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Radiant Light Over Vineyard, Cienega Valley

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 19 September 2009 in Landscape & Rural.

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AMINUS3 QUALITY ISSUES RESOLVED: For those of you who have been following my blog on a regular basis, you have undoubtedly heard me bemoaning the loss of image quality (for some, but now all) of my images when uploaded to Aminus3. I finally decided to write Jason Kravitz and we got to the root of the problem. I (like perhaps many of you) was sizing my images at 800 pixels at 72 dpi, then I was turing on the "auto-border" under the tab Options / Effects (I pay the monthly fee for higher quality uploads). It turns out that this was causing the image to be down-sized even more to accommodate the border template which in turn was causing an unevenness in the overall sharpness of the image, especially around the edges of the frame. Jason had me go back to the original TIFF file, down-size it to 1200 pixels and this made a huge difference! I've even tested turning the auto-border back on and can see no degradation in image quality. Thanks for the help Jason, and I hope this helps all of you who have had similar frustrations.


When I was a kid, I remember taking trips to Pinnacles National Monument with my family and driving past seemingly endless miles of cattle ranches. Nowadays, many of those ranches have been converted to the new cash cow (forgive the pun) - vineyards. It seems wine makers have discovered the region of south San Benito County and are turning grazing land into grape growing land. Apparently the soil is rich with gypsum, and combined with the region's mild Mediterranean climate, it makes for an unbeatable combination to produce award-winning wines.

As a nature photographer, I'm a bit ambivalent to the hand of man changing the look of the landscape, but on the other hand (and the puns just keep on coming), vineyards are not like housing developments, they tend to "blend in" with the surrounding landscape much the same as orchards or row crops.

I love incorporating design elements into my images whenever possible and vineyards present an opportunity for repeating patterns. My feeling is that a successful landscape image must have many ingredients working for it, but the key is that all the elements one choses to place in the frame must work in harmony, there must be a conscious link between the elements. One misplaced element can be enough to jolt the flow of an image and cause it to lose its rhythm (similar to a musical piece).

With this image which was captured in Cienega Valley, I have two dominant elements - the beautiful storm clouds in the sky and the repeating pattern of the vineyards. The linking element(s) are the radiant crepuscular rays (God Beams) seemingly shining down from the heavens. The main subject would be the vineyards and the surrounding hills, but they are all tied together.

Would this image have worked if the beams were not present? I feel it would, but the beams are what takes it to the next level in my opinion. Was I lucky to get the beams? Yes and no. A bit of experience played a role here. When I first arrived at this scene (an hour prior to this image being captured) I could see the potential. I spotted openings in the clouds and knew the sun was sinking as it was late in the afternoon. I like to play "the what-if game." Sometimes this game pays dividends, and sometimes Mother Nature throws me a curve and pre-visualized images never materialize.

Fortunately on this afternoon, the clouds held steady, the sun sank, and the beams appeared! On the technical side, I used a Singh-Ray 3-stop soft edge split neutral density filter to balance the exposure of the sky and the vineyards. The resulting RAW file was a bit flat but that was easily corrected with a curves adjustment layer. The wind had begun to kick up so my shutter speed became a concern as I did not want to get blur with the moving leaves. Because I was fairly wide with a 35 mm focal length, I opted for an aperture of f/9 which gave me a shutter speed of 1/100, enough I felt to freeze any movement.

The next time you are out in the field making images, think about all the elements you include in your frame and check that they are all working in harmony. If not, eliminate what is not needed and see if that doesn't strengthen the overall composition.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II 1/100 second F/9.0 ISO 100 35 mm

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