Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve on Woodbridge Road west of I-5. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

While photographing birds that are perched on something like a branch or fence can be daunting enough, getting one in flight can even more difficult. One has to be much like a sports photographer to get the shot. A long telephoto lens is pretty much a must to get a tight shot of a bird in the air. If it’s at first stationary, you have to anticipate if and when the bird will take off then be able to follow and focus on the bird’s movements. Practiced bird photographers may make it look easy, but trust me it’s not.

(7/13/16) A white duck is reflected as it floats lazily on the waters of one of the ponds at Victory Park in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

(11/6/08) As the suns sets in the west, a seagull takes flight near the water tower at the Port of Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

You can make your photo all about the bird, meaning, the bird is the main subject of the photo, filling most of the frame. Or you can take another approach. The bird could be just an accent to your photo, like one perched atop a tree or flying against a cloudy sky or sunset. Just make sure that it’s noticeable.

Whether you get photos of birds in the air, on a tree, fence or anywhere else make sure to watch the birdie.

20080121 Against cloudy skies, pigeons and seagulls perch on light standards on I and 9th Streets in downtown Modesto.

How to enter:

1. Entries can be emailed to The preferred format is jpeg. Type in “Birds” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be taken between November 26 and December 10.

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

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, the kind of device you used and there the photo was taken (eg.: John Doe of Stockton, Canon Rebel T6i with 18-55mm lens. Cosumnes River preserve, Thornton).

5. If there is a recognizable person or persons in the photo please identify them (name, age, hometown) and describe what is going on in the photo (eg.: “Jane Doe walks her dog Fido as a flock of Canada geese take flight behind them at the Cosumnes River preserve near Thornton.”)

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

7. The deadline for submission is December 10. The top examples will be published on December 17 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day at

An egret takes flight over the waters of McLeod Lake at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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Help-Portrait in one week

In 2009, I was inspired by a video by Nashville-based photographer Jeremy Cowart. The video was a call to find someone in need, take their photo, print it and then deliver it to them. The call struck a chord with me.

(12/6/10) Kevin Richtik owner of the Stockton-based Caroline’s Photography takes a picture during the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless’s family Shelter in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE]

For awhile, I had been looking for a way to give back to the community.
Afterall, all I do is take pictures. It is how I support my family but I felt that I could not use my skills to feed or clothe anyone of need just by taking their picture. Cowart and the movement that he called Help-Portrait helped me to realize that I could use my gifts to gift others. In turn, I put out a call on social media and my friends and colleagues responded. The community responded as well. Photographers, photo processors and other members came to help.

(12/6/10) Danielle & Sheena Coe have their photo take at the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. [CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE]

We held our first Help-Portrait in 2009, and we were not the only ones.
Thousands of people around the world organized their own events and took pictures of hundreds of thousands of people on that single day. Many of us have been going strong ever since.

Maria Mota Lopez, seated, has her picture take with her children Alexis, 7, left, Juan, 12, and Rosie, 10, at the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD FILE]

The event is usually held on the first Saturday in December. This year we are going to hold it on the last Saturday in November — Nov. 30 —  at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless. This call out is to you, we need your help. We have photographers. We have photo supplies — Tim Ulmer of UlmerPhoto who has printed the pictures for free every year.
But we need makeup artists. We have limited makeup supplies (brushes and applicators) but we need someone with skill to prepare people to have their picture taken.

Special Valdovinos, left, looks at her pictures with her 6-year-old son Jacob at the Help-Portrait event at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD FILE]

Nothing has been more heartwarming  than to see the smiles of the men, women and children who see themselves, many often for the very first time, in a professional photographic print. Come Nov. 30, we’ll those smiles again. Please contact me if you can help.

Contact photographer Clifford Oto at (209) 546-8263 or

(12/6/10) — Daniel Hawthorne and his mother Chea Rodgers at the Help Portrait session held at the Stockton Family Shelter. Photo by Kevin Richtik

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Readers Photo Challenge: For land(scapes) sake!

Landscapes, the subject of the current Readers Photo Challenge, have been a staple of artists nearly since the beginning of art. They capture the beauty and wonder of the natural world. When photography came along, practitioners from Ansel Adams to Galen Rowell took up the landscape mantle. The people who sent in their photos for the challenge follow in their fine tradition. Nineteen readers sent in 84 photos. Here are the top picks.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Samsung Galaxy 8 smartphone to photograph a mountain through the broken windshield of an abandoned car in the ghost town of Nelson, Nevada, near Las Vegas.

