Oh, say can you sing?

After a very contentious election season I found my faith in America at least momentarily restored while covering a girls varsity basketball game a few weeks ago.

East Union played their crosstown rivals Manteca at Manteca’s Winter Gym. I had gotten to the game a bit early and was waiting for the warm ups to finish. As the pregame clock wound down to zero, the teams headed off to their respective benches.

An announcer then spoke over the gym’s public address system: “Ladies and gentlemen, would please rise for the playing of our national anthem.” There was a collective loud shuffle as everyone stood for the Star Spangled Banner and then silence as everyone waited for a recording to start playing.

I was the closest to the flag mounted on the west wall of the gym, nearly underneath it, but I could feel the crowd behind me wonder when, or if, the song would begin.

The silence was uncomfortable as everyone, standing with hands over their hearts, waited for the music to begin. I don’t know if they couldn’t find the right track or if the device they were using was broken, but for several long seconds that seemed like minutes, there was just nothing but the faint hum of the empty speakers.

Then it seemed to have started among the students, quietly a first. One or two began singing in the silence, so softly that it was barely heard: “Oh say can you see…”

A few more then joined in…”by the dawn’s early light…”

At the next line even more people got involved… “what so proudly we held at the twilight’s last gleaming?”

By the middle of the song the entire gymnasium became a full-throated chorus: ” Who’s broad striped and bright stars through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?”

As the anthem crescendoed to its end, the crowd sang more proudly and deeply than Whitney Houston or any military band could have.

“And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Everyone applauded themselves when it was over.

If there’s a defining characteristic of Americans, it’s that we step up and do what needs to be done. For a brief moment the crowd looked past team rivalries, politics and whatever other differences that they had and worked together to do what needed to be done.

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Outtakes: One down, eleven to go

The month of January symbolizes new beginnings and perhaps an indication of the direction of things to come. My photos were a mixed bag of a little bit of everything: sports, features and news.

Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from 2017’s inaugural month.



















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Remebering Picasso

I first met Bobby Muñoz of Stockton and his English bulldog Picasso in 2013 as they were walking along the promenade at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. When I say ”they were walking” I mean Muñoz was walking while Picasso was riding a skateboard, yes a skateboard. Now, that’s not something you see everyday so of course I had to take a picture of the dog.

Muñoz said that Picasso loved to skate and that “he’d do it all day if I let him.” Indeed, he appeared to smiling with his big floppy tongue hanging out and having a great time as he took a few steps to push off then put all four paws on the board and let his momentum carry him away.

Muñoz as first inspired by seeing the famous skateboarding bulldog Tillman who Picasso even resembled. While living in Palo Alto, he began training him at about 5-months old. He bought a small skateboard, drilled a hole in the front and tied a rope through it. He then put Picasso on the board and pulled him around so that the dog could learn to balance on it. Soon Picasso outgrew the small board and Muñoz got him a standard sized one. Picasso learned that if he put a foot on the ground he could push off and propel himself without the help of Muñoz and then he was off to the races, so to speak. Muñoz and Picasso moved to Stockton in 2011.

They would frequent the Weber Point area, which provided the space for Picasso to ride his board and I photographed them a few times over the years. People would gather and take pictures of him and generally get a kick out of watching him skate through the park, especially kids. Whenever he would run out of room, he would just pivot the board on his own and then skate back the way he came.

In 2015 and 2016 Picasso performed his skateboarding skills at a couple of pet-themed events at Whirlow’s in Stockton and Pets and Pals in Lathrop and was beginning to gain some fame much like his inspiration Tillman.

About a month ago Picasso, 8 years-old, was diagnosed with cancer. The disease was too far along and any treatment would not have significantly improved Picasso’s the quality of life. Muñoz made the heart wrenching decision to euthanize his best friend. “I didn’t want to see him suffer,” said Muñoz. “He gave me some great years.”

If there’s a pet heaven then Picasso must be happily skateboarding all day among the clouds with a big grin on his face. Munoz remembered Picasso: “He was my everything. I’ll seen him when I get there.”

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Random Photo #71: Catching some air

With a backdrop of cloudy skies Peter Gutierrez of Manteca performs a trick on his skateboard at the skate park at the Lathrop Generations Center in Lathrop.

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Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Water, water everywhere

With all the recent storms we’ve had, I think it’s a great opportunity to revisit one of our first challenge assignments: Water.

