The Moke Ness monster?


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: a/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

While on my slow cruise down the Mokelumne River in Lodi, I saw something peculiar floating on the water. It was halfway across the river and looked a bit reptilian, like some alligator on a National Geographic TV special, laying in wait for its prey. It wasn’t moving, but maybe it was waiting for the right moment to snatch some unsuspecting tourist out of his boat. The others on the boat didn’t seem to notice, and not wanting to look like an idiot, I kept quiet. We drifted closer and still the beast didn’t move. Finally we got close enough and I saw that it was a partially submerged branch, the sunlight casting shadows making it look like some prehistoric predator.

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Rolling down the river


(Camera: Nikon D300.Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

TV personality and Oregon native Boaz Frankel is traveling cross country without the use of a car. I caught up with him as he kayaked down the Mokelumne River from the Woodbridge to the Heritage Oaks winery in Acampo.

I figured with my limited kayaking experience (re: none) that I couldn’t paddle very well and shoot at the same time. So I figured that I’d be shooting from the banks, shadowing him for as long as I could keep up.

Having already traveled by horse-drawn carriage and helicopter that day, Frankel, 26, showed up by boat at the Mokelumne River RV Park in Woodgbridge. Piloted by Dave Kirsten of Lodi, the 30-foot craft known as a Duffy pulled up to the shore (there wasn’t a dock to tie up to) and off-loaded Frankel and several other passengers traveling with him. I was invited to shoot them from the boat for a short ways and I accepted. To board, I doffed my shoes and rolled up my pant legs and hopped on. The group transferred to the kayaks because the Moke narrowed and got shallower from that point and would make traveling by boat difficult (indeed, one of the boats two rudders got caught on a snag and broke off).

From there on in it was pretty smooth sailing (except for the aforementioned rudder incident). The electric-motored boat, which looked a bit like the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, motored smoothly and silently. I was able to get shots of Frankel as we cruised along side. As the kayakers’ paddled down the quiet waters of the Mokelumne, their ripples broke up their reflections causing an abstract images of bright color and irregular constantly shifting shapes. After about a half-mile or so, we bid adieu to the group and turned around. It was a mild day with sunshine and warm temperatures. Not being the pilot, I was able to take in the natural riparian beauty of the river.

A canopy of trees arched over parts of the river, reflected in it’s waters. Shoreline grasses floated in the shallows made by high tide. Delicate white blossoms were sprinkled among wild blackberry vines and cattails were beginning to unravel to spread their fluffy seeds. I wasn’t able to follow Frankel and his entourage  up the River, but I managed to have a pleasant trip anyway.

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Parts are parts


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/40th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

Students in Bret Harte School’s agriculture program in Angels Camp, in part, raise chickens as fryers for food. This time of year, morning temperatures in the Lode can still be a bit chilly and there was a little frost on some roof tops in Angels Camp when I arrived at about 8:00 a.m. on April 29.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm 125mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

Students Hayley Lawson and Breanne Roque gave Reporter Dana Nichols and me a tour of the facility.  Heat lamps kept the chickens from freezing to death in their pen in program’s metal barn-like structure. Groups of the birds huddle around each of the several glowing red lights. Some restaurants employ similar lamps to keep food warm before it’s served to the customers. The Bret Harte program used them to keep the chickens comfortable before they become an entree.

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Nature fresh


Scott Johnson of Brentwood and Rona Malveda of Tracy, brave a rain shower to do some shopping at the Farmers’ Market in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

In the produce aisle in my local supermarket, a small strobe light flashes periodically and a recorded rumble of thunder sounds just before overhead sprinklers come on to keep the veggies moist and fresh.


Rain drops cover some kale for sale at the Friday Farmers’ Market in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Last week, I went to the Friday Farmers Market in downtown Stockton looking for a weather picture. It was raining lightly but steadily that day. The vendors were probably none too pleased that the wet weather kept the crowds light. Normally used for shade, The vendors huddled under their canopies to keep dry. The vegetables on the outer edges of the vendors’ tables received a light misting of rain, just like the ones in the supermarket. Only this time it was provided by Mother Nature, no warning thunder or lightning needed.

