Winery's massive scale a new challenge for students

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As the vineyard photography class students assembled at the Institute for Enology & Viticulture parking lot, little did they know the photographic surprise they were in for tonight.

After visiting some small and medium-size Walla Walla vineyards the class was about to be overwhelmed by the sheer size and magnitude of Waterbrook Winery, one of the newest wineries in Walla Walla, which opened for production in September 2009.

As we approached the 75-acre Waterbrook site off of U.S. Highway 12 the immensity of the 55,000-square-foot production building, and the massive 30,000-gallon wine holding tanks loomed in front of us as we parked.

The students could not wait to get out of the car as they gathered up their camera gear, which for tonight's photo shoot included a tripod, extra batteries and flash cards, and external flash units.

As we entered the production facility, John Freeman, the winemaker and manager of the facility, was there to welcome us. John gave the class a quick overview of the state-of-the-art complex to whet the students' appetite, which would include photographing over 7,000 barrels, 60 tanks, a bottling line which will fill 100 bottles a minute and a state-of-the-art crush machine.

I knew right away that one of the challenges for me for the evening was going to be how to capture all the elements of this 75-acre complex the class in 11/2 hours.

The first assignment for the class would be to catch the rapidly approaching sunset with their cameras. We quickly walked along the newly landscaped trails around the tranquil manmade lake as the photographic vistas opened up on this warm clear evening.

One of the students said, "Look over there at the moon." At this point I was proud of the class because one of the principles I teach the students is to always look behind your primary focus scene. As the sun was setting over the large production facility behind us was a panoramic view of an old red tractor in an empty field with the Blue Mountains warmed by the setting sun and a full moon overhead.

After taking a number of outdoor tranquil scenes around the lake the class wanted to photograph the tall 30,000-gallon stainless steel wine holding tanks. So we reset our ISO to 400 and adjusted our cameras to try to get at least a shutter speed of 1/125 to shoot between the tanks and capture a wonderful side view of the tanks with a full moon.

As we walked inside the production facility the 60-plus stainless steel tanks glistening in fluorescent lighting gave the students a real challenge. Setting the white balance on their cameras to fluorescent the true colors were reflected on their LCD screens.

Suddenly one of the students who had walked ahead of us and was now looking at the concrete floor said, "Look at the reflections of the tanks on the floor!" Sure enough, the crew had just washed down some of the tanks and the water reflections on the floor gave the illusion of twice as many tanks.

"Can we see the barrel room now?" one of the students asked. The students were now familiar with barrel rooms, but they had not seen over 6,000 wine barrels in one room stacked six high. The sheer scale of this sight would require a wide-angle lens like a 12-24mm.

As the students managed to get photographs of the columns of new and old, wine-stained barrels I found myself watching the clock and time was running short, as we still needed to capture the bottles in the bottling line.

Gathering up the students on a photo shoot like this one is a challenge for the instructor as there are so many photographic opportunities.

As we moved out of the barrel rooms we then entered a large open complex which housed the bottling line where wine bottles were being filled, corked, labeled and boxed. The highly automated speed of the bottling line provided challenges for the class as they moved their ISO to 800 and made sure their flash unites were turned on to capture the speed of the bottles whirring past them.

The class had a big surprise at what they saw this evening at the Waterbrook Production Winery, and now had many prized new digital photographs to show for their efforts.

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