People who need people

“Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day.”

- Sesame Street song “People in your neighborhood” by Jeffery Moss

When I judged the San Joaquin County Fair’s Adult Photography show in June, landscapes, animals and close-ups of flowers were among the strongest pictures entered. There were some of those divisions where almost every picture could have been a winner. However, the weakest and least entered categories were those that involved people, with only a few rising to the level of award winners. Maybe it’s because I’m in the business of photographing people everyday and sometimes I can take it for granted that it can be a hard thing to do.

Against a backdrop of cloudy skies Mike Halligan with the Stockton Park and Recreation department repairs to the chain link fence surrounding the softball complex at Louis Park in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/20 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200).

It’s a skill that can be developed. Although, I photograph people in all kinds of situations, I’m not a natural at making a connection. My normal tendencies lean toward shyness and don’t include sparkling witty conversation.  I work at it every day and I’ve learned to overcome my inherent introvertedness.

Kyle Morton of Manteca cooks peppersteak sandwiches at the Manteca Street Faire in downtown Manteca (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200).

Photographing people, especially strangers, is more difficult than one might think. In addition to having a good eye, a photographer has to have good people skills. They have to be able to make their subjects feel comfortable and at home in front of the lens even though that lens may be just a few feet away from their faces. The gift of gab certainly helps.

13-year-old Ray Alonzo, left, and 11-year-old Jacob Peraza cool off on an inflatable water slide at Alonzo’s home on Shimizu Drive near Wilshire Avenue in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

I’ve seen how easy it is for others. My friend Charr Crail is a great photographer and one of the most creative people I know. I’m always in awe of how easily she makes a connection with her subjects.

Cloudy skies move in from the east as Lena Yazzi of Stockton and her 6-month-son Luis Mendez enjoy a day in the park at the Weber Point Event Center in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/22 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 100).

When I first started at The Record 25 years ago, I watched as veteran photographer the late Dave Evans shot a basic headshot in the studio. He quickly found something in common with his subject and held a conversation to put him at ease. The shoot didn’t take long, but what Dave did has stayed with me ever since then.

Oakview 4H-ers Audrianna Azevedo, 12, left, and Makenna Wagers, 12, right, braids the hair of bailey Roberts, 13, in her goat pen in the livestock barn at the San Joaquin Couty Fairgrounds in Stockton. Sheep, goat and swine livestock entries arrived on Sunday June 14 (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).

When photographing strangers, the best method is to be as direct and honest as possible. Just go up to them, tell them what you’re doing. Nothing ventured, nothing lost.  The worst thing they can do is say no. I’ve found that the residents of Stockton and San Joaquin County are by and large open to having their photos taken. Of the probably thousands of strangers that I’ve photographed, only a few have turned me down. Talk with them and ask them questions. Everyone has something to say, a story about themselves and/or what they do. It’s what the newspaper stories are built on.

Artist Flora Anderiasian is seen through a cutout of a new mural she is painting in the medieval castle at Pixie Woods in Stockton. Anderiasian was part of a crew readying the children’s amusement park for its opening this weekend (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200). has a video on how New York-based photographer Clay Enos sets up an impromptu studio to shoot portraits of people on the street. He talks about not only some of the technical aspects, but how he approaches his subjects to make them feel at ease.

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Be back soon

9-year-old Eladio Lucero plays a hula-hoop game at the National Night Out event at the Villa Montecito apartments in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. IO: 200).

I’ll be on vacation until September 29. Until then take part in an camera poll to posted the right. See you on the 29th.

