Italian-American Profiles of Success: Natalie Bolea

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Natalie Bolea

Seeing Life Through a Lens

By Daniel Casciato

Local photographer, Natalie Bolea, feels as if she is always looking at life through the lens of a camera, whether or not she has a camera in her hands.

“The world just looks completely different to you,” says the Pittsburgh native and first generation Italian. “Once you start getting into photography, you are always thinking about it.”

Natalie’s passion for photography began by sheer serendipity when she was working in Washington, D.C. several years ago. A former co-worker was selling his dSLR camera and on an impulse, she purchased it knowing someone else would snatch it up quickly. Around the same time, a friend of hers from Baltimore received a dSLR camera as a gift from her husband and asked Natalie if she would like to take an Introduction to Photography class together at the Washington School of Photography.

From that first class, Natalie was hooked. “I just loved it,” she says.

Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. at Night
Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. at Night

As she began taking the class, she realized other students were gravitating to their specialty such as food, events, sports, family photography, etc. It was a bit more difficult for Natalie to find the type of photography she was drawn to. She took a second class at the Arlington Arts Center and for one of her class assignments, she went to Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. where she saw two teenagers talking. Because it was night time and she did not have her tripod, she rested the camera on a ledge and shot photos as the teenagers talked.

“Granted, looking back at the photos now, they look somewhat amateurish, but at the time, the setting was amazing with the lights around Dupont Circle. I was in love with how they came out,” she recalls. “It was then that I realized that I love to photograph people.”

American Photo Model Shoot in New York
American Photo Model Shoot in New York

Soon after, Natalie signed up to photograph models in New York as part of the American Photo Model Shoot.  As soon as she arrived, she recalled being intimidated because there were models set up against different backdrops and the photographers were supposed to direct the models and  photograph them. 

“I thought I wouldn’t last five minutes but honestly, once I got started, I couldn’t stop,” she says.  “I think I shot for eight hours straight and was one of the last photographers to leave. I even went back to New York to do it a second time.”

Always Learning

Today, continuing education in the field of photography is important to Natalie. She wants to keep learning as much as she can while experimenting on her own and trying new things.

Natalie continues to take online classes to improve her photography. She reads photography magazines, online articles, and blogs, and when she has a question, she will research it. In fact, her advice for novice photographers is to take advantage of all the learning materials out there: classes, books, blogs, online courses, and YouTube videos. Many of these are free such as the extensive list of online courses offered by Creative Live.

“Keep with it, get as much knowledge as you can and experiment,” Natalie advises. “What was beneficial at first was taking classes and shooting with other students. Everyone sees things differently. We would all go on assignments together at the same location and everyone’s photos would come out completely different. This type of environment helped to push me to see things from other angles, to come up with something creative and different as well as help me become technically and compositionally stronger.”

Every day she looks at photo forums and seeks out work of other professional and hobbyist photographers. “What inspires me is looking at images every day.  A powerful photograph can have me staring at it nonstop. It inspires me to go out and keep shooting.”

First Portrait Session: An Italian Bridal Photo Shoot

Natalie visits Italy quite frequently. Soon after she began studying photography, she was walking around her mom’s hometown of Pizzoferrato (in the Abruzzo region) taking photos when she bumped into her mother’s friend who happened to be a local wedding dress designer.

He was preparing for his bridal show and was accompanied by several models parading around town posing for photos for the following year’s marketing collateral. Although he had not hired a professional photographer, there was a woman from the town taking photos for him. When he spotted Natalie with her camera, he approached and asked for her assistance to set up a photo shoot.

“I figured he would be directing the shoot and just wanted me to take photos since this is what he was doing when we ran into him, and I had never done my own portrait session before,” she says. “But it wasn’t like that at all.”

The next day they went to a nice area with about eight models and he told Natalie, ‘go ahead.’  She was stunned because she truly wasn’t expecting it.

“I was with a group of women, in a different country, having to communicate in not my native language,” she says. “But it turned out to be one of my most memorable shoots. I learned that this is what being a photographer is all about: being able to think quickly, react to situations and in the end, make great images.” 

Capturing Performers and Places and Creating Art

What draws her most to pick up her camera and begin shooting is how the light hits a setting.

“I’m constantly looking at lighting and angles,” she says. “In my mind, even if I do not have my camera with me, I imagine how I would shoot the image.”

Natalie says portraits are among her favorite things, however, she also enjoys performance and travel photography. “I love to photograph performing artists and live entertainers doing what they love to do.  It’s both taking photos of people who love their art and capturing their art at the same time. I also love to photograph a place in a way that no one has ever seen it before. I will walk around Pittsburgh looking for a scene of something familiar, but I will try capture it in an entirely different way than what we are used to seeing. And since I love to travel, I also love to discover new places and see what images I can create.”

Now she can set up shoots in her very own studio which she opened this past summer. Her goal is to make every photo session fun for her clients. “I don’t want it to be so serious and boring for them. I want my clients to feel comfortable and hope they enjoy their portrait session as much as I enjoy photographing it.”

Looking Ahead

As for her future plans, Natalie plans to go back to Italy again. She has visited her parents’ home country seven times already and even studied Italian in Rome at Centro Linguistico Italiano Dante Alighieri for four months after college. She tries to return every three or four years and estimates that she has spent nearly a year of her life in Italy. She especially loves to visit her dad’s town, Scanno, and her mother’s town Pizzoferrato.

“We also have family in Rome which is the prettiest city at night,” she says. “I have traveled from northern Italy all the way south to Sicily.  I have been all over and every place is breathtaking. It’s just a beautiful country all around and it’s one of my favorite places to shoot.” 

She feels fortunate to have parents from Italy because of the strong sense of family and being together.  Growing up, she says she often took for granted all of the traditions they had, and in particular, all of the homemade food.  “Everything could be made from scratch: homemade pasta, homemade sauce, cured meats, homemade sausage, and even homemade wine. It tastes so much better and you appreciate it so much more.”

She adds, “It’s great having these traditions and I hope to continue to carry them on.”

To learn more about Natalie, like her Facebook Page at and visit her website at