Sunday, February 28, 2010

Photo tip #3: Does your subject threaten you?

Wang Guorong , 58 year-old grape farmer near Taijin, China. She has about 1/2 acre of vineyard, found her husband through the village matchmaker, has three children and a great laugh at the slightest excuse.

I read that some ancient somewhere said that for those who see the world as a threatening place, the world does indeed turn out to be threatening.

Do you get timid or even threatened about photographing people or certain situations?

I did for a long time. Growing up as a shy chubby kid, I was ill at ease with strangers. My head-in-the-turtle-shell feeling extended well into the time I clicked the shutter professionally. I started with safe subjects: landscapes and architecture. Absolutely fun. (Now when I think about it, I wonder why I started out studying architecture at UC Berkely.) And the trees, waterfalls and buildings accepted my shyness.

When I did portraits and weddings, I felt safe behind the invisible-shield camera. Even when I travelled to places like India, Japan and Nepal, I would sneak pictures of people rather than relating.

Then I started going to the most remote tribes in Africa in search of Undiscovered Myths and Archetypal Dreams. There it was all about learning from chiefs, elders, shamans, storytellers, women and kids.

I had to relate to the tribes people. Heck, I was interviewing them.

And, amazingly, they allowed me to photograph them. In fact, they thought it was an honor that this drooling white guy, who knew only 22 words of their language, was learning from them and taking their picture. I wasn't stealing anything. They even squiggled signed something called a model release form, even though they had no concept what that was, didn't have a written language, let alone have a signature.

Now I'm no longer afraid of looking stupid. I learn at least 22 words of the local language to break the sound barrier and relate with the attitude: "What is the worst that can happen?" After I've swallowed my pride, I have nothing to lose but an adventure with another human being.

Can you relate?

I met this lady in the vineyard the first time I visited Chateau Changyu AFIP winery. With my 22 words of Chinese I tried to ask if a pipe from the ground was for water. Misinterpreting my clumsy Chinese, she offered me her water bottle. When my tripod leg slipped into a small hole, she ran to get a rock to act as a foundation. Thank you.

Three weeks later I met the woman again at the Chateau vineyard. Instant recognition and human connection. All with only 22 words of Chinese and no fear of looking stupid.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why a Scottish Castle Winery in.......China?

So why is a Hong Kong business man building a Scottish Castle winery in ...... China?

Please don't throw blog tomatoes. But suddenly I realized I couldn't remember the exact quotes from my recorded intimate interview with that Hong Kong business man, Chris Ruffle. It's very foggy-eyed late the night before I head for St Helena for my week-long Master Wine course at the Culinary Institute of America. The Ruffle interview was long and noisy. I will get it together, I promise. Great story. Great vision. Great cost.

Treaty Port Winery was still under construction when I visited in May of 2009. The Winery/Inn will be completed just in time for our China Photo/Wine Tour in September 2010.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ancient Buddhist wisdom about me and Wine Spectator

Last week I spent two days and nights in mental agony. Then I thought about what the Dalai Lama and Jesus teach.

My Lesson from the Vineyard: I had written and submitted a 2000-word travel feature to Wine Spectator magazine about Chateau Changyu AFIP winery in China. The WS editor assigned to me for the piece made some great suggestions, but said overall
it's a great article. However,........

When I first pitched the story idea, the top editor hesitated at my mention of leading a China
photo/wine tour as a potential conflict of interest. But it was decided we should proceed. I worked hard on the article, submitted it and was ready to rewrite per my editor's suggestions. Then stars misaligned. While rewriting the article, my assistant sent out a press release about the Photo/Wine Tour. The WS executive editor received a copy. He killed my story. A conflict of interest.

I was devastated. I couldn't sleep. In my mind, this was my one chance at a feature for the National Geographic of the Wine World.

At some point in my sleepless stupor, I thought about what the Dalai Lama and Jesus teach. (In my own clumsy words) Don't desire earthly things. Don't become attached.

So I let it go.