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(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 130mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5. ISO: 400)

The thing about shooting fires is that you’ll end up reeking of smoke if you can’t figure out a way to shoot upwind. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a position that’s smoke-free, but there are other times where there’s just no other choice but to get right in the smoke to get best shot. Grassfires are bad enough, but a house fire, with all the different materials burning, has a special aroma all its own. The smoke will permeate my hair, whatever I’m wearing, camera bag, even my camera itself will smell. After covering a fire I often need to immediately bathe, wash my clothes and wipe off my equipment with a damp towel.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5. ISO: 400)

A few days ago I shot a small grass fire on Clayton Avenue in south Stockton. Pushed by a breeze, the fire consumed a shed, an RV trailer, damaged a couple of parked cars and threatened two homes. As I walked up to the scene I could see the smoke was enveloping the firefighters on the east side of the fire which was about 1/8 of acre in size. It was late in the afternoon and the sun front lit the west side with flat and boring light. The best shot was right in the middle of the smoke, so  I knew that’s where I needed to be.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 400)

With every step I took, the light wind that pushed the smoke sideways lessened. By I the time I got to the choice spot to get a shot, it had stopped completely and the smoke was rising straight up. I was able to get in pretty close, and got some cool shots of flames and the sun peeking through the haze. Although I didn’t avoid 100% of the smoke and may not have smelled like a rose, neither did I smell like a smoked ham.

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Double your fun

Creating a double-exposure photo is a lot easier now than in the days of film. In those old days, there were two main avenues to take — in-camera and in the darkroom, each in turn with two techniques of their own.

Stockton Port’s pitcher Pedro Figueroa’s form is displayed in a multiple exposure shot as he throws against the Bakersfield Blaze during a California LEague Game at the Banner Island Ballpark in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 1600.)

The first in-camera method required a lot of manual dexterity. It was the photographic equivalent of rubbing your tummy and patting your head while hopping on one foot.

 Step one was to snug up the film rewind knob to take up any slack in the film, then after taking the first exposure, push up on the rewind release button located at the bottom of camera with the thumb of the left hand, while holding down the knob with a finger or two of the same hand to keep the film from advancing. With the right hand, turn the advance lever and then press the shutter button for the second exposure. When used in conjunction with a motor drive, multiple exposures can be done. Without a motor, well then it’s so involved that two exposures was tough enough.

 The second technique is a bit easier. When loading the film into the camera, draw a line on the film’s leader where it comes out of the edge of the film cassette, then close the back of the camera and shoot like normal. When you’re done shooting, rewind the film without winding all the way back into the cassette. Then reload the film into the camera, careful to make sure the line that you’ve drawn lines up in the original place. Close the back again and shoot the the second exposures.

 In both of those methods, you were basically doubling the exposure, so you’d have recalculate for twice the amount of light and adjust your camera’s settings accordingly.

 The easiest darkroom method was to simply put two negatives together, sandwich-style, in the enlarger before exposing the photographic paper (indeed, the technique is called sandwich negatives). The downside was it also doubled the amount of dust you had to make sure to clean off of the negs.

 The second technique was to use multiple enlargers. You would use two or more with different negatives in each, moving the photo paper from enlarger to enlarger before developing it. The photographer Jerry Uelsmann was a master at this technique creating enigmatic, surrealistic images that rivaled any photo-shopped picture of today. The obvious drawback is that enlargers were expensive pieces of equipment and having more than one could be costly.

 I shot a Stockton Ports’ California League baseball game against the Bakersfield Blaze at the Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton a few weeks ago. The game was moving really slowly with not much action happening and I was coming up on deadline. I decided to spice up a ordinary photo of just the pitcher by doing a multiple exposure shot. I simply went into the camera’s menu, chose the multiple exposure mode, chose how may frames I wanted in one shot and I was ready to shoot. The camera even figured out the exposure compensation for me. If it was this easy back in the old days, I might have done more of them.

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In and out of position

Stockton Ports’ Michael Richard is forced out at second by San Jose Giants’ Brian Bocock during a California League game at the Banner Island Ballpark in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300m. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 400).

On occasion I’ve been asked” “where’s the best spot to shoot sports?” The answer is: “It depends on what kind of shot you’re looking for.” In baseball, for instance, the dugout behind first base is a good place to get a defensive shot of a play at second base or, to a lesser extent, third. However, it’s not so good to get a shot of the runner as you will only get a picture of his backside as he slides into the base. It’s also a good spot to get a right-handed batter or of an offensive shot of a play at home.

