Grapes of inspiration

Photographic inspiration can happen anywhere, you just need to keep your mind open for the possibilities and be ready for the opportunities.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)

I was washing some grapes in my kitchen sink before eating them when I noticed the morning light streaming through the blinds of the kitchen window. A strip of the sunlight landed gently on the grapes, turing them a translucent purple, while the ones untouched by the light remained a deep burgundy in the shade. It was something one might see any day of the week, but to me it was glorious in its simple charm and visual allure. That’s my aesthetic viewpoint. To find beauty and interest in the commonplace.

It’s also the bread and butter of newspapers.  We cover the occasional big story from time to time, but for the most part, the stories that we do are about everyday people doing everyday things.

A lily grows at the Boggs Tract Community Center in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/2000th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 125).

When something comes along to draw your interest, sometimes you can’t pass it up. Occasionally there have been times when I’ve been on assignment where I’ll have some time on my hands. While I’m waiting, something will catch my eye, and I’ll take of a picture of it, perhaps a flower that’s growing at a community center, or birds flying low over the deep water channel or a bee searching for nectar in a nearby blossom. It may seem odd to the casual observer to see me photographing something totally unrelated to the reason I’m there.

A honey bee searches for nectar in blossoms on a almond tree along the Calaveras River near pacific Avenue in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200).

As a working photographer, I often have to take pictures when conditions aren’t the best. The light might be all wrong, the background could be cluttered, there might not enough room to shoot, or the subject could be too far away. Often there isn’t the luxury of waiting for the right conditions or even coming back later. You bring all your creativity and experience to what you’re doing to try to make the best image possible, to be sure. You look for the best angles, think about composition, try to modify the light if possible, and try to capture the right moment. But deadlines being what they are, sometimes you just have to do your best with what you’ve got.

A flock of Cormorants fly over the deep water channel in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200).

There wasn’t a story that went with the grapes. Besides liking the light and color, I didn’t have a reason to shoot the them, and it would have been easy just to pass them up, photographically speaking. But, still, the light was beautiful, so I quickly dried my hands, got my camera and took several shots just because I was inspired to.

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Fire sale

Great California Garage Sale is a part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to fill the gaping hole in the state budget. Surplus items as well as items seized by the CHP were put on sale in the Department of General Services Surplus Property Warehouse in Sacramento. Everything from office furniture to automobiles, from computers to coat racks, could be bought for pennies on the dollar. I checked out the department’s Website and saw there was also camera equipment listed. Although the Web site didn’t say specifically what was for sale, I thought it might be worth taking a look see.

People line up to get into the Department of General Services Surplus Property Warehouse looking for a bargain at the annual Great California Garage Sale in Sacramento (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200).

The sale was from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, but I heard radio reports of people planning to start lining up at 4 a.m.. Not being a morning person, I wasn’t about wake up that early, big bargains or not.

Thousands of people line National Drive in Sacramento to get into the Department of General Services Surplus Property Warehouse looking for a bargain at the annual Great California Garage Sale (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

I arrived around 9:00 a.m. and parking, in lots several blocks away from the site, was hard to find. After about 15 to 20 minutes of searching, I found a spot. As I walked toward the warehouse, I noticed people coming toward me, heading away from the sale. At first I thought these were people who had already been to the sale and were done with their bargain hunting. Then I realized that there were all empty-handed. When I got to the building I found out why. They were obviously discouraged by the long line of people waiting to get in and decided just to leave without even going in. The line filed down National Drive, which was closed to through traffic, father than I could see. I estimated it was 1/4 to a 1/2 mile long.

Thousands of people line National Drive in Sacramento to get into the Department of General Services Surplus Property Warehouse looking for a bargain at the annual Great California Garage Sale (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

I talked to a woman about 50 yards from the front of the line which was moving slowly, but at least it was moving. She said that she had gotten there at 8 a.m. and that it took her more than an hour to get to where she was.

Tony Bofolwer of Fair Oaks and his mother Mary Bowfolwer push office chairs they bought at the annual Great California Garage Sale in Sacramento (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200).

