I love the night life

Here’s a photo opportunity: The Stockton Camera Club’s Carnival Lights Workshop is tonight. Anyone is welcome to show up at 8:00 p.m. at the club’s booth in Building 2 at the county fairgrounds in Stockton for some night shots of the colorful lights of the midway. All you’ll need is a camera, a tripod and an eye for the carnival night life.

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Farmers Market

Spring is farmers market season, and not only are they wonderful places to find fresh fruit and vegetables to eat, they can be great spots to shoot pictures.

Some of the things to look for when composing a picture are color, shape and texture. A great place to find them is at your local farmer’s market. It can be a place bursting with color of freshly picked oranges or tomatoes to the more subtle tones of beets or green onions. Fresh cut flowers and red ripe strawberries can add to the rainbow of possibilities, as well.

If you’re a people person, there are plenty of vendors and customers to photograph. Shade tents can provide soft, subdued illumination for a nice portrait.

So next time you’re looking for some savory asparagus or luscious strawberries, take along your camera and grab a few pictures too.

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Zippy lives!

Years ago, if memory serves me, I saw a Zippy the Pinhead cartoon that had a caption that read: ” If you can’t say something nice, be ambiguous.” (Or something to that effect.) Then in a word bubble Zippy happily states: “Zombies rule Belgium!” It has sort of become a catchphrase for my wife and me when we see or hear something odd or out of place.

A couple of weeks ago I saw this phrase: “No foul Language. I have a couch in my room!” painted on the rear window of a Honda Civic parked in front of Big Herk’s Clippers and Braiding on Ham Lane near Kettleman Lane in Lodi and was puzzled by the message. On the driver’s side window were the slightly more comprehensible words: “Sweet tea makes me pee!” I don’t know if Zombies rule Belgium, but it looks like Zippy has a kindred spirit in Lodi.

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The next generation

I had the privilege once again to be the judge for the San Joaquin County fair’s annual photography show. This year, show coordinator Mark Findlay asked me to judge pictures in the Youth Division, and I eagerly agreed. After having to make some tough decisions in last year’s adult show, I was looking forward to something a little easier.

The youth division was held under Danish judging rules (the first I had heard of it) which meant I could give any number of firsts, seconds and thirds. I simply divvied up the photos in each category into thirds. The top third got blue ribbons, the middle third got red ribbons and the bottom third got white. Gotta love the Danish for making it easy on me. There were plenty of times last year where I wished I could have awarded multiple firsts, seconds and thirds.

As you would expect, the younger age group were the least sophisticated, and as the ages increased, so did the level quality, but many photographers really stood out, regardless of age. There were many photos, across all the divisions, that could have easily done well in not only the adult amateur category, but even the more advanced adult open division.

After all the Danish judging came the hard part. I had to pick a “best of division” for each age group. No more giving a blanket of awards, I had to pick the best in each of four age groups. After much teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling, I was able to come up with 4 division winners. But after all that, Findlay informed me that I had to pick a “best of show.” So much for something easy.

Photo by Isabella Franzia

The first- through third-grade division winner was Isabella Franzia’s elegant photo of a rooster. Its nearly monotone scale of black, white and grays made the splash of color in the bird’s comb, beak and feet pop out. The graceful turn of its head completed the composition.

Photo by Liza B. Perkins

Liza B. Perkins’ portrait of a puppy captured the fourth- through fifth-grade division. The, tight shot of the tan and white dog’s face was simplicity itself, yet Perkins was able to catch the right moment to give him some personality. The in the way she captured him, he was no longer just an animal, but a pet that was part of someone’s family.

Photo by Brianne C. Hayn

A perfect moment was the signature of Brianne C. Hayn’s photo of a horse and rainbow in the sixth- through eighth-grade division. I loved the composition: how everything is so well balanced in the photo. From the other horses in the background to the main subject dominating the photo, to the faint arc of a rainbow leading to the horse’s eye, it’s the epitome of what legendary photogapher Henri Cartier Bresson called the “decisive moment.”

Photo by Heaven Kern

Creative vision is how I would describe the ninth- through 12th-grade winning photo by Heaven Kern. Appropriate to Kern’s name, at first glance the picture looks to be something celestial, perhaps a nebula of cosmic gas with a bright star shining through. There’s even a lens flare that looks as if it could be a rogue planet. Upon closer examination it’s actually the sun and clouds reflected in a shallow puddle on the ground with a leaf in the lower left corner as a reference point to the real world. It’s a perfect example of thinking creatively and seeing something that others would not even give a second thought.

