Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Windows of opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Enter the Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Shadows

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

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

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

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (e.g.: “John Doe of Stockton. Location: Oak Park, Stockton. Canon Rebel T3 w/ 55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 15, of Stockton, walks in front of the windows of the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton).

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

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

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Readers Photo Challenge: Beyond a shadow of a doubt

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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Travel Practice

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

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Portfoilo investment

In January, I was asked to be a judge a portion of the 2017 Texas Associated Press Managing Editors (TAPME) photo contest. The contest encompasses stories as well as pictures. I judged a news photo category as well as what the TAPME calls their Star Photojournalist awards.

The single photo category is pretty straightforward: pick the best individual image The Star Photojournalist category was a little more difficult. Entrants had to send in a portfolio of twelve of their best photos from the year.

The Galveston Daily News’ Stuart Villanueva’s portfolio was head and shoulders above the rest. Everyone else was just competing for second and third.

When evaluating a portfolio, whether for a contest or looking for a prospective job applicant, one has a few things to consider.

The first, of course, is how good are the pictures. Are they technically sound? Do they connect on not only an aesthetic level with the viewer but an emotional one as well?

Most of the entrants to the contest easily reached this bar. Villanueva’s work also exhibited a certain photographic cleverness. Many of the pictures not only showed a technical excellence but there was a certain visual delightfulness to them as well.

Secondly, how well to the pictures all work together as a group. This goes to the ephemeral quality of “style.” Style is when an editor or reader can look at a picture, like it and say themselves “so-in-so must have taken it.” If ever find myself reading a paper in Galveston, I now can probably pick out Villanueva’s photos. His work had his signature all over it and it felt all of a single piece. Others did too but to a lesser extent.

Lastly, there’s a saying in photography that a portfolio is only as good as its weakest picture. For me, what brought down many of the other portfolios was that they felt like they were just trying to round out the limit of twelve. In other words, they might have had a strong eight or ten photos but added a mediocre one or two to make the twelve. If would’ve left those extraneous picture out then they would have had a strong portfolio. The weak ones brought them down. Villanueva’s work was consistently good through and through.

To produce a good portfolio one must have to be a strong editor of their own work. You have to look at your photos with a dispassionate and brutal eye. Never hold on to a picture because of sentimentality. I know it’s easy to be swayed by factors like what it took to get the shot or if there’s someone who’s famous in it, but with every picture you have to ask “is this good?” And “why?” Villanueva’s portfolio was very tightly edited. I wonder what great work was left on his cutting room floor.

I have seen a number of portfolios in my time and the best ones were like Villanueva’s, excellent and consistent. You may wonder why putting together a portfolio may be for you. If you’re an amateur looking to become a more serious one you may want to organize one for a Web site or even for job hunting. A good, well-edited portfolio can showcase your work and show what you can do.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Shadows

The newest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “shadows.”

Photographing shadows can pretty easy. No special equipment is required. You can shoot it with a DSLR, a point-and-shoot or a smartphone.

What is needed is a strong, unfiltered light source. For that reason a bright sunny day tends to work best. Diffused light, such as an overcast day, will create indistinct shadows. You can even photograph shadows at night for a very dramatic effect, but again, only if you have a strong light source. Back or side lighting tends to be the most effective to produce a shadow picture.

Like most any other picture the early morning, late afternoon light is the best. The low angle can create long shadows and create warmth in the surroundings.Any flat surface can be the “canvas” for your shot as long as a clean uncluttered one. A surface with too many lines or patterns can obscure event the strongest of shadows. Most often that will mean the ground beneath your feet but you also use a wall, curtains or another flat, vertical surface.

The shadows can be the main subject of your photo or it can be part of the composition or background that emphasizes or leads the viewers’ eye to the subject.

All shadows are silhouettes, but not all silhouettes are shadows. Like a silhouette, shadows are outlines made from an object or person. But a silhouette has actual physical form while a shadow is a mere shade of what makes it. That doesn’t mean that a shadow isn’t worth of being the subject in and of itself. You take a picture of just the shadow or both it and what makes it.

So get out there in the springtime sunshine and show that you don’t have to be afraid of your own (or anyone else’s) shadow.

(Note: This column will be transitioning to Tuesdays, so you’ll have a little more time to complete this assignment. The deadline will be on May 22.)

How to enter:

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

2. Photos have to be shot between May 1 and May 22.

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

4. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (e.g.: “John Doe of Stockton. Location: Oak Park, Stockton. Canon Rebel T3 w/ 55-300mm lens”).

5. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown) and what they are doing in the photos (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton casts a show on the sidewalk at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Tuesday, May 22. The top examples will be published on May 29 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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April’s outtakes

April is now past us and we’re on to the year’s second trimester. Here are my top 10 favorite photos from April.

















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Outtakes: A belated March

With apologies, but I forgot to post the outtakes from March. I got a bit busy and it just slipped my mind. So without further ado, here are my top 10 favorites from 2018’s third month.





















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Readers Photo Challenge: The nature of things

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein

Nature is the subject of the latest Readers Photo Challenge.
From the mountains to the oceans to our own backyards, the natural world is all around us. Many readers sent in photos of of scenic landscapes of poppy-covered hillsides or river scenes. Others took closeups of flowers and plants. Yet others photographed the critters, birds mostly, that inhabit these lands.

Twenty-two readers sent in a total of a whopping 128 pictures. Here are some of the best examples sent in.


Rick Wilmot of Lodi was one of those who ventured no farther than his own backyard to find nature. He used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera to photograph a honey bee as it foraged for nectar in a blossom of a Valencia orange tree at his home. The bees rich golden color is framed by the flowers’ crisp white petals which in turn were framed by the green of the tree’s leaves.


Carrie Walker of Stockton was another who stayed close to home for her shot. She used an Apple iPad to photograph a simple dandelion seed head in her yard. With an accessory macro lens clipped to the tablet was able to get a very tight closeup of the plant. The white plumes of the seeds created a delicate veil over the center of the seed ball.


Gareth Olsen of Stockton used a Nikon 810 DSLR camera to photograph a great blue heron at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Thornton. The muted blue/grey tones are nearly matched by the color of the reeds surrounding the elegant bird.


Kurt Gatejen of Elk Grove also visited the Cosumnes River Preserve for his shot. He used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph a tree swallow perched on the branch of a valley oak with holding nesting material in its beak at the preserve near Thornton.


Ken Class of Lodi used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph the dunes at Manzanita Beach, Oregon as storm clouds approached. I liked how he captured the different layers of the scene. In front are the windswept dunes covered in gold and green wild grasses lit up by the late afternoon sun. . The next layer is Neahkani Mountain in the background sending darken ominous. Finally, there’s the swirling grays of the gathering of fierce storm clouds overhead.


Dave Skinner of Stockton traveled up to Amador County in the Mother Lode for his nature photo. He used a Nikon D7100 DSLR camera to photograph a Blue Dick wildflower on a hillside along Electra Road near Jackson. Shooting with a 55mm macro lens he used a wide aperture opening for a narrow depth of field which threw the background so out of focus that it looks like an impressionist painting. The flower’s delicate stem winds its way out of that unsharp fuzziness and gradually comes into focus at the flower’s lavender head.


Stocktonian Steven Rapaport’s photo is an exercise in graceful minimalism. He used a Canon EOS 5D Mk IV camera to photograph a belted kingfisher at the Village West Marina in Stockton. The bird sits on the bare branch of a tree as it juts in from the right bottom corner of the frame against a nearly featureless sky.


Oran Schwinn of Stockton used a Google Pixel XL phone to photograph dandelions growing at Oak Park in Stockton. The put his phone down low, much lower than he could have with a regular camera, and shot up at the weeds making them look like a tall, nearly majestic, grove of alien trees.


Janet Baniewich of Stockton used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to photograph a calla lily at her home. It had just rained and water drops gracefully covered the creamy white petals of the flower.


Teresa Glandon of Lodi used a Samsung phone to photograph a sunset with a tree in the foreground at Lodi Lake.


An online photo gallery of all the photos can be viewed at A new challenge assignment will be issued on Thursday, May 3.

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Highway to the danger zone

Recently I got an email from a reader who wondered how she could go about getting inside the fence on the field to photograph her nephew as he plays Little League baseball. I told her that as professional photographers we know the dangers of the game and are willing to risk them its a part of our job. We tend to have an agreement with teams and officials, sometimes unsaid, to be able to get out on the field and shoot.

Now, I know shooting through a chainlink fence can be annoying. Its diamond grid pattern can get in the way and it keeps you from getting closer to the action, but it’s there for a reason: safety.

