The harbingers of Fall

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
- William Cullen Bryant

Although it’s well into autumn, the trees are just starting to turn to their fall colors. I guess this still is sunny California, and much of the Valley is still green. But there are signs that things are about to change.

A leaf here, a tree there, and soon we’ll be awash in color. Perhaps it isn’t Fall’s full smile yet, just a Mona Lisa grin to herald the beauty of the season to come.

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And the winner is…

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: 17-55mm @ 44mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11 w. DYna-Lite Strobes. ISO: 100)

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: 17-55mm @ 44mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11 w. DYna-Lite Strobes. ISO: 100)

The results of my unofficial and highly unscientific poll, “What brand of DSLR camera do own?” are in and the winner is: Canon by a nose. Although the sample is small (a total of 13 votes), I believe it reflects the ongoing market share war between Canon and Nikon. Over the years the two companies have waged a seesaw battle with all other manufacturers fighting for third. In the poll Canon received 6 votes to Nikon’s 5. Olympus and DSLR newcomer Sony were tied with one vote each.

When I started in photography more than 25 years ago, Nikon was the dominant brand. Canon surged ahead and held the lead in the 1990s and mid-2000s. Over the last few years, Nikon has come up with several products to put it neck and neck with Canon. Canon has recently answered back with the new 7D DSLR camera and 1D Mk IV. Who’ll come out ahead? Only time will tell. The only sure thing is that neither company can afford to sit still.

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Days of future past

I took a science fiction course when I was in college thinking it would be of about things like Star Wars and Star Trek .
I quickly learned that the sci fi wasn’t about those fantasy adventures, but rather a serious genre. Futuristic settings were used by the authors that we read (Phillip K. Dick, Ursula K Le Guin, Edward Abbey among others) to make commentary on the world and society today.

Recycling and garbage cans at the new Stockton Marina in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

Recycling and garbage cans at the new Stockton Marina in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

I remember reading a Ecotpoia by Ernest Callenbach. It was published in 1975 and told of the future year of 1999. The premise of the book was that Northern California and the Pacific Northwest had seceded from the United States to for a new country: Ecotopia. It’s government and society adhered to ecological tenets. The story foretold of super fast trains, electric vehicles, organic farming and legalized marijuana. It’s been a long time since I read the book, and I’ve forgotten many of the details, but I remember one thing: recycling trash bins. On street corners were cans marked M, G, and P for metal, glass and paper and plastic. Residents were obligated to sort their trash too.

Today, some of the things predicted in the book haven’t come to pass, though there’s been talk of some of them. The US is still intact. A bullet train measure was passed not too long ago, and although there are very few electric cars, hybrid vehicles are all the rage. Organic farming is a small segment of the market and pot is legal for medical purposes in California.

One thing that’s everywhere today is recycling. We have recycling bins at home and on many street corners, along side of a trash can, is one for recycling as well. It’s one prediction that the book makes that’s come true, just 10 years later than anticipated.

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Blast from the past: Feeling the earth move

Late in the afternoon on October, 17, 1989, I had an assignment to follow a candidate on a door-to-door campaign for local office. We agreed to meet on a certain street in south Stockton. I remember the both of us arriving in our cars simultaneously. As I parked at the side of the street, I felt the car lurch as it came to stop.  I thought I hit bump on the uneven pavement, or perhaps it was a testament to my poor parking skills.

A whole block goes up in flames in San Francisco’s Marina District as a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Unknown to me, there was more to that jolt. When the door opened up at the first house the candidate approached, the first thing the homeowner said was “Did you feel that earthquake?”  Puzzled, the both of us answered no. This happened at the next house as well. I had gotten just enough shots to complete the assignment, so I decided to end it and check back with the office.

A resident looks at a buckled sidewalks in the Marina District of San Francisco during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Once back in the car, I called to the city desk (back in those pre-cell phone days our company cars were equipped with two-way radios). I was told that a large earthquake in San Francisco had collapsed the Bay Bridge and I need to head straight to the Stockton Metro Airport. The photo editor had arranged for me to take a helicopter to fly me directly to The City.

