Students full of questions on first vineyard shoot


After spending two lectures focusing on the students' digital cameras, the Walla Walla Community College vineyard photography class was about to embark on its first photo shoot.

We departed the Center for Enology and Viticulture parking lot and headed for the College Vineyard at the airport only five minutes away. The class was excited to start taking pictures and practicing newly learned digital settings.

Upon arrival I gathered the class together and we went through the camera checklist together: We reformatted the camera compact flash cards (erased the cards) to prepare for the new photo shoot; We made sure we had at least a 2GB card and one extra card; We had recharged the batteries and had at least one extra; if the digital camera had a lens with an image stabilizer or vibration reduction switch we checked to see that it was turned on as we would not be using a tripods this evening.

Before we started walking down through one of the malbec rows, one of the students asked about the very green leaves of the plants. I mentioned that there were many varietals of plants in the College Vineyard, and consequently the students should take note, and photograph, the leaves of each varietal as they have different structures and vein patterns.

This time of year the plants are heavily laden with fruit so I encouraged the students to be sure to take pictures of the clusters of grapes. As they huddled around the plants I showed them a small hand sprayer I had filled with water and then carefully sprayed a mist on the grapes so they would glisten in the sunlit evening -- this is a simple technique used when photographing fruit.

The students seemed to be enjoying the venture as they spread out with their cameras along the 600-foot rows. Some were capturing the multiple clusters of grapes and others were using their macro settings to isolate a single dark red grape.

As we rounded the corner to walk through a cabernet sauvignon row, I encouraged the class to be sure and take a picture of the signs that denoted the variety of grapes we were walking through. After shooting more than eight different varietals for two hours, it would be difficult to try to distinguish between the types of grapes when they uploaded their pictures.

We were still about 20 minutes until sunset so we kept our ISO at 200 and shutter speed at 1/125 with the f stop between 11 and 16 for good depth of field to bring the grapes up sharp and separate them from the tan bark of the mature plant.

The students are always intrigued as they walk through the vineyards and inevitably are curious about their surroundings. Still pressing the shutter button on her camera a student asked; "How much fruit is on one of these vines?" I said, "most plants can produce anywhere from seven to 10 pounds of fruit, and depending on the winemaker the plants may be thinned to four pounds before harvest."

"So how many bottles might one plant produce?" the student asked next. I said, "at least one and most likely two."

Since the student had already photographed the 60 gallon barrels at the College Cave the next question was predictable. "How many bottles can you get from one barrel?" the student asked. "About 300, or 25 cases," I said.

As the questions kept coming and we were now walking in the Merlot Block, the sun was just beginning to touch the horizon. The class spread out in the vineyard to quickly catch the golden glow of the fruit and leaves. The class realized that they only had about five minutes to adjust their camera ISO, white balance settings, and shutter speed, as nightfall would be only minutes away.

This evening the students had their first walk in a vineyard which would set the stage for some very dramatic Walla Walla vineyards they would be visiting in the coming weeks.

Don Fleming can be reached at


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