Up and coming

After the fair judging, Mark Findlay related a story to me of one of the photographers in the show. He said that Makana Livermore of Stockton first entered a couple years ago and did just okay. Last year, her worked improved remarkably and she won several awards in the Amateur division.

This year Findlay encouraged Livermore to enter the more advanced Open division. She won nine awards including first places in four different categories. Her images had a bold and well thought out quality to them. Each photo showed an obvious love of photography.

Livermore, who is just 16 years old, was able to hold her own against more experienced photographers.  As her fair results show, she has a bright and promising future.

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Judge not, lest ye be judged

San Joaquin County Fair Adult Photo Show coordinator Mark Findlay puts up photos in Building 4 of the fairgrounds in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/40th sec. @ f2.8. ISO: 320).

First place in the “other” category of the San Joaquin County Fair Adult Amateur photo competition titled: “Red Flower with Jagged Wood’”  by Scott H. Muray of Stockton.

I’ve covered San Joaquin County Fair most of my 25 years at the Record and, being a photographer, I always make time to take in the fair’s photography exhibits. There would be times where I would agree with the judge’s picks and other times I’d wonder what he or she was thinking. This year I got the chance to make those decisions myself.

First place in the color portrait category titled: “Watching Over The Orphan” by Yasmin McKemey of Stockton.

A few months ago I was contacted by Mark Findlay, the adult photo show coordinator who asked me it I would like to judge this year’s event. I eagerly agreed.

A photo titled “Jackson Park at Night” by Sharon McLemore of Stockton won 1st place in the night time Open color nighttime photography category.

Findlay greeted me at the fairgrounds in Stockton last Sunday. There were two divisions: One for amateurs and the more advanced Open division. It was up to each entrant to identify which division suited their skill level best. Some photographers seem to have underestimated their abilities, entering pictures in the Amateur division that could have been very competitive in the Open division.

First place in the color portrait category titled: “Portraits” by Kim Romena of Stockton.

Between the two there were a total of 50 different categories. This year’s entries totaled to about 600. Findaly recalled that last year had about 900 and in years past there have been up to 1,100.

Findlay had the judging down to a science. Volunteer James Briones laid out the photos in each category on a table in front of me, I’d make my picks and then Findlay would then record my picks and we would start all over again with another set of pictures. They made the whole experience easy except for the picking part.

A photo titled “Vulture” by Brigitte A. Clough of Stockton won 1st place in the Open color/birds category.

First place in the color landscape category was a photo titled: “Snow Bound”  by Rhonda Schneider of Stockton.

Judging is like photo editing: Sifting out the bad from the good, and then making the hard choice of separating the good from the best. There were a some photos that were just family snapshots and others entered in the wrong category, and were easy to eliminate, but in some categories the overall excellence of all the photos made it difficult to pick the top ones.

First place in the Amateur black and white architectural category was won by Dean Taylor of Stockton. The photo also won Best in Division.

First place in the Open children category was an untitled photograph by Anne Langley of Tracy.

There are some basic qualities that a excellent photo should have, such good composition, lighting, exposure, etc. and most of the photos reached one or more of those criteria. In some of the categories there were just a few clear winners, but in many of the others the margins between the top and the bottom were razor thin.

First place in the color still life category: “Shadow in Bronze” by Helen Betz of Stockton. It also won best in Division and Best of Show/in the Open divison.

First place in the macro/close-up category: “Vine with Water Drop” by Scott H. Murray of Stockton. It also won best of division and best of show in the Amateur division.

In the end, it was great to see the quality of the photos and I didn’t mind the photographers making it tough for me.

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When the urge hits

Sometimes I’ll see something that hits me as beautiful and I have to stop and take a picture of it. No story behind it, no human interest element to it, just, to me at least, a striking scene.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

One recent evening I had an assignment at the Morada Products packing shed just east of Stockton. It was a little before 9:00 p.m. when I pulled into the parking lot off of Jack Tone Road. As I looked west, gas generator-powered floodlights illuminated the lot. The sun had already set and graceful waves of clouds were overhead. A sliver of deep blue sky opened up and the last remnants of an orange sunset skirted the horizon. The floodlight and another about 150 feet away provided some dramatic light to cars in the lot. The light itself burned like a giant comet in the sky or some alien spacecraft hovering over the ground.

It’s not something we’d normally use in the paper and I’m not sure if there’s any kind a purpose to it, but to me the scene has a anticipatory quality to it and a mysterious beauty.

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Proper or correct

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/18. ISO: 200)

Sometimes when taking a picture, the proper exposure isn’t the correct one. Early one morning I saw the light gleaming off of the railroad tracks on Stanislaus Street near Hazelton Avenue in Stockton. At that time of day, the “proper” exposure to record the overall scene would have about 1/500th of a second at about f/4 to f/5.6 using an ISO of 200. The light skimming off of the tracks would have been overexposed, but the rest of the picture would have have visible detail. But it would have been a rather boring picture. I wanted to create something with a little more drama. I exposed for the bright reflected light off the rails, which meant underexposing the rest of the picture by about 3 to four stops (about 8 to 16 times less light). I knew that the highlights of steel tracks would still be shining, but everything else would go dark. The result is a high contrast, graphic scene that’s less about content and more about composition.

