f/8 and be there

Two people stay dry under an umbrella while crossing Main Street at San Joaquin Street in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 400).

There’s an old adage in photography: “f/8 and be there.” It’s sort of the photographic equivalent of the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.” The f/8 refers to an aperture opening and metaphorically being technically ready for the shot. The “be there” part means that you have to show up for the photo. There are some jobs that can be done over the phone or via computer, but in photography, there’s no substitute for being there.

A Stockton firefighter uses a chainsaw in an attempt to clear the street of a tree that fell across and blocked Gettysburg Place near Swain Road in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/160th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 500).

With a few exceptions, the rule for getting a rain picture is that you can’t get a decent shot without getting wet. For the most part, this is true with nearly all weather-related photos. You have to get out in it to get a good picture. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t rather be snuggled up next to a roaring fireplace on a stormy day or that I wouldn’t rather shoot on a sunny day, but when it comes to getting a  rain shot, one has to get wet.

Shanice Jordan of Stockton tires to keep dry under her umbrella while waiting for a bus on Pacific Avenue near Yokuts Avenue in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 19mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/7.1 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 400).

I usually venture out with a sturdy rain coat (I got a new one for Christmas) and kind of a dorky looking rain hat with a wide brim. It’s a bit geeky but it keeps me pretty dry. There are some products that are designed to keep cameras and lenses dry, but I have found they’re a bit cumbersome, so I’m usually resigned to the fact that my equipment is going to get wet. I try to keep my camera in my bag or under my coat until it’s needed. In general digital cameras tend to be better sealed than their film counterparts simply because there are fewer places for water to seep in.

A raindrop clings to tree branches at Louis Park in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).

The rain in combination with strong winds, as we’ve recently experienced, are the worst conditions. During these last storms, I’ve had rain be blown straight into my ear beneath the brim of my had. It was like an ice cold wet willy.

University of the Pacific groundskeeper Stan Wallace braves the rain to prune Bradford pear trees on the UOP campus in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 26mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).

The hardest part is trying to find someone out and about during the rain. Most people, unlike me, tend to stay indoors under such conditions, venturing out only when they absolutely have to. Still, there are a few people who can be found, maybe someone catching a bus or maybe a person whose job is to be outside, but it’s just a lot harder than on a sunny day.

Weather is something that affects people on a daily basis, so it’s a staple of the news business. So whether it’s a a bright, sunny day or dark, stormy night, it’s always f/8 and be there.

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Nifty fifty

The state of Alaska, Legos, Barbie, the laser and now the ubiquitous bubble wrap. All of them, like me, have turned 50 over the last year. OK, technically, I’m almost a year older than the last two, but I’ve still got a couple of months until I’m 51, so I’m calling it even.

Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: NIkkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/22 w/ Dyna Lite strobes. ISO:100

Although bubble wrap’s primary use is to protect fragile items during shipping, it may be known for another: Many people feel compelled to pop the stuff whenever it’s near. It’s almost like a natural instinct. Some people pop the plastic cells one at a time, others grab a handful and explode a bunch all at once. Me, I like to roll up a sheet and twist it like I’m wringing out a damp washcloth causing a satisfying machine gun-like effect.

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Storm on the horizon

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

A break between recent storms on Twin Cities Road near my home town of Walnut Grove revealed nebulous clouds swirling on the northern horizon. A panorama of weather played out across the broad expanse. Dark and angry thunderheads floated next to lighter, cottony billows. Isolated showers could be seen streaming to the ground. Behind me and to the west, sunlight danced through brief gaps in the cloudy canopy and a fragment of a rainbow added a small splash of color to the stormy scene.

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Another one bites the dust

A pet peeve of my wife’s would be palm trees. I have no opinion on them one way or another, but my wife views them as simply ornamental and mostly useless. They provide precious little shade, aren’t very good as windbreaks or firewood and aren’t useful as lumber. She thinks palm trees are fine on some tropical island, but when they’re planted here, they’re just for decoration and look out of place.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/3.5. ISO: 400)

During the recent storms one of the large palms in the landscaping around the Home Depot on Feather River Drive and March Lane was toppled by the gusty winds, blocking the sidewalk and part of the street. Now, if they would only replace it with a nice redbud or a sycamore (which they probably won’t), my wife would be very pleased.

