On this warm Walla Walla summer evening I thought I would ask the first question in the vineyard photography class, "How many students have home gardens?"
Three of the students raised their hands and one said he also raised herbs.
Since very few hands were raised I thought tonight would be a good time to focus the students digital cameras on the shapes, color and smells of the vegetable and herb garden at Walla Walla Community College.
Having been a student at the Enology and Viticulture school I was aware that many local vineyards also have summer vegetable gardens and frequently share the fruits with their employees.
A short walk from the classroom is a colorful vegetable garden and for tonight's class I thought I would challenge the students to photograph the emerging vegetable buds and numerous herb plants.
Before the class began taking pictures I gathered them together and I asked them to look closely at the herb plants. Reaching down I squeezed a pineapple sage leaf with my thumb and forefinger and asked them to do the same. They were amazed at the detailed vein structure of the leaf and sweet, pungent aroma of pineapple.
Next we pinched and smelled a variety of herbs including hot and spicy oregano, rosemary, sage, basil and lemon thyme, and then looked at the budding tomato plants already heavily laden with fruit. I explained to the students that all the plants in this college garden would be used in the culinary classes.
Suddenly the class was immersed in examining and smelling the herbs and I had to remind them that they should unpack their camera gear and tripods to photograph the plants.
This would be a unique evening for the students as we added the very special element of smell to their photography vocabulary. Later in the summer we would be adding the element of taste when we sampled the various varietals of grapes in the vineyard.
I explained to the students that each garden plant has a unique leaf and vein structure, much like grape varietals, which should be photographed in macro detail.
At this point I asked the students to set their cameras to the following settings for garden photography; first reformat the compact flash or SD card for the new photo shoot; lower the tripod to the level of the flowers or leaf; set the ISO to 200 provided the sun is shining on the plant; set the white balance to the sun setting or for a warmer picture try the cloudy setting; set the image quality setting to RAW if the image is going to be edited in Photoshop or JPEG Fine if the image will only need minor editing adjustments; set the point and shoot lens setting to macro and the DSLR camera lens a macro 60mm or use a 70-200mm lens; the aperture should be set to 5.6; and turn off the flash unless the plant is in the shade.
Now with the camera controls set up the students were ready to capture the garden moment.
As the students examined the shape, color and leaf structure of each garden plant I heard the shutter release being pressed over and over. I did notice that the students could not resist a little squeeze of the herb leafs as they moved from plant to plant.
Now each time the students project their garden digital pictures on their monitors they not only can name the plant but also can imagine the distinct aroma of each plant.
Don Fleming will begin teaching the next vineyard photography class at Walla Walla Community College starting Aug. 18 for 10 weeks. This class is limited to 15 students to provide individual instruction while on field trips. Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; he is also on Facebook and Twitter.