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By any other name

Some names in football just sound tough. Names like Miami Dolphin’s fullback Larry Csonka (1968-1974), L.A. Rams’ defensive end Jack Youngblood (1971-1984), and the toughest of them all Chicago Bears’ linebacker Dick Butkus (1965-1973).

Then there are other fierce players, like Pittsburg Steelers’ linebacker Jack Lambert (1974-1984) or Jim Brown, running back with the Cleveland Browns (1957-1965), who were just as tough, but didn’t have the expressive names to match their abilities. Perhaps they had to work a little harder to establish their bruiser reputations. At some point even Steelers “Mean” Joe Green and Bears’ William “Refrigerator” Perry, were just a Joe and William who had to earn their nicknames.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.5 w/ Elinchrome strobes. ISO: 200)

I don’t know how tough Boise Burn’s wide receiver Nichiren Flowers is, but his last name suggests that he’s in the latter category. I mean, “Flowers” isn’t a name that would automatically strike fear in my heart, let alone an opposing football player who may be out to make a name for himself too.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.5 w/ Elinchrome strobes. ISO: 200)

At least he didn’t have the burden of Stockton Lightning’s offensive lineman David Lose’s special burden (for the record, it’s pronounced LOW-say).

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(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

I stopped by the Tiger Aquatics Memorial Day Swim Meet looking not for a sports action shot, but rather something more feature-like. I didn’t know what I might find, but I thought it was worth taking a look. I got some action shots just to keep myself busy and a nice portrait of a swimmer adjusting his goggles before thet start of a race , but nothing else was jumping out at me. Then the 10-and-under 50-meter butterfly heats started. 9-year-old Alice Horton of Stockton dove in and swam hard. A few meters into her race, her goggles slipped from her eyes. With each stroke they creeped further down her face until they hung below her chin. She didn’t win her heat, but like a champ she overcame her disadvantage and finished the race.

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A small photo opportunity

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11 w/ fill-flash. ISO:100)

At Pier 39 in San Francisco, a small gap between buildings on the second level is designated as a “photo spot” presented by Coca-Cola. It doesn’t offer much of a scene, just a partial view of the marina, a glimpse of the Bay Bridge and not much else. I wonder what did it look like before it was sponsored by Coke?

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Sleeping with the fishes

Anchovies swim in their enclosure at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/13th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200).

“…Under the sea, under the sea
Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter
Take it from me
Up on the shore they work all day
Out in the sun they slave away
While we’re devoting full time to floating
Under the sea…” – Under the Sea from Disney’s Little Mermaid

Parent Trung Tran looks at moon jellies swim at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco. (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 21mm. Exposure: 1/50th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

A sheep crab crawls in its enclosure at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200).

My 11-year-old son and I went on a recent overnight scouting trip to the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco. It’s a program that the aquarium offers to groups like boy and girl scouts as well as school classes and even birthday parties, to have a sleepover in the facility.

A moon jelly swims at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco. (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

Scout Chepe Robles, 11, pets a leopard shark at the touch pool at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 73mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800).

After the doors closed for the night at about 7:30 p.m., we were allowed in. There were a few educational games and crafts, some pizza and then a tour of the aquarium. It was nice to be there without the crowds to compete with to get a look at the aquarium’s 20,000 fish. We got to see moray eels, moon jellies and sevengill sharks. There were clone-like anchovies, giant sea bass and ubiquitous rock fish. At the end of the tour we got to feel bat rays, leopard sharks and sea stars in two shallow touch pools.

Scout Trevor Neff, 11, looks at fish in a tunnel at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800).

Parent Belinda Richards takes a picture of a bat ray at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800).

Though not as nearly big the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Aquarium by the Bay has one thing that Monterey doesn’t. Two glass tunnels, totaling about 300-feet, are actually surrounded by the fish tanks. It was the next best thing to scuba diving. One tunnel contained the larger fish, the sharks, rays, sturgeon etc., the other held the smaller fish (the ones that the larger ones would most likely eat). We stood and watched as marine species found in the bay and surround ocean, not only swam by but up and over us as well.

Scouts look at fish as they prepare for a sleepover at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/3.2. ISO: 800).

Rockfish swim at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 33mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).

My son wanted to be with the sharks, as did most of the other boys, and we were some of the first ones to claim to a sleeping spot. We all put down our sleeping bags in a single file, head-to-head and foot-to-foot. Save for exit lights set every ten feet or so, the tank with the smaller fish went completely lights out. The shark tunnel where we were, on the other hand, had to have half of the lights left on so the larger fish wouldn’t collide with the walls.

A sevengill shark swims at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800).

Even with the dimmer lighting, it was still pretty bright and I’m not used to sleeping with the lights on. Through the moving water, the lights seemed to shimmer and flicker which I could see even through closed eyelids. That, combined with the excitement of the kids, made for a restless night. It seemed as soon as I dozed off, something, whether it was the light, the hard floor or someone snoring, would wake me. It was a bit disconcerting to drowsily open my eyes to see a large sevengill shark silently cruising overhead.