I would like to hear if you have had similar experiences. How did you get out of the disappointment?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Does sex or light spots rule your photo eyes?

So where do your eyes go in this photo? Be honest.
(Just in case you want to know, she is a Brazilian dancer on stage at Changyu-Castel Winery during the Yantai Wine Festival. Sorry, I don't have her email.)

In pure photographic theory, the viewer's eye goes to the lightest part of the photograph. Check it out. I bet after seeing the subject, your eye is pulled to the white stage in the background. There is a subject-background tension. You have to constantly pull your focus back to the foreground subject. Am I right?

If the stage floor were dark, the eye would not be forced to wander. (To the cover myself of never saying always, there might be some gentlemen with great visual discipline who can really nail down their focus.)

Anyway, in photography, check your viewfinder or screen for white or bright areas before you click the shutter. Either move the subject from the bright spot or make the bright area lead the eye to the subject.

The Photo rule: Beware, the eye goes to the lightest part of the photo.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Use humans as yardsticks

I include people in my photographs whenever possible for three reasons: 1) I like people, 2) most people like me, and 3) people can give scale to a photograph.

For example, these stainless fermentation tanks at Changyu Winery in Yantai, China are big. "But how big?" you ask. Check out my two Changyu marketing buddies Edward Dong and Michael Lau (their Englishized names) at the bottom. Yea, my ant-sized friends silently scream the exact size of those monster tanks.
So the rule here: Use humans as yardsticks.

Thank you Edward and Michael.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Finally I get the blogging picture

After a panel discussion about Wine Writing and Social Media at the Meadowood Wine Writer's Symposium in Napa Valley, I asked for blogging suggestions from one of the panelists, wine blogger Joe Roberts, 1WineDude. Barely in one breath, I listed my interests: travel, people, cultures, spirit, photography and, of course, wine.

"You might have to narrow that down," says Joe. Then like a clear-visioned sage he continues, "I would love it if you blogged photography tips so that I could take better photographs."

Silently my head screamed, "Dahhh."

You see, that's not the first time I heard that I should blog about wine photography. In fact, wineries have asked me to do photography workshops. But having a hands-gripping-the-neck stranglehold on a subconscious desire to wallow, I didn't hear the message the first dozen or two times. Joe's simple message finally turned on the light. I the picture.

Now I need your help.
1) Remind me when I don't blog two photo tips a week, one about vineyard landscapes, the other about winery interiors or people.
2) Suggest topics.
3) Suggest photo tips.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How much wine can you drink?

This week I'm at the Meadowood Wine Writer's Symposium in in mustard flower-filled Napa Valley. Here I am learning about Methoxypyrazines, Brettanomyces, and, not to be left out, Ionone with writers who have been in the business for 10-20-30 years.

One of the speakers, Investment Banker Baker, spouted off some very interesting statistics:
In American stores, wine has the second greatest number of SKUs. Vitamins have the most.
(So what does that say about us Americans?)
• In 20 years, 1/2 of the world population will fit in the definition of middle class for the each respective country. Baker's implication was that sales of wine will increase as a result.

Can we sustain that kind of wine production and consumption?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

25 cent photograph moves a village

While preparing for a presentation to a camera club, I looked over some of the images I took on my second visit with the Konso tribe in Ethiopia's Omo region. Especially moving for me were the reactions of villagers to photographic prints I brought of images I had taken during my visit three years earlier.
I had photographed many women working and taking care of their babies. One by one, I brought out photo prints. Villagers crowded around to identify the subjects. Someone would run to get the person. The looks of recognition were amazing. When the subject saw their photograph, they were instantly rushed back in time three years ago. I could only imagine what must be going through their minds since they had no photographs, cameras or TV. Now their children had grown. Serious flash back.

But the most moving moment came when I brought out a photograph of an old man. The village elders I was meeting gathered around to identify the man. He had died. Someone said that they had seen his son working in the fields. "Get the son," demanded one elder. When the son saw the photograph, he hugged it and started to cry. This photograph was the only thing thing he had to remember his father.

