Architectural Photography: Light Painting A Winery From a Half-Mile Away

Architectural Photography: Light Painting A Winery From a Half-Mile Away

I once again loaded up the car and headed away from Los Angeles to the Salinas Valley to photograph the Hahn and Wrath Wineries, both of which are located around an hour from Carmel in an amazing setting. Shooting these wineries presented a number of challenges, and I’m going to talk a little bit about how I overcame them. I know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus lately, but hopefully this post makes up for it.

First, let’s talk about the shoot I did for Hahn Wineries in Soledad, CA. The client had a few ideas for shots that they knew they wanted, and they more or less left the rest up to me. I was given a tour of the grounds, and immediately settled on a few shots, and scratched my head over a few more. They had mentioned that they wanted a few great shots of their tasting room, which is one of their big attractions for visiting customers. The problem was that the tasting room is elevated about 20 feet off the ground on a steeply sloped hillside, and was entirely surrounded by trees on the high side. Any hopes of me creating an architecturally interesting photograph from the ground were quickly dashed, and my options seemed to be severely limited to either renting a helicopter (expensive) or using some extremely tall and unstable pole to shoot from the slanted ground below (a bad idea, and generally unsafe).

While walking around and talking to the client, they pointed out a ridgeline on the other side of the valley where they often took customers on the tour to see the entire layout of the winery and its vineyards. I was initially reluctant to try to shoot from this vantage point, as the small size of the tasting room would require some serious telephoto reach and would eliminate nearly all of the architectural appeal of the building. On a whim, I asked if we could take a ride up to the ridgeline to see if we could gather any other shots, and it turned out to be a pretty great vantage point from which to shoot the tasting room.

While I didn’t end up zooming in that far (we ended up shooting at 50mm) the shot actually looked like it might work. While you lose some of the architectural details of the tasting room, you do get an incredible view of the grounds and the sense of scale becomes immediately evident. I made a decision to make the twilight shot more about the entire winery rather than just the tasting room, which I will admit was a little daring on my behalf.

After choosing where to take the photo from, it was just a matter of playing the waiting game until sunset. Once dark enough, I had my assistant Jaron  head back to the tasting room armed with a big light and a walkie talkie.

Because of the distance involved and the fact that I was standing on the side of a valley, we weren’t able to use PocketWizards to light the scene as I usually would. This was simply too far, and I didn’t want to try to wrangle multiple PocketWizards in relay mode from my position, down to the valley floor, up the other side of the valley, and again to the tasting room. Too much time and effort for something that franky just didn’t seem like it would work. So we tried another untested method – I would talk to Jaron on the walkie talkie, count backwards from three, and open the shutter for a long exposure. He would (ideally) then pop the flash manually while the shutter was open for the 3 or so seconds I’d set it to, and the sensor would record the flash pop. Here’s one of the frames that was composited so you can see what I’m talking about:

I’m happy to say that we were somewhat succesful. For this exterior view, we delivered two shots – one with light trails, and one without. I wanted to give a sense that you might be able to take a sunset winery tour in the ATVs provided by the facility, and even though the client didn’t request it, I thought it was a cool add-on with minimal work involved, so I threw it in anyway.


So, all that effort – do you think it was worth it? It’s certainly a unique shot, the likes of which I don’t have in my portfolio and it was something I don’t think I’ll be trying often. Another challenge for me was dealing with the fog that rolls into the valley and the haze that forms as a result. I’m not sure if it gives this photo a bit of mood and a sense of place, or if it just distracts.

Below are a few more images from the job – my personal favorite is the image of the tasting room, shot with a Lowel GL-1 hotlight in complete darkness.


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Comments ( 2 )

  • Jason Roehner

    Good to have you back Mike! I think I like the exterior photo without the light trails more since my eye tends to follow the road that zig-zags through the frame anyway. The tasting room interior is incredible, you're really putting that GL-1 to good use. My favorite is the patio shot, that balance of flash + daylight is perfect. Too much fanboy-ing? Ok you suck. Jkjkjk.

  • Danny Grizzle

    I just did Photoshop CC2015 on my first light painted exterior last night. Working in 16-bit, quickly hit file size limits of 2GB PS and 4GB TIFF. Bug in latest Photoshop? Or do you flatten layers as you edit? BTW – great training course at!

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