IT TAKES PASSION TO CAPTURE LOVE
By Grant Harvey, Contributing Writer
Jose Villa started off with little intention of ever photographing weddings. Learning photography was his niche after taking a class in high school. He moved on to Brooks Institute, where an instructor told him never to shoot weddings because of its unsatisfying, poor-paying route. At the time, photographing weddings was more of a commercial thing, and there weren’t many photographers turning these photos into art. Cue Jose Villa Photography. Started eight years ago in 2002, Villa began by shooting lifestyle portraits of kids. Children were his favorite subject to take pictures of, because they weren’t self-conscious like adults. “I was nervous and scared of people and big families when I started,” says Villa, “I had a gallery show of my candid kids photos in the Roasted Bean that I had matted and framed myself, and spent my life savings on and finally someone saw it and asked me, ‘My sister is getting married, would you like to shoot her wedding?’ and I said, ‘Ooooh. No.’” Having never been to a classic traditional wedding, Villa had no idea what he was getting into when he ended up taking the gig. However, he used his fresh vision to shoot the wedding in an untraditional sense. Wedding photographers would usually stage poses and direct people, but Villa shot on film and did no directing, just attempted to capture the wedding candidly like photojournalism, trying to document the day, and it worked. The family loved the photos, spread the word, and he started doing more weddings by word of mouth. He began incorporating himself a little more into the scene, directing a little at certain points and telling certain things to people to try to capture authentically and render a good photo. “Trying to capture a couple genuinely when they have a camera in their face is very difficult,” says Villa, “I try to shoot something their friends can look at and say, ‘Wow, that is how that couple really is.’” Now Villa shoots weddings and promotes as a wedding photographer through Jose Villa Photography. He jumped from relatively unknown word of mouth to doing 30 weddings a year, and soon after that almost 60 a year. And due to the trend in destination weddings, Villa often travels all over the world for photography, including, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Napa, Mexico, Hawaii, Singapore, Spain and Costa Rica. Villa emphasizes art over technology. He shoots on cameras that are 15 and 20 years old, and only uses actual film instead of digital cameras. The organic feel of shooting on film over digital, and bringing a fresh vision to weddings, has caught the attention of bride magazines like Martha Stewart Living, and since being featured in Living his work can be found in almost every other bride magazine. He’s also coming out with his own book due out March 29th titled Fine Art Wedding Photography: How to Capture Images with Style for the Modern Bride through Random House that is available for pre-buy on Amazon, and anywhere else that sells books, and even teaches photography workshops in Mexico. However, Villa hasn’t forgotten his Santa Ynez roots and still plays a part in local matters, shooting covers for Santa Ynez Magazines. “I love the people, I love the climate and I love the location,” says Villa of the Valley. “Having your own business is a 24/7 ordeal, and you have to be hungry and excited about it. But when I’m here I’m just like any other local person doing what other locals do.”
Here’s what else the Journal learned about Jose Villa:
Why did you start this business?I fell in love with photography while taking a photography class at Santa Ynez High. It was the only thing I felt I could really do well, and I really loved it on top of that.
What is your business background?I started the business eight years ago photographing kids, and then transitioned into photographing weddings just one year after starting my business.
What is the best piece of business advice you have been given, and who gave it to you?Having a business in photography can be touchy; it’s a very subjective type of thing and not everyone will love what you do, but those who really love your work will really appreciate it and will speak very highly of you. So the best advice I ever got was from a photographer friend who told me to photograph for myself and the rest will follow. Remember that the camera is only an extension of who you are as a person.
What is the biggest challenge your business faces today?Balance is a huge part of my business and I tend to say “yes” to every job that lands my way, so I’ve been challenged with balancing my photography and my personal life. I feel like 2011 is a new beginning for me taking balance into consideration.
What sets your business apart from your competition?I shoot 100 percent film in today’s digital world, and those that commission me are artists and people who love the look of film.
What books are on your bedside table?None. I leave the books on the bookstand. Ha!
Why did you choose to set up your business in the Valley?I grew up here and this is home. Also, backdrops in my photos are a big part of what makes my style my thing. And of course we live in the best part of the country, in my opinion.
How could local elected officials make it easier for you to be successful?I feel like I’m successful with or without them. I create art and they can’t help me create my art.
Where do you see your business in five years?Hopefully, teaching workshops more and more. At the moment, I conduct one workshop in Mexico with 20 photographers from around the world, and plan to do more. And to inspire more photographers to shoot from the heart and to make their camera’s an extension of who they are and not just another technical tool to make pretty pictures.
Finally, what is on your to-do list?Travel, a fine art book of Mexico, a trip to Cuba and to take more and more photos around the Valley.