Stockton Ports’ Michael Richard reaches for a late throw as Visalia Rawhide’s James Skelton slides safely into second during the last game of the season at the Banner Island Ballpark in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300m. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

To get a shot of a runner at second, a good spot is the bleachers in left field. You can get a shot of him sliding into the base. It’s also a place to get a shot of the catcher defending home plate or a left-handed batter. Some photographers who have a wealth of time and equipment can set up cameras aimed at every base and trigger them remotely via radio transmitters. I usually don’t have those resources at hand so I have to pick my positions on where I think the action may happen.These are just general guidelines, and there are times where there are exceptions to the rule.

San Jose Giants’  catcher Aaron Lowenstein, left,  collides with Stockton Ports’ Jermaine Mitchell at home plate during a California League game at the Banner Island Ballpark in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300m. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 400).

Several weeks ago, I shot the Stockton Ports as they played the San Jose Giants. The Ports were at bat and I set up in the left field bleachers in hopes of someone sliding into second. It’s one of those rules of thumb that when something happens, it’s going to happen where you’re not. A play at home happened with a big collision between the San Jose catcher and Ports baserunner. I knew I was out of position, but I shot a few frames anyway. And sure enough, their bodies slammed into each other, helmets sent flying, and it would have been a great shot, had I been on the first base side.

Stockton Ports’ Yusuf Carter slides safely as second beneath the tag of San Jose Giants’ Brian Bocock during a California League game at the Ball Island Ballpark in downtown Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300m. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 400).

A few plays later, I thought I had my shot. The Ports’ Yusuf Carter had gotten to first and was stealing second. I prepared to shoot, waiting for him to come sliding head first into the frame. Not only did he come feet first, which is fine, he also turned away from the camera, facing out to right field. Curses, foiled again! I managed to get a usable shot a few innings later, but for one inning — even though I was in position for one shot — I was actually out of position for two.

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Lens envy

Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED-IF VR (Nikon)

Telephoto lenses are a must when shooting sports, usually the bigger the better. We have a couple of Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 lenses in our arsenal at work. The 2.8 indicates how fast it is, or how much light it can gather. The lower the number, the dimmer light conditions it will handle. For example, it has a one-stop advantage of an f/4 lens of the same focal length, meaning, at its widest aperture the 2.8 lens can gather twice as much light as the slower lens. The down side is that for every stop gained, the cost and weight of the lens goes up exponentially. The 2.8 may gather two times the light, but it’s about three times the price and weight.

Above, Nikkor 600mm f/4G AF-S ED-IF VR , top, Nikkor 400mm f/2.8G AF-S ED-IF VR and Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G AF-S ED-IF VR with a Nikon D3X DSLR (Nikon)

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens, left, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM lens, and Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM lens, with a Canon 1D  MkIII DSLR (Canon)

Whenever I take one of them out to a sporting event, the non-photographers who see me are impressed. “Wow, look at the size of that lens!” they’ll say. But in truth a 300mm f/2.8 is a garden-variety telephoto for most newspaper photographers who have to shoot in all kinds of lighting conditions. On the sidelines of, say, a 49ers or Raiders game almost everyone has one for their shortest telephoto and I wouldn’t even get a second glance. On hand are often 400mm f/2.8s, 600mm f/4s and even 800mm f/5.6s among the group lined up in almost photographic pecking order. Some of those bigger ones can bring in detail from the entire length of the football field. Some photographers don’t even notice my 300mm, while others may give me a “Oh, how quaint” glance before getting to the business of shooting the game at hand. I’ve learned not to have an inferiority complex and just shoot the game.

The Butterfly Nebula in constellation Scorpius about 4,000 light years away from Earth, photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. (NASA)

The Hubble Space Telescope (NASA)

Recently, NASA upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit around the Earth. According to NASA, it has 10 times the resolving power of any terrestrial telescope. it can reach thousands of light years into deep space to help solve the riddles of the origins of our universe. Now that’s a big lens that can impress anybody.

