July’s review

“July is light blue
The color
of the sky
July feels like a long vacation
In the sun
It sounds like waves splashing alone the beach
July smells like my birthday cake
It tastes like chocolate ice-cream
July is the best month of the year”
-July by Gurpiar Sidhu

Summer is in full swing, and it’s vacation time for many people (except for me). Time to take in a festival or two and maybe do a little wine tasting. Here are 10 favorite pictures from July.
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7/10/09:


Lincoln Unified School District superintendent Steve Lowder checks out the Lincoln High School Engineering and Construction Academy building, which is only half completed. The project stalled in December because of the California budget crisis. It had just been announced that the project will be funded (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200).

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7/15/09:


Volunteer judge Anne Matson-Khasigian sniffs a glass of wine at the State Fair home winemakers competition judging held at the Wine and Roses Inn in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 160mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).


Wine glasses wait to be judged at the home winemakers competition held
at Wine & Roses in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm
@ 200mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).

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7/18/09:


Katelynn Setness with the Brookside Breakers competes in a heat of the 12-year-old girls 50-meter butterfly in the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championship Swim Meet held at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11 ISO: 100).


Timers wait for Emily Lasiter to finish a heat of the 13- and 14-year-old girls 50-meter breaststroke at the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championships at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 100).

Quail Lakes Barracudas coach Lindsey Smith cheers on swimmer Brandon Toy in the 13-and 14-year-old boys 50-meter breaststroke at the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championships at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in  Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/2000th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 100).

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7/25/09:


Edith Montemayor with the Sacramento-based Sinag-TagFilipino Theater and Performing Arts Association, performs a Filipino dance at the Adobo Festival held at the Moose Lodge Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5. ISO: 200).

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7/26/09:


New York Athletic Club’s Emily Feher blocks a shot during the USA Water Polo Women’s Open Championship game against Stanford Red at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/2000th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).


2-year-old Ariel Michelle Nelson is a little unsure of Santa at Pixie Wood’s Christmas in July event in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/3.5. ISO: 200).

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7/27/09:


Vicky Coffee-Fletcher, left,  hugs Wendy Moore, deputy director of the San Joaquin Department of Aging and Community Services at a memorial for Coffee-Fletcher’s mother Arlene Coffee at the Boggs Tract Community Center in Stockton. Coffee had been the director of the center until her death of breast cancer in the Spring (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/160th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 500).

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Leaving the nest

After our robin vs. dove drama, things quieted down in my family’s backyard. The parent birds’ activity cued us in on when the eggs hatched. Less than a week after the bird wars, although we could not yet see the hatchlings, we could tell that the robins were shuttling back and forth with food for the little ones.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm w/1.4 extender @ 280mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm w/1.4 extender @ 280mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Several days after that, one of the babies was able to poke its head above the rim of the nest. Its siblings were able to follow suit a few days after that. We counted three chicks and named them Huey, Dewey and Louie. We knew from experience that one of the birds always lagged behind the others. Huey seemed to the dominant one, getting the lion share of the food, with Dewey close behind. Louie was the runt of the litter.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm w/1.4 extender @ 280mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

We’ve always marveled at how devoted the parents are to their babies. I don’t know if the they got to eat themselves, but they dutifully and reliably brought bugs or worms for the chicks to eat. They even took care of the disgusting chore of carrying away the babies waste so that the nest was kept clean (trust me, you don’t want to know the details).


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Over the next few weeks we watched as the birds grew, seemingly slowly at first and then exponentially at the end. We marveled at the birds’ growing awareness. Instinctively they knew their parents,of course, but soon could tell of their arrival even before they landed next to the nest. I saw them duck beneath the rim of the nest when an unrelated bird merely flew through the backyard’s airspace. They even hunkered down at the sound of the opening sliding glass door.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 800)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 400)

They soon started to outgrow the nest, and they were jostling for the most comfortable position. It seemed that Louie would always  get the short end of the stick and was relegated to the bottom of the pile. After a while they no longer could all fit in the nest. Huey, the largest, perched on the edge of the nest, occasionally flapping his wings, possibly practicing for flight.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

One weekend I was sitting at the kitchen table doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper when out of the corner of my eye I saw something flutter to the ground. I don’t know if he left of his own volition or was pushed out by his brothers, but there was Huey on the concrete patio. He looked around for a few minutes, seemingly confused and then flew off into the bushes and that was the last time I saw him.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)

