Photographing Grapes

Controlling Lighting

Probably the worst problem with vineyard photographs is that they are taken on sunny days. Direct sunlight creates deep shadows alongside brilliantly illuminated features. When the picture is intended to be 'illustrative', the resulting excessive contrast is disastrous. Overcast days are best, heavily cloudy days are useable. Partial clouds in motion create rapidly shifting lighting, from excellent to awful. Another desirable cure for the over- enthusiastic sun is to use the early morning or evening period. The low, oblique light is much softened, and flatters most subject matter (tho it can alter the appearant color, say of grapes in veraison..). A very low sun is conducive to taking some of the most attractive pictures. With the sun below the horizon, conditions resemble overcast, with a bluish tinting (filterable), and low illumination levels that require longer exposures.

Shades, Screens, & Reflectors

Often, photos must be taken when one has the opportunity. A hard sun can be tamed using shades, screens, and reflectors, and all can be improvised from common materials. Simply holding a hand up to shade a small object will often do nicely. Larger areas can be made more camera-friendly by holding up a sheet of cardboard for shade. If the cardboard is white, or painted, it will also serve as a reflector. Sunlight can be glanced or bounced back from a low-lying white relector surface, supplying illumination from below and greatly improving photo-conditions within a shaded environment. Screens work to impart a diffuse, glowing effect to the existing illumination, and are frequently the final touch that makes a winning picture. They can be delicate, expensive, fancy things, on the market, but work even better made out of junk. White plastic supermarket bags are perfect, and so is (multiple? slightly shady?) layers of slightly milky polyethylene - cheap 'clear' plastic.

It is no secret, that the bulk of the difference between professional photography and identifiably amateur efforts lies in the control of the lighting.

Both colored reflectors and screens are practical options. 'Brown-paper-bag', plain 'kraft-corrugated-paper', and 'enviro-brown' plastic bags at supermarkets have the same light-brown (reddish) color, and offer effects similar to the low sun, but at high illumination levels. You should know, digital camera image elements are intrinsically sensitive to the red/infra red end of the spectrum, and respond magnificently to these color-accents.

The Tripod

A tripod is awkward, slow, and resists placing the camera where it should be, when in tight quarters. The second reason for using a tripod is that you gradually get better with it, and even forget that it is there, like a crutch & plaster cast following a ski mishap. The first reason is that it will much increase the frequency with which really good images show up in your collection.

No Tripod

Don't let the lack of a tripod, or impossibility of setting one up, prevent the use of it's benefits. A 'monopod', just a stick, rod or staff, held in a common grip with the camera in front of oneself, damps most of the wiggling and twitching of a free-standing person. For small-objects in close-up mode, pose the object near the ground so you can lay down and prop/brace your elbows and wrists. Close-up mode should always be stabilized with a tripod, because there is an effective magnification, but unfortunately closeups are often too confined for the tripod and must be free-handed.

'Cheating' with Small Subjects

When photographing small objects such as flowers, bunches of grapes, or leaves, there is often a natural impulse to approach the object as it exists, in it's natural setting. But because the intent is often to fill the image with the object, the original setting or context is not visible or important in the final picture anyway. Better results can be had, by removing the object and 'posing' it in some more advantageous setting. Rather that contort oneself for a green flower cluster up inside a tangle of contrasty and occluding shoots & leaves, cut it off and hang it somewhere handy where the light is good and the background is at a blurrable distance and does not interfere. See:   A nice photograph - Don Tveter

Digital Cameras

Affordable digital cameras still lack the quality of traditional 35mm, and many folks have an existing investment in 35mm equipment. For the person considering a camera, or considering a change, the digital offers compensations for it's lower resolution. Dispensing with the rituals of film processing, and presenting the results promptly and without recurring expense is simply revolutionary. Digitals have a little display screen, rendering the perennial vexation of scene composition a process of intuitive discovery that is pleasurable and successful. Many people who have owned and used 35mm gear for a (long) lifetime, have 'picked up' a little digital and found their enjoyment of photography, and their satisfaction with the results, increase dramatically and rapidly.

Images for Computer Display

Though a computer screen is much larger than a 35mm slide, it's resolution is far less. Perfectly elementary point-and-click cameras are capable of delivery images that will be gorgeous on the screen. Furthermore, very high quality images in digital format require enormous files to store the image-information. A scanned high-quality 35mm image may require 20,000,000 bytes of storage, while an excellent version for the screen would take only 50,000. That's a 400 fold difference in storage size. And download time.


As mentioned earlier, the semiconductor imaging element of a digital camera responds stronger to the redder end of the spectrum. Commercial makers must include an infra-red reflector or filter, to prevent excessive IR exposure. 'Red-eye' when using a flash must be battled aggressively. This is an exploitable attribute of the technology. Photographers have always used the distinctive reddish light of the low sun to happy effect, but this game is strongly enhanced with digitals.

Glare-Sensitivity, and Overcast

The eye-brain system handles several problems of 'real images' (such as what forms on the retina), by applying image-processing 'in software', as we say today. Impaired scenes often seem ok, to our perception, when they are really damaged goods. One of the areas where this haunts the photographer is glare. We 'see through', or 'around' glare, but the camera records it. Worse, the "dynamic range" of a camera is less than the eye, and 'overloads' easily, 'blowing out' the scene. Digital cameras have even less dynamic range than film. When using an overcast day, the entire sky is a source of strong glare, and you may have glare-problems if the sky is in the background, especially when photographing from within shadey places. It may be necessary to exclude the sky. At the same time, overcast produces near-ideal, 'studio-grade' conditions for illustrative photography.

Macro & Zoom Included

Happily, even lessor digital cameras typically come with closeup or macro capability and an almost obligatory 3x optical zoom. Both improve what the camera can deliver & do. Matching the closeup ability of even very inexpensive digitals with 35mm is a serious challenge & expense. The advantage arises from the small real image necessary: the image element is relatively tiny, maybe 5-8mm, so the lenses can be proportionally smaller, and small lenses handle closer scenes easier. The macro capability is very valuable, for many of the images any horticulturist or grape breeder wants.