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Driving with the top down

I used to own a Mazda Miata convertible. It was great just throwing the top back and taking in the sunshine. When my daughter was 1 or 2, I would strap her in her car seat, put a floppy bonnet (with a chin strap) on her head and we would go riding with the top down. She and I both loved it.

One day my wife and I were busy with some chores around the house. Each of us thought our daughter was with the other. When we realized that neither of us had her, we frantically searched the house. We looked high and low but couldn’t find her We called her name, but no answer. We checked the front and back doors which were both locked from the inside. Confusion and panic were welling up in us. I then checked the garage. And there was our daughter, with a big grin on her face, sitting behind the wheel of the top-down car. Such is the allure of a convertible.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

The other day on Monte Diablo Avenue in Stockton, I saw Rufino Ramos driving with the top down on his 1990 Chevrolet Camaro convertible. Ramos’ 3-year-old rottweiler Sneaky was seated next to him. The dog’s face reached over the windshield header and his ears flapped in the breeze. A guess everybody likes riding in a convertible.

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Training day


University of the Pacific assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcus Dorin, center, instructs the Pacific men’s water polo team in a conditioning drill at the university’s Knoles Lawn in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/ 8. ISO: 200)

The other day I saw three large truck tires laying on the grass at the University of the Pacific’s Knoles Lawn with a group of young men standing around. Curious, I walked over and asked what they were doing. Pacific assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcus Dorin said they were the university’s men’s water polo team and they were about to do what he called a “fourth quarter” drill. The idea is to be in better shape at the end of the game than your opponents. As Dorin explained the drill, there seemed to be just a hint of maniacal glee in his voice.

Pacific men’s water polo team member Joey Frantz flips a heavy truck tire over and over for 20 yards during the conditioning drill. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/ 8. ISO: 200)

In relay-race fashion, the strapping young men flipped tires (estimated to be more than 200-lbs), end-over-end, for 20 yards, then sprinted another 20. There they pulled a flat-bottom sled with 70-lbs worth of weight, 40 yards back to the starting line. Then after picking up 25-lb free weights in each hand, they ran back the other way, another 40-yards. After that was done, they had to return each apparatus to their starting point and finally run 40 yards back to the starting line. Whew!

Pacific men’s water polo team member Joey Rossi runs 40 yards with a 25-lb weight in each hand during the conditioning drill. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/ 8. ISO: 200)

These were young, strong, healthy and fit men to begin with, yet at the end of the drill most of the Pacific players were either laying on the ground in agony or leaning against a fence, gasping for air. One even lost his lunch on the carefully manicured grass. Many had a few choice, unsuitable-for-print words for Dorin and his drill. “I never want to do that again” rasped player Joey Frantz.


University of the Pacific assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcus Dorin, left, urges on men’s water polo team member Jeff Hoornaert to pull a 70-lb sled across the grass during a conditioning drill at the university’s Knoles Lawn in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 16. ISO: 200)

An advantage of being middle aged is that no one expects you to compete physically with younger guys. Sure, there are those of the older set who can keep up or even beat those who are younger, but when they do it’s news. Think about the news swimmer Dara Torres made when she won three silver medals while competing in her fifth Summer Olympic games at age 41 in Beijing in 2008.

Dorin offered me a try at his course of torture. I was winded from just watching the athletes. They all understood when I respectfully declined and didn’t press the issue. Then I made a quick exit before anyone changed their minds.

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April in review

“I shine in tears like the sun in April” -Cyril Tourneur

The story of Sandra Cantu, who was kidnapped and later found dead, dominated the news in April. Thousands of mourners attended a memorial to say goodbye to the 8-year-old at West High School in Tracy. Here are those pictures and some other favorites to total ten from the month.