It's not often I'm so moved I can't take a picture. This was one of those moments.

The print probably cost me 25 cents to print (but $3000 to deliver). The villagers, elders and chief were so grateful that they gave me a special escort so that I could photograph anywhere and anything in the village, even the sacred wooden statues.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Farmers can't see Wangfujing Shopping Street

This photograph will be framed and given to Oregon State Representative Matt Wingard to commemorate his recent trip to the land of contrasts, China, including Tianjin city.

Chinese farm workers get to the fields and vineyards near Tianjin as they have for hundreds of years while more affluent urbanites take digital point and shoot photos in front of upscale shops on Wangfujing Shopping Street in Beijing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Creating experiential mind visuals

Since I haven't yet posted The September China Photo/Wine Tour information on my web site, I wanted to mention some things on our tour that few, if any, foreigners ever see.

The Yellow Valley. It's something like a mini Grand Canyon, but without the tourists. Like none. The four or five times I walked there while staying at Grace Winery, nary a tourist–Chinese or foreign; only friendly farmers tending orchards and vineyards for survival. To the local farmers it's just another landscape to grow crops and tend sheep. I watched a sheppard guide his flock from the valley bottom up vertical canyon walls. The whole experience created a permanent visual for me.

What are the visuals for the sheppard? Beauty or burden?

Oh, I forgot, the tour is September 5-16, 2010. We visit 5 wineries, photograph harvest, talk with winemakers, see the Great Wall, walk a part of the 109 acres of Tienanmen Square, and experience Yellow Valley.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Encounter with God

Eddi, my wife, and I are reading out loud The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. It's about a Spanish sheppard boy going out into the world searching for his Personal Legend and a connection with the Soul of The World.

Page 127:
"Listen to your heart. It knows all things because it came from the Soul of the World and it will one day return there."

Page 130:
"My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.
"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."
"Every second of the search is an encounter with God," the boy told his heart.

My being responds to this need for the quest, the search. Why do I need to visit China or the most remote tribes in Africa? Does anyone else have that need?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Was that the barrel I tasted?

Today I interviewed Rick DeFerrari and Jenny Berg–significant other partners–for the Garage Winemaker story I'm doing. After 6 years of being assistant winemaker at Elk Cove, Jenny is now the head librarian in McMinnville. Rick happens to make wine barrels at Oregon Barrel Works and wine in the corner of a commercial space. Perfect.

We tasted some 2009 harvested Pinot Noir from Elk Cove's Mt. Richmond vineyard taken from three different barrels: 1) a newly made barrel, 2) a barrel used one time and 3) one used two times. Although they were aged for slightly different periods (30 or 36 months), all the barrels were lightly toasted. Let me add that Rick and Jenny are experimenting with partial whole cluster complete with stems fermentation in the mix.

So could I taste a difference? Yea. The biggest difference, I detected a slight green stem flavor but only in Pinot from the new barrel.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Blogging our Photos into The White House

At our last Monday morning staff meeting–oh yes, my in-office staff: Digital Asset Manager, Tamarah Hietanen; Photoshop/Marketing Intern, Perrie Wickart and Marketing Intern, Whitney Signalness–we brainstormed ways to get buzz about our Fine Art Prints.

Why not get one of our Fine Art Prints into the White House collection–yes, The President's Crash Pad, I asked?

Great marketing idea. Think of the PR. Wait, how do we do that? My idea was for me to take a free White House
tour with a small framed print tucked under my long black overcoat. Then, I pull the print out near a blank wall, hold it up with one hand against the wall and photograph me and the print on the wall with my other hand. Perhaps one of the Secret Service guys could snap the shutter. No problem.

My staff did a courtesy laugh, then booooood down that idea. They came up with a much greater idea.

Stay tuned to this blog to find out what that idea is and how we will execute the plan.
(Look for "Photo into White House" category.)
Please feel free to share suggestions along the adventure.

(By the way, we already have three large prints in Oregon State Senator Mark Hass's office. From there, it's only a bit over 3000 miles to the White House.)