Ventura, Santa Barbara Wedding Photographer Recommended Vendors

Wedding Professionals in Ventura and Santa Barbara.


    There are an amazing number of books, magazines and web sites about planning a wedding. Some are very helpful and easy to understand, some are not. Many people read the helpful ones and write their own version of the same information, changing pieces of it to fit their personal opinions, which are not based on any kind of research or experience. I am not going to waste your time (or mine) spewing information you can find five thousand other places online. The information you read here is based solely on research and comes directly from our local Ventura and Santa Barbara County vendors.

Article Contents:

    I have been to a lot of weddings... Really... A LOT of weddings. But I must be honest with you, for the most part I am very focused on my job as the wedding photographer and I am only vaguely aware of the other professionals I'm working with (that is unless something goes wrong and thankfully that has been rare) and I am often caught off guard when someone I have apparently worked with on many occasions knows me well and greets my as an old friend and comrade from events past.

 I am often asked if I have any recommendations for other wedding professionals and for the longest time truthfully I didn't know what to tell you so I decided to go find out and actually connect with some of these people at a time I wasn't so consumed with shooting a wedding... Okay, the truth: My wife Jennifer who is responsible for most of this article's content spent hours meeting and talking with wedding vendors in our area and I pretty much just rode her coat tails.

Wedding Cakes / Bakery

Wedding Cake  As attributed (perhaps incorrectly)  to Marie Antoinette:  Qu’ils mangent de la brioche...  or "Let them eat cake" . I have photographed and tasted an whole lot of wedding cakes over the years... Quite often I have weird dreams about wedding cakes (I wonder if that's normal?)... Any way...

   Your wedding cake is going to be your receptions center piece. The cake should represent you and your fiancé as a couple ( the time you actually cut it)   and the possibilities are endless: Simple two tier to an elaborate five tier, fresh flowers, sugar flowers, shape, color, ribbon, "mini cakes", cupcakes etcetera... You also want your cake to flow visually with the tone and landscape of your event.

 Most bakeries price their wedding cakes by slice and it can range from about $2.00 to $15.00 depending on the size, flavor, fillings, icing and complexity of the design. ($15.00 per slice? Wow)  Oddly this is the only information I could pry out of all the bakeries that provide wedding cakes in the area.

 So  here is the one cool tip I can share with you about wedding cakes: 

  A smaller wedding cake will cost you less (duh) so, why not have a small version of the cake you want for displaying and cutting purposes and get sheet cakes of the same flavor and filling for the catering crew to cut and serve to guests. The sheet cakes will cost you WAY less because they don't need to be stacked without caving in (very tricky) and they don't need all the special decorations because the only people who will see them are your caterers. Plus, won't it be fun to have all your guests wondering how such a small cake fed so many people?

 So there... If anyone ever calls me back I will diligently report what what they can tell me about the secrets of wedding cakes.

Caterers / Food Service

Ventura County wedding buffet image. Thousand Oaks Wedding Photography.

What makes a great caterer? These are the responses I received from other experienced professionals in Ventura, Ojai, and Santa Barbara: Listening to the client, creating a successful event, creating a proposal that fits the client's desires and budget, punctuality. Service and a full working knowledge of each venue at which one caters. The experience and knowledge to handle any "fire drill" that may arise; i.e. the ability to rapidly reassemble a cake that has tipped, swiftly producing implements that are lost or forgotten, last minute changes, sudden rain, extinguishing a flaming chocolate fountain then repairing the malfunction on the fly...

