Through the Lens of a Wedding Photographer in Santa Barbara

Beyond the Technical Talent of Taking Pictures, These Santa Barbara Shutterbugs Do Much More

Through the Lens of a Wedding Photographer

Beyond the Technical Talent of Taking Pictures, These Santa Barbara Shutterbugs Do Much More

By Shannon Brooks | February 17, 2022

Credit: David Mendoza lll

Wedding photographers play an integral role in the big day — one that goes far beyond capturing images destined to live on as generational heirlooms. 

Wedding photography is a very specific craft, as I learned through interviewing four accomplished wedding photographers who call Santa Barbara home. For Jen Huang Bogan, Jess Fairchild, David Mendoza, and James Witty, the job is much more than photography. They become trusted confidants and creative directors, advising on everything from what to wear for engagement shoots and bridal party dress colors to recommending vendors and venues and sharing the pros and cons of opting for a “first look” shoot.

And then there’s the weighty responsibility of documenting one of the most important days in a couple’s life. Beyond artistic and technical talent, it takes a certain intuitive, empathetic personality to thrive in the field of wedding photography. Each photographer emphasized how closely they work with their couples and the significant level of communication it entails.

For Fairchild and Witty, who work as a team, they strive to eliminate any stress and add peace however they can. “Jess, every week, will have a bride texting from the dress room with images,” Witty said. Bogan shared similar anecdotes about being readily accessible and available to her clients as well as their vendors. For Mendoza, sometimes it’s about getting the money shot, as he did with a couple from Orange County who were on call for two months awaiting the perfect conditions for a sunrise engagement shoot in the mountains above the fog.

Jen and Martin in a rainbow of love. | Credit: David Mendoza lll

It’s not uncommon for wedding photographers to develop enduring friendships with clients. “A lot of my clients become really good friends of mine because we talk a lot throughout the process,” Bogan reflected. The bond makes sense, given they also bear witness to some of the biggest and most intimate moments of their clients’ lives.

Being immersed in joy and love is one of the biggest perks of the job. “Still, to this day, I cry at every ceremony,” Witty said. “Because every weekend, experiencing two people who are madly in love and expressing that, seeing that all the time is good for the soul.” All the love gives Mendoza hope. “The one thing that rings true in my head is love persists…. You can really see the couple’s love come together on the wedding day.”

Travel is another big perk of the job for these Santa Barbara–based photographers. Most of their local shoots are destination weddings, with couples coming in from out of the area. The other 50 percent of their weddings take them out of California, traveling the world to document destination weddings in places as idyllic as Hawai‘i, Santorini, and the English countryside. Witty said, “We knew we traveled a lot when last year the TSA agents called us by name!” Fairchild interjected, “At LAX!!!”

Credit: James & Jess

They all observed that elopements and smaller “micro-weddings” have become much more common emerging from the pandemic. Couples who couldn’t go to Europe opted for stateside destinations like Santa Barbara, and Mexico became a major go-to. More people are willing to get married on weekdays and off-peak times now, which can be more affordable and also allows the photographers to take on a few last-minute shoots on shorter notice. That said, one year out was the recommendation for how far in advance they need to be contacted for bookings.

Their books are already quite full for 2022 and 2023. Between them, the four photographers will shoot a minimum of 75 weddings this year. The volume and pace is staggering, and it’s even higher than normal given the backlog of weddings that were postponed during the pandemic and wave of new engagements.

Interestingly, none of the photographers originally set out to become wedding photographers. It’s a calling that found them organically. They all seem quite genuinely grateful for it, and their stunning work and passion for their clients shows how beautifully it suits them.

Meet the Photographers

Jen Huang Bogan

A native New Yorker who first fell in love with California while attending Pomona College, Jen Huang Bogan started her career in advertising in Manhattan. She dabbled in photography as a side hustle, one thing led to another, and she fell in love with wedding photography. She got a big boost from having her work featured in the wedding blog Style Me Pretty as it was taking off. “I caught onto that wave, and that’s what propelled my career fast in the first few years.” In those days, she’d shoot weddings nearly every weekend, averaging 50 a year. The hustle paid off; she’s now able to command a high-enough fee that she can limit herself to shooting 10-15 big weddings a year. “I want to keep that level of service really high for every person.” Jen and her husband moved to Santa Barbara in 2013 and purchased their current home on Chapala in 2017, making use of its outdoor space to host Gatherings for Good.