It didn’t seem like Dewey and Louie missed their brother and actually looked like they enjoyed the extra room in the nest. Dewey soon took up Huey’s former position on the nest’s rim while Louie rested inside. We hoped that the parents knew where Huey was and continued to feed him along with the pair that remained in the nest.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

The next morning I noticed that Louie was the only one left in the nest.  I looked around and saw Dewey hopping around the backyard, almost as if exploring the area. He finally settled in one of the backyard bushes. One of the parents flitted down next to him and fed his some worms. That made us feel better for Huey. After eating, Dewey, like his big brother took off never to be seen again.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

Louie was in no hurry to leave. With plenty of elbow room he would nestle down nearly flat with the top of the nest. There a few times where I thought he had gone, but he’d poke up when a parent would come with some food. Even after a full day after Dewey’s departure, Louie looked like he was staying permanently.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

The next morning Louie was still in the nest. I went to work that day and when I returned in the early evening, he was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know if he left on his own accord, or if mama and papa robin enticed or even forced him out, but Louie too was gone. All that remains is an empty nest.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

Friends have told me that once kids reach high school, time really flies. My son will be in sixth grade and my daughter will be a freshman next fall, and I know that it will be four short years and she’ll be off to college and three more for my son and my wife and I will have our own empty nest experience like the robins.

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Gonna fly now

I was just cruising around when I saw a brightly colored ultralight airplane parked on a small beach at Louis Park along the Stockton deep water channel. It piqued my curiosity because, although I had seen ultralights before, this one was modified like a seaplane. Owner/pilot Darren Green of Stockton was standing near the plane all in orange — sweat pants and shirt, shoes and ball cap — matching the plane’s fabric-covered wings.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Green had fitted it with a pair of pontoons for aquatic operation. He said that during the Summer months he takes his friends out for rides on the weekends over the Delta. He’s even taken it fishing, flying it to a lake and then casting his line from the end of one of the floatation air bladders. At about 500 pounds, the plane cruises at around 50 mph. With the cost of the original kit plus some modifications, Green said that it cost him about the price of an expensive Harley Davidson motorcycle. Yeah, but can a Harley fly?


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Green had just taken a pal up, and another friend, Jay Gier, who was playing the role of ground crew, was filling up the gas tank. Green then turned to me and asked, do you want to go up? Well, he didn’t have to ask me twice.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)

He instructed me on how board the plane: hold onto one of the struts in a baseball bat-like fashion and then swing my rear end around into the seat in one smooth motion, or in my case not so smooth. Once I was seat belted in and put on a set of headphones, Green got on board and took off the orange ball cap he was wearing and sat on it for safe keeping. An unusual place to put it, I thought, but because the ultralight is basically a frame with wings, there’s not much stowage space. Then he taxied us out onto the channel. There isn’t a bottom to the plane so my feet rested on two control pedals that were also connected to the ones Green used to pilot the craft. Needless to say, I didn’t press too hard against them.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

He throttled up the engine, and we began to pick up speed. It was a bit choppy, not too bad, much like driving a car over a gravel road. It was obvious the moment we lifted off the water. Everything smoothed out and there was a sensation of being suspended by the wings. There was just a small harmonic vibration from the engine.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

We skimmed just above the wave tops for a few hundred yards and then began to climb, if only slightly. For a mile or so we flew about 30 feet or so over the water. We passed sailboats and were about as high up as their masts. We could clearly see people in the boats wave at us as we flew overhead.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Green took us under some power lines crossing the channel, and then we began to gain altitude in earnest. I looked at the altimeter, and before I knew it we were around 500 feet. Unlike Green, I didn’t have any sunglasses and the 50 mph wind in my face was beginning to make my eyes water, making it difficult to see through the camera. I became aware of my employee ID, on a lanyard around my neck, was flapping in the wind behind me. I then thought of the whirling propeller just a few feet to the rear and I quickly reeled in the ID and tucked it into my shirt pocket.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200)

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200)

Although it was a hazy day, we still had a clear view of the Delta and even Mount Diablo. Green said that at the plane’s 10,000-feet ceiling (!) he could see San Francisco. We weren’t that high up, a quick glance at the altimeter read about 800 feet at our apex. A patchwork quilt of farmland passed beneath us, and the boaters now looked like insects.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 200)

After about 20 minutes or so Green flew us back to Louis Park. We were about a couple hundred feet up when we began our final approach. At less than a one-quarter mile I thought we didn’t have enough room and we’d overshoot the landing zone and have to taxi back.  We descended at rate that I thought was a bit alarming (Green was cool as a cucumber though), but he put the ultralight down as smoothly as we took off.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

Once we were ashore, Green put his cap back on, and as we talked a bit more, I realized the need for a hat. I could see my reflection in his shiny dark glasses and I looked like North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il. The rest of the day I was a bit self-concious, constantly trying to flatten my hair. But it was worth it for the feeling of freedom of flight, just next time I need to bring my own hat.