    Catering and hiring a caterer can be a tricky aspect of wedding planning due to the fact that there are so many things determining the cost: How many people are you feeding, will you be having lunch or dinner, chicken or steak (or vegetarian for that matter), hors d'oeuvres, buffet style or served, will you need rental items or does your venue provide them, what will you have to drink and so on and so forth. Many people contact caterers before having answers to most of these questions and are hesitant to give a budget to their prospective caterer, thus making this initial contact a fairly unproductive one. Before seeking a caterer, know your venue, whether or not you will need rentals (tables, chairs, linens, china, etc.) and have a rough head count. Also, talk with your fiancé about your beverage preferences and if you'd like a buffet or to have the food served. Before you call, write a list of questions you want to ask. Keep adding to the list as you think of more. As you begin talking to people, pieces of information will come up that you didn't think of before and will raise another question or two (or twelve). Add these to your list and do not hesitate to call people back to ask more questions. A reliable and respectful caterer will be more than happy to spend time with you answering your questions to the best of their ability.

    It is a good idea to ask your prospective caterer some background questions along with general questions about their services. Here are a few important ones:

How long have you been in business as a wedding caterer?
     Obviously if the caterer has been in business for 25 or 30 years, you can be pretty confident that you will receive great service; however, keep in mind, everyone starts somewhere, so don't let this be a deciding factor; I have seen instances in which the enthusiasm and shear fortitude of a newcomer more than make up for the wisdom of experience, however, it is a good idea to find someone who has catered at least a few events on their own.

How many weddings do you cater each year?
     When asking this question, don't  be turned off by a low number. Catering is generally not a wedding- exclusive business. They will be catering corporate functions, banquets, anniversaries, birthdays and many more. Behind the Scenes Catering of Ojai*, for example, typically serves less than ten weddings each year; however, they have been in business for 25 years and Gay Martin of Behind the Scenes has a wonderful abundance of knowledge. She is passionate about her work and can point you in a good direction for many other planning needs.

What services are included in your packages? / What extra services do you have available?
     Some caterers might have an extra fee per person for table service, others might have a flat fee. Find out exactly what services you will be provided with and for what cost. DJ's California Catering in Ventura*  provides clients with an itemized proposal, listing each service and extra and its cost so you know precisely what your money is being used for. Others may or may not do the same. Ask what beverages they have available. For example, do you wish to have coffee for your guests? Some caterers can supply you with coffee as part of their drink package while others may charge extra for this service because they themselves go through a coffee service business and still others may only be able to furnish you with a referral. Also, most caterers can provide you with any rental needs so find out what is available and how much. Some will rent for you through a party rental supplier such as Ventura Rentals while others own these items themselves and will most likely be able to give you a lower price.

Do you handle more than one event in the same day?
     Many of the larger companies will answer "yes", but this is not a problem. I have found places that will serve sometimes three or four weddings in one day, but their staff is large enough to accommodate all. Perhaps a more fitting question would be:

 Will the staff at my wedding be handling any other events the same day?
    The answer you want to hear is " We generally dedicate ourselves to one wedding a day so we can focus on the complexities of a wedding event in order to really take care of our brides" - Catering Connection of Santa Barbara* . If the answer you get is "yes", you will want to ask about the specifics of that because you don't want your caterer to be running late or rushing off (or just completely exhausted to the point of dropping on their faces). I have not found anyone who gave me a "yes" to this question, but that doesn't mean they aren't out there.

Do you provide a written agreement?
     If you come across someone whose answer is "no", which I have not, my advice is: move on. A caterer will usually give you something more of "proposal" than a "contract" because the final cost will be somewhat loose until the event takes place. Be sure they are writing you in (in indelible ink) when you give your deposit.

Wedding / Bridal Consultants.


Bridal Consultants. Wedding dress fitting.   I had photographed quite a few weddings long before it became apparent to me just what an ordeal planning an event like a wedding was. Prior to this epiphany I saw wedding coordinators and bridal consultants as just another obstacle to my art. Honestly... They really got on my nerves. My feeling was: Who sent for this control freak?  Well I've come to see that a control freak is exactly what is called for in planning and coordinating something as important and complex as a wedding.... Now pay attention here this is important: I'm not saying go out and find a control freak to run your wedding, I'm saying find an Advocate and Assistant and one that is capable of representing and assisting you in the aspects of planning and coordinating the wedding of your dreams.