It was really tough to pick just one winner, but in the end Hayn’s rainbow horse won out by a hair’s-width over Kern’s creative cloud reflection. If you’re out at the fair, check out the youth photography show, there are some great pictures there. Just make sure to make a note of the names of the young photographers, for they could be the next generation of contest winners.

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Speech pattern

Part of the traditional format for graduations is to have the salutatorian give a speech followed by the valedictorian. There are variations on the theme, I’ve covered graduations where there are several salutatorians and valedictorians, each having their moment in the sun (it’s great that they get their due recognition, but it makes for a long night). But it all involves individuals getting up with their speeches. Last week’s Lincoln High School’s graduation gave the tradition a new and different twist.

Principal Debbi Holmerud gave the welcome to family and friends and the acknowledgement of dignitaries. She then recognized the class valedictorian Daniel Wu. She went on to announce the names of 18 grads designated as Distinguished Senior Scholars. Each stood as their names were read, and when Holmerud was done they all made their way to the stage, including Wu.

Lincoln Unified School District’s qualifications for valedictorian are to have a GPA of at least 4.0 with no grade lower than an A (with an exception of a B in an Advanced Placement class). In these days of high-achieving kids, that can mean a lot of them make the cut. Instead of having several valdeictorians get up to make separate addresses, It has been Lincoln High’s tradition for about the past 15 years to present a group speech. The group begins the process of making the speech under the direction of AP English teacher Karen Meredith. Each writes his or her portion of the it.

Each stood as Holmerud read their names and when she was done they all made their way to the stage, including Wu. A bit like a Greek chorus, one by one, they gave a portion of a single speech. Using a metaphor of a newspaper, how their stories are like news, sports and feature stories in the paper and how some of them were like writers and editors. It was a very creative way to describe their years at Lincoln.

Graduates gave a bit of their own personality to their parts, yet as a whole the speech sounded well thought out and complete. The speech ended with Wu reading the last segment to rousing applause. It was a great way to put a different twist on a tradition to create a new one.

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Rainbow light

“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true” – Lyman Frank Baum

San Joaquin County supervisors Carlos Villapudua and Steve Bestolarides toured the new detox facility on the grounds of the San Joaquin County General Hospital in French Camp. In one of the rooms of the two-bedroom facility what looked like a faint rainbow shone on the wall. An almost imperceptible pale orange faded downward into a light dusty blue on the monotone white walls. I wondered where it was coming from.

Rainbows usually occur when light is split into its constituent wavelengths, be it from raindrops or a prism. It was a sunny day outside, and the window through which the rainbow’s light was coming was made of ordinary glass. I looked outside and I realized that the warmer tone was actually light reflected off the salmon-colored walls of the county jail’s honor farm about 100 feet away.

Where the blue was coming from was harder to figure out. It could have been from the cloudless sky or maybe from light reflecting off the blue upholstery of a chair at the base of the window. Perhaps it was a combination. Although it wasn’t a true rainbow on the room’s wall, the effect was as if there was one.

The purpose of the new detox center is to get drugs and alcohol out the systems of addicts before they can be enrolled in the county’s residential drug abuse treatment program to help get their lives back on track. There is a Buddhist concept called the rainbow body, which is a meditative state of transcendence before reaching Nirvana, an awaking of the inner self. So perhaps a rainbow, whatever the source, is an appropriate symbol for the center.

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Water dog (sort of)

Our dog Lucy, a 3-year-old lab/retriever mix, is a funny dog. She loves the rain, but she hates sprinklers. In the same vein she loves the water, but she doesn’t swim.

My family and I visited my brother-in-law, Rick, who was camping at the KOA campgrounds at Tower Park Marina in Terminous. We took Lucy along with us. We found a small muddy beach area along Little Potato Slough for Lucy to play in the water. She romped and played as if she had never seen the water before. She splashed as she bounded through the waves and took playful bites at the water.

We threw in sticks and parts of tule reeds for her to fetch. As she went to get them she would move more gingerly the deeper she went. With the water over her feet and up to her knees, she was fine. She had no problem when it got up to her belly. But going just a little further where her legs couldn’t touch the bottom, she turned around and came back to shore. Lucy would then shake herself off and start all over again.

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Rule #3: Always have a lens

No. 3 of the unofficial “Rules of Photography” is: “always have a lens.” A camera is pretty much useless without one. On occasion I’m asked: “what’s my favorite lens?” The cheeky answer is the one I need to get the job done. I don’t really have a favorite lens, just ones I like to use for particular situations. For instance, in general, most sports require a long lens. Portraits tend to need a medium to short telephoto, and many landscapes are shot with a wide-angle.

