Dear friend,

I’m gonna give you some hard truth on the sad sad reality about photography– on the grimness of pursuing photography as a living your career, or passion.

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I’m sorry, you will most likely fail.

First of all, if you pursue photography as a career, you will most likely fail.

As entrepreneurs, we have over-confidence in our abilities, skills, and ability. In a sense this is a good thing, because how else would we innovate if we didn’t have this infallible belief in ourselves? But the downside: we don’t think failure is possible.

Not only that, photography is becoming over-saturated. Nobody really values images anymore. In the past, making an image was very hard. Now your mom with a new iPhone can make a very good photo. Or an 18-year old with a new digital DSLR can make damn good photos in program mode.

To be honest, nobody cares whether you can make good photos or not. That’s not the point. The point is, “How many followers do you have? Or “What camera do you shoot with?” People don’t care whether you are a good photographer or not. Rather, they just want to learn how they can make good photos themselves. Or if they see if you have a lot of followers on social media, they want to know the “secret” of your social media success.

Another reality: 99% of people look at photos or images on a 4.7-5.5 inch screen. The trend is more people are using smartphones, and using laptops, desktops, and tablets less. Even most people I know: most prefer using their iPhone plus instead of an iPad. Most people don’t use a laptop, or even own one.

Therefore, what is the value of your images– if they are just seen on a tiny smartphone screen? Can people really appreciate your images?

The grave new world for photographers.

Wait, it gets worse.

Any kid with a full frame DSLR, and a black lens with a red ring around it can make very good wedding photos, and either do it for free, or charge $500. Nobody will care whether you spent $200,000 on photography or art school. Nobody will care what model camera you have– if your client sees you are using a “big professional looking camera with a big lens”– they won’t care what your equipment is.

In an attempt for differentiation, more photographers are going to start shooting with medium format digital cameras, and bragging about how many megapixels they have.

Unfortunately, the average person will always think that more megapixels = better photos.

We will never change this reality.

Digital medium format is still expensive– roughly $10,000 USD for a starter kit and lens. As time goes on, it will drop. It will be $7,000 then $5,000 then $3,000 and one day it will be $1,000. At that price point, everyone can afford it.

So imagine 10 years from now– you’re going to struggle as a photographer to find paying clients, when there are all these college kids, with $1,000 medium format digital cameras with 100 megapixels, and who are willing to do commercial work for free or for $300.

How are you going to make a living, feed your family, and pay your rent?

Luxury experiences and goods will prosper.

Now all the new ain’t bad.

The luxury photography market will prosper. Leica will make more money, because the rich are getting richer, and the middle class is dying.

Apple is enjoying monopoly profits. Lamborghini is selling more cars. Everyone and their brother has a Louis Vuitton something. To have a $5,000 Hermes bag is no longer a big deal. The same goes with wearing a $10,000 Rolex. A BMW is like driving a Toyota Corolla.

So if you’re a very high-end photographer, perhaps charging $10,000 for a wedding– you’re going to do very well. But if you charge “average” prices like $1,000-3,000 USD– I’m sorry, your future looks bleak. The prices for weddings will probably bifurcate:

  • Free weddings for beginners to “build their portfolio”
  • Very high end weddings: $10,000+ USD

Let’s consider other markets, like smartphones:

  • $50 Generic Smartphone on Amazon — will probably eventually be free for a smartphone.
  • $700+ iPhone plus

Other trends:

  • Don’t own a car (Uber/Lyft everywhere)
  • Own a $100,000 Tesla as status symbol

Camera bags:

  • Amazon Basics Backpack for $20
  • High-end handmade, exotic leather for $500

Cameras:

  • $400 iPhone
  • $7,000 Leica

Food:

  • $2 McDonald’s burger
  • $200 Four dollar sign Yelp restaurant in SF

I’m over-generalizing.