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Blast from the past: The eyes have it

Dave LaBelle, a 35-year photojournalist and educator who has worked for newspapers in cities ranging from Anchorage, Pittsburg and Sacamento, calls the search for enterprise feature photos the Great Picture Hunt. He even has created two books with that same name.  Sometimes it can be likened to fishing, driving around trolling for pictures. Other times it can be like hunting, finding a perfect spot and laying in wait for your prey, uh, subject to appear.

Shawna Kleemeyer of Stockton, passes a mural of an owl’s face on a fence surrounding the constuction site of the Hotel Stockton rennovation in downtown Stockton as she walks home from work. The mural is one of several painted by delta College art students to brighten up parts of the construction fence. (Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 105mm. 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

4/5/2001: A plywood wall was put up around the Hotel Stockton during its renovation. Delta College art students were commissioned to create large murals to be displayed on those walls. One of the paintings was an intensely colored owl. I used the natural compression a telephoto lensto give the photo some visual impact and simply waited until somebody to walk by. It was a low foot-traffic area so I had to wait awhile. The danger in that situation is getting distracted or bored and not being ready when the time comes to take the picture. But someone eventually came into view and I got my shot.

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Counties fair: 2009 edition

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 23mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

I like looking at the county exhibits at the State Fair in Sacramento. Call me a nerd, call me a geek, but for me it’s fun to see how the different counties see themselves and the cleverness and creativity (or lack thereof) that goes into making each of their displays. Almost every year I drag my kids to look at the exhibits on the ground floor of buildings A and B on the Cal Expo grounds. At least it’s indoors and air conditioned, I tell them.

Last year I started making up some fun awards for the county exhibits that caught my eye. For example, I gave last year’s Los Angeles County exhibit the Lou Ferrigno Award. The display featured a cardboard cutout of the actor/bodybuilder dressed in a L.A. County Sheriffs’ uniform and another of him as the Incredible Hulk, suggesting that you don’t make the sheriffs angry: you wouldn’t like them when they get angry.

I went to the fair last weekend and saw some that were equally as notable. So here goes, my second annual unofficial State Fair County Exhibit awards!

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 23mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

The Does-Anybody-Really-Know-What-Time-It-Is Award goes to Glenn County. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a large wooden clock that doesn’t work. 8 to 10 feet tall, its hands are stuck at 5:00:44 seconds.  At least it’s right two seconds a day.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

Merced County gets the Creepiest-Use-Of-A-Mannequin Award. To go with the exhibit’s motto, “Bet on Merced County”, a bald dummy representing a card dealer sits behind what looks to be a poker table. He seems to be about a million years old. A first glance he appears to be motionless, but looking closer his lips are moving perhaps 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch in time to narration playing in the background. He looks like a refugee from a bad slasher movie. (Del Norte County gets the runner up award for this category for having a scary Big Foot hiding in the corner on the porch of a cabin in its display).

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 125mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

The We-Used-To-Have-It-But-Not-Anymore Award goes to Sacramento County. Part of its exhibit is a scale model of a U.S. Air Force fighter jet, about 8 to 10 feet long. The problem is both Mather and McClelland Air Force bases closed many years ago and Sac County doesn’t have a military facility of any kind.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

The Solano County exhibit won a slew of prizes, including the fair’s Best of Show award. It had some great features, including its walk-through architecture. Well, I gave it one more recognition: The Sesame-Street-Copyright-Infringement Award. The main entrance is supposed to be a giant cartoony orange, but with its round nose, big eyes and a color that’s skewed more toward red than orange, it looked like a giant Elmo that was swallowing or spitting out fairgoers as they entered and exited the display.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 18mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

The Most-Politically-Overt Award goes to our very own San Joaquin County. Most of the exhibits show what agricultural products a county produces or the industries and recreation opportunities it has to offer. On this year’s San Joaquin County display, along with the prerequisite fruits and veggies, is a protest of Governor Schwarzeneger’s proposal of building a $58.3 Million peripheral canal around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. It features a Terminator-like robot reaching out from an unnamed county in the north and literally shaking a large map of San Joaquin County.

