©Ken Mendoza

Connected Individuals

Ken Mendoza, M.Wed.Photog., loves variety. If an adventurous bride and groom want him to spend a couple of days backpacking with his camera gear through the rocky wilderness, he’s all in. He’s just as likely to be found documenting a quick weekday wedding amid the architectural grandeur of San Francisco City Hall, or tailing A-list newlyweds as they mingle with reception guests in a five-star hotel.

“I cover a big spectrum,” says Mendoza. “I go from the Christian Louboutin-wearing brides who want the five-star hotel to the wilderness-inspired climbers and adventurers who want to go all over Yosemite and into the wild. It’s super exciting that this variety is even possible. I love to see what clients want and then throw out some suggestions that they might not have even thought of before. Sometimes you can get them to do things they never dreamed they would do.”

©Ken Mendoza

Like the two-day trek up Yosemite’s Half Dome Summit, where Mendoza, grasping climbing cables in one hand, held his Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a three-pound lens attached in the other. Or the wedding portrait on a Yosemite 11,000-foot peak that he picked using Google Earth.

“I was looking for leading lines for the sunrise, and that was the spot,” he says. “It just took an eight-hour trek to get there with no trail and above the snowline even though it was summer. But it was completely unique and no one else would have that shot.”

Maybe it was the National Geographic magazines that were omnipresent in his childhood home, the frequent Sierra Nevada hikes throughout his youth, or the Yosemite Institute education he got about the area’s natural history—regardless, Mendoza has consistently nurtured a love of the landscape and of demonstrating that love through imagery. And luckily for his clients, that love was strong enough to lure him away from a Silicon Valley tech job and into the business of photographing both wedded and natural bliss.

©Ken Mendoza
©Ken Mendoza

Given the diversity of his clientele, Mendoza has found it advantageous to use three unique brands to market his services. Yosemite Wedding Photographers was the first brand he established in 2008, a natural evolution of his landscape photography. But living in the Bay Area and driving four-plus hours to Yosemite for wedding photos wasn’t sustainable as a primary source of income, so he opened Duende Photo as his Bay Area-focused brand. Eight years later, he opened City Hall Wedding Photographers to cater to the weekday wedding and elopement crowd. Three very different brands speak to three very different client personalities.

Not only does this strategy enable Mendoza to work weddings year-round, but maintaining the three brands prevents him from stalling out creatively, he says. The variety in his daily landscape keeps him motivated and charged. “Sometimes I’m in the city, sometimes the wine country or out in Yosemite, it’s awesome switching around like that,” he says.

Tapping into the city hall wedding market evolved as a solution to “eliminate the April frustration of being off your game from having taken a winter break from weddings,” Mendoza says. He had sometimes felt a little rusty returning to weddings after a month or three of hiatus. The smaller scale of a city hall wedding, usually with six to 60 guests, requires him to be nimble and adaptable, so there’s no time for his skills to get dull.

©Ken Mendoza

Mendoza’s Yosemite work is grand and majestic, with epic, sweeping vistas and dramatic elements enveloping his couples. And that suits Yosemite clients to a tee. In the traditional American church wedding, compositions are closer, more intimate, letting the couple dominate the story-line. But for Mendoza’s outdoorsy clientele, nature is an integral part of the story.

“Out there, the couples blend into nature—it’s a completely different way of looking at wedding photography,” he says. “This massive scale of nature is exactly what they want. It’s what draws them together. The couple is still a strong element in the image, so they’re not being ignored; they are a part of it all.”

It wasn’t long before Mendoza realized that the same approach he took in the wild could be applied to urban settings. Looking for strong leading lines and larger-scale structures (all easily found inside San Francisco City Hall, he notes), Mendoza found similar compositional elements that brought the same drama and emotion to the equation.

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Mendoza recently earned his PPA master of wedding photography degree and is working toward his master of photography degree. He’s also done well in competition and was a member of the World Photographic Cup Team USA 2022. One of his award-winning photos was displayed larger-than-life on a fabric banner at Imaging USA in January.

“I used to see photos like that and think they were just lucky shots,” he says. “Now I know a lot more about what goes into them. Getting your couple to really know what to do and trusting you and, of course, trusting yourself.”


On the business front, Mendoza is keen on efficiency. Recent innovations in artificial intelligence have helped him streamline office processes, as has switching from email- to text-based client communications.

“I had this epiphany,” he says. “If an inquiry comes in, it goes straight to my iPhone or Apple Watch and I see it right away, which means I can respond so much faster.”

Mendoza still sends contracts via email, but his primary communication is through text, which keeps the conversation in one place rather than spread through several emails. Using AI helps him streamline things even more.

“For example, today I had a little two-and-a-half-hour shoot and took an Uber to City Hall,” he says. “I had my iPad with 5G and copied in all the customer information from my CRM software, saw how much was due, and told ChatGPT to please make an invoice with the following info and add in a tip table, and then format that for a text message.”

After the shoot, Mendoza texted the invoice, and the client used Zelle to pay the bill immediately, with a tip added. Including a tip table is one way Mendoza is stepping out of a comfort zone.

“I’m catching them on their high,” he says. “They’ve seen some of the photos from the shoot, and they’re so happy. You just have to get used to doing it. Tip culture is everywhere now, and what I’m doing is no different than what people are seeing everywhere else.”

There’s great opportunity in serving many kinds of clients, Mendoza has found, just as there are many ways to succeed in this business.

Stephanie Boozer is a writer in Charleston, South Carolina.