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4/2/09:


Preschoolers Dave Bosch, brother Ethan Bosch and Angel Escovido play with blocks at the First 5 preschool program at Great Valley School in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 2.8. ISO: 400)

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4/7/09:


Delta College’s Jared  Schlehuber throws a pitch to Taft College’s Jeramy Burleson during a baseball game at Delta’s Nick Cecchetti Baseball Field in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)

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4/9/09:


3-year-old Gabriel Turnbeaugh won a starring role in a series of TV commercials by singing a jingle that his mother Kristan Turnbeaugh wrote for a Clark Pest Control commercial contest. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 2.8. ISO: 500)

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4/10/09:


Jose Renteria , with the Bethel Island-based Wingard Engineering replaces a traffic signal light with an LED one on 11th Street and Chrisman Road in Tracy. Renteria was a part of a crew installing the more efficient lights on traffic signals through out the county. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/ 16. ISO: 200)

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4/16/09:

Thousands of people line up to attend the public memorial for Sandra Cantu in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)


Cindee Lanning of Tracy kisses daughters Camryn, 8, left, and Cortney, 11, whle attending the public memorial for Sandra Cantu in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 135mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)


Isabel Pinon of Manteca holds back her tears while attending the public memorial for Sandra Cantu in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)


Denise Miller and Nicholas Cardoza of Tracy close their eyes during a moment of silence while attending the public memorial for Sandra Cantu in Tracy. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

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4/20/09:

Jarrett Wahl with the Lodi-based Rolling Stages, works to erect a platform for the hole-in-one contest at the upcoming Asparagus Festival at Weber Point in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/16 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200)

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4/29/09:


Breanne Roque,17, holds a rabbit in the Bret Harte Union High School’s ag program in Angels Camp. (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/ 2.8. ISO: 640)

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Civics 101

Last month Record reporter Roger Phillips and I covered about 400 students, educators and parents from Tracy who took a trip to the State Capitol to present concerns over budget cuts and staff layoffs to area legislators. Well, not all 400. While the bulk of the group toured the Capitol, three delegations of about 10 to 15 members each, were picked to visit Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis and state Rep. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston.

We followed the group who had an appointment with Garamendi. It seemed that he was expecting just another school group visiting his office, basically a photo op with some constituents. He started off with some good natured jokes and even let one of the younger students sit in the chair behind his desk.



You would expect a group of students to be shy and a bit tongue-tied in the presence of authority. Not these kids. After several polite minutes, the students began to ask questions. They were hard questions, not some namby-pamby one like “what’s it like to be lieutenant governor?” They asked about the budget, teacher layoffs and program cutbacks. They talked about taxes, some advocated raising them, others argued for tax cuts. It probably didn’t help matters that Roger and I were there chronicling it all.



To Garamendi’s credit, he answered all of the students’ queries. Although it was obvious that he was well versed on the issues and he answered the students without skipping a beat, it didn’t seem like he was quite expecting the type of barrage that the students gave him. In the end Garamendi thanked the students for coming and shook their hands.


Institute for Global Commerce & Government student Jesse Durney, 18, shakes hands with Lt. Governor John Garamendi at the State Capitol in Sacramento. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 18mm. Exsposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

Last week Garamendi announced that he wouldn’t run for governor in the next election, but instead said that he would be seeking a U.S. Congressional seat, effectively taking him out of the state (if elected) for at least part of the year. I wonder it the Tracy students had anything to do with his decision

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Pictures, brick by brick


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 105mm macro. Exposure: 250th sec. @ f/22 w/ Dyna-Lite strobes. ISO: 100)

British photographer Mike Stimpson, aka Balakov, is a fan of classic photographs. He’s also nuts about Legos. He’s combined his love of photography and a passion for the plastic building blocks and made a series of re-creations of famous pictures, only using Legos minifigures. Classics from Robert Capa to W. Eugene Smith, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Yosuf Karsh and others, Stimpson has remade their signature photos in exacting detail (well, as exact as you can get with Legos).  As a photographer you find inspiration from the greats but try not to copy them. Stimpson has found a way to do both.

