Today’s world is crowded. We are all photographers. How do you stand out?
First of all, I’m writing this all from the point of an egotistical, self centered, American individual perspective.
For me, I have always loved the spotlight. I have always been an “attention whore”– I love to be the guy dancing on the table at the party, the center of attention, and like everyone listening to me.
So you can safely ignore everything I share in this letter– but if you relate with me, and you crave to stand out– I will share some of my personal stories, and offer some practical suggestions.
I. Know yourself.
All of ancient wisdom goes back to knowing yourself.
Do you know who you are as a human being or photographer? Do you know why you make photos, and for whom you photograph?
For me, I know that I am a philosopher, sociologist, poet, photographer, artist, blogger, humanist, and Catholic at heart. I don’t make photos to make photos– I make photos to make meaning out of my human life.
To me, photography is only useful to build personal confidence, to find beauty in everyday life, to empower us, and for us to find more excitement, and less suffering in life.
So for me, photography is just a tool for us to live a better life as a human being.
So everything I do as a photographer to stand out is to adopt this position:
I am not a photographer. I am a sociologist with a camera.
I studied sociology in school, and I was always fascinated how photography changes how we see and interact with the world, and others.
I’m ultimately only interested in photographs of humanity. Photos of human beings, human made buildings or urban jungles. Landscape photography and sunsets bore me, even though I am an Eagle Scout.
II. You’re already unique.
To be honest, you’re already unique. There is no other human being on planet earth who has the same life experiences, DNA, or personal philosophy as you do.
Therefore, first accept that you are different. And that is a good thing.
Secondly, think of how you can self-promote your uniqueness, without fear of being judged as a narcissist.
I used to think self promotion was a sin. That showing off was a sin. But that all came from this Christian morality of humility and humbleness.
But honestly, if you think you’re dope– don’t fake humble. I think some humility is good, but too much humility is bad.
For example, I think I am the best living photography blogger on planet earth. I certainly don’t think I’m the best photographer– there are a billion photographers far more talented than me. But I also consider myself the number one photography marketer alive. Because I’m unique– I studied sociology, photography, blogging, marketing, advertising, philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, physics, hip hop music, jazz, Zen aesthetics, Taoism, Stoicism, Buddhism, Christianity, and my nectar is unique and sweet.
I am the ultimate cross-pollinator. I’m the only person I know who can write articles on Elon Musk and Photography, or Kanye West and photography.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what makes a good photo. But I know what makes a boring photo. So I just try to entertain myself in photography. I only try to make photos that I find interesting.
The test is this:
Look at your own photos, and ask yourself whether your own photos surprise, excite, or interest you.
Lesson: Share photos that aren’t boring, or blog posts that aren’t boring. The only sin you can do as a photographer is to share boring photos.
Assignment: Publish a photograph that makes others feel uncomfortable. It is better to publish controversial photos, than boring photos.
III. Master marketing
Self-promotion and marketing is not a sin.
If you don’t promote yourself, it means that you just have no self confident in yourself, your art, and your photography.
Don’t wait until you get “discovered”. Be your own self-promoter.
To succeed in today’s world, you need to master marketing. You need to master branding, advertising, social media, blogging, or any other ways to get your name and message across to the masses.
A practical assignment: start your own photo blog, using bluehost.com and wordpress.org. Publish blog posts once a day, and do it everyday, for one year. By the end of 365 blog posts, you should at least have “1,000 true fans”– individuals who will actually pay you money to buy your products, services, or attend your workshops.
IV. Don’t use Instagram
Don’t get distracted by social media. It is all hype. Rather, focus on building an email list. Use mailchimp.com, and focus on getting emails than Instagram or Facebook followers. I deleted my Instagram, and have been less distracted. More focused on writing, blogging, and sharing valuable information and insights.
To stand out in today’s world, figure out what you don’t do.
Go opposite from the crowd.
For example, everyone is obsessed with Instagram. I thought that was a silly distraction and waste of time. By deleting my Instagram, my blog posts went viral on PetaPixel and this blog, and I was able to stand out– and bring more followers to know ERIC KIM, this blog, and my message.
Another lesson: Kanye West made news after he got rid of his phone. In today’s smartphone obsessed world, to not own an iPhone, or a phone, is more interesting. Like Kendrick Lamar, he doesn’t distract himself with Instagram, like other rappers. Also Jay Z has built a billion dollar empire with Beyoncé, by not focusing on petty rapper shit, but by building real businesses and hustling everyday.
I think I’m cool, because I currently don’t own a laptop. I’m writing this all on an old iPad Air, while borrowing Cindy’s laptop when I need to use Lightroom.
I think I’m cool, because when everyone was obsessed with megapixels, I started to shoot film, dropping off one hundred rolls of Kodak TriX, and blogging about my experiences.
When everyone was obsessed with film, I went back to digital, rocking the digital Ricoh GR II. And now, I’m pretty certain I won’t buy any more digital cameras over $1,000– and rock film when I get back home.
Of course you don’t want to go opposite for the sake of it. Just follow your gut. When you see bullshit, just go opposite.
As practical entrepreneurial and life advice, I can almost guarantee that deleting your Instagram will help set you apart from the photo crowd, and help you focus on building a “real” following, by building up your own photo blog.
V. Don’t censor yourself.
Today, we are all like jellyfish, no spine (Kendrick Lamar). We don’t have the huevos or the balls to share what is really on our mind, or our opinion.
I see most photographers like sheep– following the silly trends. I’d rather go opposite; ignoring everyone else, and following my own gut, intuition and personal morals.
In a world obsessed with watermarks and copyright, I went opposite (copyleft) and made all my photos, blog posts, books, and videos open source. Like Thomas Leuthard says, you don’t need to watermark your photos if you have a signature style.
Another thing that has helped me greatly:
Don’t do unto others as you don’t want others to do unto you.
I hate YouTube ads. I don’t put them on my videos, even though I might be able to earn $5,000 USD a month doing it.
I hate having to sign up for some stupid ass newsletter to get a free ebook. So fuck that, you can download all my ebooks, Lightroom presets, for free– no bullshit, directly via Dropbox, Google Drive, or from this site.
Also, I personally don’t like reading PDF documents. I prefer the .epub format, or just plain text files. So I offer these, because I would want to have these available to myself (the golden rule, do unto others as you want others to do unto you).
Funny enough, this somehow made a good marketing strategy– now people know who I am, as my images and blog posts and information have spread virally over the web. I’m probably the most hated photographer online but I certainly can say I’m the most honest, and least bullshitting photographer.
Like for example, the main reason I’m writing these articles is to empower you. I genuinely want to help you, because I grew up poor and it fucking sucked. Information empowered me, and I want it to empower you.
I also want to establish myself as the #1 photography branding, marketing, business, entrepreneurship expert on the internet, in order for me to build my power, influence, but also to hopefully just help more people.
Don’t be a lemming. Don’t follow the herd, and jump off the cliff.
Trust yourself. Your own gut, intuition, and life goals.
Don’t listen to me, just follow what real right according to your own personal ethics. I ain’t telling you to do nothing, I’m just telling you what I personally do. It has helped me, it probably won’t help you. But it might.
Ultimately I think all photography should serve some greater social purpose. I think all photographers have an ethical duty to share their photos, if they can help uplift, motivate, or inspire others. Like our buddy Jesus said:
If you have a lantern, don’t hide it under your chair. Rather, let your light shine, to light the path for others.