On a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, Teresa Mahnken of Morada took a side outing to the ghost town of Nelson. The town is littered with abandoned cars and trucks which sounds like just the opposite of what one might want in a landscape photo. But with her Samsung Galaxy 8 smartphone, Mahnken used a hole in the shattered windshield of a dilapidated car to frame a nearby mountain to come up with a perfect example of the conflict between nature and man.


Dave Skinner used a Nikon D7000 to photograph a windmill in the countryside along Highway 88 near Lake Camanche.

With his Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, Dave Skinner of Stockton captured the rolling hills along Highway 88 near Camanche Lake northeast of Clements. While just off the road, his photo gives a feeling of solitude. The gently sloping hill to the left leads the viewer’s eye to the lone windmill and water tank to the right. He converted the photo to black and white which enhances the feeling of beautiful desolation.


Holly Stone of Lodi used an Apple iPhone to photograph a rock formation in Sedona, Arizona.

Time of day is key to most landscape photos which is exemplified in a picture that Holly Stone of Lodi entered in the challenge. While on a trip to Sedona, Arizona, Stone used her Apple iPhone 7 to photograph a red rock formation that the area is famous for. The light of the setting sun gives a warm glow to her photo, enhancing its appeal.


Anthony Mignone of Stockton used a Samsung A20 smartphone to photograph a flooded almond orchard near Nile Road and Airport Way in Manteca.

While most people think of a natural setting for a landscape, there are man-made ones as well. Anthony Mignone used a Samsung Galaxy A20 smartphone to photograph an almond orchard near Nile Road and Airport Way in Manteca. The orchard’s regimented rows of trees and canopy is reflected in standing water on it’s floor which was flooded for irrigation.


Sydney Spurgeon of Stockton used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera to photograph the forest along Highway 88 in the Sierras .

A landscape usually means wide open spaces but you can also take another tact by focusing on a close-up which can be just as compelling as an overall scene. On a trip up along Highway 88 in the Sierras looking for some fall color. While most of the leaves had already dropped, near Kirkwood she found some color. With her Nikon D90 DSLR camera she photographed the trunk of a lone trembling aspen tree. She captured its last remaining yellow leaves and the texture of its white bark.


Joseph Hey of Stockton used a Samsung Galaxy 9 smartphone to photograph Zephyr Cove in the Lake Tahoe area.

Stocktonian Joseph Hey’s photo has the early morning sun breaking above the trees near Zephyr Cove in Lake Tahoe. Hey used an Apple iPhone XS to capture the light as it spills across the center of the landscape to begin a fresh day in the mountains.


Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 to photograph the west fork of the Carson River near Hope Valley, California.

Carolyn Silva of Jackson used a Nikon D7500 to photograph the west fork of the Carson River near Hope Valley, California. The river winds its way into the frame and helps to draw the eye of the viewer into the scene to explore the warm tones of the dried brush and grasses which contrast with the verdant color of the evergreen trees.


Andrea Semillo of Stockton used an Apple IPhone XS to photograph a forest in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Andrea Semillo of Stockton used an Apple IPhone XS to photograph a forest in Reykjavík, Iceland. From her vantage point high atop a volcanic crater, she had a commanding view of the countryside. There’s a mountain in the distance and small buildings a little closer. A forest dominates the frame. It looks of mostly evergreens but is spotted with deciduous trees turning to their fall colors.


A gallery of all of the photos can bee seen at A new challenge assignment will be issued on November 26.

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October in review

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

2019’s 10th month has come and gone bringing with it the promise of fall. Here are some of my favorite photos from October.