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Let’s get small

The art of macro photography is the art of seeing the unseen. It is the visual exploration of a world on a scale so small that most of us pass by it daily. You can find exotic, almost alien landscapes and subjects that can be no farther away than your backyard of even your pocket. A blade of grass becomes a verdant jungle, a lowly coin turns into a bronze sculpture and simple rain drops on a car window become tiny lenses, reflecting the world around them.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 26mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/22. ISO: 400)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 105mm macro. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/22. ISO: 400)

A couple of weeks ago when I pulled into a parking lot at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, it was lightly sprinkling. Behind me was Burns Tower, one of the city’s iconic features. I waited 5 to 10 minutes for the rain drops to bead up on the rear window of the company car and used a 105mm macro lens to capture them photographically. Each drop projected an image of the tower, distorted due to the irregular shapes of the drops.  Here are some tips to on shooting close-ups:


A close-up of the back of a dollar coin. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm-reversed. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/22 w/ Dyna-Lite strobes. ISO: 400)

1. Use a macro lens. As lenses go, they’re relatively inexpensive, ranging from $200 to $300. Typically the focal length will be from 50mm to 100mm and give a 1:2 or 1:1 reproduction. Try to stay away from lenses that call themselves macro, but only give 1:4 reproduction or less. To me, that’s just not close enough. That means what ever you’re shooting will be the same size or 1/2 the size on the sensor (or film, if you’re so inclined), as it is in reality. There are other less expensive means of shooting close-ups. You can buy close-up filters that screw into the front of your camera lens. They’re cheap and easy to use, but you’ll lose a lot of sharpness. There’s also the old trick of turning the lens around (usually a 50mm) so that the front is pressed against the camera body. You’ll have to hold the lens in one hand while shooting with the other (In the old days, you used to get a “reversing ring” made that would hold the lens in place, perhaps they’re still manufactured or can be found on ebay). You’ll also lose the ability to autofocus, accurately control the lens’ aperture and again, there’s a loss of sharpness. Hardcore macro shooters invest in extension tubes and bellows to get even closer, but for most people they’re an unnecessary expense.


Rain drops cling to blossoms on a western redbud tree in front of the Faye Spanos Concert Hall University of Pacific in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 105mm macro. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400)

2. When magnifying tiny subjects, any movement of the camera is also increased. That can lead to blurred pictures. I’ve had my own heartbeat cause the camera to vibrate almost imperceptibly, but enough to show up in the picture when using slow enough shutter speeds at close-up magnifications. If you can, use a fast shutter speed or a tripod (or both) to eliminate camera shake.


Rain drops cling to a blade of grass on Knoles Lawn on the campus of University of Pacific in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 105mm macro. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400)

3. At close distances, the depth of field, the range from front to back that is in focus, becomes very shallow. Use the smallest aperture (given as the highest f/ number) as you can. It can be difficult to do, especially when using a high shutter speed to stop camera movement. You may have to bump up the camera’s ISO (light sensitivity) or if you can, move your subject to where there is more light.


Rain drops rest on a leaf at the University of Pacific in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 105mm macro. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400)

4. Turn off the autofocus. I’ve found that the camera will “hunt” back and forth when trying to focus in the macro range. What I usually do is to rack the lens to its minimum focus point (the closest distance that you can focus the lens) and move the entire camera in and out until what I want to be in focus is sharp.

5. Find an area that’s protected by the wind. Because of the narrow depth of field, the slightest breeze can throw your subject out of focus. You also have to be careful not to breathe too heavily lest your own breath does the same thing. Shooting where the wind is blocked or better yet, where there is no wind at all, can eliminate that.

So go out or even stay in to start looking for pictures that may be small in size but big on imagination.

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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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