A cyclist rides past a collapsed house in the Marina District in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

It was a very small chopper My right shoulder was actually outside of the opening where the door used to be (it was taken off for me to shoot out of). I made sure that my seat belt was tight and secured. It wasn’t very fast: I remember moving only marginally faster the traffic on the freeway.

A portion of the Bay Bridge that collapsed as a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake taken the day after the quake.

It took about an hour for the dragonfly-like craft to reach San Francisco, and the light was fading fast. Before we had left Stockton, I was told that a portion of the Bay Bridge had collapsed. As we approached it, air traffic controllers restricted all aircraft to no closer than 1 mile from the bridge. The pilot pushed it to about 1/2-mile, but still the combination of the distance and the need to “push” the film (a low-light shooting technique of under exposing then over developing it) made for a grainy and soft pictures. The light was nearly gone, but I could still see a dark column of smoke coming from the city itself. I asked the pilot to head for it.

A resident walks by a damaged building in San Francisco’s Marina District as a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

We reached the Marina District of the City and circled the spot where the smoke rose. About half a block looked like a pit of hell had opened up, consuming all it could. Flames leapt up higher than the surrounding buildings, as I could see a single stream of water shot by firefighters on the ground in a futile attempt to control the blaze. The fire illuminated the surrounding area, and for about half a block or so and I could see some of the damage that the quake caused. I could only imagine what the rest of the city looked like. The final bits of light left the sky, and darkness enveloped the city. The fire, as intense as it was, was dwarfed by the darkness of the rest of the mostly powerless city. Having exhausted the light and pushing deadline, the pilot and I returned to Stockton.

National guard troops patrol a street where brick facades collapsed in Santa Cruz as a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Over the next week or so, I was sent back out, both in the air and on the ground, to chronicle the earthquake’s devastation. I was able to get a much closer look at the damage on the Bay Bridge and close-up damage to the Marina District in San Francisco. I shot the collapsed section of the Nimitz freeway and saw facades of buildings collapsed onto the streets in downtown with the National Guard units patrolling the streets in Santa Cruz.

A resident sits with all his belongings in San Francisco’s Marina District as a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Our negative archive had limited space, so over the years we moved the older ones into a storage room upstairs at The Record. Since 1989 the newspaper ownership has changed hands a couple of times and in one of those changeovers the storage room was cleaned out, and the negatives, including the ones from the earthquake, were thoughtlessly thrown out, lost to the dustbin of time. All I have left are a few black and white prints, but also indelible memories that I’ll never forget.

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Making an entrance

To rally the fans at the start of high school football games, some teams try to make a flashy entrance. The traditional method is to have the team charge onto the field through a large paper banner held by the cheerleaders. In more recent years, some teams have adopted an inflatable gateway for the team to run through. Before the start of West High’s game against Granite Bay in Tracy, West employed one of those gateways, but added a twist.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO:1600).

Vince Vargas is the West junior varsity team’s equipment manager/trainer, but on the side he’s a DJ. He set up some of his equipment, a fog machine, a boom box and disco lights, in the tunnel. Before the start of the game Vargas checked several times to make sure everything was working just right. Disaster almost struck when the power to the fan that inflated the arch was cut off. It slowly began to collapse as Vargas ran to the nearby portable classroom. A long extension cord wound its way from the fan to the room and he was able to get it up and running again.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8 w/ fill-flash. ISO:1600).

As the team lined up in the tunnel, Vargas turned it all on. The beat of an infectious Michael Jackson tune belted out of the boom box and some of the players started to groove with it. Then, with smoke pouring out and multi-hued lights flashing, the team charged through and took the field with style and panache.