Stephanie Steffens, left, takes takes advantage of the mild weather to take the braids out of her son Ezekiel Steffens-Goeas’ hair before rebraiding it with the help of her 4-year-old granddaughter Kekini Steffens-Goeas from the balcony of their second floor apartment in the CW 40 building on Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures are forecasted to be in the upper 70s to the upper 80s though Sunday. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Farmworkers pick pumpkins in a Von Groningen and Sons Farm’s field on Highway 4 and Kaiser Road east to Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Rebecca Nile, also known as the “Bubble Lady,” creates a soap bubble storm as a part of her “Bubble Palooza” show entertaining children and adults alike at the Stribley Community Center in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Alexis Lillian Le-Rabago of Alameda competes in the beginning girls 8-11 group in the Te Fa’a No Te ‘Ori Tahitian Dance & Drumming Competition held at Atherton Auditorium in Stockton. About 192 people from all around the state participated in the competition.

Delta College’s Alvin Howard, right, reaches out for a pass past Fresno City College’s Tremell Harrell during a football game at Delta’s DeRicco Field in Stockton. The pass was incomplete. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Jesse Taggert take a picture of sandhill cranes as they fly into the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve off of Woodbridge Road west of Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Trembling aspen trees turn to their fall colors near Meyers along Highway 89 the Toyiabe National Forest in Alpine County. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Sandhill cranes share a flooded field with other waterfowl along Desmond Road in the Cosumnes River preserve near Thornton. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

UOP’s Griffin Long blasts out of a sand trap near the 18th green in the Visit Stockton Pacific Golf Invitational at the Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Brenda Sanchez competes in the Catrina Pageant at the Dia De Los Muertos Street Fiesta in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Posted in Month in review, Outtakes | Leave a comment

Season for sunsets

We have seasons for hunting, the weather and sports but one for sunsets? Sunsets happen literally every day so how can there be a season for them?

A fisherman casts his line in the waters at the head of the deep water channel at sunset at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

During fall, because of the natural shortening of the days, sunset comes earlier in the day. Instead of sunset occurring at nearly 9:30 p.m during the height of summer, the end of the day comes around 4:30 p.m. His means you don’t have to stay up late to shoot the warm colors of sundown.

Jennifer Sila of Florida takes pictures of sandhill cranes during sunset at the Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve west of Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

You can go out and shoot the golden hour and then go out to dinner afterwards. If you’re so inclined, you can keep on shooting even when the sunset merges into the blue hour of dusk and still make it home for your favorite TV shows.

(2/21/12) The evening sunset as seen from Pelter Road and Rond Road in Thornton in San Joaquin County, CA. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

This is also the time when the weather changes. The air is crisper and colder. There’s a better chance of clouds forming which can lead to some spectacular sunset photos. Think of a sunset as a soup and a clear sky with a sinking sun as the broth. Clouds can be the meat, veggies and other ingredients to make that soup even tastier.

(12/29/11) A fiery sunset lights up the sky as Jesus Castillo of Stockton fishes at the Port of Stockton’s turning basin in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Having a person or people in your sunset photos can help to give your composition a point of interest and give the scene scale. It’s more likely that people will be out and about during sunset when it occurs earlier in the day.
The downside to shooting sunsets at this time of year is that the weather is turning cooler. Right now it’s not much of a problem, nothing that wearing a sweater or a sweat shirt won’t solve. But within a few weeks it may get downright chilly and heavier outerwear may be needed.

So if you like sunsets but don’t like to stay up late, this is the season for you.

Esteban Aguila of Stockton takes advantage of mild weather to take in a sunset and practice his guitar at the Port of Stockton’s turning basin in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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A noun waiting for a verb

(10/20/05) The sun rises in the east as a tractor discs a field along Highway 4 near Hollenbeck Road between Stockton and Farmington. The addition of the bird adds a feeling of serendipity to the photo. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Last year my son Christopher took a photography class taught by Randy Allen at Sacramento City College. Allen’s not only a great teacher and photographer but also a good friend that goes way back to the days when we both were SCC photo students ourselves. Christopher told me something that Allen said during class that made sense to me in a way that I hadn’t thought before.

Shawna Kleemeyer of Stockton, passes a mural of an owl’s face on a fence surrounding the construction site of the Hotel Stockton renovation in downtown Stockton as she walks home from work. The woman helps to bring context and scale to the photo. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

He said that some pictures are “a noun waiting for a verb.” Perhaps to some of you that may sound like a grammar problem, but to me it made perfect sense.

