Through the Lens of Local Napa Photographer, Bob McClenahan

Every year from August through October, vintners and vineyard workers collaborate closely with mother nature to farm the year’s grape vineyards to their peak of ripeness and nurture them through a successful harvest.

Timing the pick to obtain optimal yields and best quality of fruit can sometimes be a race against the clock depending on the weather and environment. The signs are telltale with all the sensory nuances of the harvest season, with the smell of freshly picked grapes in the air, large trucks carrying grape bins to their outposts waiting to be filled, and vineyard workers abuzz in the fields working late at night into daybreak cultivating the year’s bounties. It’s an exciting time for the vintners, the agricultural workers, as well as the local community, who have a unique opportunity to witness the transformation of the grape vines as they advance through the completion of their lifecycles.

Local photographer Bob McClenahan has been capturing Napa Valley’s vineyards and harvest season on  film ever since he acquired his first camera – a Nikon D300- after moving to the area in 2008. His acclaimed photos have been showcased in numerous venues,  both  in   print and digital, on a national scale.

We caught up with Bob to gain some insights on his experiences behind the scenes shooting Napa’s annual grape harvests.



NVL : What excites you most about photographing Napa harvest?

BOB: It’s really a lot of fun. The vineyard workers are moving so amazingly quickly. They are often singing. The light is dramatic with dust, sunrise, and headlights.

NVL: When is the best time to do it?

BOB: That’s the tough part. They’re often picking in the middle of the night. If I have a choice, I’ll get out there just before dawn, so I can spend a couple of hours capturing the workers as the sun rises.

NVL: What do you look for to capture the best shots?

BOB: I try to capture the faces, but often my clients want shots of the hands and grapes. I also try to capture the action in a different way.

NVL: Are there any specific techniques you use?

BOB: I bring a variety of lenses with me so I can capture wide angles that show the whole scene then break out a telephoto lens to capture the details. Sometimes I’ll use a slow shutter speed to show movement. I never use a flash.

NVL: Do you have any insightful learnings about harvest after all these years of capturing its nuances?

BOB: Since most of my clients are wineries, I’ve become very interested in wine. So much so, that I took a class at the college to learn more about it. The workers pick at night, because the grapes are already cool and full of juice and it’s more comfort- able for them as it’s not very hot. It also makes it a little more complicated since they can only see what their forehead lights show them.

NVL: Do you have any memorable experiences to share?

BOB: For the past few years, I’ve been photographing the first picks of the harvest season. The various sparkling wine producers are the first to harvest because they don’t want their grapes too sweet. My favorite memory of harvest is photographing it during the solar eclipse a few years ago. Mumm purposely picked some grapes during the eclipse because they were planning to create a wine just from those grapes.

NVL: What do you like most about what you do?

BOB: I love my job. I can’t believe the people I meet and the places I go simply because I’m a photographer.

Bob McClenahan is a commercial and editorial photographer based in the Napa Valley. He likes to say that he “specializes in not specializing.” Whatever the assignment, he tries to give the image a personality. Bob has gained notoriety photographing all the significant events in wine country, including Auction Napa Valley, BottleRock, Festival Napa Valley, the Napa Valley Film Festival, the Sonoma County Wine Auction, The Safeway Open and many others. His clients include some of Napa Valley’s premier wineries, such as Duckhorn, ZD, Constellation, Opus One, Treasury, and Trinchero, as well as Sonoma County Winegrowers, and Visit Napa Valley. He also has a robust repertoire of experience photographing celebrities, rock stars, politicians, and prominent business executives.

Article By: Laura Larson // Photos By: Bob McClenahan