Posted on September 3, 2020
Here are my top 10 tips for vineyard photography that I have discovered while photographing vineyards this past year. Hope these tips will help you improve your vineyard photography.
Know the Seasons of the Vineyards
Knowing the growing seasons of the vineyards and the changes the grapevines will go through each year in the region where you live is important so you will know when the best times would be to photograph the vineyards. Here in Virginia Wine Country, the spring brings the bud break, and the Veraison (ripening of grapes) occurs around the late summer time period (August). The harvest season is usually late August through late October, depending on the variety of grape grown. Autumn brings the changes of color on the vine leaves, and in the winter season the vines are leafless.
As with any type of nature and wildlife photography, the preferable lighting is that of early morning or evening when the lighting is soft and even. These are the best times for vineyard photography. I especially like to arrive in time to take pictures of the sunrise or sunset over the vineyards and will shoot images for about an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset, unless I photograph on a cloudy day. Cloudy days are fantastic times for vineyard photography as you can take pictures basically any time of the day since the clouds will diffuse the brightness of the sun and will provide even lighting for your subjects. I especially like cloudy days at the vineyards for the dramatic clouds and skies and for the even light the clouds provide, which allows me to capture images during the day that I otherwise would not have gotten due to harsh sunlight. Having beautiful light at the start of the morning or the end of the day, even a cloudy day, will turn your ordinary image into an amazing image of the vineyard.
To further expand what I had mentioned about clouds under lighting conditions, cloudy days provide many unique opportunities to capture various cloud formations over the vineyards. I love the days when you get those beautiful puffy white clouds (cumulus clouds) which allow my vineyard photographs to have a more dramatic and dynamic feel. Also, cloudy days are very helpful with the even lighting they provide when photographing the grapes on the vines up close. Clouds in the sky also are great for sunrise or sunset photography as the clouds will bring a fierier look to the sky that makes your image look more colorful and more vibrant. Cloudy or partly cloudy days are much better days to photograph vineyards at sunrise, sunset or during the day as these days bring much more photographic potential to vineyard images with the different weather conditions than does photographing on a sunny day, which most people would assume would be the best type of day to photograph but where the harshness of the sun makes it more difficult to capture well exposed images.
I like to look for interesting focal points in the foreground especially while photographing sunrise and sunset images in the vineyards. This could be a wine barrel, tree, fence, etc. This will make the vineyard photographs stand out. Look for compelling patterns, textures, lines or shapes that will draw attention to the subject of the vineyard or grape. I also have discovered that I like the perspective of shooting low among the rows of the grapevines for a different view, and I even like to photograph the grapes from a low perspective as well. Water droplets on the vine leaves and/or grapes can add a lot of interest to your image. So, after a recent rain or a dewy morning is a great time to head out to photograph grapes on the vines up close. Some vineyards are on flat land, and being able to find a way to get yourself and camera higher than the vines will give another interesting view of the flat acres of vineyard rows. I also keep in my mind the direction of the sun when shooting just after sunrise or just before sunset and will plan out my thoughts for compositions before I arrive to the vineyard. So, knowing the vineyard and its property is essential in creating potential compositions prior to your arrival at the vineyard.
Use A Tripod and Monopod
For shooting sunrise and sunsets, I use a tripod with a ball head and level bubble in the hot shoe of the camera to keep the horizon straight and level. I will also use a remote control to take the pictures to prevent any additional movement that may happen by touching the camera when snapping the shutter. I have found using a monopod after the sun is up is helpful while taking pictures of the vineyards and grapes as it adds a lot of stability which increases the sharpness of my images. In addition, a monopod will give me more flexibility and mobility while maneuvering around the vineyard and the grapevines. Also, carrying a camera on a monopod is much easier and so much lighter than a heavier tripod and camera.
Use of Filters or High Dynamic Range
When photography sunrise and sunset, I find a gradual neutral density (GND) filter is beneficial in capturing the separation of clouds from sky. It helpt the clouds stand out or pop. Using a gradual neutral density filter is a way to be able to capture the variances of the exposures between the sky and foreground. If you expose for the clouds, then the foreground gets blown out, or if you expose for the foreground, the clouds get blown out. The GND offers a way to balance the exposure with your foreground and the sky to capture a captivating sunrise or sunset over the vineyard. Instead of using filters you can capture your sunrise and sunset images using High Dynamic Range (HDR). I experiment each photo session using filters or HDR, however HDR can look make the image look less natural. A GND is much easier to use than is using the HDR technique, and both ways give very different looks. My suggestion is to experiment and to see what the possibilities are using a GND filter or HDR while taking pictures of the sunrise or sunset. Using a polarizer after the sun comes up and/ or on cloudy days will make the clouds really pop from the sky. A polarizer is used by turning the filter on your lens until you get the effect that you want.
As with any type of landscape photography, I use a low ISO setting and a higher aperture to give me the depth of field when shooting a vineyard landscape. An aperture like f/16 or f/22 will help to keep the whole scene focused in your image. I use the aperture priority setting on my camera, and sometimes this will give me a lower shutter speed. This is why using a tripod or monopod is essential to help with camera shake and blurry images. If you have the ability to use live view on your camera, I would suggest doing so. I find using live view a useful tool in capturing the composition that I am looking for, and with my mirrorless camera I am able to touch the screen and quickly change my settings when I need to.
Other Subjects Such as Wildlife
While photographing, always be on the lookout for wildlife in the vineyard. Even though you may not be a wildlife photographer or have the equipment with you to photograph wildlife while at the vineyard, the opportunity does exist. Especially nearing the harvest season, when the grapes are much sweeter, which may bring more wildlife to the grapevines, and therefore, an early morning or late evening visitor may be present when you are there to photograph the vineyards. Be ready for that unexpected visitor so that you may be able to capture a scenic image of that deer amidst the rows of vineyards. I recently had this experience while photographing one early morning at a vineyard. I, being a wildlife photographer as well, was disappointed with myself that I did not bring my 100-400mm IS L zoom lens so that I would be able to capture an up close image of the fawn that had wondered into the vineyard and rested in the grass in between the rows of grapevines.
Other Gear Needed
I use my DSLR and DLSM (mirrorless) cameras in my vineyard photography. I mainly use a 24-105mm IS L lens, 15-34mm EF M lens or a 55-200mm EF M lens when photographing the vineyards. I do capture up close images of the grapes and grapevines using these above lenses. Every once in a while, I will whip out my iPhone and use a macro setting on my Camera+ 2 app, which, unbelievably, gives a very sharp and detailed image. I have not yet brought my 180mm macro EF lens for a photo shoot at a vineyard. Again, I use a tripod and/or monopod, depending on what scene I am photographing, and always have some filters with me to use.
Respect the Vineyard
I always respect the vineyard and the property while walking around photographing the different scenes. I always check with each vineyard’s management to make sure that it is okay for me to take nature images on their property. It is especially important during the nearing of and in the harvest season to not to get too close to the grapevines to disturb the grapes. Most vineyards will not want you or any visitor to walk in between the rows of grapevines during this time. I have been finding that I just photograph up close to grapes on the end rows, which I still can do using my zoom lenses so that I do not get too close to the grapevine.
I hope you find these 10 tips helpful in your next adventure to the vineyard for some vineyard photography.
Thank you for taking the time to view and read my blog.
All the very best,
Lori A. Cash
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I will get back with you.
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