Over the past few years the drought has made water a scarce commodity, but the aforementioned storms have eased the dry conditions if not eliminated them in some parts of the state.

Water is the source of life. It quenches our thirst and grows out crops. People fish and boat on the nearly by California Delta’s miles of waterways. There are a myriad of locations and opportunities for photos of water.

The first water challenge was issued in the summer of 2013 so there were a lot of opportunities for recreational photos of water with people swimming in pools, skiing on rivers and so forth. It’s wintertime now so most of those options are limited (though, you can find people out fishing or boating). Still, you can find other advantages that this time of year as to offer.

Rainy weather can make for an excellent water pictures. There’s sure to be a storm or two within the two weeks before the challenge’s deadline. you can get shots of people with umbrellas, raindrops clinging to a window or onto leaves or flowers.

Recent storms have left of lot of standing water. Flooded fields and large puddles can be excellent sources for photos. They can be subjects in and of themselves or they can provide surfaces for reflections.

If you’re not adventuresome enough to travel outside in inclement weather, then try thinking about a still life-type photo. You can photograph a glass of water on your kitchen counter or windowsill as gentle window light filters in.

Lastly, try looking for water in other forms. Snow and ice are solid forms of water that aren’t usually found during summertime and are valid subjects. So if you happened to be headed for snow country then there will be plenty of opportunities for you to find your water shot.

How to enter: 

1. Email your entries to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Water” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Feb. 2 and Feb. 16.

3. Entries are limited to no more than 12 photos from each photographer.

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: Stockton. Camera: 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, and if they’re related to you. (e.g.: Jimmy Doe, 8, of Stockton plays in a pile of snow at Kirkwood Ski Resort).

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

7. The deadline for submission is Thursday, Feb. 16. A photo gallery of all the pictures submitted will be run on Feb. 23 at Recordnet.com.

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Reader Photo Challenge: Winter wonderlands

Winter is the theme for the latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment. Most people don’t consider winter as the time that we’re likely to go out and look for pictures. Inclement weather often keeps people inside away from many photo opportunities. But those opportunities can abound for those willing to brave the cold and wet conditions.

Ten readers sent in 38 photos. Here are the top picks.


In the Central Valley, winter usually means cold, wet weather. While that may not seem appealing to some, beauty still can be found under those conditions

Luis Rodriguez of Stockton used a used a Motorola Moto X smartphone he photographed his mother Maria Rodriguez as she walked along the promenade on a winter’s day at the Weber Point Events Center in downtown Stockton. He converted the picture to black and white, which emphasizes its bleakness. With the wind blowing at his mom’s coat and the grey, overcast skies Rodriguez found the beauty in a dreary winter’s day.


Color doesn’t completely disappear during winter. Sydney Spurgeon find some color while on a trip to snowbound Lake Tahoe. She used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera to photograph the needles of a branch of a pine tree. Spurgeon captured the subtle greens of the needles and the deep red-brown of the branch itself all covered in a light dusting of snow.


Janet Baniewich of Stockton stayed closer to home to find her depiction of winter. She used a Nikon D3300 DSLR camera to take a picture of frost on a verbena plant in her backyard garden. The rays of the morning sun graces the ridges of the leaves before it starts to melt the thin and fragile film of ice.


Sometimes, especially in California, the weather can be nice during the winter. Ervin Rifenburg of Lodi used his Apple iPhone 5 to photograph his yellow Labrador retriever Penny as she rested during a break while they were duck hunting at the Oh So Hi Duck Club near Los Banos. The low rays of the morning sun seem to be warming her up as she sleeps in their duck blind.


Wintertime in the Central Valley is also a time for migratory birds. Kelley Jennings of Stockton used a Canon EOS 7D DSR camera with a 100-400mm lens  to photograph a sandhill crane as it walked though the stubble of a harvested cornfield at Staten Island near Walnut Grove.


Teresa Mahnken of Morada used a Nikon D3200 DSLR to photograph a dusting of snow on some leaves while on a trip to Coupeville, Washington.


Mike Ratekin of French Camp used an Apple iPhone 7 to photograph his 6-year-old grandson Carlos Lopez reflected in a puddle as he got off the bus from his first back at school from winter break on Bowman Road in French Camp.


All the photos sent in can be seen in a gallery at recordnet.com. A new Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be issued on February, 2.

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Random photo #70: Fair weather runners

Members of the San Joaquin Delta College swim team are reflected in a puddle left by recent storms as they jog by during dry land training on the track at Delta’s DiRicco Field in Stockton. Ironcially, the daily practices are canceled if if the weather is too rainy.