Of course, there will always be certain foods, foods, clothes, which will be “middle prices.” But, in terms of being a “professional photographer”– you’re going to struggle for survival if you’re stuck in the middle, just fighting for scraps, like dogs.

Even for myself, I’m “barbelling” my business. Either give away my stuff for free (like this information on the blog) or charging $5,000 for a workshop. I’m quickly increasing the prices of my products, workshops, and commercial deals. Why? Because I don’t want to die financially as a business, I want to make lots of money to help my family, and I want to help others.

ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP

I aspire to be the Jay-Z of photography:

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business…man!”

Build your own platform

So I’m gonna give some practical ideas and thoughts.

First of all, if you don’t pay for your platform– you’re a sucker.

Instagram is an advertising platform. If you’re marketing your business only on Instagram, you’re going to die.

Facebook is an advertising platform (which also owns Instagram). If you’re a slave to Facebook, you’re going to have to shell out a lot of money to “reach” your followers. Even now, if I want more people to see my Facebook posts, I spend money to “boost” my posts.

You want to own your own platform: i.e., your own blog or website.

I recommend signing up on bluehost.com or 1and1.com, and making a WordPress.org blog/website.

All social media websites will eventually lose relevance, or influence. Remember Xanga, MySpace, Friendster, and Livejournal? Probably not.

Facebook is a bit scary– I think it will be around forever. The same with Instagram. But, they will have so much of your personal information and privacy, that you cannot escape.

Google is gonna be around forever. So I choose to get in bed with Google instead of Facebook– because at least they’re an open platform, which I believe in.

So for me, I do “free” marketing by giving away free information, which I believe to be high quality. The more I publish, and the more that Google indexes my site, the higher I’m going to be on Google. And unfortunately, there is only one #1 spot on Google for anything.

I’m #1 on Google for street photography after Wikipedia. As long as I am the king of street photography on Google, I’m never going to die. I’ll always be able to monopolize the street photography book, product, and workshop market.

What am I to do?

Some ideas:

1. Invest in photography education

First of all, photography workshops will have a very lucrative future. This is because everyone will own a high end digital camera in the future, or iPhone, and everyone will want to make better photos.

You need to build a following, of people who trust you, your insights, and teaching. Realize this takes a long time. For me, it took me 6 years of blogging on street photography before I could start charging (and having people pay) for $2,000 workshops. It took me 1 year of writing 400 blog posts, before I got people to spend $500 on one of my workshops.

Rolls-Royce Torpedo
Photo: James Lipman / jameslipman.com

It took Apple decades before building a mainstream presence. The same goes for car companies like Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Kia– Americans always looked down on Asian brands, now they see them as trustworthy.

To build trust, stay in the game. Don’t die. And be helpful, honest, and useful. If you want people to trust you as a photographer teacher, teach useful things. Make good photos, and share them.

Credit: Matt Buck

And also, you gotta be consistent. If you are a photography blogger and you go one day without posting, people are gonna lose interest.

Imagine if you opened up Facebook, and nobody posted anything new? Would you have an incentive to check it all the time?

2. Luxury product photography

There will always be a luxury, high end market for Bentley cars, Rolls-Royce, Rolex, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Leica, etc.

Therefore, if you want to survive or succeed as a photographer in the future, focus on the high-end luxury market.

My friend Christophe Wu has done a good job with this. He shot a lot of high-end actors and clients, and it took him a long time to build contacts. He will continue to prosper long into the future.

So the practical advice is this:

Avoid shooting mid-range brands, companies, and clients that pay little money.

I actually do think if you’re starting off, it is good to shoot stuff for free to build your portfolio. But once you have a good portfolio, start selling your services for a shit-load of money.

3. Bespoke photography products

ERIC KIM STRAP by HAPTIC

Human nature: we all want to differentiate ourselves.

For example, I will wear a NIKE shoe to differentiate myself from the ADIDAS crowd.

I’ll drive a Rolls-Royce while others drive (lame) BMW 3-Series.

I’ll wear a Hermes bag, while others wear (lame) Louis Vuitton bags.