Most working photographers encounter many different situations in their day-to-day assignments. I normally carry two lenses with me in my basic kit: A wide angle zoom (17-55mm) and a telephoto zoom (70-200mm). Those two cover about 90 to 95 percent of what I do. We also have pool lenses ranging from 300mm to 500mm.

Last spring I attended the wedding of my cousin’s son, Matthew King, and his fiancée, Christa Van Emmerick, at the Catta Verdura Country Club in Lincoln. I wanted to travel light, so I brought the camera and just one lens, a 17-55mm. I figured I could position myself (without getting in the way of the hired wedding photographers) to get most of my pictures with it. Indeed most of the shots I got that day were from where I was seated.

A couple dozen chairs were set up for an outdoor ceremony where a string quartet played for the guests among the rolling foothills at the country club. It was a small wedding, so I was able to get a seat near the back along the center aisle and still be relatively close to the wedding party. I got shots of the bride, brimming with emotion as she walked past me up the aisle to her awaiting groom. The short ceremony over, I got shots of the happy couple as they walked back up the aisle as husband and wife.

At the reception in the club’s lavish banquet hall, the wedding party entered and everyone stood. The spaces between the tables were narrow, so they all made their way to the head table in single file. As Matthew and Christa neared my position, he accidentally stepped on the long train of her gown. A look of surprise flashed across her face as she jerked to a halt and nearly toppled almost right in front of me, and I was in the perfect position to capture the moment.

In the background was the wedding photographer holding his camera overhead in a “Hail Mary” fashion. Not to take anything away from him, he was ready for anything to happen, but he just wasn’t in the right position for this shot. Preparation and experience can count for a lot, but a little luck and knowing what to do with it can go a long way, too.

The hall was pretty dark, illuminated by only a few windows, a few dim room lights and candles on the the rose-petal-covered dining tables. This is where a fast lens comes in handy. The speed of a lens refers to its light-gathering capabilities. The faster the lens, the darker the situation it can handle. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8, the 17-55mm is pretty fast.

My photo instructors used to say: “the best zoom lenses are your feet,” meaning that if you need a closer shot, just move yourself closer. I was just a little too far away from a couple of things during the reception, so I got up and discretely moved closer. It wasn’t much, perhaps 20 feet from my table at the most. so I was able to get shots of the first dance and the bride and groom’s toast.

So there is truth to rule No. 3 but perhaps it should be amended to say: “always have the right lens and know where to stand.”

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(Not) my friend flicker

A couple of years ago former Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar ran an entry on his “The Best Seat In The House” blog about the lighted letters on the Safeco Field sign at the Seattle Mariners’ home ballpark. The Times ran a photo of his that had the sign in the background. In the picture only a couple of the letters were lit up. A reader wrote in and accused Mar of doctoring the photo for some sort of editorial statement. Mar did not manipulate the photo, but rather it was a case of the lights flickering.

Some artificial light sources, such as fluorescent or neon, flicker. Oh, you can’t see it because they flicker so fast it is beyond human perception. The human eye can see things at about 1/15 of a second or so, anything faster than that becomes all but invisible to us. Movie and TV frame rates run around 24 to 60 frames per second. Faster than we can see, but a camera can take pictures in slices in the thousandths of a second (down to 1/8,000 of a second in the D300′s we use at the Record).

A few weeks ago I shot a public forum of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District at Burgundy Hall at the Grape Festival Fairgrounds in Lodi. Bradon Nakagawa with San Joaquin County Public Works gave a report on groundwater. A projector hooked up to his laptop computer cast images of different maps on to a nearby screen. The images, black outlines and pale hues of a topographical map, looked normal.

After a few shots at 1/500th of a second, I reviewed the images on my camera’s monitor. Instead of what I saw with my naked eyes, the monitor showed a wash of vibrant color. I scrolled through the others and each frame had a different tint ranging from pink to orange to blue. One frame was white with only the black outlines of the map showing. The light source must have been cycling through a spectrum of colors to give the impression of a colored map.

I surmised that either the computer or projector was the cause. I moved to where I could get a quick shot of Nakagawa’s computer. I fired off a quick burst of about four frames. Each one was about the same as the other with no color shifting. I don’t know what kind of bulb the projector had, but it must have been the culprit.

To avoid confusion to readers who may have been at the meeting, I chose one of the shots that was colorless, which was the closest to what it appeared to people at the event. The flicker of some lights may fool the eye, but it can’t get away from the unyielding perception of the camera.

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May as well

“Among the changing months, May stands confest
The sweetest, and in fairest colors dressed.” – On May -James Thomson

Half the year has already come and gone. An unseasonably cool May saw graduations and the culmination of the track and field season. Here are 10 favorites from the month.













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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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