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Photographing Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery

  • Joel Peterson, the general manager and winemaker at Ravenswood Winery, peers through the "Medusa Head" of 130-year-old zinfandel vines from the Bedrock Vineyard near Glen Ellen. The coveted old vines were replanted in 1888 by George Hearst, father of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

Zin master Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery is one of the few subjects willing to take chances for an interesting photo. The Ravenswood slogan is "No Wimpy Wines" and my new mantra is "No Wimpy Photos". I first photographed Joel in 1999. Without much convincing, Joel was meditating in lotus position, a flower in his hair, among the barrels in moody light for a zen of zin photo (see below).

Ten years later, it was time to photograph Peterson among some 130 year-old vines in the middle of the afternoon on a gray, overcast day. To eliminate the boring white sky, I could use a long lens, but I'm tired of shots looking down rows of vines. The gnarly Medusa heads of the zin vines were the star, and Peterson was still willing to try something different.

Gnarly Head

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We first tried the photo below, integrating him into the unpruned vines of their Old Hill Ranch near the Sonoma Developmental Center. I thought pruned vines would create a cleaner image, so next we drove to a nearby vineyard planted by George Hearst--William Randolph's Senator father-- in the 1880's. We couldn't shoot low on the vine because of a long, black water line suspended two-feet above ground, but the vines were amazing.

The key was finding a vine with a big enough window between the arms to see Joel. Shooting in regular daylight was flat and uninteresting. The lighting was created using two regular strobes triggered with PocketWizard radios--a radio mounted on the camera hot shoe fires the two strobes. One was simply placed on the ground pointed up at the vine. A second is off camera right, on a light stand with the flash zoomed in to only light Peterson's face and not the back side of the vine.

The end result is a little ominous, but it's definitely an unusual photo and hopefully attracted readers to the story. No Wimpy Photos.


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