LEICA MP x ERIC KIM STRAP

I’ll shoot with a Leica camera, while others shoot with a Fujifilm camera.

I’m sorry to spit the truth, but honestly– human beings are superficial assholes.

We will always judge one another with the clothes we wear, the way we talk, the number of social media followers we have, our income, the neighborhood in which we live in, our area code, the version of our iPhone, or lifestyle choices.

We cannot overthrow this– we just have to have fun with it, and profit (Nassim Taleb).

Therefore, even me– I know all these stupid luxury brands. I like to have high quality stuff. Like my friend Kevin bought me an expensive Merino Wool T-Shirt from OUTLIER. I wear $200 NIKE shoes. I own a $5,000 film Leica + $3,000 Leica 35mm Summicron lens (I bought both on discount used, for 25% less). If I buy a car, I will want to buy an expensive (used) PORSCHE or (used) Lamborghini.

If you want to succeed in the photography market, sell expensive unique goods related to photography.

For example, Cindy made the ERIC KIM STRAP: which is handmade, and created by hand, each inspected by hand. It is a very high quality product. We charge a lot of money for it, because it is limited edition, and it has my name on it.

Cindy sells HAPTIC products that aren’t cheap. Because we value the information in the books, which are a bargain compared to what people spend on cameras.

When it comes to prints, Cindy has sold art portfolios through HAPTIC for $1,000.

There will always be a market for limited edition, high-quality, and unique goods.

So consider creating:

  • High-end, limited edition, art portfolio products.
  • Bespoke (made to order) camera straps, bags, or products that are handmade.

Anything in the future that is mass-marketed is going to fail. Why? You’re gonna lose against Amazon or Walmart.

So market your products, services, and ideas and photography to a very small, niche, specialized market.

How to win

You need to focus.

Don’t dick around on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or whatever trendy social media app. Use that time to build your own business empire.

I don’t fuck around with social media anymore. Even with email– I limit it only to close friends, family, or businesses or companies that will pay me a lot of money. Checking your email and responding to email usually doesn’t lead to high-paying deals.

You only can make money as a photographer by:

  • Shooting photography events for a fee.
  • Teaching photography workshops for a fee.
  • Selling photography products.

Of course there are other things.

But anyways, you gotta ask yourself:

  1. Am I getting paid for this work that I’m doing?
  2. If I’m doing this work for free, will it realistically help me make a lot of money in the future?
  3. Am I building my “brand”– by building trust, by marketing myself, or publishing information that will bring more eyeballs to me?

I can’t speak for others, but this is what I have done which has helped me:

  1. Don’t use a phone: If I really need to do business, I can do it via email.
  2. Don’t use social media: I have never got paying clients via social media.
  3. Don’t eat breakfast or lunch: less time wasted eating, and more energy to hustle, work, write, read, meditate, and think.
  4. When hungry, drink espresso (black) or chew on cacao nibs (no sugar).
  5. Don’t work after dinner. You’re a organic creature that needs time to recuperate. I never work, check email, or do anything effortful after 6pm. I use the evenings to read, enjoy leisurely 3-hour dinners with Cindy friends and family, to walk, to sleep.
  6. I don’t force myself to wake up early: I wake up when I am no longer tired. I don’t force myself to work when I’m tired. When I’m really tired, I take a nap.
  7. I don’t have distractions: no more networking, no more “meetings” (very rarely leads to paying clients), no more commuting (I walk to the coffee shop), no more responding to social media or reading comments, no more drinking alcohol (I don’t get hung over for the next day of work), or spending time around negative folks or family, and no mindless entertainment.

Of course, this is just what I do, and it won’t work for you. So ignore me.

Everyday I’m hustling (harder)

Diamonds only get their hardness from pressure. Pressure from the earth distills the minerals of the diamond to become hard.

Iron gets stronger when you strike it with a blacksmith hammer, in the fire.

