The Bowler lives!

The 1999 movie “Mystery Men” tells of the story of a group of loser amateur superheroes who overcome their ineptitude to win the day. The Shoveler (William H. Macy) uses a shovel and small hand trowels as weapons. Speaking in an effete British accent, the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) throws spoons and forks with unerring accuracy. Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller) uses his anger to motivate him, sort of like the Hulk but without the super strength. The power of the Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) is, as his name suggests, to turn invisible, but only if no one is looking at him. The Spleen’s (Paul Rubens) power is that of extra-potent, unconsciousness-inducing flatulence.

My favorite character is the scene-stealing Bowler (Janeane Garafolo). She carries with her a clear bowling ball with her dead father’s skull and spirit encased within. With tremendous force the ball flies through the air bludgeoning all in its path and then flies back to her after hitting its target. It’s a kick watching her have a dysfunctional, one-sided “discussion” with her dad.

In the end the Bowler throws the ball into villain Casanova Frankenstein’s (Geoffrey Rush) deadly machine, which is set to destroy the fictional Champion City. The ball does its job but is seemingly destroyed in the process.

But was it? I was recently in the Bowling Outfitters pro shop at the Pacific Avenue Bowl in Stockton, and there among the used bowling balls for sale was a clear ball with a skull at its heart. Hmmmm.

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Wait for it…

Patience is a virtue in photography. To get the best picture out of situation, sometimes you need to wait for the optimal weather conditions or the perfect light. In newspaper work one doesn’t always have the luxury of time, but when you can, waiting can yield the best photo possibilities.

When I went camping with my son’s Boy Scout patrol at Gerle Creek in the Eldorado National Forest, I woke up before most of the boys, so I did a little exploring around the campgrounds. Dappled light filtered through the tall pine trees when I found a tiny sapling struggling to grow out of a crack in a boulder. It was a symbol of the tenacity of Mother Nature to survive even in the harshest conditions. I had a great subject, a clean background, and a strong diagonal composition of the crack going from corner to corner of the frame.

The problem was that the light was all wrong. It was in the shadows, and the light was flat and featureless. What’s worse, I had missed some good light. A ray of sunshine had already passed that spot by a few minutes. It may seem like conditions in nature are pretty static, changing only with the seasons, but there are things that are always moving.

Although I had missed one opportunity for some good light, like a bus, another one was coming. As the sun slowly tracked across the sky, the spots of light on the ground moved accordingly, as well. I could see one shaft of light inching its way toward the small treelet. I sat there and waited for the light to come. Several minutes later it looked like a narrow spotlight was trained on the scene. There was even a great shadow created by the light that added to the composition. It was as if I had planned it that way. In a way, just by waiting patiently, I had.

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Getting back to nature

The Boy Scout overnight camping trip to Gerle Creek campgrounds just east of Pollack Pines in El Dorado County that my son Christopher and I went on was just an overnighter. It was considered “car” camping and was at an organized campground with no hiking involved. Though we were in small tents, our vehicles were parked nearby. The trip only involved only two patrols, eight scouts, from the whole troop. Still, it was nice to take in the splendors of Mother Nature and to get away from the daily grind of work.

We left early on a Saturday morning for about a 2-1/2 hour drive to the campgrounds and got there around 11:00 a.m. or so. The surrounding forest were filled with douglas firs, incense cedars and others the air was perfumed with their piney scent. Birds, chipmunks and squirrels flitted through the campground only slightly wary of us, looking for a tasty morsel to eat. A short drive to nearby Loon Lake provided some fishing for the scouts (through unfortunately, not much catching).

It was 10 to15 degrees cooler than the valley, still it was warm enough for one brave scout to sleep under the stars in only a hammock.

The philosophy of the troop is to have it boy led, in other words, with some adult supervision, the boys get to plan events, including camping trips, do the cooking and cleaning, etc. All the adults have to do is to provide transportation and a little oversight. Prior to this trip, the boys planned the meals and bought the food. Once we were at the campsite, they divvied up the cooking and cleaning duties, all without complaint and without being prompted by an adult. The four adults (three dads and one assistant scout master) just had to sit back and enjoy the ride.

After breakfast on Sunday morning we packed up our tents and the boys did a final “sweep” of the camp for any trash left on the ground. We then loaded up our vehicles and left the cool mountain air for the heat of the Valley. It was a short trip, but a refreshing one nonetheless.

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Starry, starry night

“Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer’s day,

With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.” – Vincent by Don McLean

What a difference a night makes. As in urban areas, shooting at night can transform natural landscapes. But instead of the glow of bright city lights, Mother Nature is the one providing the light show. But to take full advantage of it, one has to head towards the hills to avoid the smoggy haze and light pollution of the valley.

My 12-year-old son Christopher and I went on an overnight camping trip to Gerle Creek with his Boy Scout patrol. It’s east of Pollack Pines in the Eldorado National Forest. During the day the scenery at the campground was wonderful to be sure, with tall pines and rocky peaks, but I wanted to get some night shots to find a different kind of beauty. At the end of the day after everyone turned in for the night, that was the time for me to go to work. Christopher tagged along and braved the darkness with me. We headed down to the reservoir to get away from the lights of the dwindling campfires.

Unfortunately a bright half-moon was rising and threatened to wash out the subtle shadings of the sky and stars. But it was still low on the horizon, just peeking over the tree tops, so I had to work fast, before the moon reached its peak in the sky.