   I have also come to see that by actually paying a professional Bridal Consultant will save you a whole lot of time and even some money in the long run. Someone who knows the ins and outs of weddings from objective research and experience can be crucial in helping you to navigate and avoid the many pitfalls and landmines out there in the world of event planning.

   What to look for when Hiring a Wedding Consultant: Again experience counts. After planning and coordinating weddings for many years you kind of can't not know the drill,  but  like I've seen many times longevity isn't  everything, one of the very best bridal consultants / wedding coordinators I ever worked with was on her very first professional assignment and what she lacked in hands on experience she more made up for in sheer passion.

  Here are some tips to finding the right Bridal Consultant / Wedding Coordinator for your wedding: 

  Are they listening to you or are they handling you?  Again this is your wedding and what I believe you need is an Advocate not a Control Freak. It takes a flexible and perceptive person to understand your wants and needs and then translate that into the reality of the event.

  Can you relate to them and do they make you feel comfortable?  Personality is key, this person will be an integral part of setting up and carrying off what should be one of the greatest events to take place in your life. Their job is to relieve you of the stress by taking on the problems and solving them so you can focus on what is important here: You are Getting Married. "This is the person who has your back and is there to shield you from the nerve racking details." says Jennifer of Jennifer's Weddings Wedding Coordinator in Ventura, California.

  Are they organized and can they clearly answer your questions? One of the most important qualities a consultant / planner of  any sort needs is an ability to communicate logically and effectively. Every "behind the scenes wedding disaster" I have ever witnessed would have been averted if there was someone there to assure that everyone was on the same page. This is the core of what it is all about... Some aspects of making a wedding run smoothly is like herding cats... It take a special kind of person to pull it off.

  Are they connected? Do they know the other wedding professionals in the area and do they have a working knowledge of what those vendors offer for what kind of fees and can they easily answer questions about these other professions such as: what to expect from a DJ, Caterer, photographer etc? A big part of being a Bridal Consultant is negotiating with these other professionals on your behalf and getting the "biggest bang for your wedding budget buck" It is important for them to know where to push and where to bend with who and how.

  Wedding Coordinators usually charge a percentage of 10% to 15% of a total wedding budget for complete service. Some Bridal Consultants / Wedding Consultants will work with you for a fee for as little or as much assisting wanted in planning, hiring vendors etc.

Entertainment / DJs


Wedding DJ and Dancers   Choosing your reception DJ or band is one of the most important decisions you'll make that will determine the "tone" of your wedding reception. Five years from now, your guests probably wont remember what food they ate, what the centerpieces looked like and possibly even where your reception was held. They will, however, remember if they had a fabulous time. Your DJ or band leader is the person most responsible for ensuring that. The DJ or band leader will typically be the emcee for your reception as well, so personality is key.  You'll want to meet with DJs and Entertainers in person so you can really get a sense of what kind of personality they have. Choose someone whose personality you like and you feel relaxed with. If you and your fiancé are planning a very formal event and are on the more serious side of the personality scale, you (and your guests) might feel uncomfortable with a DJ who is a joker and suggests you do "the Macarena" in the nude. Your guests know you as individuals and as a couple so hiring an entertainer that compliments what your friends and family are accustomed to will make everyone feel comfortable and more likely to have a blast.