With the help of some family members, Tony Bofolwer of Fair Oaks pushed out office chairs he bought at the sale. He said that they arrived at 6 a.m. and the line was already about 100 yards long. He said by the time he left, the pickings at the garage sale were slim.

I had to come to work today and didn’t have a lot of time to spend so ended up like those first people I saw walking away, and I just turned around and came home.

I don’t know if much will be left, but If you’re an intrepid bargain hunter, the sale continues tomorrow (7 a.m. to noon at 1700 National Drive, Sacramento).  Just make sure to get there early.

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Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up

I wrote about how I offered to take tourists’ group photos so that no one would be left out of the picture. Here’s on instance where I would have ruined a great and funny shot.

Melissa and Jackson Brandts of Minnesota, were hiking in Canada’s Banff National Park in May when they stopped to take a photo of themselves by Lake Minnewanka. They put the camera on a tripod and used a remote to trip the shutter. A curious little squirrel popped up to look at the camera as the shutter clicked. The couple submitted it to National Geographic’s Your Shot feature, and from there the photo went viral.

The couple have been interviewed on national TV. Joby, which makes the Gorrillapod, the compact tripod used by the Brandts, features the shot on its Web site. The Banff Lake Louise Tourism site uses a cutout of the little critter. People around the internet have “borrowed” the rodent and have incorporated him into many other scenes via Photoshop. The places he’s been have been limited only by people’s imaginations.

Had I been there and stepped in, the Brandts and the unnamed squirrel might never have found their fame and fortune.

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Catch of the day


University of the Pacific students pick up trash during a clean-up of the Calaveras River in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens Nikkor 70-200mm @ 120mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

The University of the Pacific has a cool program called MOVE (Mountains, Oceans, Valley Experience). Incoming freshmen (more than 900 this year) participate in a weekend of community service in locations from the Bay Area to Stockton to Yosemite. The group I followed worked to clean up the banks of the Calaveras River through Stockton.


University of the Pacific Student Evan Zayas picks up trash during a clean up of the Calaveras River in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

They collected everything from plastic barrels and shopping carts to a large tattered Verizon Wireless banner. Student Evan Zayas of Mission Viejo found a rather large sex toy among the wild grasses and blackberry vines and beckoned friends to come take a look in his trash bag for a laugh.

UOP Student Evan Zayas shows off an old shoe he found while cleaning up the banks of the Calaveras River in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200).

I didn’t take a shot — I work for a G-rated paper after all. Later he found a discarded shoe. It wasn’t as interesting as his first find, but at least I could take a picture of it.

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Take this job and…


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO:800)

I know how bad the economy is. With cutbacks and layoffs newspaper staffs all over are smaller than ever and we’re all working harder with less. They way things are, getting out of the business in one way or another has crossed the minds of most news people at some point, but I saw this guy in a hotdog suit during Raider Nation day at the Stockton Ports game against the Inland Empire 66ers, and I was glad of the job that I have.

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Water, water everywhere…


New York Athletic Club’s Emily Feher blocks a shot during the USA Water Polo Women’s Open Championship game against Stanford Red at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).

In July, I shot the USA Water Polo Women’s National Championship game between the Stanford Red team and the New York Athletic Club at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton. It was hot that day, in the 90s. In the shade it wasn’t too bad, but in the open, the sun felt like it was blazing.


Stanford Red’s Cassandra Churnside, right, guards New York Athletic Club’s Marina Mayer (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).

I tried staying under the officials tent, but I couldn’t get a decent photo from there. I had to get poolside to get a clear shot. As I photographed the players battling in the water, all I could think about was how cool it must be in the pool.


Stanford Red’s Melissa Seidemann, left, right, is guarded by New York Athletic Club’s Adele MacCarthy-Beauvais  (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).

I thought: “throw the ball my way. Let it hit the water and splash me.” I could feel the sweat trickle down my back, and I was at the very edge of the pool, the toe of my shoe just inches away from the water. I wondered if anyone would notice if I jumped in. A single step and the heat would be gone from my body.


