Wine Photography

In August 2014, James Halliday released the second edition of his coffee table book the Wine Atlas of Australia

Adelaide-based photographer Richard Humphrys was commissioned to provide a collection of images to illustrate its pages.

Every few months in Wine Photography, Richard tells the stories behind the creation of a selection of his favourite images from the book. 

To celebrate this prestigious commission, Richard has released a collection of limited edition, fine art prints called the 'Art of Wine'. Some of the photographs discussed below are from this unique collection which can be viewed in full and purchased here.

Read more about Richard here.

MAX SCHUBERT TRIBUTE PRINT

Max Schubert AM, undeniably Australia’s most famous winemaker, was born in 1915. This limited edition, fine art print, which I have just released, celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of his birth. Max revolutionised Australian winemaking in 1951, by creating the legendary Penfolds Grange Hermitage. This print documents the work colleagues and friends who influenced his career and helped him bring to life his vision to create a truly Australian wine. 

I'm Max Schubert’s nephew. I have created this photographic tribute, to celebrate this milestone and Max Schubert’s remarkable life. Over the last year, I have spent hundreds of hours, carefully researching, restoring and curating this wonderful collection of rare and historical Penfolds images. This is an independently published account of the accolades awarded to Max during his esteemed career and chronologically documents the critical winemaking milestones of his life. 

I can’t tell you how fascinating it has been to research the text that accompanies each print. Max and his colleagues were charging headlong into the unknown, inventing the winemaking techniques that have become the foundations of the Australian wine industry as we know it today. If you would like more information on the ‘Max Schubert Tribute’ print visit www.richardhumphrys.com.au

EBENEZER WINTER VINES



I created this image for Glaetzer Wines in the Ebenezer region of the Barossa Valley. Photographing vineyards in Winter is always challenging. If the trunks are too young and fine, they all blend together and fade into the terrain. If the vines aren’t pruned the vineyard has very little depth and looks plain messy. 

These vines are about thirty years old and have just enough dimension to them never the less, choosing the right time of day was critical. The hard light of the late afternoon sun and the lush green cover crop running down the rows, gives this photograph it’s three dimensional feel and clean perspective. 

I went to great lengths to find the perfect location in the vineyard to make the most of the beautiful Ebenezer Church in the back ground. The angle I chose makes it look like the vines run right up to the walls of the building but there is in fact, a huge, empty paddock in between the vines and church. In the early days, the Barossa was renown for it’s churches and vineyards, so every magazine that commissioned me to document the region, wanted me to create images with these two elements in one shot. Sadly, there are only a couple of these perfect shots in the Barossa and I only stumbled across this one a few years ago. 

Where possible I try to do my landscape work when the weather is about to change. This way I have the best chance of getting interesting clouds in the sky. On plenty of occasions with this approach, I end up turning back for home empty handed. When it works, as it did in this image the whole image comes to life.

WILLOW BRIDGE VINEYARD



This vineyard is in the Geographe District of Western Australia. It flows elegantly down the valleys and over the foothills of the Darling Ranges, with views to west out to sea. Willow Bridge produces beautifully balanced wines. The 60 Ha of vineyards were established in 1997 by Jeff and Vicky Dewar and are planted with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

In 2013, I was commissioned to create the images for the second edition of James Halliday’s stunning ‘Wine Atlas of Australia’. I had never photographed in Western Australia, so to fix this disgraceful situation, I jumped on a plane and spent seven solid days travelling 2,500 kms, photographing wineries in all thirteen wine regions and districts. 

Willow Bridge was one of the first stops on my trip. Jeff was a very gracious host and gave me full access to the vineyards. My timing was perfect as the vines through out WA were fresh and vibrant and the weather was perfect. In warmer regions like the Swan Valley bunches of fruit were fully formed and going through version. In cooler regions like Geographe, the trellis wires had only recently been lifted which is a process that pulls all the vine tendrils up and gives the vineyard very graphic and clean lines. 

All of the landscapes I created that day at Willow Bridge worked beautifully. It was a pleasure to photograph.

CABERNET FROST



I can’t tell you how cold it was when I ventured out early one Summer’s morning, to hunt this image down. I had been commissioned by Hardy’s Wines to create a library of images that could be used to tell the story of this beautiful Adelaide Hills vineyard. I’ve seen this image so many times in my travels but never had any success trying to capture it. 

The shoot took place over a three month period, so that I could capture a wide variety of seasonal images. The gorgeous new growth of Spring and then the vibrant, saturated greens of early Summer, as the young leaves fill the vines. Through to the various stages of the grape forming right up to Vintage when the fruit was picked. It was a wise investment that gave the winery fifty distinctly different images to rotate through their marketing material over the next five years. 

Grapes are very challenging things to capture in the camera. I like finding the perfect bunch which has grown, undisturbed with no blemishes or marks. These clusters of perfect spheres are simply beautiful to study up close in three dimensions. As I peer through my camera lens and move around the bunch, trying to find the best angle to take my photograph, it’s like being in another world. So surreal and elegant. Sadly, it is nearly impossible translating this experience into the two dimensional world of photography. 

I do my best using shadows and highlights. Dark grapes of course, are not kind to digital cameras in the shadow areas. I use a Nikon which has superb shadow detail and then fine tune the RAW files that I shoot later in Photoshop to bring out just enough detail to enhance the shapes. 

I also use reduced depth of field to enhance the main subject of my image. If I have a perfect grape cluster, I allow the background grapes to go out of focus in varying degrees, so the viewers eye is drawn immediately to the sharp elements of in the photograph.

SEPPELTSFIELD BUSH VINES


Seppeltsfield Winery is such a beautiful place to visit. Years ago, I was commissioned by their marketing team to spend a day wandering around the vineyards and winery in order to produce five fresh new images for their photographic library. Absolutely everywhere I turned there was another superb image waiting for me. I ended up spending an extra two full days of my own time taking photographs and the marketing team licensed fifteen of them!

There is so much history in this one hundred and sixty five year old winery. The buildings are laid out like a small village. Each building seems to have been designed with great attention to detail and the balance of scale. Hence they have wonderful character. The cellars and vast the old barrel stores are more technically challenging to shoot but the old timbers and endless pyramid of barrels stretching off into the distance are worth the work.

Before growing vines on wire trellis was affordable, the vines were grown and pruned as individual bushes. In days gone past, the vineyards also followed the contours of the hills rather than running in straight lines. Large swaths of Seppetlsfield vineyards are planted in the old style bush vines that sweep gracefully across the Barossa hills. Over the years, I’ve photographed the vineyards several times. Autumn, Winter and Summer vines all look completely different. The low light of Winter with these elegantly pruned bare old vines reaching up like fingers. Summer with the vibrant fresh green of the leaves and Autumn when the vines choose to turn yellow and red is just spectacular.  Seppeltsfield is a joy to photograph.

CLARE VALLEY VINEYARD 

About two decades ago, I stumbled across this gorgeous scene in the Clare Valley. Lovely old vines and a little red roofed church framed by gum trees. I don’t think you could ask for a better combination of elements that tell the story of this wine region in one image. I immediately took the photographs that I created to show my client, SA Tourism. The marketing team couldn’t believe no one else had discovered this idyllic image. It was subsequently used in a full page, national advertising campaign and is regularly licensed for magazines and publications from my Wine Stock Library.

With vineyard photography, timing is particularly critical. I’ve shot this vineyard at different stages of growth and at different times of the day. I have found that seeing through the vines with just a small canopy of fresh green leaves is much more interesting by comparison to an image shot with a dense full canopy. And of course the time of day is crucial. I try to shoot my vineyard landscapes with low light slightly behind the vines because it illuminates the leaves. In this case, late morning was required so that the church roof was brightly lit with full sun. When recorded on Fuji Velvia transparency film, the saturated colours of the lush new vine leaves and the pristine blue Australian sky makes a stunning image. In these days of heavily manipulated digital images, I have been accused of exaggerating the colours in this and other landscape images but the film is a direct record of the scene and proof of what I shot.

Regrettably, someone decided a few years ago to drop a transportable home between the vines and the church. To add insult to injury, the old vines were then all cut off at the base and new vines grafted onto them, so this beautiful scene has been spoilt. As with many things, nothing stays the same for ever but at least I have documented the scene as it originally was, which is one of the things I love about being a photographer. Much of what I have photographed over my thirty year career has gone.

HAND PICKED CHARDONNAY 

It is rare to see hand picked white grapes these days because so much white fruit is picked by machine at night. These superb examples of Chardonnay fruit were grown in the cool climate region of the Adelaide Hills. I’m very happy with the way this image worked out. A bucket stacked with bunches of grapes looks great to the eye but when it’s reproduced in two dimensions in a photograph, all the bunches blend together and the image loses all its depth and texture.

From the crate in the back ground, I meticulously selected the perfect bunch of Chardonnay and framed it against the out of focus distant grapes. I did a wide range of variations with the depth of field starting with everything in focus and ending with extremely narrow focus. This combination looked the best.

I have built a fine art collection of prints called the ‘Grape and Vine’ where I have essentially created portraits of the most important wine grape varieties, on the vine. Each of the twenty or so images in the collection took at least a full day to find and shoot. To hunt down the perfect example of Shiraz or Cabernet bunches, I scour the vineyard rows, searching under the canopy for hours. When I think I’ve found the best bunches, I set up my camera and reflectors as I would in the studio. I never use any added light, only what is available which means I am always doing this on hot sunning days. I would then shoot five or six bunches just to make sure I have the perfect image.

HAND PRUNING OLD VINE

I photographed this scene for the cover of a magazine. Winemaking can be such a hands on craft. Mechanisation has change this enormously but with the delicate old vines and with the finest fruit hand pruning and picking still exists today. I love coming in close and capturing this aspect of the industry. As you can see by the pruners hands, he has been in the job for decades.

Before everyone arrived for this shoot, I scoured the vineyard and found the perfect old vine with a simple back drop. I then positioned my pruner and his secateurs on a specific tendril and asked him to hold still while I fine tuned the composition of the image and selected my focal point. I can’t image how many thousands of times he has pruned a tendril off. He just couldn’t hold himself back and he snipped the tendril! I directed him to another tendril and asked him to hold still, and snip, he did it again. This time, I left him where he was while I set up on the last remaining tendril. I was using transparency film, so I shot my Polaroid tests, calculated my expose and when I was sure I had the technical side sorted, I asked him to move to the final position. I got four frames of 6 x 7cm film off before he cut it again and the shoot was over.

OLD VINE CABERNET


Some years ago I was commissioned by Lillydale Wines in the Yarra Valley to photograph vine leaves in black and white for a new series of labels. The labels went on to win a gold award for wine label design in New York. I learnt through this assignment, that each grape variety has a distinctive leaf shape. This commissioned opened my eyes to the gloriously transient world of the vineyard. As you search through the vineyard, you will find beautiful still life scenes that might disappear in a week or vanish when the wind blows. This twisted old Cabernet Sauvignon vine with it’s wonderful texture and colour contrasts perfectly with the very distinctive shape of the fresh, young Cabernet leaf.

 Since this shoot, I have become so inspired by these scenes that I have created an entire exhibition based on these ephemeral combinations of vine leaves, tendrils and vines. I have combined these vine portraits into my fine art collection called the ‘Grape and Vine’.

AUTUMN IN THE EDEN VALLEY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA 



The Eden Valley in autumn is always a joy to photograph. This is an image of the old Tollana vineyard with its elegant vines that wind their way around the contours of the hills. Penfolds Wines source much of their superb riesling fruit from this vineyard. In the early days of the wine industry, vineyards were planted to follow the contours of the hills rather than run north/south or east/west in straight lines. The Clare Valley is best know for vineyards like this but the planting technique is found in many other hilly wine regions around Australia.

Where possible, I always try to photograph vineyards looking into the sun. This gives the vine leaves rich and luminous colour and adds deep contrasting shadows that give the image depth. This photograph highlights the value of this approach. It is a difficult technique because the exposure in the camera has to be perfect. If the leaves are over exposed they burn out and nothing can save them. 

De BORTOLI WINES, YARRA VALLEY


Where possible, I try to time my photography when the weather is about to either come in stormy or is clearing. This way, I maximise the chance of enhancing landscapes with glorious cloud shapes and patterns. This image of De Bortoli Wines in the Yarra Valley exemplifies the value of an interesting sky. Often, I spot a superb cloud formation and then race around the wine region to find a suitable vineyard to compliment the sky.

About half the photographs in the atlas were shot on film. I still shoot film for my high-end landscape images. I have always used Fuji Velvia, which for the technically minded, is a 32 ASA transparency slide film with deep, rich colours and superb fine-grain structure. Getting the perfect exposure is not for the faint hearted! This image was shot on 6cm x 7cm Velvia film.

REMOVING MARC FROM A BASKET PRESS


In 1994, I was commissioned to create the images for the third edition of Penfolds' remarkable book series Rewards of Patience. I have since created images for the the next four editions. There is no publication like it in the world. Every five years Penfolds invites a handful of international and Australian wine judges to review nearly all the wines that they have ever made. James Halliday has been present at each tasting event that I have documented. Full sets of Grange starting from 1952, unique and rare wines, such as Bin 60A, or the rare, experimental 1952 Grange made using cabernet sauvignon instead of shiraz, all are opened and rated by the panel.

There are a couple of images that I have selected for the wine atlas that were created for the Rewards of Patience books. I wanted the atlas to show a little of the craft of winemaking, not just beautiful landscapes.

This image, which was used on the cover, is of a cellar hand removing the "marc" left in the bottom of the basket press after the last of the wine has been gently pressed from the grape skins. It is one of my favourite winemaking images. I love getting in close and highlighting what a hands-on craft fine winemaking is. The marc is made up of grape skins and seeds left over from the fermentation process.

1951 PENFOLDS GRANGE 



I started my photography career in the studio and then took these skills out into the vineyard and winery. Lighting a red wine bottle is one of the most challenging commissions a photographer can get.

A red wine bottle is effectively a black mirror that reflects absolutely everything around it. I surround myself with black velvets and use a very large, even light source. I was asked to photograph this superb example of the first Penfolds Grange on location in the Penfolds museum. You would struggle to find a bottle in better condition with its postage stamp label, signed by the inspirational winemaker Max Schubert, perfectly intact. This is why I included it in the Wine Atlas of Australia, Art of Wine collection.

I have photographed some incredible old wines in my time. I once photographed a full set of Grange that was displayed vertically on a set of five glass shelves for Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. I wanted to put the oldest and most expensive Granges on the bottom shelf but the client wanted them on the highest most precarious shelf. It took all day to build and light the set but the oldest bottles were put in place and removed in the longest 20 minutes of my career!

THE LAKE HOUSE, DENMARK, WESTERN AUSTRALIA 


Western Australia has some of the most diverse and beautiful wine regions and districts in Australia. Prior to working on the Wine Atlas of Australia I had never been to WA. To put right this terrible wrong, I spent seven days, drove 2500 kilometres and photographed each and every one of the 14 wine regions and districts of Western Australia. I was blessed with superb weather for the whole trip. The only issue I had was the smoke from a vast controlled bush fire that followed me east to Albany and then up to Porongurup.

I have always found that photographing green vineyards at sunset and at dawn is risky. The yellow light of sunset and sunrise can make the green of the vines look very unappealing. I was very short of time when I was in Denmark and I couldn’t get to a couple of key wineries during the day. I left before dawn for my next region and dropped by the Lake House vineyard just in case I could create an image. The beautiful soft dawn light and the low cloud gave me an image worthy of a double page spread in the atlas. Very lucky indeed!





Subscribe to Wine Companion today

Become a member

Let's Socialise Stay Connected

Become a member and receive a bottle of wine worth $90. Join from $79

Join today

For the full winecompanion.com.au experience, please update your web browser. to something less antiquated

Special Value

Wines considered to offer special value for money.