Whole Foods vs. Safeway: Where Do Your Clients Shop?

wholefoods_vs_safeway.gifLately, my family has been doing some shopping at Whole Foods in order to find some healthier snack and dinner choices (my new favorite milk substitute is Rice Dream. Yummy!) In doing so, it gave me the idea for a blog post. If you’ve heard acclaimed wedding photojournalist and Kennedy-clan photographer Denis Reggis speak lately, this blog post title may sound familiar. In the past few times I’ve heard him speak, this is an analogy he’s used to describe his affluent clientele: that the client he serves shops at Whole Foods, not Safeway. He wasn’t using a typical “high end” vs. “low end” analogy, like when you compare Tiffany’s to Wal-Mart. Instead, Denis was referring to the type of photography his clients want. Real. (You can actually hear him commenting on it in the WPPI recap video).

I originally heard him comment on this back in January during a Los Angeles Pictage User’s Group meeting where we were filming he and Joe Buissink for our upcoming “F-Stop Beyond: In Living Color” series. Someone in the audience asked about flush mount magazine style albums. Denis passionately shared that although those type of albums may be good for some, they don’t fit the taste of his uber-affluent clientele. They prefer leather bound, matted albums. He then went on to talk about true photojournalistic wedding photography. Capturing real moments as they happen, vs. staging moments. He talked about his clients desiring beautiful images that look real, as opposed to the over-Photoshopped, over-actionized images that seem so popular. These are the people who shop at Whole Foods because they don’t want hormone-injected, processed, and synthetic foods. They want “real” food that has not been treated. Likewise, they want real photos that have not been treated, or “directed,” to create a moment.

Real vs. Directed Wedding Cinematography

16mmcam.jpgIt’s no secret that Denis commands some of the highest fees in the business for his wedding photography, upwards of $50,000 and more. It made me wonder if there wasn’t a similar mindset among this caliber of clientele around their thoughts on wedding cinematography. Is there a desire among clients who are willing and able to spend five-figures or more on their wedding cinemtography, to have it simple, un-directed, and “real.” When I think about some of the highest paid wedding cinematographers, artists like Robert Allen, Jenny Lehman, Kristin Souders of Bliss Productions, David Williams, and of course, Paul Korver of Fifty Foot Films come to mind. All of these professionals frequently earn in excess of $10,000 for their wedding work, and Paul is famous for getting Denis Reggie-sized fees. They all do solid work, and although their editing styles are different, one thing they have in common is either a lack of stylized “bling, bling” to their work, and/or it’s all pure journalistic in nature. No staging. No direction. (A heavy use of real film is also used).

I’ve noticed this phenomena myself here in the San Francisco Bay Area (where my friend and colleague Kristin of Bliss is located). Our wedding work is definitely journalistic in nature, but we do a fair share of staging to get certain “artistic” b-roll shots. We also do a lot of post-production processing to get certain looks (we love the Magic Bullet, the equivalent of adding stylized actions in Photoshop). Our style and artistry has helped us earn some of the highest fees in our area for our wedding work. But, we’re no where near what some of these others are routinely getting. And there’s a high-end coordinator we’ve worked with a number of times who has shared with me that as much as she loves our work, many of her clients want a more simple, pure documentary style for their wedding videography. (Much of our wedding work tends to be more conceptual in nature, like this “Super Hero” themed video, or this avante garde Persian wedding).

So, here’s the $50,000 question: is it worthwhile to change one’s style of shooting and editing (whether it be photography or videography) in order to bag these elusive clients? Or, do you say “to heck with them. My style is what it is, and no amount of money is worth changing it.” Just something to think about as you map out your pricing and marketing strategies. Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer. But, it is “food” for thought. 🙂

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7 thoughts on “Whole Foods vs. Safeway: Where Do Your Clients Shop?

  1. Reality is what video or cinematography does the best- sight, sound, and motion. It takes a lot of delicate sensibility to do really good documentarian style work for weddings.

    To tell a very personal, engaging and entertaining story about a couple’s proclamation of commitment in a live, unrehearsed environment, takes a very high level of skills. It is not being done all that much because it is so involved and so intense to pull off.

    The wedding “documentary” is played off like it is somehow just raw footage cleaned up and slapped onto a disc. For arguments sake, you could say anyone video taping anything is documenting, but that is a far cry from a well crafted, beautifully told story with drama, emotion, intrigue, and an actual story line. All of this is basically captured and edited from one single event in time or also including events leading up or beyond that date. That is extremely difficult to do well!

    Wedding cinematography, IMHO, needs to go inwardly where the heart of the event lives. It dwells in the relationships, and the core values of the couples and there friends and family. It’s in their stories. Those stories are just as big a part of the wedding as the wedding itself. The outward beauty is all around, but the inward beauty exists in very profound and meaningful ways.

    Fake or uber “stylized video can come across as superficial.Focused on the outward but never penetrating to the heart. Some like that style, but I can see how the “whole foods” clientele would gravitate towards wanting there sacred event captured truthfully and in an unprocessed manner.

    Maybe this has more to do with mental health? People see the value in being reminded of the meaningful subjects in life. People will pay more for this because, ultimately, they now that well documented memories are key in knowing who you were, who you are, and what you will become. They see that value in providing these memories to the next generation. not just pretty slowed down images, but real stories that will speak for them long after they are dead and gone.


  2. @Ryan: make sure you share your conclusion with us when you figure it out. 😉

    @Tim: thanks for the thoughtful and introspective comment.

  3. Hi Ron…
    Great Post. Very informative.
    I am a Photographer and Videographer here in Fort Lauderdale, FLORIDA ( http://www.paulopics.com ).
    Anyway… I WAS THERE!!! Yes, I was in LAS VEGAS for this year’s WPPI, and watched Dennis Regis seminar.
    I agree that If you you like A good quality product, you would spend more money on that, but I do not agree with his natural X hormone analogy.
    How about Reality TV Shows? Very popular. But… Do you realy believe that that shows are realy REAL? Even the shows are staged, etc.
    I know that his clients pay $$$$$ for his services, but I don’t think that is just because he shoots Photojournalist Style.
    I know that is just my opinion, but…
    I like to make my Brides look Beautiful and Sexy, and if I have to alter reality even that is just a little bit to get that… So be it!

  4. thanks for the shout out Ron. You are lucky to now live near one of the most EPIC WFM’s in California. That place on Steven’s Creek is incredible.

    And to answer your question: Most try and change their style to get the ‘big bucks’ client. But what they don’t understand is that people with refined taste can spot a fake or a mimic. You have to recognize and embrace your own stylistic point of view and let that be what draws the clients to you. If the type of client you’re looking for keeps turning you down, that should send a clear message that you’re not meeting their expectations either in price, talent or technique.

  5. @K to the B (first, cool call sign. :-). Second, thanks for the comment. I think your point is so true. It really is important to do what YOU love to do, then find the clients that want that. Those that do will be willing to pay more. And you’ll be happier (and by YOU, and I don’t mean “YOU” either. 🙂

    P.S. Yes, that WFM near me is quite impressive.

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