Numbers game

Why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine. Get it? Seven eight (ate) nine. It’s the punch line to the old children’s joke, a groaner, I know.

2010 has had its share of unique number sequences, the palindromic January 11 (01/11/10), the sequential August 9 (8/9/10) and the upcoming repetitive October 10 (10/10/10). Some people put stock in unusual numbers, even scheduling auspicious events, such as weddings or buying lottery tickets on such dates.

We assign characteristics to some numbers. Thirteen is considered unlucky, and triple sixes are supposed to be the sign of the devil. In Chinese culture the number eight is the sign of good fortune. In western culture the number seven is lucky (A few years ago while parking the company car into the Record’s back lot at the end of the day, the odometer rolled over to 77,777 miles – a seemingly supreme lucky number – but, alas, I did not win the lotto that day). Recently I had a numerological oddity of my own.

I shot the official 2010-11 prep football season opening week game between Manteca High and Galt High at Guss Schmeidt Stadium in Manteca a few weeks ago. In editing my photos, one of the shots was of a Manteca running back being sandwiched by two Galt defenders, nothing unusual there. To the left was Galt’s No. 3, Eric Keller. Manteca’s Josh Nkwocha who wore jersey No. 4 was in the middle being tackled. And to the right was Galt’s Haran Piggee, who wore jersey No. 5. Three, four and five, in that order. In my 26 years at The Record, it’s something that’s never happened to me before. In the past I’ve gotten two players with jersey numbers in consecutive order, even opposing players with the same number, but never three in a row.

I’m no mathematician but I’m guessing that the odds of getting players with sequential numbers in the same photo are astronomical. One in a hundred thousand? One in a million? More? It’s my guess they are almost incalculable.

The numbers on football jerseys can range from 00 to 99, though not every number may be represented. Not only must the frequency of numbers be taken into account, but how many players there are on each team. Some players only play offense, others defense, while some play both. And getting the players with the right numbers in the right order can be well-nigh impossible.

I had gotten only one other shot that featured Piggee and three others that Keller was in. Nkwocha was only in the shot that had all three of them together.

When the football game was over Manteca posted an impressive number of its own: 51 to Galt’s 22. I don’t know if it was their lucky number, but it’s the one that meant the most in the end.

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Venus rising

As the sun went down in the Galt vs. Manteca season-opener varsity football game at Manteca’s Guss Schmiedt Field, a bright star rose in the west.

The gleaming point of light gained altitude in the darkening sky and rose over the stands. I shot the Manteca High band as they played their pep songs. A Jupiter brand sousaphone was among the instruments on the top row. But bright star wasn’t a star or even jupiter. It was Venus, the closet plant to the Earth.

After the sun and moon, Venus is the brightest celestial object in the sky. Because it’s closer to the sun than the Earth is, Venus appears in the sky just after sunset or before sunrise, which is why it’s known as either the evening or morning star.

In the photograph, Venus appears as a flat disk much larger than the point of light it was because it was thrown out of focus by the narrow depth of field of my exposure. It looked more like a small moon than a star. Manteca defeated the Galt in convincing fashion. Whether it was a planet, moon or other celestial body, Venus must have been Manteca’s lucky star.

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Generation food

Sacramento Buddhist Church minister Rinban Bob Oshita once said that when the first generation of immigrants come to this country they bring along their culture and customs, their language, clothing and food. When the second generation comes of age, the traditional clothing makes way for more modern attire. With the third generation the language skills are lost. By the time the fourth generation rolls around, all that is left of the culture is food. Oshita was mainly speaking about the Japanese-American community, but what he said can apply to almost any immigrant group.

Last weekend I covered the annual Greek Festival at St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church in Stockton. I have covered the event in the past, and it’s always well attended. I made the mistake of going when they opened at lunchtime. I hadn’t eaten, so the aromas of the various foods were intoxicating. I would get past one booth only to be met by another mouth-watering dish. But since I was “on the clock,” I had a job to do. And that job was to take pictures, not to eat.