In the past I have shot from inside the fence. When I started more than 30 years ago, the Stockton Ports minor league baseball team used to at Billy Hebert Field at Oak Park in Stockton. The longest lens I had was a 180mm which was way to short to shoot from outside the fence. The team allowed me to be on the field in foul territory to get my shots. I had to be aware and vigilant of the foul balls that might streaking my way. In my career I’ve had some close calls, but luckily, I’ve never been hit by a batted ball.

There are other hazards as well. Broken or thrown bats can fly from the hands of a batter and can cause serious injury. Overthrown balls missed by a first or third baseman can approach speeds at nearly those thrown by a pitcher. Finally, one can collide with a player running to catch a pop foul ball. You have to keep one eye on the action and another watching out for any hazard.

Eventually the Record acquired longer lenses. I now shoot with a 200-400mm zoom lens which allows me to be outside of the fence which is much safer. Still, one mustn’t let one’s guard down. I’ve seen a number of spectators injured by foul balls while sitting in the stands.

The fence can be mostly eliminated by using a telephoto lens and putting it right up to the chainlink. This makes it so out of focus that it renders the fence virtually invisible. Using a wide aperture minimizes the depth of field and enhances the effect.

At the Stockton Ballpark where the Ports now play, I often shoot from the stands through safety netting which surrounds the spectators in the infield area. The netting is like shooting through a fence. Beyond the infield the ballpark is surrounded by a low fence, about 4-feet tall, that you can shoot over. I also shoot from the dugout as well. It gets me closer to the action while affording me a decent amount of protection. Klein family Field where the Pacific Tigers play is set up similarly.

The various fields around the county where the high school teams play are all configured differently. Some have easy access while others its more difficult to get a good shot from a safe place.

Little league is obviously a much slower game than high school, college or the pros. But still, the ball can be hit hard and travel pretty fast. The teams and officials concerns are for the safety for everyone involved.

Also, there is the issue of other parents wanting to get photos of their own child who might wonder why can’t they be on the field too. The last thing the officials want would be several parents lining the field to get a picture. It would be untenable to have several people inside the fence.

If you have a DSLR, break down and get a telephoto lens ands shoot through the fence. It doesn’t have to be a professional model. Little League baseball tends to be played during the day in the bright sunlight, so you don’t need low-light capabilities and a consumer model in the 300-400 range will do. If you have a point-and-shoot or smartphone, those lenses are too short and getting inside the fence wouldn’t get you close enough anyway. That’s the time to sit back and just enjoy the game from the safety of the stands.

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Far and wide

When you purchased a DSLR camera, it usually comes with what’s know as a “kit” lens because it comes bundled as a part of a kit that probably includes things like a memory card, some filters, a spare battery and a camera bag. It tends to be a zoom lens that goes from a wide-angle to a mild telephoto. Most people think that a wide angle is only used for a overall scene and group shots and they don’t really realize how to use it to it’s full potential.

Often, people don’t think about including a foreground to their wide-angle shots. Adding an interesting foreground can turn a boring picture into something more compelling.

A prominent foreground can help lead the viewers into your photo by giving them a visual starting point, so to speak. It can be a splash of color or lines or patterns to draw their eyes in. You need to get close to what’s in the foreground to make it more eye-catching. You may have to bend over or kneel down to get close (I’ve even had to lie down on the ground at times) but the results can be worth it.

It helps to use as small an aperture as you can which will give you as much depth of field (what’s in focus from front to back) as possible. Using your camera in manual or aperture priority mode will allow you to choose the f/stop setting on the lens.

Using objects in the foreground to frame the scene is another way of using a wide-angle lens effectively. Placing a tree or a part of a tree in the foreground, not as the main subject of the picture, can help to center attention on what you want to showcase. The frame can be in or out of focus, elaborate or simple. It doesn’t matter because it’s not the main point of the photo. While you can also use this technique with almost any kind of lens, it tends to be most effective with a wide-angle.

There’s a common problem that people run into with a wide-angle lens. They want to photograph an overall scene but they also want to include a person in the picture. They have the person stand far into the scene to get them into the shot. They get the overall picture but it makes the person look tiny. What you need to do to is to stand where you need to get the wide shot but bring that person closer to the camera, say, around 5 to 6 feet away, which will make them more prominent in the photo. You can bring even closer. One doesn’t necessarily need to get your subjects’ feet in the photo, so you can get close enough to crop out their legs and feet and still get most of the background as well.

Many beginning photographers tend to think of telephoto lenses as being “powerful.” After all, they bring things that are faraway in close. But wide-angle lenses have a power all their own if you know how to use them to their best advantage.

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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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