   All DJ’s can play music, but what set the great ones apart from the rest? A great DJ can measure the crowd and from that, make a wise decision about what to play next. They keep the dance floor moving. He will pay attention to your personality and sense of humor and incorporate that into how he will work at your reception. He will do whatever he can to get a clear picture of how you envision your wedding reception and he will strive to make it happen. (This should be true of all your vendors)
“The entertainment you choose determines whether you and your guests have fun or not.”David Jay Entertainment of Santa Clarita
   Most DJ’s also handle the announcements at your event (the emcee). You’ll want to be comfortable with his humor, personality and voice because you and your guests will be hearing it all evening long. Ask questions about the traditional order of events at a wedding reception to find out if he really knows how a wedding goes. Will he stay in communication with the other vendors (this is very important to me as your photographer) so everyone is in their places before he announces what’s next.
Questions to ask your potential DJ:
How many weddings have you done?
    Most DJ’s will have some prior experience before going into business for themselves. If they have very little, either move on or, if you really like him so far, ask many more questions until you feel completely satisfied that this person knows what he is doing.
How large is your music collection?
   If a guest requests a certain song (perhaps their wedding song) how likely is it that he will have it?
What do you charge for overtime?
    Sometimes the party just keeps on going. Find out what it’ll cost. You may be looking at anywhere from $100/hr - $300/hr for their extra time.
Do you bring all of your own equipment and do we pay for the time it takes you to set-up and tear-down?
    A professional DJ will have his own equipment, including microphones, speakers, etc. Set-up and tear down shouldn’t cut in to the amount of time you’ve hired the DJ for.
Do you have any special lighting or effects?
    Most professional DJ’s have some kind of lighting or special effects (such as fog, laser lights, video screens, etc) that you can pay a little extra for them to use at your event.

Florists / Wedding Flowers


Ventura Wedding Flowers One of the biggest decisions that will determine the overall look and feel of your wedding day is the flowers. The same venue can look immensely different for each wedding held there based on the flowers choices and arrangements. It is a huge decision and should be discussed among everyone involved well before your event. There are many things to take into consideration other than the obvious: color. For example, different flowers are available during different seasons, some flowers are able to withstand heat without withering for longer periods of time than others,  and different blooms give a different feel to the entire event (i.e. roses will convey a formal tone whereas daisies will present a casual, outdoorsy feel.

  Decide how formal or casual you would like your wedding to be before talking with prospective florists and ask the florists what blooms they recommend.  It is a good idea to plan on meeting with at least a few florists before deciding who will be providing your wedding day flowers. Flowers are a bit more complex than most people would imagine. I'm told it's all in the timing. Getting the flowers to be "open"  just the right amount and at just the right time seems to be some kind of magical, mystical art only understood by its wizards and accolades.

   A great florist will ask you questions in order to find out what you are really after.  They will provide you with pictures of previous events so you can see their work and they will want to look at pictures you bring from magazines that show what you like. The florist will be attentive and desire to incorporate your personality and flair into each arrangement.

   You’ll need to have set at least a rough figure for your flower budget before meeting with florists. Some things to take into consideration before setting this budget: Are your wedding attendants going to be carrying/wearing flowers too? Would you like parents and grandparents to wear corsages and boutonnieres? Do you want fresh flowers decorating the aisle, aisle runner, arch, etc? Do you want flower centerpieces on each table at the reception? Guest book, gift, and cake tables? How about on the cake itself? Do you need a toss bouquet?

   Also before meeting with florists, make sure you’ve booked your ceremony and reception sites, have a color scheme in mind (preferably, color of bridesmaids dresses have been picked out), and know your wedding style (formal, semi-formal, casual…).

   You will want to start looking for a florist six to nine months in advance. Many people are planning their entire weddings in six months time. If this is you, start looking immediately. A really good florist could be completely booked for summer months as far back as August of the previous year.

 Some questions to ask when deciding on a florist:

Are you exclusive to weddings and events?

  You need your florist to be capable of filling large orders with specific details and setting up your arrangements. Look for experience. Grass Roots in Santa Barbara handles flowers for as many as 120 events each year with weddings accounting for about 98% of business. Most likely, you won’t find many florists who do weddings and are a walk-in flower shop, but they do still exist. Just make sure you ask if you’re talking to the person who will actually be designing your arrangements and ask to see pictures. I personally prefer florists who only do events because when Saturday rolls around, they aren’t tired from their 6-8 (or 10!) hour days in the flower shop Monday- Friday.