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The competitive edge


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

Perhaps to gain a little psychological edge, Jayson Chacon with the Sherwood Manor Sharks swimming team invoked the spirit of Olympic Gold medalist Michael Phelps in the 9-year-old boys 50-meter butterfly in the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championship Swim Meet by wearing a cap bearing Phelps’ name. It must have worked, because Chacon was victorious in his heat at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in Stockton.

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Light food

On cooking shows such as Top Chef or Iron Chef, the chefs try not only to make food that tastes good but looks good as well. Presentation is a big part of their recipes.


Front lit chicken cooking on the grill at the EL Rancho Inn’s 70th birthday free barbecue in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO:100).

The idea behind shooting food is to make it look appetizing, and much of that can be achieved simply by using the right lighting. For the most part, front light is the kiss of death in food photography. It will make even the tastiest dishes look flat, dried out and unappealing and turn the most ardent meat lover in to a vegetarian. Try to use light from any direction other than straight on.


Chicken cooking on the grill lit with skim lighting at the EL Rancho Inn’s 70th birthday free barbecue in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO:100).

What I like to do is to use back lighting or skim lighting on the food. With this kind of lighting, the light source is either directly behind or behind and at an angle from the subject. The shadows created can add depth and contrast to the picture.  If the shadows are too much, just bounce a little light into with a reflector or fill them in with a flash. Either way whatever moisture there is on the food will glisten and shine and make for a dramatic photo.

I covered the El Rancho Inn’s 70th birthday celebration in Stockton. There was barbecuing galore at the event, which fed the restaurant’s faithful customers for free that day. Chicken, pork ribs and lamb steaks all sizzled on the grill. Steve Giannecchini cooked the chicken on his large circular grill. Although it smelled wonderful, the harsh near-midday sun from one angle shone straight on the cooking birds and visually washed them out.  But I just walked around to the other side, and then the light skimmed off the cooking meat and glistened with the spectacular highlights. It made them look plump, juicy and made for a mouth-watering photo.

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Best friends forever

“…Love is like oxygen! Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!”
- Ewan McGregor as Christian in Moulin Rouge


Amber Gonzalez, 16, left, Julie Nguyen, 16, Karimeh Juma,16, Kathlyn Cabrera, 17, and Amy Komure, 15, pose for a camera that they put on self-timer at DeCarli Plaza in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 150mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.5).

Part of the power of photography is the power of memory. A way of recording the events in our lives, big or small, and then review them when we wax nostalgic.

Back in May I spotted a group of five teenage girls gathered in the evening at De Carli Plaza in downtown Stockton. They were juniors from Franklin High School who were leaving the school’s graduation ceremony at the Stockton Arena. What caught my eye was that they were striking some unusual poses, each for about 10 seconds at a time.

As I approached them, I noticed they had set a point-and-shoot camera on one of the plaza’s concrete-and-brick planters and were taking portraits of themselves via the camera’s self-timer. I shot them as they froze into their stances, each different from the other.

At first I thought they were performing some weird semaphore signals, sort of like the picture of the Beatles from the album “Help!”  It took me a while, but then it hit me that they were spelling out a word: Love. What threw me was that there were five of them spelling out a word with four letters. I finally realized that the last girl was trying to contort herself into the shape of a heart.

Next Fall, as seniors they will have one more year of school together, and then they’ll pursue their separate lives, perhaps going off off to college or getting jobs. But at least they’ll have the memories of their BFFs (best friends forever) and the experience of love and friendship preserved in the pictures taken on a certain spring day.

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The right light

A flash can be used for not only bringing light to dark situations, but to bring two distinctly different light values – such as one very bright, the other very dark — closer together. In photographic terms it’s called fill-flash, usually used to fill-in shadows created by a harsh outdoor sun, especially at midday.