Your muscles get stronger when you lift heavier stuff. My body and mind gets stronger when I increase the weight of my deadlift.

We get stronger mentally, when we overcome adversity.

The harder I work, the more “successful” I become, and the more money I earn. And then the more I can help others, and my family. And the more successful I become, it is like a snowball. My hustle speeds up, I feel more calm and relaxed, but more powerful.

The more money I earn, the less anxious I feel about my personal finances. Which helps motivate me to write more free resources like this. Because if I were a starving artist, would it be in my best interact to create “competition” for myself?

If I were broke, could I give away my expensive cameras and laptops to my friends, to help empower them?

If I were poor, and my own lawn was dying of thirst, could I water the fields of others?

Differentiate yourself.

You’re different. That is good.

Pride yourself in your uniqueness. Show off the color of your feathers. Be a peacock.

Be unashamed of who you are. Show all your flaws and strengths, just like a Greek god. Even Zeus was envious and petty and insecure.

To be an entrepreneur — don’t fear death. If King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans could fight to the death, why can’t you?

For myself, a practical tip: lower your living expenses as low as possible. Even now, I’m rich as fuck, but guess what I’m back to work (Dr. Dre).

Even now, I still fortify myself with 6 boiled eggs every evening (which I get for free from the $20 a night hotel I’m living at). Even though I can afford to buy a $30,000 digital Hasselblad, I prefer to shoot with a $600 RICOH GR digital camera. Even though I can eat expensive foods, I prefer to share a bowl of ramen with Cindy and order some extra pork to feed myself.

Life below your means, the secret to becoming successful, and rich.

Cindy’s sister works as a school teacher, yet has saved a shitload of money, because she still clips coupons, and buy whatever meat is on sale. She rarely goes out, and when she does, she doesn’t blow it on stupid shit. She doesn’t buy designer or luxury stuff, she lives simply.

I still like expensive and nice stuff. I don’t blink at spending $3.50 on a good espresso. But I won’t buy more clothes, or tools than what is necessary.

For my work, I will buy the most expensive and powerful laptop I can afford. But I won’t care to buy any status symbols.

The biggest trap we fall victim to: we keep our spending consistent with our income.

For example, if you earn $200,000 a year, and you spend $201,000 a year, you’re poor.

If you earn $40,000 a year, and only spend $20,000 a year, you’re rich.

I think to succeed as an entrepreneur is two things:

  1. Earn more money.
  2. Spend less money.

So for me,

  1. I charge more money for workshops, and sell more expensive products.
  2. I spend less money on expenses, by caring less about my lifestyle (food, transportation, accommodation, etc).

You are the chosen one.

Okay if you’ve made it this far, you’re a special breed of human being.

You’re hungry, and you’re foolish.

You’re willing to live below your means, take risks, and hustle hard. You’re willing to eat little, and drink a lot of black coffee, to make great art.

You look at the possibility of failure or death, and laugh in his face. You look at the Grim leaper like a child with a mask on.

You no longer feel guilty about making money. Rather, you have realized money is just a social tool– to empower others. You realize your personal needs are very low. Your life’s task is to empower all of humanity.

You first know you gotta help your family and yourself before helping others. You’re not gonna be a martyr, or take a vow of poverty to somehow avow your original sin.

Rather, you’re going to use the short period of life you have on planet earth, and hustle hard. You’re never gonna give up. You’re going to take the flaming chariot of Apollo, and hold tight the reigns of fury.

You’re going to be a trail blazer. You’re going to do dope shit in life, all while staying true to yourself.

BE STRONG,
ERIC


PHOTOGRAPHY ENTREPRENEURSHIP 101 >

ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP // Portrait by Benjamin Thompson

Learn how to make a living from your passion:

How to Make Money with Photography

Photography Marketing 101

How to Hustle.

Entrepreneurial Principles

How to be a Full-time Photographer

Photography Blogging

How to Teach Photography

Social Media

How to Save Money

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