The sun, seen along the Calaveras River bike path in Stockton, turns into an orange orb as it shines through a layer of smoke from a wildfire near the Chico area. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The addition of the pedestrian helps to give some context to the photo and a relatable human element. CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The noun would be a scene that, at first glance, may seem perfect. It could be a landscape, a sunset or a street setting, but upon looking at them more closely there is something missing. That would be the verb. For me, that usually means a person, but it also could be a bird flying by or a cow or horse in just the right spot in the frame. This things can give an overall scene a sense of scale or context or even a destination point for the eye to go in the composition. It can also give a bit of sense of something going on rather than just a static picture. It’s that one little thing that can compete the photo’s composition.

(11/27/12) Clouds are reflected in the water of the turning basin as the sun sets over the Port of Stockton. The boat helps to give the reflections a sense of scale. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

This is sometimes called the “fishing technique” because photographers would find a scene then wait for a subject to enter the frame at the right place to complete the composition. Like fishing, both scene and subject could happen right away, almost simultaneously, but more often one has to wait, sometimes for a long time, for everything to fall into place. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all and you have to give up and come back another time.

(2/10/19) A horse stands in a snow-covered pasture along Highway 4 on Sunday after storms left several inches of snow in the Mother Lode town of Douglas Flat, elevation 1965′. The tree and snowy landscape are pretty enough but the addition of the horse help to put things in scale and balances out the composition. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

One of my favorite photos is by the famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, titled “Hyères, France,” taken when he lived in that city in 1932. It’s of a narrow street scene taken from slightly above. A winding staircase is in the foreground and just beyond is the curve of a cobblestone street. Perfectly placed in the upper left corner is a cyclist speeding by. Now you have to remember this was a time before fast motor-driven cameras (which Cartier-Bresson would have probably eschewed anyway) where one had to time their pictures carefully. Any sooner and the cyclist would have been obscured but the stairs railing, any later then he would have been out of the frame. Cartier-Bresson called this the “decisive moment.”

(2/10/09) Delta College track team member Aamir Khan is greeted by cloudy skies as he practices his triple jump at Delta’s DiRicco Field in Stockton. The athlete is a relatable human element in the photo. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Allen’s “noun waiting for a verb” phrase is just as descriptive. It takes a lot of practice and patience to recognize a scene that needs that “verb” and even more to be able to time it just right.

(8/3/07) Nine-year-old Candace Jones of Stockton, carrying her four-year-old brother Kyle, cools off in the jest of water at the interactive fountain at the Weber Point Event center in downtown Stockton. The children are a point of focus in the frame. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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Lodi High holds Dia De Los Muertos celebration

TOP LEFT: Seventeen-year-old Melissa Resendiz puts the finishing touches on an offrenda in memory of late singers Jaon Sebastian and Jenni Rivera at Lodi High School’s Dia De Los Muertos celebration. TOP RIGHT: Seventeen-year-old Nayli Gonzalez wears face paint at the Dia De Los Muertos celebration. MIDDLE: Vivian Resendiz with the Ballet Folklorico Janitzio performs a traditional Mecican dance at Lodi High School’s Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in the school’s courtyard. The event as put on by the Spanish Club, English Language Learners and Student Government. BOTTOM LEFT: Four-year-old Ximena Mendoza dances with the Ballet Folklorico Janitzio at Lodi High School. BOTTOM RIGHT: Sixteen-year-old Alexis Stevens, right, has her face painted by art teacher Bea Austin at Lodi High’s Dia De Los Muertos celebration. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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Trick or treat on the Mile

TOP LEFT: Four-year-old Jace Dias dressed as Batman and drove a Batmobile during the annual Trick or Treat on the Mile. TOP RIGHT: One-year-old Kristopher Patterson eats a piece of candy as he and his grandmother Yemaya Searcy take a break on Pacific Avenue during the annual Trick or Treat on the Mile Halloween event. MIDDLE: Randy Zaragoza, owner of Zaragoza’s Cal-Pine on the Ave, left, wears a giant baby mask as he hands out candy on Pacific Avenue along the Miracle Mile during the annual Trick or Treat on the Mile Halloween event in Stockton. BOTTOM LEFT: Eight-year-old Caleb Powell dressed up as an old man at the annual Trick or Treat on the Mile event. BOTTOM RIGHT: Tory Yamaguchi dressed as Mickey Mouse and her 14-month-old son Koa was Donald Duck for the annual Trick or Treat on the Mile. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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