 Do you have rental items available?

Most do- although the selection varies quite a bit. Some florists have everything you could dream of needing: vases, columns, stands, arches, aisle runners, etc…and others have any number of combinations of these items.

Is there an extra fee for set-up or is it included in your prices?

   It seems that this is about 50/50 with wedding florists. Be sure you ask. If there is an extra fee, plan on it being around 10-15% of your total flower purchase. You’ll need to know from your sites what time the space will be available to set up for your event so your florist can show up at the right time. Also, if you are renting items from them, make sure to ask if they come and break down or if you are responsible for returning the items (and when).

In what ways can we stretch our flower budget? (You can also ask your Bridal Consultant this question.)

  There are many little shortcuts you can take when it comes to your flowers in order to get the most for you money. Many, if not all, have absolutely no effect on the overall look of you day. If your potential florist doesn’t seem too happy to answer this question, move on.

Other local florists who gave their time and information for this article:

These Buds a Bloomin’ of Camarillo Wedding Flowers

Curly Willow of Ojai Wedding Flowers

 Make Up Artists & Hair Stylists


 Wedding Hair & Make Up Photograph.  As a photographer I have a special interest in the professionalism and quality of work  the Make-up Artist  and Hair Stylist I'm working with will produce and hopefully they have an understanding and appreciation for photography and the special attention required for looking good for the camera. Because cameras actually see things differently from the naked eye, every day make-up  and application can make for not so good photographs.

 Incorrect blending or incompatible materials can make what looks just fine for the street come out looking like clown paint on images. Similarly the smallest fishtail crimp in your hair can look like a check mark added with a magic marker on a print and some hairsprays give off weird rainbow shimmers while some shades and quality of dyes reflect green light.... Not good. On camera, Hair and Make-up requires some special training and a lot of extra attention to detail. This is not to say that hiring a Hollywood production stylist  team is necessary but you do need to have the right stuff and pay some careful attention to otherwise insignificant details.

  Here are some tips to finding a Professional Make up Artists: 

  I am a big believer in making sure they went to a makeup school with good credentials. There are a ton of wannabes out there who practice on their sisters and friends who have the gall to charge for their services. Any graduate of a reputable school can easily do makeup for camera. And at least someone who had the gumption to at least go to school for a year is a good bet.

 Also, a professional Make-up artist will have a photographic portfolio to show you. Look at it carefully. You want to see multiple examples of their work on multiple people.

   I would suggest a trial run. This may cost you a little, but it could end up being the difference between a Cinderella wedding and her ugly sisters on parade in your dress. During this pay attention to how confident they seem while they are working on you as well as how you like the end result. Again look carefully to see that the colors blend naturally and there are no "lines" like between your face and neck.

 Hair Stylists I would hold pretty much to the same criteria as an MUA. 

 With hair, look at their photographic portfolio with an eye for fly aways, stray hairs or exposed fasteners. And again a trial run is in order.  

 If you are going to have you make up done by a non professional  at least know this:

   Purchase professional Makeup and be sure that it is the right color for you (a pro makeup shop should be able to help you there) and in the application: Blending!!! Can't stress this enough. If you can see the makeup sitting on top of the skin instead of being almost a part of the skin, it probably isn't good. Except in artistic or creative avant garde creations that are probably not what you are shooting for (forgive the photography pun)on your wedding day.


Wedding Photographers Services

 Weddings and Engagement photography in Ventura County, without travel expenses including the cities of Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Port Hueneme and Oxnard, Ojai, Moorpark, Newbury Park, Fillmore and Santa Paula, and Camarillo, California. Weddings in Santa Barbara: Isla Vista, Goleta, Montecito and Carpinteria. In Los Angeles County: Westlake Village, Santa Monica, Malibu, Calabasas and Agoura Hills. Also available for destination weddings.

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Article Copyright © 2010 Jennifer & Daniel Colegrove. All Rights Reserved  Wedding Photographer in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles