With its picturesque scenery, world-renowned restaurants, and hundreds of award-winning wineries, Napa Valley arouses the palette and creates a sense of discovery. My wife and I have been visiting this region of Northern California for well over two decades. During our recent visit, I made the decision to explore areas in and around Napa Valley that are far from the influx of tourists. My goal was to capture landscape images that showed a slightly different perspective of this famous wine country.
I wanted pictures that did not rely on famous landmarks that are commonly found on postcards and in magazines, and I wanted each to be devoid of people, vehicles and other distractions for a look that conveys isolation. I used my Leica M (Typ 240) and Summicron-M 50mm f/2 lens throughout my journey that included driving the backroads in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Petaluma and Healdsburg, and hiking the mountains and exploring the coast of Point Reyes.
Each day of this trip started around 6 a.m., when the heavy layers of morning fog were most prominent. The mediterranean climate of Napa Valley, along with its terroir, allow for high-end grape production. For photographers, it also creates an opportunity to capture stunning photography in temperate weather. The foggy mornings create moody, dark canvases that change to vibrant, sun-splashed landscapes in the early afternoon.
I shot in both situations, as well as in the late afternoon, and decided to convert my images to black-and-white to further accentuate the amazing sharpness and optical performance of the Summicron-M 50mm lens. I shot most of these images between f/5.6 and f/11, and the reproduction of fine details is excellent, as is the contrast.
Napa Valley’s changing skies added a bit of a challenge to picture-taking. There were times when the fog and mist would suddenly make way for blue skies and bright sunlight. On several occasions, I had to drive to the opposite side of the valley to get the best light and perspective. One of my favorite spots to photograph was Point Reyes, which is roughly 90 minutes west of Napa Valley. I photographed its mountains and coastline on an early morning that featured a combination of rain, fog and wind. I think these weather elements made for better images.
In summary, I had a great time using my Leica M (Typ 240) and Summicron-M 50mm lens in the California wine country, and I am looking forward to my next visit.
Kevan Wilkinson is a freelance photographer based in Southern California who specializes in landscape, travel and architecture photography. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in marketing communications and works full time as a digital content copywriter. Prior to his current position, he worked at two nationally recognized advertising agencies, where he was an award-winning copywriter and creative director. “Writing television commercials, print ads and website content is far different from taking pictures, but the same logic applies,” he says. “Instead of telling stories with words, I am doing it with my camera.”