From his sweet personality to delicious-looking images, Jose Villa is a delight. And hailing from Solvang , California —the Danish capital of America —home of the famous aebleskivera, those jam-draped, powdered sugar-dusted pancake balls—has only enhanced his dulce demeanor and client relationships.
Born in Mexico —“dulce” is Spanish for “sweet”—Villa moved to Solvang as a child and started his studio in 2001. He returns to Mexico fairly often, since it has become one of the top destination wedding locales. “This year alone, I’ve shot seven weddings in Mexico, as well as Belize, Lake Tahoe, and San Francisco, he says. “Last year, I shot weddings in two other big wedding destinations: New York and Hawaii .”
The quaint storefront of Jose Villa Photography is centrally located about 30 minutes from Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, two California spots favored by the majority of his to-be-wed clients.
“Many times we’ll meet clients on a day when the bridal couple is running other wedding errands. I’ll just say, ‘Hey, there’s this great coffee shop in that area. Why don’t we meet at 3?’ I make it convenient for them because Solvang is out of the way. I drive to wherever they are.”
“I’m less busy and more artsy,” he says. “I focus on beauty, emotion, and reactions. If I’m shooting the bride and groom and there are people in the background, I might position the photo so it’s just the two of them.”
Although word of mouth accounts for the highest percentage of client referrals, Villa doesn’t just leave it to the power of gossip. He advertises on the Internet utilizing search engines. “If a bride-to-be puts in ‘ Santa Barbara wedding photographer’ on Google or Ask Jeeves, she’ll get my name as one of the top three choices. If she visits my website and sends me an inquiry, I send her a promo piece with my photos and rate card.”
He also places print ads in local wedding magazines and other journals, feeling that it’s more about the vendors in the area seeing his new stuff. “One of the bakery cake vendors in the area called and said she saw my ad with some new work and wanted to put my website on her links page. I got some referrals from that. Other photographers will refer me and vice versa when we are busy. It’s not about competition; the ads are more about staying connected and letting them know I’m still here and I’m doing new work.”
Like many photographers, Villa didn’t set out to shoot weddings, but it just sort of happened. “I was doing family portraits and getting a lot of referrals for weddings. So I covered one wedding, nothing very traditional. I created something fun and artistic and I really enjoyed it,” Villa says.
Before long, the small town of Solvang , population 4,000, was abuzz with word of this new, different, and creative photographer who liked simplicity. Villa tries to simplify everything, even to the point of cutting out ‘the people.’ “I’m less busy and more artsy,” he says. “I focus on beauty, emotion, and reactions. If I’m shooting the bride and groom and there are people in the background, I might position the photo so it’s just the two of them.”
Villa notices new trends with today’s brides. “Brides are into viewing their wedding online. Services like Collages.net or Pictage offer instant gratification and ease of use for bridal families. I also have brides asking for their negatives, and have had to start offering them to stay competitive.”
COLOR ME FILM FAITHFUL
Many brides come to Villa for his highly saturated color tones and vivid imagery. While he does shoot black-and-white, he finds color in greater demand. “The way I expose my film, I have beautiful tonalities. Film, in general, just has such a natural and beautiful look.”
Hardly any of Villa’s brides ask for digital, and even fewer mentioned it this year than last. They are just so happy with his images that they leave the medium up to him. A Brooks Institute graduate, Villa was used to Canon cameras and their flexibility and comfort. When he opened his studio, he stuck with Canon and also brought in a Contax 645.
“Canon cameras are so fast and quiet. The Canon EOS-1v is sharp and I don’t have to worry about anything. I lock it in aperture priority at f/2.8 and rarely mess around with it. I shoot with the Canon when people are walking in and out of the church and I can’t control who walks in front of me.”
The Contax also fits his way of shooting because it lets him be in control as he creates. “The Contax isn’t fast, but it lets me do all the creating and helps my style. It’s awesome for depth of field and sharp lenses. I can use it for detail shots, bride-and-groom portraits, and intimate shots.”
Villa brings his assistant, Lauren, with him to weddings and sometimes hires his younger sister, Nancy, who wants to be a photographer when she “grows up.”