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Sound system

West’s Will Kaigler is tackled by Granite Bay’s John Kendall during a varsity football game at West High in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 2500)

At the high school level many football field’s public address systems are barely adequate. Sound quality can be static and spotty. Not so West High’s Steve Lopez Stadium. Before the varsity football game between West and Granite Bay, large speakers attached high up on the field’s lights poles belted out in loud, clear tones music styles from heavy metal to hip hop. At times it was a little too loud making me wish for ear plugs.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 2000)

During the game, along with music for the cheerleaders to dance to, a couple of sound effects were played to rev up the fans. The first was apparently a low growl, to go along the school’s mascot, the Wolfpack. To the unfamiliar ear, the guttural sound, despite the sound system’s quality, came across less like a growl and more like something less appealing. Tracy Press photo editor Glenn Moore perhaps described it best as “a moose with dysentery in an outhouse.”

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 34mmmm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8 w/ fill flash. ISO: 800)

The second sound effect was a male voice reciting the word “Wolfpack.” Designed to ramp up team spirit the voice was a hoarse whisper, but amplified to a point where it became a thunderous rasp. It sounded a bit creepy, like a the voice at the end of an obscene phone call.

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Deja vu, all over again

It’s a rare occasion but sometimes the same moment is captured by two different photographers.The differences between frame rates (how many pictures a camera takes in a second) and shutter lag (the time difference between when the button is pushed and when the camera fires) varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, sometimes from model to model and makes the odds of cameras firing simultaneously yet independently, is very low. The odds of it happening is higher, say, on the sidelines of a 49er or Raiders game where there may be dozens of photographers shooting the event, but at a high school football game there might just be a handful.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 2500)

Last Friday, I covered the West High and Granite Bay football game in Tracy. Also there was Tracy Press photo editor Glenn Moore. Early in the game I remember standing a few yards away from Moore and hearing his camera fire as I shot a play that unfolded in front of us. I didn’t think anything of it and continued shooting the game.

The next day, curious to see what Glenn had shot, I took a look at the
Press’ Web site. I checked out the photo slide show that accompanied
the story about the game. The first picture was close to being the same
moment of a shot I had It was of a pass being broken up, but Glenn’s
shot was timed slight ahead of mine and he was positioned in a
different spot on the field than I was.

The fifth photo in the show stopped me in my tracks. It was almost exactly the same as a shot that I took. West’s Jose Sanchez grappled with Granite Bay’s Andrew Knapp while bringing the running back down. There are a few differences: from the background you can tell Moore must have been standing just to my left. The variations in tone and color stem from the two different cameras we used. Moore’s Canon 1D MkII is a generation and a half older than my Nikon D300, but still performs very nicely (The Canon has an edge on color accuracy while the Nikon seems to have better tonal rendition and noise suppression).

But all that aside, the moment we both caught was precisely the same one. Even the folds in the Granite Bay player’s jersey are the same! It was an amazing serendipitous bit of happenstance. I don’t think we could have timed it better if we had planned it that way. To Glenn Moore I say: Great shot!

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With this ring

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/16 with Dyna-Lite strobe. ISO: 200)

Ringlights are flashes that are used to provide even illumination to objects in close-up or macro photography, or they’re sometimes use to give a distinctive look to portraits.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 23mm. Exposure: 1/50th sec. @ f/2.8 with Canon 530EX strobe & O-Flash adapter. ISO: 100).

In portraiture, The circular ringflash fits on front of the lens and provides an even, nearly shadowless light. Conversely, it also creates a halo-like shadow around the subject, almost aura-like (sometimes called a “3-D shadow-wrapped look”). There’s also a slight uplighting quality to it, similar to a flashlight-under-the-chin, Dracula-style lighting — although not nearly as harsh. The whole effect has a fresh, hip and unique look to it.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/56th sec. @ f/5 with Canon 530EX strobe & O-Flash adapter. ISO: 100)

The problem is, that if you don’t do close-up photography or don’t want that distinctive look all the time, then it’s hard to justify the price. A true ringlight can cost several hundred dollars (the Canon model is over $400). Rayflash makes an ringflash adapter that uses an on-camera hotshoe flash and directs the light down to a circular reflector that surrounds the camera’s lens. The advantage is that you can use and exisiting flash for two different jobs. Also you can use the your flash’s through-the-lens (TTL) autoexposure for the strobe. The downside is that at about $200. Orbis makes a similar model to the Rayflash unit also for about $200 but it’s handheld and not quite as convenient.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 20mm. Exposure: 1/25th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100)

