The vineyard photography class at Walla Walla Community College had already been on three field trips to local vineyards and tonight I was eager to have the students explore a passion of mine, the world of macro (close-up) photography.
The exercise for tonight's two-hour class would be for the 15 students to take their digital cameras and pretend "they were a ladybug exploring a vineyard garden." This objective would be to test the creativity and imagination of the students on how well they would approach the subject, crop their images in camera and focus on the very heart of the flowers.
The lighting at 5:30 p.m. in the college vineyard garden was perfect as the sun was setting slowly casting a wonderful soft glow on the new buds and flowers.
During the past week the students' homework assignment had been to Google "ladybug" and become familiar with the beetle's characteristics. Some of the students in the class who are enrolled in the Enology and Viticulture Program were already very familiar with the need for ladybugs to rid vineyards of pests such as aphids.
Ladybugs are born black and have a voracious appetite for plant-eating insects. As ladybugs mature, in three to six weeks, they become spotted and change colors, which can make them unappealing to predators.
One of the students shared a brief story with her classmates about her research on about a ladybug that she thought was dead on a vineyard vine.
"I picked up the ladybug with my fingers and suddenly it smelled awful, because when a ladybug feels threatened it secretes a fluid from joints in their legs which creates the sour smell," she said.
The second class objective for the evening would be to take an imaginary flight from the budding new vineyard vines into the surrounding flowering gardens all the while using the macro lens setting on their digital cameras.
At this point I asked the class if anyone could remember the movie, "Alice In Wonderland" and the scenes of flying through the mystical gardens as the leaves slowly parted open and new multiflowering vistas appeared in the far distance?
I could tell by the look on several of the student's faces that they were still not sure of how to approach this assignment. I was deliberately not specific so the class would have to use their imagination and camera knowledge to accomplish the task.
So I asked the students to flatten out their tripods to ground level and look through the camera lens. Suddenly a tranquil patch of flowers in the vineyard looked like a miniature forest at ground level through the macro lens.
When photographing with a macro lens a tripod is a must and a remote cable release can be a plus. A beanbag also can work to steady the camera while photographing small objects.
The sun was now casting warm shadows on the flowers and the wind was calm so the students could enter the heart of the of vineyard buds and surrounding flowers for the extreme closeup of the world of the ladybug.
Since the students had good light from the sun they did not need to use their fill flashes. They did set their ISO to 200 and set their aperture settings between F8 and F11 to get the flowers in focus and to blur the background.
This assignment proved to be a creative adventure for the students as it stimulated their imaginations and tested their abilities with a new lens setting to see into a macro world that really is as close as their backyard garden.
Don Fleming can be reached at email@example.com; he is also on Facebook and Twitter.