There was the sweet pastry baklava, Macaronada Greek pasta and stuffed grape leaves. There were beef, lamb and chicken gyros, the pita bread wrap sandwiches, the line for which was almost Disneyland-esque. Rudy and Judy Mason of Tracy said that every year they make sure to get to the festival early to avoid the crowds so they don’t have to wait to get their food.

After about an hour or so, I had another assignment to go to and unfortunately I couldn’t stay for some of the cultural events such as the Greek dancing and the tour of the church, but I did manage to get a couple of dishes to go. A chicken kabaob and some loukoumades, dumplings drizzled in honey. As I drove, I tasted one of the bite-sized pastries and the doughnut-y texture felt wonderful in my mouth, as did the subtle sweetness of the honey. The loukoumades did not survive the trip back to the office. The chicken was moist and tangy from the olive oil it was cooked in.

The Greek Festival is a cross-generational event. There was the older generation who spoke mostly in Greek or with pronounced accents, and younger people without even Greek surnames. But what they had in common was the food — and, oh, what food it was.

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From newscycle to popcicle*

I had an assignment to cover Jerry Brown who made an appearance at the Labor Day picnic hosted by the Teamsters union at Northgate Park in Manteca a few weeks ago. As I pulled up to the park I noticed a bright blue San Francisco Chronicle delivery van sitting in the parking lot. “Was I too late?” I thought. Did the Chron get there take the pictures, write the story and deliver the paper already? I got closer to the van and saw that the signature yellow letters were taken off the van leaving faint but still noticible outlines of the words “The Chronicle” on its left flank. I walked around to the right side, and a widow was cut into it and colorful stickers for frozen treats were stuck onto its fenders. The delivery van had been turned into an ice cream truck. Amid the noise of the large picnic I hadn’t noticed as I walked up, but the song “turkey in the straw” was emanating from the van.

It’s no secret that the newspaper industry has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy. Advertisers have either cut back their ads or gone out of business all together. Classified ads have gone to online outlets such as Craig’s list and ebay. Subscriptions were on the decline even before the poor economy. Papers large, small and in-between have suffered downsizing of their staffs through layoffs and attrition.

Last year I ran into former Chronicle photographer Eric Luse. He had just taken a “buyout” deal and was now a winemaker. He told me that the Chron’s photo staff, which once numbered more than 30, was now down to about 12. Still big, but for their circulation numbers and vast coverage area, a radical cut.

The economy will eventually turn around, and with it the fortunes of all businesses, including newspapers. But until then the sight of ice cream trucks may be more common than newspaper delivery vans.

*Thanks to former Record city editor Pat Omandam for the title of this entry.

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Jumping in to Fall

Fall officially arrives on September 23, but University of the Pacific music majors Carey McComeys, of Draper, Utah, and Nick Joven of Gilroy got a jump on autumn, literally.

I was cruising the UOP campus looking for an enterprise feature picture, as I am wont to do, but not really finding anything. I was about leave for greener pastures when I saw a couple of students sitting in on Knoles Lawn in the shadow of Buck Music Hall. They just looked like they were studying, and I didn’t give it a second thought. As I was just about to drive away they got up and started gathering the leaves around them. I quickly parked the car and approached them. I asked them what they were collecting the leaves for. “To jump in,” they replied. Well, that was worth sticking around to get a shot of.

McComeys and Joven busied themselves picking the mostly sycamore leaves that had fallen to ground. At first by the handful, then by the armload. Passing students gave the pair curious looks, but they kept on with their task until they created a pile about 2 feet high.

They backed up to get a running start and then gleefully ran and jumped into the leafy mound. At first one at a time and then together. They played and laughed like toddlers. You’re never too old for the appeal and allure of a pile of leaves and the simple fun it can bring.

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Sometimes finding Nemo is as easy as just looking up.

