Working at Jordan Winery

See that photo above? Can you believe how beautiful it is? That dappled sunlight through the trees is on a road at Jordan Winery in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, a place where I’ve spent a few days last week photographing almost anything and everything I could get my hands on. To say it’s heaven on earth is a putting it mildly; it’s an expansive working winery with view after view after view, delicious wine, olive trees, guesthouses, lakes, and some of the nicest people you could ever meet. And I’m not just whistlin’ dixie here.

While traipsing through vineyards can be quite a bit of fun, it’s also lots of work capturing the moments that make a winery like Jordan so special. There are the people that make the wine, the people that create the food, the people that tend to the garden, and the people that make the guests feel like family. Then there’s editing 40 gigs of images captured over 2 1/2 days — no easy feat!

Thanks to the generosity of Jordan I can share a bit about the past few days, some images, and what it took for us to create those photographic moments.

The Gear

I’ve been bouncing between Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City these past 3 weeks I can tell you that traveling with loads of camera equipment isn’t fun (and I want to thank my friend Misha for holding my hand and providing guidance here). But I knew what I wanted to capture at Jordan and how I wanted it to look; that dictated that I’d travel as light as possible. Lots of emails between Jordan’s Communication Director Lisa Mattson prepared me as much as possible about how much we’d be covering and what I needed to have on hand. I packed two Canon 5D Mark IIs (and a back up!), a tripod, two laptops, four external drives (I’m paranoid!), as well as one 100mmL lens, a 24-70mm L lens and a 16-35mm L lens for those wide moments.  When it came to light modifiers I crammed my suitcase with foamcore, reflectors, scrim material, clamps, plastic bags and my tacklebox of puddy, clips, pins and wooden blocks.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve such amazing weather which translates into amazing light but it was there, allowing us to take advantage of cool blue morning hues in the garden and ending with golden, warm tons of evening sun. During the harshest moments of the day when the light was too strong we moved inside to photograph food and people. Sometimes I shot to card, other times I was connected to my laptop so that I could double check my exposures.

The Extras

There were some moments indoors that required strobes as there just wasn’t enough light to photograph a person with the ambient light without them becoming blurry. But the two most important things to me during this photo shoot were a light meter and color checker. A light meter became invaluable as I figured out just how far I could go handholding my camera without a tripod out in the field, and also just how blurry or sharp I could get when photographing people. Would I have enough light to accomplish what I was trying to do? A light meter would tell me and eliminate the guesswork. The Color Checker Passport, a small folding passport-style card, allows me to have perfect color readings in each frame. I’m a stickler for color accuracy (that doesn’t mean I don’t like to play with color temperature when appropriate) and I never travel or shoot without it. Ever. Ever.

Now how about some shots?

Fruits and vegetables from Jordan's garden take center stage as I balance up above. Hipstamatic Photo by Teri Lyn Fisher.

Color Checker Passport in Action. It allows me to get an accurate color reading and maintain the proper color balance.

Todd Knoll, Executive Chef at Jordan Winery, prepares some food in the makeshift hallway "studio". I was loving the light and proximity to the kitchen.

A dining room also became a studio as we photographed wine and flowers. I kind of fell in love with the oversized doors. A scrim and reflector were my main tools. Photo on right by Lisa Mattson.

A test shot for exposure and color. The wine barrels were beautiful.

Getting to know Barney & Clyde, Jordan's show goats.

A collage of Jordan Winery images from the vineyards and garden

You can find Jordan Winery here. Make sure to add them on Twitter and Facebook, and check out their blog, too.


  1. says

    What a beautiful place! It reminds me of some of the places we visited on our trip to Europe. Thanks for bringing back the good memories!

  2. Steve says

    Amazing. The light in your photos always looks so gorgeous. Well done, Matt. How exciting!

  3. says

    Wow, Matt – 40 gigs of images? Impressive! We love Jordan wines and also love the sparklers that their daughter, Judy makes over at “J”. Beautiful photos (as always) and it’s fun to see the “behind the scenes” stuff.

  4. says

    Gorgeous photos (as usual). What a wonderful experience and the light looked amazing up there! Thank you for sharing the “technical” aspects of the shoot as well (the cameras, lens, extraneous equipment). So informative!

    Also. That goat is adorable.

  5. says

    What an amazing look behind the scenes! I appreciate getting a peek behind all the preparation and care that goes into achieving your beautiful shots. And I agree about the beauty of wine country and the amazing weather we’ve been enjoying here – it really lends to just perfect lighting conditions.

  6. says

    Stunning! So nice to be able to see the behind the scenes and what it takes to get those fabulous photos; and that first photo? oh wow is an understatement.

  7. says

    I’ve never been to Sonoma but that first photo sure does bring me to the French countryside! it’s gorgeous! I’ve never seen a color passport before but it’s a totally genius thing to have since I have such a difficult time with white balance in my photos. Thanks for posting!

  8. says

    Lovely, lovely pics. But did you drink any of the wine? Jordan, that’s the good stuff. : )
    Now that I know how lovely the winery and grounds are, it makes me want the wine even more!

  9. kitchenbeard says

    I’ve seen these color cards before but haven’t quite figured out exactly how they work.

    …off to google.

  10. says

    Love Jordan wines. Was in Napa recently and didn’t make it up that far, next time. The weather seems to always be kinda wonderful in that part of California, misty in the morning, warm during the day and cool and clear at night.

    So that is traveling light?

  11. says

    Hello everyone,

    On behalf of Jordan, I wanted to thank you for all the lovely comments about our winery. We learned a great deal from working with such a talented photographer those few days. I even used advice from Matt to win a food photography contest last Sunday in Seattle. And I am a videographer.

    Here’s a picture of the burger and a link to its recipe:

    Lisa Mattson
    The Journey of Jordan: a wine and food video blog

  12. Carol Thompson says

    Matt- such gorgeous work. I’ve been quietly following you (after emailing you at least a year ago about Alfajores –when first debut on MS). What an amazing journey. Extraordinary talent and wit are the gifts you share with us. Thank you for the inspiration. Must be the martini that’s makin’ me blab, blab, blab. Can I be you when I grow up? oh.. wait. I think that already happened. (the growing part…not the being you part. ) cheers!


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