So those are my personal awards for this year’s fair. Until next year, hasta la vista, baby!

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Art with fun

One of the things I like to see at the State Fair is the California Fine Art exhibition. It’s interesting to the creativity that artists express through paintings, sculpture and, of course for me, photography. Perhaps to go along with this year’s theme of weird wild and wacky, there seemed to be more entries than usual that exhibited a whimsical sense of artful play.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 2.8. ISO: 200)

Terrence Martin of West Sacramento entered a piece titled “Up To My Neck.” It was a representation of a giraffe’s head and neck made from scrap metal and appeared to be nearly 10 feet tall.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

Aaron Buehring of Sacramento had a work that was actually an imitation of a famous work of art. He recreated Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night with bottle caps in a piece called “Recycled Night.”

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

Even Clayton Bailey of Port Costa who was selected co-California Artist of the Year, had works of fantastical fun . On display was a trio of his appliance-like metal robots with cartoonish faces.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

The crowd pleaser was an incredible display by Rohnert Park artist Scott Weaver. “Rolling Through the Bay”, was a montage of San Francisco and surrounding attractions made entirely of toothpicks. Weaver was on hand to show off the piece and estimates that he used about 100,000 toothpicks held together with Elmer’s glue.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

On the sculpture, Weaver constructed tracks, also out of toothpicks, so that he could roll ping pong balls through five different “tours” of the city. All of The City’s highlights are represented, the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, the Palace of Fine Arts, BART, Ghirardelli Square, Chinatown, the TransAmerica building and other features too numerous to mention.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/40th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

He said it took him about 3,000 hours of work over 35 years to build. That’s a big chunk of one’s life to commit to one project. I was left to wonder, what does he do with his time now?

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Weird, wild and wacky

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/320th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

We try to make going to the State Fair in Sacramento an annual family affair. This year my wife was feeling a bit under the weather and my 14-year-old daughter decided to stay home with her so, it was just my son and me.

This year’s theme was Weird, Wild and Wacky. I don’t know what that meant, because most of the fair was your standard fair stuff. There was the livestock barn with cattle, sheep, and even llamas. The midway had the usual thrilling rides and carnival games (I dropped about $20 for my son to win a 6-inch consolation stuffed tiger). The food was your standard fair fare (sorry for the pun), corn dogs on every corner and just about anything you want deep fried. There were the county displays and art exhibitions. As we walked through the fair and had our fun, nothing stood out as weird, wild or wacky.

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

Then we saw part of a show called Frank Olivier Twisted Cabaret. Funny and weird, at one point he inhaled a thin balloon through his right nostril, and passed it through the back of his throat and out his mouth. He then, with one end still sticking out his nose and the other his mouth, partially inflated it and squeezed the air encased in the balloon from one end to the other. 

For his finale, Olivier donned a shocking pink rock and roll wig, and proceeded to juggle two flaming batons, play the guitar and ride a unicycle simultaneously.

Freestyle Moto Cross rider Destin Cantrell of Hunnington Beach sails above the Xtreme Zone at the State Fair (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100).

At the far end of the midway was the Xtreme Zone, and it was a wild ride. Freestyle motocross riders jumped their bikes across two ramps and performed seemingly death-defying acrobatic stunts as they soared 30 to 40 feet in the air. It was fitting that the show was near the midway, because it was as thrilling to watch as riding any of the carnival rides.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 50mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200).

In the Fur and Feathers exhibit were exotic cockatoos, parrots and chinchillas, but one of the wackiest birds was a domesticated rooster. A Continental Polish: Non-Bearded White Crested Black was one of the show birds on display. With its wild headdress of feathers, it looked like comedienne Phyllis Diller on a bad day or perhaps an inspiration for boxing promoter Don King.

After about a six-hour day at the fair, we finally managed to find our weird, wild and wacky and had fun doing it, too.

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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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