At an elevation of about 5,300 feet, the view of the stars were crystal clear. It looked like we were standing at the edge space itself. It seemed as if you could reach out and touch them. Looking up, Christopher showed me where Orion’s belt was and I pointed out the Big Dipper to him. The air was still and the water of the creek reflected the sky like a mirror. Armed with my camera, a tripod and a cable release, I set my gear up at the water’s edge. Using 30-second time-exposures I fired off several frames and then let Christopher press the shutter button. We moved around the lake’s rim and shot from several different locations.

The rising moon provided some fill light and illuminated the trees, but as it climbed higher in the sky it started to wash out the smaller stars and I knew the best time for pictures was growing short. After about an hour or so Christopher’s yawns told me it was time to call it a night. We made our way back through the darkness, past the campfires and to our tents where we nestled in our sleeping bags content in our terrestrial trip through space.

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Blast from the past: Playing chicken

Photoshop manipulation of news photos is strictly forbidden. But with photo illustrations, which are considered to be akin to drawings or paintings, more artistic license is allowed. They’re typically used in the features sections of papers (such as The LENS section in The Record). Such pictures should be always labeled “photo illustrations.”

In January 2008 I shot a photo illustration to go along with a story on how to carve a chicken. The story followed Yosemite Meat Market owner George Lucas on the proper way to cut up a whole chicken. I got step-by-step photos of Lucas in action, but I was wondering how to do a different, more playful photo to help bring readers into the story.

I came up with an idea of chain sawing a giant roasted chicken. It was a simple matter of shooting a supermarket rotisserie chicken in the Record’s studio, and having another shot of someone pose with a chainsaw and then putting the two shots together. Record Photo Editor Craig Sanders brought his own chainsaw for the shoot and thus became my model. We had a hard hat and some rubber boots lying around the office to complete his ensemble. It became just a matter of copying and pasting the two photos together in Photoshop.

I noticed something in the Relish Magazine insert in the Aug. 4 edition of the paper. On the back was an advertisement for Pam non-stick spray that took up the entire rear cover. It was of a woman standing on a barbecue grill (whether she was supposed to be miniature or the grill was supposed to be giant I’m not sure), using a chainsaw in an attempt to saw off cooked chicken that was seared onto the grill. It immediately reminded me of my shot. I’m pretty sure that the similarities are just coincidental, but maybe I should be calling them about royalties.

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Arriving early

There’s an old adage in photojournalism: “Go early; stay late.” It’s not always do-able what with having back-to-back assignments, but when you can, it’s a good practice, because sometimes the best photos can happen before or after the actual event happens.

I left early in the morning for an assignment for the dedication ceremony of a new boat launch ramp at Caples Lake, which is a few miles past the Kirkwood Ski Resort in Alpine County in the Sierra Mountains.  Google Maps cited it as being 104 miles away from The Record office in downtown Stockton, about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive. I left a little after 7:30 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. assignment. Traffic was light, and the trip took less time than I thought. I got there at about 9:30 so I had a little time to kill.

Caples Lake is a beautiful area with clear waters and fresh air. I took a little hike around the area to see what I could find, and I didn’t have to go far.  Located in the Eldroado National Forest, the lake is at an elevation of about 7,800 ft. Snow could still be seen on the 10,000-foot mountaintops surrounding the lake. It was a clear, cloudless day, but despite the sunshine, it was about 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the Valley. A slight breeze wafted by as the clear waters if the lake lapped against the pebbled shore. Anglers fished from boats and from the lake’s edge. An osprey perched atop a tall pine tree as others gave the fishermen some competition.

All too soon I had to come back to the reality of why I was there and cover the dedication ceremony.

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Why did the chicken cross the Lode?

In April of 2007 the Pollardville western ghost town closed its doors. The land, its buildings and the Chicken Kitchen restaurant were sold to make way for a shopping center and housing, which never developed. The Pollardville’s iconic giant chicken statue atop a tower in front of the restaurant was moved to the Mountain Ranch home of retired Pollardville founder Neal Pollard.

On a recent trip to the Lode, I noticed a statue that looked a lot like the Pollardville chicken. It was placed on a grassy hillside along Highway 88 just past the Jackson Rancheria casino in Jackson. It was just out there by itself with nothing but nature surrounding it. It may or may not have been the chicken from Pollardville, but if somehow he made his way to Jackson, he seemed to be content in its retirement as a free-range chicken.

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Fancy equipment

The iPhone Fashion Shoot – Lee Morris Shoots With The 3GS Fstoppers from FStoppers on Vimeo.

A camera is just a machine. Set it on a table and it’ll just sit there. For it to record a picture there has to be someone looking through the viewfinder then to press the button. To take a great picture it takes some thought. You can have all the best photographic equipment in the world, but it’s all for naught unless you develop an eye for pictures and think about what you’re doing. To prove that very point Lee Morris with the web site posted a video of a fashion/portrait session he did using only an iPhone as his camera. Granted, he used some pretty expensive lighting equipment, but with a little thought and innovation, the same kind of lighting could be replicated using less expensive means.

Recently, the Gizmodo blog ran a shooting challenge for readers to send in photos shot with their cellphones. The result was 395 great pictures. It all goes to prove that it’s the photographer that takes a great picture, not the camera.

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July in review

“Poets write of May and June,
But seldom mention warm July,
And August is neglected too
Is this because few words will rhyme?”

Sunny Months- Joyce Hemsley

Here 10 of my favorite photos from July.

















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I’m taking a few days off for a little R & R. I’ll be back on Aug. 2. See you then.

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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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