Signature Style:  Sophisticatedfine art film photography

Favorite Local Locations:  Sunstone Villa, Kestrel Park, Rocky Nook Park, San Ysidro Ranch, Butterfly Beach

Most Memorable Destination Weddings:  Tibet and Croatia

Standout Love Story:  A recent couple’s vows were “all about treating each other as equals and making sure each person was supported throughout the marriage. They were very practical things that a lot of young couples don’t quite think about at that point in their lives when they first get married. This is a relationship that has a strong foundation, and to have that at the center of their wedding was very cool.”

Advice to Soon-to-be-Weds: “It’s your first time hosting all of your friends and family. So how do you show who you are as a couple through your generosity and being a good host?”

Jess Fairchild and James Witty

Jess Fairchild and James Witty are a married couple who have been shooting weddings as a team for over a decade. A Santa Barbara native who got into photography as a teenager, Fairchild worked as a photographer in East Africa and New York before returning home to Santa Barbara, already having built a following as a wedding photographer. That’s when she met Witty, who had come to Santa Barbara to attend Brooks Institute. “We were both photographers separately before we met and started dating,” she remembered. “So, it was a really cool combo when we started dating and realized we should shoot together.” Over the last decade, they’ve shot 400 weddings together and are clearly having a blast and love love. Fairchild noted, “Not being able to do it much in 2020 made us realize just how much we love it.” They also acknowledge the intense demands of the travel schedule isn’t a burden because they are on the journey together.

Signature Style:  Luxury, timeless, and romantic

Favorite Local Locations:  MOXI Rooftop, Tuscan Hills, Dos Pueblos Ranch, Klentner Ranch, Stolpman Vineyards, and the Double Dolphin

Most Memorable Destination Weddings:  Lake Como, Paris, Venice, and Sayulita

Standout Love Story:  Zach and Suzanna, a couple who recently got married at El Encanto. The groom was born and raised in Santa Barbara, and she’s from Jamaica. They met on a flight from Florida to LAX, chatted the entire flight, and fell in love. So much so, they were holding hands by the time they got to baggage claim.

Advice to Soon-to-be-Weds:  “No matter the size or budget, in our experience, when the couple’s main priority is to celebrate their marriage with the people they love, it’s the best day. When the priority shifts to wanting it to look perfect, it’s usually a more stressful day.”

David Mendoza lll

Known as “Doza” to many, David Mendoza moved to Santa Barbara in 2007 to attend UCSB, where he earned a degree in religious studies. After graduating, he pursued a graphic design career, working for local tech companies. In 2015, he found himself without a job, in a depression, and contemplating his next moves. He channeled his creative energy into a daily portrait project. “The goal was to take one portrait every single day for as long as I could,” the self-trained photographer said. In sharing his 154 daily portrait streak on Instagram, requests for paid gigs started flowing. His first wedding shoot was an elopement in Bali in 2017, for a wedding photographer whose website he designed several years before and who loved his portrait work. “They paid me $2,000 and covered the cost of the trip,” he shared. “It was something that I couldn’t say no to … and those are still some of my favorite photos.” He finds that metropolitan couples from places like Chicago, Boston, N.Y.C., and L.A. seem to gravitate most to his style.

Signature Style: Vivid, colorful, and moment-driven

Favorite Local Locations: A private estate in Ennisbrook, Hotel Californian, and East Camino Cielo

Most Memorable Destination Weddings:  Bali, Mexico, and Iceland

Standout Love Story:  One of his most memorable weddings to shoot, the groom was a widower who lost his first wife and high school sweetheart to cystic fibrosis. “They had one of the most joy-filled weddings. They had a great community around them. It was a very special time. [The bride] paid a lot of honor to his past wife.”

Advice to Soon-to-be-Weds: “Hire a planner! With your photographer, make sure you connect with them on more than a photographic level. If you’re not comfortable with it, it’s going to come through.”

Read all of the stories in this year’s Wedding Guide here.


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