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Rainbows end

“At the end of the rainbow there’s happiness
and to find it how often I’ve tried
but my life is a race, just a wild goose chase
and my dreams have all been denied!”

- I’m Always Chasing Rainbows by Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy

When I was in college I attended a lecture by famed nature photographer the late Galen Rowell. He told a story of chasing a rainbow in Yosemite. He raced his car through the valley trying to get the right spot before the rainbow faded away. Then he saw flashing red lights in his mirror, and a park ranger pulled him over. The ranger barked, “do you know how fast you were going?” Rowell answered no. When asked why not, he said: “my speedometer only goes up to 85.”

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 150mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Rowell knew that getting the perfect rainbow shot is tenuous at best. Circumstances have to be just right. There has to be some rain, but also at least a small break in the clouds to let the sun through, which in turn has to be at the right angle. All that added to the fact that those conditions are usually fleeting, changing from minute to minute. I’ve pursued more rainbows than I’ve actually photographed. Most have vanished before my eyes as I tried to find the right spot to shoot from.

On Monday I was northbound on West Lane out of Stockton on my way to an assignment in Lodi. It had been storming most of the day, but there was a break in the rain. When I was at about Hammer Lane a partial rainbow appeared in the distance ahead of me. Although it was just the ends touching the ground with the arch fading away into nothingness, the colors looked strong and vibrant. But I was in the wrong spot. At a stop light, I tried getting some shots through the windshield, but there were too many telephone poles, traffic lights and buildings in the way. Fortunately, I was near the edge of town. As I drove, I could see the colors fade in and out as the the sun danced through the clouds. I crossed my fingers and kept driving.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 200)

Once clear of many of the obstructions, I looked for a place to pull over. Just north of a bridge that crosses Bear Creek I pulled to the shoulder. I could see the rainbow ending at a warehouse on Eight Mile Road, not the most picturesque scenery, so I scanned the area for something else.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 200)

About 150 yards to the east stood a gnarly old oak tree on the north side of the creek. Experience told me I didn’t have much time, so I ran to get to a place where I could get both the tree and rainbow in the same shot. The sight of an out-of shape 50-year-old guy laden with camera gear and wearing a heavy rain coat isn’t a pretty one, so I’ll leave the description at that. Suffice it to say, after a lot of huffing and puffing, I arrived at a spot where the rainbow fell behind the tree. I raised the camera to my eye and fired off several shots. Luck was with me when a hawk flew into the scene and I captured it when it got to a gap in the tree’s branches. In the span of a couple of minutes the rainbow was gone, its color evaporating before my eyes, but not before I got my shot.

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Je ne sai qua

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 400)

Sometimes the introduction of a single element can add wonders to a photo. While on Harney Lane in Lodi, I saw these dramatic clouds filling the sky. A storm had just passed and another loomed ahead. A steady breeze pushed them from west to east, and the sky was changing from minute to minute. It was a nice scene, but it needed just a little something, and I wasn’t sure what it was. I fired off a few frames and got in my car and started to move on.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 400)

But just 30 or 40 yards down the road I saw this great old oak tree. It was basically the same scene as before, just with the addition of the tree. Gnarled and bare, it looked like Atlas holding up the heavens and moved the photo from the ordinary to something special.

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Wet shoes

For photojournalists comfortable footwear is a must. I put in a lot of foot-miles walking and standing in a lot of different conditions. From a scalding tarmac to a wet, muddy field to standing in some unspeakably smelly farm refuse, my shoes take a pounding. However, being a cheapskate frugal, I tend to wear them a bit too long.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400)

When I shot the group of teenagers skim boarding on a large puddle at the bottom of Beckman Park in Lodi, I decided to walk out to get a shot of them, after all, there were places where it didn’t look that deep. I tip-toed through the water but realized that it was deeper than I thought. Soon the water was over my ankles and I could feel the wetness seep down to the bottom of my feet. I figured “in for a penny, in for a pound” and just sloshed out to where the youths were.

After a little while I found some high ground to shoot from, but by then it was too late. Not only were my feet soaked, but about the bottom 3 inches of each pant leg was, as well.

When I got back to the car I quickly removed my shoes and wrung out my socks. I placed them on the floor of the car and turned on the heater full blast. The socks were dry by the time I got back to the office, but the shoes were still wet. Fortunately I had a backup pair at work.