I shot a portrait of Dr. Shiraz Buhari in his clinic in Stockton during an interview with Record reporter Joe Goldeen. His office was small, not too much larger than some closets I’ve seen. As he sat at his desk, behind him was an east-facing window covered with slatted mini-blinds. It was morning and light poured in through the glass. I closed the blinds, but the strong sun still gushed in.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 102mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 5.6. ISO: 200)

If I adjusted my camera’s exposure for the light coming through the window, then Dr. Buhari would be underexposed – meaning he’d be too dark — and become a silhouette (a cool looking picture, but not appropriate if I wanted to show what he looked like). The exposure for the window was f/5.6 at 1/125th of a second.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 102mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/ 2.8. ISO: 200)

If I adjusted my camera for the doctor’s face, the window would be too bright and the overexposure would affect the rest of the picture, causing a loss in contrast. The exposure for Dr. Buhari was f/2.8 at 1/60th of a second.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 102mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 5.6 w/ flash. ISO: 200)

There was a difference of four stops of light and to bring them closer together I needed to use a strobe. An on-camera flash would have left a shadow on the wall and blinds behind the doctor, but the Nikon D300, as well as its big brother the D700, has a great feature. It can trigger any current Nikon Speedlight flashes wirelessly via an infrared beam (OK, any Nikon camera can do that with the use of the SU-800 wireless Speedlight Commander Unit, but the D300 and D700 have that feature built-in).  This setup is similar to the one photo editor Craig Sanders recently wrote about. Click here to see that column.

I positioned myself outside of the tiny office and placed a Nikon SB-800 Speedlight on a shelf to the left of Dr. Buhari (his right) just inside the door. I was able to use the exposure of the window so it wouldn’t blow out, exposure-wise, and the flash was able to illuminate the doctor.

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Pink shoes



At the seventh annual shoe giveaway at St. Mary’s Interfaith dining hall in Stockton, there were thousands of used shoes of every kind. There were loafers, sneakers and sandals. Shoes with laces, buckles or bows. Shoes for running, basketball and hiking.



There were dress shoes, casual shoes and work boots. There were Reboks, Nikes and Addiases. Kids shoes with Winnie the Pooh, Spider-man and Hello Kitty.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100)

Then I saw a pair of young girls’ Mary Janes covered in pink glitter, size four. I imagined their previous owner, a little girl with a fantasy of being a princess. Her parents take her to the store and her eyes light up when she sees the shoes. In the car on the way home she’s bubbling with excitement in anticipation of putting them on for the first time. She slips them on and beams.

I see her wearing a silvery plastic tiara, a frilly dress with plenty of pink tulle and chiffon and the pair of pink glittery shoes. She has tea with an imaginary queen of England, the king of Siam and the czar of Russia. Viewing her reflection in a full-length mirror, she curtsys as she greets each of them.

But little girls grow up. All too soon the glittery pink shoes and imaginary tea parties make way for cell phones and text messaging.  Unused, the pink shoes and tiara will sit in a closet or under a bed, gathering dust. Or they will become fodder for garage sales or worse, the garbage can. But a third option arose in the St. Mary’s shoe giveaway. By donating the shoes to a needy child, they get to live on to make another little girl smile and dream.

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Spell check


(Camera: Nikon D300.  Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 28mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

I shouldn’t be one to talk, because I’ve misspelled more than my share of words (as managing editor Donald W. Blount can verify), but I saw this portable traffic message sign on Morada Lane near Holman Road in north Stockton and I had to take a picture of it


(Camera: Nikon D300.  Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 98mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

It informed drivers of the closure of Marada Lane near the Union Pacific railroad tracks for road work between West Lane and Holman. According to the sign, the construction started on July 13 and is scheduled to conclude on Today, and drivers should use an alternate route.


(Camera: Nikon D300.  Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 160mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200)

Curious, I drove around to the West Lane side via Eight Mile Road to the north to see what the sign on that side was like. It too used Marada instead of Morada, but did the first sign I saw one better (or is it worse?). Rather than showing “Use Alt. Route” it read “Ude Alt. Route.” It looks like I’m not the only one who has a long way to go before they’re declared the world’s spelling chimp chump champ.

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A pocketful of light

David Hobby’s Strobist blog has an entry on an app for the iPhone called myLite. With it you can use your phone in some low-light situations to give a nice little accent light to your photos.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec @ f. 2.8. ISO: 1000)

Before naturalization ceremony at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento earlier this month, an immigrant huddled over his cell phone before the start of proceedings. Shadows covered the young man’s face as he leaned over, away from the overhead light.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec @ f. 2.8. ISO: 1000)

Then I saw, as if by magic, those shadows filled in with a soft light. It was the glow from his phone’s screen. It gave just enough light to give some detail to his face.

I couldn’t see what kind of phone the young man had, but the little bit of light certainly was helpful and welcome.

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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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