$n$ Slug has lesson to teach for vineyard photographers

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A slug's single-minded focus can be helpful to keep in mind for a photographer heading into a dynamic environment for shooting.

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Workers make their way along a row of grapes at Va Piano Vineyards.

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Va Piano Vineyard Manager Alejandro Peña dumps merlot grapes into a bin during a recent day of harvesting.

With harvest in the Valley now in full production I knew the vineyard photography students were anxious to get going and start taking pictures, but tonight I wanted to them to pause and anticipate the images they would be taking.

At first this may seem like a simple task for students who have mastered their camera basics but when they enter a fast-paced, moving environment I have found confusion can develop quickly.

So I asked the class to sit back and reflect with me for a few minutes on the image on the classroom screen of a slug.

I shared with the class an experience I had a couple of days before while I was walking down a sidewalk near a local vineyard. I noticed a large slug crossing in front of me and heading toward some dead vineyard leaves. The color and movement of the slug intrigued me so much that I went back to the car and retrieved my camera.

Realizing that the scale of the slug would be hard to explain on a screen I quickly ran into the vineyard and plucked a Malbec Grape (about the size of a dime) and placed it about an inch in front of the slug on the sidewalk.

"What happened next was amazing!" I told the class. "The slug had choices to make as it could have gone either around the grape, to the right or left, but instead it stayed on course and traversed over the top of the grape and into the vineyard for its dinner."

The reason I shared this image with the class was to get them focused, just like the slug, on their task ahead.

As the students approached the vineyard rows it would be important to quickly size up the scene because, like the slug that only had one object in front of it, the students would have several choices to make with many moving objects.

The first decision would be to be sure they had a telephoto lens in the 18-200mm range to capture the close-up pictures from a distance, as the whole scene would be continually moving in the rows.

Checking the sun angle would be critical and should determine whether the students would be in front or behind the team of workers.

They might also want to be in the opposite row to catch the sunlight on the workers hands reaching through the vines to cut the clusters.

Changing rows with tripod and camera gear in a mature vineyard at harvest may involve walking several hundred yards as the rows can be very long and necessitate walking all the way around to the opposite row.

The challenge for tonight's field trip for the students would be to capture the harvest with deliberate focus and with available light to include the following scenes:

A distant scene of a row being harvested with the tractor and crew working.

The workers' hands cutting grapes from the vine.

Facial expressions of workers

A macro close-up of the grapes in a bin

A blurring motion of the grapes being cut achieved by slowing down the shutter speed

The intensity of the harvest moment, which may be a glance from one worker to another

Checking the backs of the students digital cameras in the field I felt good that students understood the assignment and would be able to utilize the slug concept on many photo shoots in their emerging careers.

Don Fleming can be reached at don512@me.com and some of his global photography is currently on display for the month of October at Chateau Rollat Winery in downtown Walla Walla.

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