Profile: Napa Photographer Stephanie Wolden

By Tim Cotroneo

When asked to reflect on how her photography journey started, Stephanie Wolden recalls that “it was love at first snap.” Wolden may be the world’s only photographer with educational credentials that cover Cross Cultural Teaching, Wilderness Training, and a Wine Sommelier certification to boot.

Wolden’s passion for the flavors, intricacies, and history of wine has brought this well-traveled photographer to California’s Napa Valley. Not one to let her taste buds simmer on one topic, Wolden’s photographic eye has also flourished covering wildlife, and doors.

Travel Dreams asked Wolden to open the door on her personal story and share details on what makes her photographic heart sing.

Before we get started Stephanie, what stands out about the gorilla photo we’ve featured in your story.

A. This shot took place during a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a troop of mountain gorillas. I was able to get up close in Rwanda’s Virunga Volcanoes Park.

How did you get started in photography?

A.  I’ve always enjoyed taking photos and would often receive encouraging feedback from friends and family. Once I started really traveling, my interest increased exponentially. I began traveling with a disposable wind-up camera. I gradually moved up to 35mm, and then finally to digital. Three years ago I started going on photographic expeditions. I believe this hands-on, experiential learning has really helped launch my career as a photographer.

Stephanie Wolden: This photograph features one of the famous brightly-colored doors of the Barrio Historico neighborhood in Tuscon, AZ.

Q. What is your favorite or “go to” camera?

I have two Fuji mirrorless cameras, with my favorite being the new X-H1.

Q. How do you educate yourself to take better photos?

I receive several industry newsletters, and I’m constantly taking small courses and webinars. I also practice regularly at my day-job as a wine industry photographer.

Stephanie Wolden: This photo is from a wine release event at Miner Family Winery. The party had moved into the cave, so I stepped out to catch some great lighting, shadows, and reflections.

Q. What is one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?

That patience in learning is a virtue and to enjoy the journey.

Q. What is your photographic niche and what is it about this niche that appeals, inspires, or satisfies you?

My intention was to become a travel photographer, but the niche I’ve fallen into and become successful in is the wine industry. Life in the Napa Valley is steeped in wine culture. Having 600+ wineries as potential clients is certainly motivating. Getting the lighting exactly right on a single bottle of $200 cabernet sauvignon is very satisfying. I learn something new with every single shot, and that inspires me to strive to become one of the best in the valley.

Stephanie Wolden: This photo is titled, ” Fiddletown Cellars.”   This was my first time experimenting with props. It was a breakthrough photoshoot for me.

Q. Talk about the preparation that goes into your photography?

I always like to warm up with my camera. If I’m outside the studio, the first 10 or so shots are just to get a feel for the situation. Inside the studio requires much more thought. If I’m doing lifestyle beauty shots I sometimes need to set up like I’m decorating a winery or a living room. Other times it’s hanging backdrops and choosing a table top and props. Capturing a brand voice through photos also means researching the winery, as well as combing through their website and social media content. At the office, I joke about channeling a Hollywood stereotype and ask, “What’s my motivation?”

Stephanie Wolden: This shot was an accidental find of finds on the east shore of Zanzibar. Tourists don’t know it exists and it’s located just a few feet from the sand.

Q. What is special or unique about shooting photographs in Napa Valley?

We have some of the most amazing scenery here, and it’s constantly changing with the seasons. There’s also the lifecycle of the vineyards, starting with budbreak in the early spring and continuing through the  mustard season in late winter. The seasonal changes provide all sorts of interesting photographic opportunities.

Q. What do you try to say in your photographs?

No matter if it’s a monument in Turkey, a vineyard in Napa, or a bottle of wine on a table…I want the viewer to want it – see it, feel it, smell it, drink it.

Stephanie Wolden: This shot was one of the last photos during a week-long safari in Tanzania. She was the first leopard I had ever seen, making the “Big 5” finally complete for me.

Q. Anything I haven’t asked that you’d like readers to know about you or your photography?

I still want to be a travel photographer when I grow up.

For more of Stephanie’s work, go to

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