Napa Valley

The Traveling Photographer in the seat of California wine country.

The seat of California wine country, Napa Valley's rolling green hilltops and bright blue skies are a photo goldmine year-round. In November, when leaves are turning gold and crimson, and seasonal humidity puts clouds in sunsets, it becomes a color sensation. Better yet, you'll miss the harvest season's mobs of tourists -- that ends in October. Here's how to get your Napa photo fix:

1. The drive
Running parallel north/south on either side of the valley are Highway 29 and the less-crowded Silverado Trail, which yields classic views of rows of grapevines rolling over hilltops. Highway 29, which takes you all the way up into the mountains, offers flat vineyards offset by the Coastal Mountain Range -- glorious in a stormy sunrise, as Gary Crabbe (www.enlightphoto.com) caught it in this photo.

"Let weather conditions dictate," he advises. The sun's position matters, too: Face west at sunrise for frontlit vineyards, east for mist crawling over hilltops. Bring a split neutral-density filter to retain detail in these high-contrast scenes, as well as a tripod, and get creative with vantage points -- Crabbe shot this photo from the roof of his car.

2. The wineries
Sampling at Napa's famed wineries is de rigueur, and so is photographing them. Seek out boutique wineries with interesting architecture, such as Chimney Rock (www.chimneyrock.com; 800-257-2641). This Cape-Dutch-style estate is tucked in the craggy slopes of the eastern valley -- shoot from in front of the tasting room to capture winding rows of vineyards flanked with cypress trees.

Or visit Crabbe's favorite, V. Sattui (www.vsattui.com; 707-963-7774) for traditional Tuscan-style architecture, sprawling gardens, and picnic grounds. And Silverado Vineyard (www.silveradovineyards.com; 707-257-1770) offers a breathtaking view of the valley. Bring a wide-angle lens to take it all in.

Some larger wineries (though none of those mentioned here) prohibit tripods on the grounds, in which case an image-stabilized camera or lens is a must.

3. The backroads
Wind through smaller vineyards dotted with picnic grounds and swimming holes. Only a few roads actually cross the valley -- Oakville Cross Road, just past the town of Yountville, is a good place to start (and also to switch from east to west to maximize your light).

Don't miss the Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga, which shoots up a burst of scalding water every 30 minutes (www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com; 707-942-6463).

Then climb up for a photograph overlooking the hills -- Oakville Grade Road in the west and Atlas Peak Road in the east offer terrific views. Or take Highway 128 to Lower Chiles Valley Road in St. Helena to capture the bright colors of changing autumn vines.

For more on Napa Valley, visit www.napavalley.com, or check out photographer Gary Crabbe's book, Backroads of the California Wine Country (Voyageur Press; $22).

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