Less than helpful


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 22mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/22. ISO: 200)

You’ve see those generator-powered portable message signs on the side of the road or freeway. They alert motorists of construction or an accident ahead.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

I saw this one on Highway 88 and Victor Road just outside of Lockeford. The words, frozen and unmoving, were locked in mid-change. The looked like they were trying to spell something out in Klingon. So unless you’re piloting a Klingon Bird of Prey, the sign is less than helpful.

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As sharp as a…

A general rule of thumb is that a picture has to be in focus, but this, like all rules, can be broken. There were a couple of photos that I gave awards to in judging the San Joaquin County Adult Photography Show that were not only unsharp, but their lack of focus enhanced their appeal.

Joanne Sogsti of Lodi entered a picture titled “Mother Nature’s Pallete”. It’s of a hillside covered with multicolored wildflowers. It’s shot from a distance and there’s a certain softness to perhaps due to cropping and enlarging from a smaller portion of the frame. That certain softness helps to give it an impressionistic, almost watercolor-like quality and gave it a first place showing Amateur color landscape category.

“Purple Dancer” was entered by Robert Officer of Tracy in the Amateur macro/close-up category. It’s a pleasingly simple picture, a tight shot of a lavender flower with a simple background. A halo surrounds the highlights of the photo, maybe due to a soft focus filter, but it gives it an airy, ethereal quality, which won him second place.

Helen Betz‘ simply titled “Horse” was entered in the Open color motion category. It was obviously shot with a too-slow shutter speed resulting in a visual cacophony. It’s just that jumbled confusion that helps convey the sense of frantic motion and gave the picture a second place.

Finally, Danis Azevedo of Galt won a second place with “Disneyland Fireworks” in the Amateur color nighttime category. There is some evident camera shake, but there is and uneasy feeling to it. The smoke trails to the exploding shells to the eerie red glow of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, make it look as though the evil queen has defeated Prince Charming, giving a different narrative to “The Happiest Place On Earth.”

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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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Goggles


(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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    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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