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 20mm. Exposure: 1/25th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100)

I recently purchased a ringlight adapter through eBay that’s similar in design to the Rayflash (some may say it’s a knockoff). Shipped out of Hong Kong, It’s called the O-Flash, although there’s no other information about it (such as which company makes it). Indeed, the box that it came in offered only fancy pictures of what the unit looks like with some supposed examples on the front (it’s the same on the back). On one of the narrow sides, a chart listed what models fit which camera/flash combination, and the other side were three pictures (no words) on how to attach the ring to the strobe (the two remaining ends were blank). There were no other instructions on or in the box.

The O-Flash isn’t a complete ring, with the reflector making about 80% of a circle. It’s light and relatively sturdy, though I wouldn’t want to go dropping it on a regular basis. There’s a rectangular rubber-lined opening where the flash fits in, with a velcro strap to keep it snug, so the unit doesn’t fall off when mounted. Although the one I bought is designed for the Canon 580 EX flash/Canon 20D camera combination, with the opening being just right to fit the large 580′s head, I found that it can be used with the Canon 480EX and the Nikon SB800 flash/D300 camera. It fits loosely with those combinations, so care has to be taken to make sure it doesn’t fall off.

Record photo editor Craig Sanders. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 24mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8 w/Nikon SB800 flash & O-Flash adapter. ISO: 100).

My ringflash experience is limited to the O-Flash, so I can’t really compare the other ringflashes, but it seems to work pretty well.  I haven’t had much call to use it yet, grabbing co-workers, my kids and even my dog to test it out, so I’m still figuring out this unit and ringflash lighting in general. One thing I’ve found is that output seems a bit low. It must use up more power to push light through the reflector, and one has to compensate for it.

Record LENS editor Robin Nichols. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 34mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/5.6 w/Nikon SB800 flash & O-Flash adapter. ISO: 200).

The other models, the true ringflashes and the adapters, probably do a more consistent job and are most likely better made, but here’s the rub: it only cost $42, including shipping. For me, that was a great value and worth getting, even if it’s not something I would use every day.

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New RSS Feed

A message from the staff:

We’re in the process of upgrading the software behind our blogs, in large part
to add some new features and capabilities you’ll be experiencing soon. As part
of this process, we’ve changed the location of our RSS feeds. To receive
continuous updates when we update this blog, please update your feed readers to
point here. Or if updating the feed reader is cumbersome,
simply unsubscribe from the old feed and then add the new feed as a new subscription.

“What’s an RSS feed” you ask? RSS stands for Really Simple
Syndication. RSS allows sites to easily distribute content in a format that is
accessible for many uses — not the least of which is that they can be
subscribed to via feed readers (Google Reader, Bloglines, Newsgator, and many
others), or added to customizable portals like iGoogle, My Yahoo!, My MSN, and
more. When a site with RSS feeds updates its content, the RSS feed for that
content is automatically updated, and so, too, are all the programs that have
subscribed to it.

In addition to the feed for this blog, we have many others available at Give
them a try, and let us know what you think.

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Fathers of the revolution

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 38mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

In 1969, scientists Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith started a revolution in photography. Working for Bell Laboratories, they created the charge-coupled device, or CCD, and the digital era was born, though it would be another 30 years or so before digital cameras would catch on. Instead of capturing an image of light on the silver halide emulsion of film, with the CCD turns those light impulses into an electronic signal. It was probably the biggest change and had the biggest impact of anything since the beginning of photography.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/16. ISO: 200)

Some camera manufacturers have moved to complementary metal oxide semiconductor, or CMOS, sensors for their lower-energy consumption. But from DSLRs to point-and-shoots to cellphones, CCDs are still at the heart of every type of camera.

Boyle and Smith, along with Charles K. Kao, who discovered how to transmit light through fiber optics, were recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention of the CCD. A fitting tribute to two fathers of a revolution.

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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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