Opportunites ripen for vineyard shutterbugs

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It was 5:30 p.m. and the start of the vineyard photography class at Walla Walla Community College. I flipped the switch near the lectern and the 8-foot screen slowly lowered into position in front of the class. Almost on cue one of the students walked over and dimmed the class lights and the first slide appeared entitled "Veraison."

The students in this class range from beginner to professionals but they have never been in a vineyard so their initial reaction to this topic was perplexed. One of the students, who had a quizzical look on her face said she had a Verizon cell phone with a camera and is that what I meant?

I explained that in the vineyard world this is the time of year that the winemakers and vineyard managers carefully watch the grape clusters as they have begun to change colors, and this is known as veraison, which signals the beginning of the ripening process.

The next slide in the PowerPoint showed a cluster of cabernet sauvignon grapes changing color from dark green to light green and some grapes changing from cinnamon to deep purple. For the photographer this is a wonderful time to photograph the changing of the colors of the grapes.

The third slide on the screen illustrated the night's assignment in the college vineyard. I explained that in the vineyard the students should be looking to accomplish the following five tasks:

1. Take a vertical wide angle photo to show the vineyard and between the rows of vines with the hanging fruit at the bottom.

2. Photograph some grape clusters, requiring the students to kneel down to the level of the grapes to avoid distortion.

3. Frame a single cluster about half way through the veraison process and leave spacing at the top and bottom for the potential of a vignette in the editing process.

4. Take a macro (close-up) of a single grape in the cluster to show the texture of the skin of a green and a purple grape.

5. Practice using a reflector to bounce up the sunlight to illuminate the clusters of grapes, hidden by leaves, without a flash.

Now most of the students had never used or heard of a reflector so I pulled one out my camera bag and showed them how it works. My 32-inch, 5-in-1 lightweight collapsible disc reflector (folds up into a 9-inch pouch) offers a variety of light reflections ranging from translucent, white, black, silver and gold, and sells for around $30.

I could see from the students' faces they were anxious to get into the vineyard and work on the assignment so once again I asked one of the students to refresh our memories of what we would need for the evening field trip.

One eager student raised his hand and began reciting that he had a fully charged battery and a spare one; a compact flash card that had been reformatted; the ISO should be set to the lowest setting 100 ISO, and then he stopped to ask the following questions:

"I have a telephoto and macro lens so do we need both?" I answered "yes" as I use an 18-200mm and a 60mm lens.

"What about the white balance setting?" I answered since the sun is directly shining on the vineyard I would try the cloudy setting to get a slightly warmer picture than the sun setting.

I also reminded the class that for this type of photography, which uses wide angle and macro, a tripod is a must for the perfectly clear picture. I then held up the tripod I use, a Manfrotto 804RC2, which will elevate to 6 feet and lower completely to the ground with the flick of the tabs on the legs.

So with checklists accomplished and camera bags in hand the students ventured into the college vineyard. This assignment would help the students unleash their creativity in the vineyard and be rewarded with some prized photographs.

Don Fleming can be reached at don512@me.com. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.

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