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A timeout for timeouts

There are 2 words that many sports shooters hate to hear, or at least I don’t when I’m photographing sports: “Media timeout.” For those who attend a sporting event that’s being televised, you will inevitably hear those words at some point during the game. It means that play is being stopped for a commercial break for the television viewing audience.

Viewers at home don’t notice a thing, except commercials for beer, sneakers or sports drinks or other goods and services. Of course, fans at the game do not actually see them.

Most sports have a flow to them and one needs to get into the rhythm of the game to get a good shot. Too many timeouts can disrupt that rhythm and annoy and frustrate many photographers.

Most pro games are televised on broadcast or cable networks and so are many college games. Some sports like baseball and tennis have natural commercial breaks, such as end of innings. Other sports, such as football and basketball, don’t have those breaks and instead have media timeouts.

In the Stockton area, this means University of the Pacific basketball. Knowing if a particular game will be played close under the basket or one shot from 3-point range, or if the game will be a defensive or offensive one can be determined by keeping track of the tempo of the game. It’s when one is getting into the swing of the game that the whistle is blown, play is stopped and the announcer calls a media timeout.

When the TV viewer comes back to the game after the timeout is over, it seems to them as if not much has happened and they’ve returned to the point at about which they left. But a lot goes on in that minute or so of stoppage.

In the case of a Pacific basketball game, the teams pull chairs out onto the court and go into their respective huddles to talk strategy. A couple of guys come out with sweepers to mop up the sweat dripped onto the court by the players. The Tiger dancers may come out and do a full routine or a simple time-keeping step while the band or recorded music plays. The university mascot, PowerCat, may work the crowd while a promotions crew throws T-shirts out into the crowd or gives away free pizzas. As the timeout ends, the teams leave their huddles and attendants mop up any perspiration that may have fallen to the floor during the huddle.

All this takes only a minute or two before the game starts again, but that can be enough. In college basketball, media timeouts occur at the first dead ball after four-minute intervals; that’s four for each half. There are also the three timeouts each team gets per half. That can add up to 13 stoppages of play. I often wondered if all those breaks affected the timing of the players, but during a fast-paced game like basketball, even a small pause can be enough to throw off a photographer’s pace and timing.

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In a fog

When walking to school as a kid, around 8 or 9 years old, on chilly winter mornings I would see the condensation from my billowing out of my mouth and the mouths of others. On one foggy morning, my kid logic put 2 and 2 together: fog came from people.

A day with a light mist must have meant that there were just a few people out and about. A thick fog meant that there were a lot of people outside breathing heavily. When the fog lifted, that must have meant that people got tired of the cold and went inside.

When I got older I eventually learned that fog is actually formed when there is a temperature difference between the ground and air and the humidity is high enough to form fog. It was the technical explanation but I’ve always remembered the little kid’s reasoning to keep the enchantment of a foggy day.

Photographing the fog can be a bit tricky. If there’s too much of it, you can’t see anything, but If there’s too little fog can then it can just look like an ordinary day. You have to find the right balance between too much and not enough. If it’s too thick then you can always wait until it starts to burn off then take your pictures. Try having something in the foreground that’s fairly clear in the picture and other elements fade off into the fog the further away they get.

Lens choice can make a difference in a fog picture. A telephoto lens tends to compress the scene thus enhancing the “fogginess” of the photo. It may make your pictures look foggier than they may really be, a boon for a day with light fog. A wide-angle lens will have just the opposite effect, making the scene look less foggy.

Be careful when using an auto exposure mode. Like with snow, your camera may read a white foggy scene as too bright and will adjust its settings to underexpose the picture. Try switching to manual and checking your results on the camera’s monitor.

The more adventuresome photographers may want to try photographing in the fog at night. The misty condition can give streetlights and lit signs an almost mystical glow.

It’s winter so cold is an issue. Always dress warmly. Also keep an eye and ear out for traffic as the fog will make you harder to be seen by drivers.

The dry years of the drought meant that foggy days became few and far between. But the rainstorms we’ve had recently are sure to mean more foggy days. It can be a problem for those who have to drive through it or crave sunny days. But it can be a blessing for those looking to capture the misty wonder of winter.

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Outtakes: December

The new year has started but before we venture farther into 2017 there’s one more look back at 2016 that needs to be done. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from December.













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