Scouts look at fish from their sleeping bags during a sleepover at the Aquarium by the Bay in San Francisco (Camera: Canon EOS 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 33mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).

Wake up call for us was 7:30 a.m., but I was more or less awake already. A quick breakfast of bagels, muffins, fruit and juice and our overnighter was done. My son asked one of the staff members overseeing the program if fish sleep. She said they will slow down their activity and drift off in sort of a daydreaming state for short periods, but fish don’t need to sleep as we know it. Well, not only do I know what it’s like to sleep with the fishes, I know what it’s like to sleep like a one.

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Tripping the light(ning) fantastic

“Thunder and Lightning
I tell you it’s frightening
It’s thunder and lightning”
- Thunder and Lightning by Chi Coltrane

I remember a family vacation at Lake Tahoe one Summer when I was about 7 or 8 years old. There was a thunderstorm and we were confined to our motel room. I recall sitting at the edge of a queen-sized bed, looking out the room’s picture window to see the lightning and hear the rumble of thunder. It was the first time I had ever seen such a storm. A intense flash lit up the window and a tremendous thunderclap exploded simultaneously. It seemed like it was right outside the window. I was so startled that I leapt backwards, did a reverse summersault over the bed and landed on the floor, my heart beating a mile a minute.

I know the theory on shooting lightning and I’ve always wanted to shoot it, but the idea of going out in a thunderstorm with what amounts to carrying a lighting rod (a metal camera mounted on a metal tripod) has never appealed to me.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. 10 sec @ f/11. ISO: 400)

Last week, I was driving home one night when I saw an incredible light show. I could see lightning flashes about once every few seconds on the northern horizon.  Fortunately the the storm was in the distance and the sky overhead was clear, so I decided to stop and get a shot.

The lightning was low on the horizon, so I needed some altitude.  To avoid light pollution from the city, I looked for a rural area with few street lights. Stopping on the freeway wasn’t a safe option, so I drove to Twin Cities Road overpass at at I-5 near Walnut Grove. It gave me enough height, it was dark enough and traffic on the road was light.

The storm looked as though as if it were hovering above Sacramento (about 20 miles north of my current spot), but it must have been farther away than it appeared to me. Although I could see the lightning, I couldn’t hear any thunder (later I Googled a doppler radar site and it indicated that the storm was actually more than 40 miles farther north over Marysville).

Capturing an image of lightning by a see-then-shoot method is nigh impossible. The flashes are brief and If you see it happen, you’ve missed it. If one gets a shot this way it’s more of a fluke than a matter of skill or timing. Like shooting fireworks, mounting the camera on a stable surface and opening the shutter for a long exposure is the conventional technique. Unlike fireworks, it’s difficult to tell where the next lightning strike will be.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. 10 sec @ f/11. ISO: 400)

I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I improvised, pressing the camera down on the roof of my car and used exposures of about 5 to 10 seconds. Timing and aiming were difficult. I would shoot in one direction, yielding very little lightning, when a strike would happen in another spot. I would reorient the camera only to have more strikes out of its field of view.

Most of the flashes were within the clouds, with only an occasional glimpse of a ground strike. It was fun to watch, but didn’t yield much in the way of pictures. I just had to press the shutter and hope that some lightning would strike within view of the camera.  To add to my frustration, the camera’s noise reduction feature for long exposures made things more difficult. The camera can’t be used while it processes the image through the system, effectively doubling the time for each shot. There were several instances where I saw some great flashes while I was waiting for the camera to clear itself.

It was windy that night and after about 20 minutes of shooting I was starting to shiver (not a good thing when trying to hand-hold a night shot), so I decided to pack it in. Of the 70 shots I took, only two of them had any visible lightning at all. Maybe next time I’ll try to get a closer shot. I wonder it they make rubber tripods and cameras?

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Gone with the wind

Strong winds push graduate Rafal Kepa’s tassel into is face during graduation ceremonies at Manteca High School in Manteca (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200).

Shooting outdoor graduations has its advantages, the main one being good light. You don’t have to worry about not having enough. Additionally many graduations are held in the evening where the late sun can give a pleasing warm glow to the pictures. The downside is that you and the graduates are at the mercy of the elements.

Graduates try to keep their caps from flying off in high winds at the graduation ceremonies at Manteca High School in Manteca (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 190mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).

I shot this year’s Manteca High graduation at the school’s Guss Schmiedt Stadium. A stiff breeze welled up at the beginning of the ceremony but was manageable. As the night wore on, the wind increased and tassels flew in the faces of the graduates. Gowns flutter in the wind and most of the grads had to keep their mortarboard caps (the equivalent of a wing attached to a beanie) from flying off.

Valedictorian Gurwinder Kaur is buffeted by strong winds as she speaks at the graduation ceremonies at Manteca High School in Manteca (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200).

When Valedictorian Gurwinder Kaur gave her speech (a pretty good one in the form of a poem), about midway through the program, she had to struggle to keep her cap on her head, and the tassel and her flowing hair from her face. Although there were giggles from the audience and other graduates, she kept her composure and finished with dignity, although it was a little windblown.

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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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