If you go to wine events from Paso Robles to Ojai, you probably recognize photographer Bob Dickey, who hits about one such gathering a week, snapping 150 or so images an hour. If you happen to be in one — perhaps from the upcoming Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend — you’ll be looking good, as Dickey always finds the joy in a tasting, the beauty in a bottling line, the vim in a vineyard. He’s also been published in this paper and such magazines as Wine Enthusiast, designed the Sideways tasting map that made cinephile and oenophile hearts collectively flutter, and displayed his altered photography in galleries and tasting rooms around the region.
So you might be surprised to hear that he has an MBA from Berkeley and was a bank consultant for 35 years. “I was creative, not graphic,” said Dickey. “What I did was different than what others were doing. I would say, ‘This is a different company with a different style — why should you do things the way others do?’”
He was turned onto photography by the advent of digital cameras, largely thanks to their instant feedback, which allows him to tweak his settings in real time and get the perfect shot. That helps at events like the Central Coast Wine Classic’s annual Hearst Castle Dinner, where waiters whisk plates by so fast that he only has a couple seconds to get it right.“I’ll often shoot 10 to 20 shots to make sure all the settings are correct and that I’ve found the best angle, then take a half dozen shots with those parameters,” he explained.“I commonly take 1,200 to 1,500 images at that event.”
Based on his years of experience, Dickey reports that the key to good photos are light and composition.“Lighting at an angle is always better than straight on,” he advised. “Some contrast with shadow and light usually makes the image more interesting.” Also challenging is composing shots in fluid situations.“One of the hardest shots for me is trying to get two winemaker icons when they’re talking because our culture has about a three-foot space for comfortable conversations,” he said. “So you can have Greg Brewer on the left talking with Steve Clifton on the right for an historic Brewer-Clifton shot, but there’s a huge space in between, so it loses its impact.”
Dickey does like leaving room for the viewer to finish the story. “When I shoot bottles, I often shoot part of the label and let the mind construct the rest of it,” he revealed. “That makes the mind work a bit and makes the image more memorable. If you shoot the whole bottle with the complete label, there’s no work for the mind, so it quickly moves to the next image.”