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The early bird gets the picture

I’m not exactly what you’d call a early riser (if I have an opportunity to sleep in, I’ll take advantage of it) ,but if you want the best time to get the best pictures sometimes you have to rise and shine before the rooster crows.

Today is the annual Great Reno Balloon Race (it actually started Friday). I’ve shot it a few times in the past and I remember getting some great shots and having a great time. Hot air balloon races are fun to shoot and yield great pictures. The balloons themselves are colorful and eye-catching especially when set against a deep blue sky. The problem arises (for me at least) when you have to wake up early – really early. Getting up at an alarm clock-cursing hour isn’t a whole lot of fun, but the upside is that morning light is among the best light of the day. The angle and warm color as it slices through the Earth’s atmosphere can only be matched by the light left by a setting sun at the opposite end of the day.

The balloons launch early because the coolness of the morning air which makes the heated air in the balloons all the more bouyant. Preparations begin before dawn for a liftoff time of around 7:30 to 8:00 a.m.. At most events if you get there by 9:00 a.m or later, you just might miss it. Some events hold what’s called a “Dawn Patrol” where some of the balloons are launched in the inky darkness long before the sun even thinks about rising over the horizon. It makes for great pictures, the balloons lighting up like giant multi-colored light bulbs against a pitch black sky, but it necessitates waking up even earlier.

Last week I shot the fifth annual Color the Skies hot air balloon festival in Ripon and fortunately it did not have a Dawn Patrol but it was still plenty early for me. As I got to Mistlin Sports Park in north Ripon the sun had not risen yet, but a warm glow on the eastern horizon started to chase away the deep blue of the pre-sunbreak morning. Most of the 17 balloonists had unloaded their baskets from their trailers and were unfurling their nylon balloons on the dew-covered grass.

The morning silence was cut by the lawn mower-like sound of large gasoline-powered fans (like ones firefighters use to evacuate smoke from a building) that force cold air into the balloons to give them some shape but not lift. Then with the baskets laying on their sides, propane burners were fired by the pilots in short bursts into the balloons. Slowly the balloons filled out with hot air and started to rise, tipping the baskets to an upright position. Crews held onto the edges of the baskets to keep them from lifting off prematurely. It was between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. when the pilots and passengers were ready to take off. The burners were fire in sustained bursts, the crews release their grips and one by one the balloons serenely floated upwards going wherever the wind was willing to take them.

You can shoot it like an event, recording the spectacle of the balloons and the people surrounding it and the gracefulness of the sport. Or you you can approach it with more of an artistic eye, looking for color, shape and abstract form. The Reno event continues on Sunday and boasts over 100 balloons. But if you want to go to shoot some pictures or just to watch, be sure to set you alarm clock early.

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Move along little (sun) doggie

A sundog (or sun dog) is an atmospheric condition that creates rainbowed patches of light in the sky. Sometimes they’re small arcs, other times they can be complete rings around the sun.  They can accompany thin clouds or appear in seemingly clear skies. Known by the scientific name parhelion (the plural is parhelia) a sundog is caused by sunlight passing through tiny ice crystals suspended high up in the air.

On the sidelines of the UOP women’s soccer game against Sac State at A.A. Stagg Memorial Stadium in Stockton, I overheard one of the young girls who volunteered to shag out-of-bounds balls say to another girl: “It’s back. The rainbow’s back.” Rainbow? I thought. It was a mostly clear sky with only a few wisps of thin clouds. I looked up and to the northwest, and sure enough there was a delicate crescent of a rainbow.

It was somehwere between 7 and 7:30 p.m., and the sun must have been nearly at the horizon (the stadium’s high walls blocked the view of it). As the sun sank lower the sundog slowly faded away, but for a little while, to paraphrase Judy Garland, I was somewhere under the rainbow.

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What’s in a name?

My name isn’t a very common one. I have rarely encountered anyone with the same one. When I asked my mom why she gave me that name, she had no real answer. According to, Clifford is the 330th most popular male name in the country, with 190,729 others sharing it with me. So when I hear someone say “Clifford,” it usually means that they’re talking to (or about) me.

When I shot the University of the Pacific women’s soccer home opener against the Sac State Hornets at A.A. Stagg Memorial Stadium in Stockton last week I heard my name called several times. I turned and looked through the crowd in the stands, but there seemed to be no one beckoning me to come. I went back to shooting the game but then I would hear my name again, look up, only to see no one who was talking to me. It happened several times, and after a while I thought, “Should I be paranoid that someone was talking about me behind my back?” Or perhaps I was losing my mind and the voices I heard were just in my head.

Then I saw someone walking around in a big red plush dog suit, and I realized what was going on. Clifford the Big Red Dog, the children’s character created by Norman Bridwell in 1963, was on hand to greet little kids who attended the game. I remember having Clifford books when I was a kid and how fun it was to have a famous fictional character with the same name.

So, with my sanity intact and my mind at ease, I was able to ignore the mentioning of my name and continued to shoot the game.

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Links: Creatures of the night

A few weeks ago I wrote about getting night shots at Gerle Creek in the Eldorado National Forest. There’s just something about the appeal of a picture taken after the sun goes down. From The twinkling of the stars against the black sky to the subdued lighting of that can subtly illuminate the ground, night photos can hold a beauty and mystery all their own.

Here are a few links to stories about night photography.

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Square one
A good place to start is the Night Photography Blog by Andy Frazer. Frazer doesn’t really talk much about the technical aspects of shooting at night but features others’ works (as well as his own).

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Northern exposure
The Luminous Landscape site features a nice article by Mark Dubovoy on the aurora borealis . He explains what it is, where it can be found, and how to shoot it. If you’re ever in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere, he provides some great information on shooting the Northern Lights.

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Biding their time

Night photography requires a tripod and long exposures that can be measured in seconds, minutes, even hours. But here are a couple examples of some really long exposures. Due to their minuscule apertures, pinhole cameras require long exposures even in daytime.

Posted on comes an item about two really long exposures. Justin Quinnell used a pinhole camera to take an incredible 6-month long shot of the Clifton Bridge in Bristol, England. You’d think that would be the all-time record but the longest exposure goes to German photographer Michael Wesely who also used a pinhole camera to photograph the renovation of Museum of Modern Art in New York in a single exposure over a whopping 34 months from 2001 to 2004!

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Around the world
I’m always looking for a different angle or vantage point from which to take a picture to give it a new and fresh look. NASA astronaut Don Petit has made videos through time lapse photography of the Earth while on a mission on the International Space Station (ISS).

Cruising at 17,239 miles per hour – that’s 7.7 kilometers per second, or 4.7 miles per second – the ISS streaks across the sky and Petit captured incredible time exposures of city lights and the aurora borealis at night.

Up telescope!

Camera phones are convenient and handy, but providing a quality telephoto shot isn’t their forte. Here’s a simple do-it-yourself procedure on how to get a nice tight shot of the moon using an iPhone 4 and a telescope (it’s from the Japanese blog Jurilog, so the translation isn’t quite 100%).

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Somewhere over the moonbow

A moonbow is a relatively rare phenomenon. Like a rainbow, it’s created by light refracting off droplets of moisture in the atmosphere. Unlike a rainbow, a it’s made with the light from the moon. Photographer Wally Pacholka of has a great photo of a moonbow rising over Haleakala Crater in Hawaii. It’s fascinating to see a field of stars rising above the colored arc.

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Beauty of the night

Finally, Henry JunWah Lee is a Physician of Chinese Medicine, international human rights advocate, and technology consultant. He’s also a great amateur photographer. He has several videos on Vimeo of time-lapse night photography that make for great viewing of the beautiful night sky in motion.

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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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