I took a closer look at my shoes and realized that I had worn holes in the heels, and eventually water would have seeped in no matter how deep it was. So I finally conceded that I needed new shoes and went out and bought a pair. If it weren’t for the wet conditions, I might not have recognized the need.

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Out-of-the-box thinking

16-year-old Matthew Gilley of Lodi, skim boards on a large puddle at the bottom of Beckman Park in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 150mm. Exposure: 1/640th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 400).

A few days ago, I was driving around looking for something to shoot with little success, when I saw three teenagers standing at the bottom of Beckman Park in Lodi. The park, shaped like a giant bowl, is also used as a rain water basin. Though there was a break between storms and it had stopped raining, water was beginning to fill the park. It was only about a 6 inches at its deepest. The youths had brought out a skimboard and were taking turns at skipping across the large, growing puddle.

17-year-old Tommy Lomeli of Lodi, skim boards at Beckman Park in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 150mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400).

Skimboarders are a common sight on beaches during the summer, but in a normally dry park during the winter, that’s something a little different. 17-year-old Tommy Lomeli was the board’s owner and was the most proficient on it, but the two others, 16-year-olds Matthew Gilley and Brandon Costa, were having fun, too. After their experience they both said they were going to get boards of their own, too.

16-year-old Brandon Costa of Lodi, falls off of a skim board at Beckman Park in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400).

17-year-old Tommy Lomeli of Lodi, skim boards at Beckman Park in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 150mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400).

When shooting inclement weather, sometimes it’s hard to find people out and about, let alone find someone doing something different or interesting. But thanks to these “out-of-the-box” thinkers, I was able to get a weather-related photo that was a little different than the standard person-with-an-umbrella shot.

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Rule #2: In the (good) light of day

The second rule of photography that my college instructors came up with was: “always have light.” It’s an obvious truth that you can’t shoot pictures without it. Whether in the middle of the day or the dead of night, from candles to strobes, you need light to make a picture. An addendum to the rule should be “always have good light”. Sometimes the difference between great and boring scenes can be the quality of the light. And the difference between good and bad light can be fleeting, sometimes lasting just a matter of minutes, seconds even.

The sky catches the hues of magenta and pink during a sunset near the Manteca/Lathrop ACE train station in Manteca  @ 5:20 p.m. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 86mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600).

A few days ago I had an assignment to get a shot of the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) train from the the Bay Area pulling into the Manteca/Lathrop station in Manteca. Its arrival was scheduled for 5:21 p.m.. It was an overcast gray day, with high featureless clouds carpeting the sky. I got there about 20 minutes early to make sure I didn’t miss the train, and at about 10 minutes into my wait, the clouds thinned and parted ever so slightly. The setting sun painted part of the sky with a magenta tint right where the tracks came toward the station from the southwest.

5:21.38 p.m. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800).

Keeping my fingers crossed I prayed for the train to be on time so that I could get a shot of it chugging down the tracks with the pink sky as its background. Time ticked away, and the colors became more and more saturated until at 5:20 p.m. they reached their peak. I look down the tracks but saw no train. Like the downside of a bell curve the colors quickly began to fade, and I was mentally urging the train to hurry up and arrive. But by 5:21:38 p.m., all the color had drained away and the grayness once again enveloped the sky.

An ACE train pulls into the Manteca/Lathrop ACE train station in Manteca at 5:29 p.m. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

The ACE locomotive pulling six cars pulled into the station at 5:29 p.m., a seemingly eternity after the hues of pink had disappeared. Fortunately the the so-called evening “blue hour” had started and gave some definition to the sky. I had light to make a picture it just wasn’t the dramatic light that I had hoped for.

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The art of (not) listening

Moderator Frank Aquila, center leads a forum featuring republican congressional candidates David Harmer, left, Tony Amador, Elizabeth Emken, Brad Goehring, Robert Beadles and Jeff Takada put on by the South San Joaquin Republicans at the Crossroads Grace Community Church in Manteca (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 19mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

At most candidates forums I’ve covered (both Democratic and Republican), each of the competitors tend to ignore their opponents while they in turn wait for their own chance to speak. Occasionally some may give a furtive glance but usually they’ll just sit there with a straight ahead stare as if no one was speaking at all.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

I know they’re in a race against each other, and some campaigns can be heated; they don’t want to give their adversaries any kind of credibility, but this feigned indifference has always seemed a bit rude to me.

If we’re to have a civil discourse, I would think that the first step is to start listening to each other.

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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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