Stanford Red’s Melissa Seidemann, right, throws the ball over New York Athletic Club’s Michelle Stein (Camera: Nikon D300.Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).

There it was, a great big pool of refreshing water and the urge to take a dip was in the back of my mind. I resisted it, of course, but I was close to flipping the mental self-control switch that kept me from going in.

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Pushing daisies


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/22. ISO: 200)

I was sent out to cover the closure of the Black Angus Steakhouse in Stockton. A victim of the poor economy, the restaurant served its last meal on July 27 after 32 years of operation. As business was already closed, the assignment was just to get an exterior of the building, a mugshot of the place as it were.

Looking for something more, I saw landscaping planters filled with yellow flowers lining the area between the parking lot and the sidewalk, about 30 yards from the restaurant. Using a forced perspective technique (placing elements of the foreground close to the lens), I used “pushing daisies” as a metaphor for the death of the restaurant.

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One is the loneliest number


A infant’s shoe lies in the street on Buena Vista Avenue near Willow Street in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200).

In some ways shoes can be like old, trusted friends. The support and protect us as we walk through our lives. Some shoes are worn for fashion, making us look good and in turn raising our self-esteem. Others are worn for comfort. A bad set can leave us cranky and hobbled. A good pair can make us feel good and stand a little taller. Seeing one abandoned at the side of the road, missing its partner and its owner, it’s a little sad.


A lone sneaker near the home bleachers at Lincoln High School’s Spanos Stadium in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 31mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 200)

What’s intriguing about seeing a lone shoe is the mystery behind it, the untold story behind each piece of footwear. Who lost it, how did it happen and why? For the most part, it’s impossible to track down the owner, so it’s left up to one’s imagination to fill in the details. Did the shoe outlive its usefulness, left for a newer model, unloved and unwanted? Perhaps one was lost during a wild escape, falling off Cinderella-style, the owner having no time to go back to retrieve it. Maybe it was thrown in anger by a jilted lover or jealous sibling.


A black sneaker found on California Street near Worth Street in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

In looking for pictures, I do a lot of driving through Stockton and San Joaquin County. Although I can’t always stop because of time or safety concerns, I often come across loafers, sneakers, boots, sandals and more, nearly all partnerless.  When I see one, I feel compelled to shoot it, perhaps so that it doesn’t leave this existence without some sort of recognition.

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Picture this


(Camera:
Canon 20D. Lens. Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.5. ISO:
400)


I took this shot while on my family’s trip to the coast. It’s a
close up of an astramaris blossom. Did I shoot it on a sandy beach
growing among the ice plants and coyote brush? Was it in a grove
eucalyptus trees near a monarch butterfly sanctuary?  Perhaps
it was near a tide pool with thunderous waves crashing not too far off.


(Camera:
Canon 20D. Lens. Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.5. ISO:
400)

None of the above. It was sitting in a vase as a small centerpiece
on our table as we ate lunch at the Monterey Cookhouse in Monterey. The
food was decent as was the service especially for a restaurant that had
only been open for 11 days.

I liked the pretty colors of the flower and
the nice soft light falling on it. It’s proof that almost anywhere you
go, there’s a picture to be found.

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Unofficial photographer of the not-so famous


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 20mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec.@ f/8. ISO: 200)

Whenever I’m on a trip I always see other tourist taking pictures of their loved ones in front of different landmarks. I understand the desire to record their travels, wanting to preserve their memories in pictures. Everyone has a need to remember happy times spent together.

The problem is that whoever is taking the picture is always left out of it. It’s either mom or dad that’s omitted during summer vacation photos, the husband or wife of a newlywed pair on their honeymoon. Maybe it’s friends traveling cross-country in adventure before college. Sometimes they have to double their efforts, taking a second photo with the picture-taker exchanging places with someone in the first shot. Whatever it is, someone has to take the picture.

Whenever I see this happening, I always try to offer to take the photo for them. I’ve never been turned down and the offer is always graciously accepted (although I do find it amusing when they tell me which button to press on their camera).

So the next time you see a family taking a group photo with someone left out or struggling with their camera’s self-timer step in and offer to help preserve a memory for all of them to cherish.

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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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