Kind of a crazy thing– I think you can stay true to your roots, values, and ethics– and also get rich:
I wanna tell you the secrets of how I earn over $200,000 a year as a ‘photographer.’
1. To become rich, charge more money
I earn the bulk of my income through teaching workshops. The secret is to charge more money for workshops.
I think workshops are great for photographers, because nowadays people want to spend money on experiences, and people want to learn.
A lot of photographers like to complain that the internet has fucked up the photo industry– that nowadays ‘everyone is a photographer.’
I say fuck that– everyone is a photographer. Your mom and her iPhone is a photographer. We got several billion photographers in the world — anyone with a smartphone camera is a photographer.
To me, this is a massive opportunity.
In a future world where 7 billion people own a camera, you are going to have several billion people wanting to learn how to make better photos.
And there are a lot of really rich people who want to learn how to make better photos.
And there are a lot of rich people who want experiences. They don’t care about spending a bunch of money on an expensive camera– they want to travel, meet other passionate people, and to also learn from photographers they admire.
2. How I make money
I have monetized my photography by teaching workshops, selling products via HAPTIC INDUSTRIES (thank you Cindy, who does 100% of it), and also through Amazon Affiliate links (around $600-1000 a month as of 2017) — so if someone buys a photo book through my recommendation, I get a 3% commission and whenever anyone buys anything on Amazon through my link. So someone can click an Amazon link on my site and buy baby diapers, and I get a 2-3% commission on that.
3. Alienate people
I used to want everyone to attend my workshops, because of course as a self-interested human being, I want to make more money to better myself and my family.
But I soon learned– it is better to not want everyone to attend your workshops, or you want people not to buy your products.
The reason is simple: you only need a very small percentage of your audience or followers (lets say 1%) to buy your stuff, or attend your workshops.
For example, let’s say I have 90,000 Facebook fans. 1% of that audience is 900 individuals. Perhaps half of those people will actually buy something, or attend a workshop. But that is still massive.
But honestly, if you want to make a living from your passion (let’s say photography) you might only need only $40,000 a year to make a living (not a killing). So for me in the past, I only needed 50 people to attend a workshop to earn about $40,000 a year.
So just think to yourself: you only need 50 dedicated followers to attend your workshop, or buy your (expensive) products to make a living.
4. Thank you Cindy
The biggest tip I have for making a lot of money and getting rich is having a thrifty/economical partner.
Cindy taught me to save money, and not to go out and buying Leica’s.
I have a personal rule: if I want to spend more than $300 USD on anything, I need the explicit permission from Cindy. I know I cannot trust myself. And it has worked very well so far.
So the secret to getting ‘rich’ (financially) is to REDUCE YOUR EXPENSES.
The only reason Cindy and I have been able to accumulate more than $100,000 in savings is because we spend very little money on ourselves. I cook breakfast for Cindy at home, and we spend most of our day at coffee shops (and share 1 cup of coffee), or I will splurge and buy myself 2-3 espressos ($10 a day). When we eat out, we always share 1 dish. And when I get home in the evening I will cook myself an ‘egg snack’ of 8-10 eggs to satisfy my hunger. For myself personally, I no longer eat breakfast or lunch — additional money savings (and fight off my hunger by working out, drinking lots of water, and lots of coffee). I FAST for most of the day — to save money, and for also some selfish spiritual reasons.
5. Everyone starts with 0 followers
I started this blog in 2011 with 0 followers and 0 page views, and 0 social media followers.
Shit takes a long time to build up an audience.
To build up an audience from 0, I wrote 1 street photography tips article (Every Monday), and every Wednesday I interviewed 1 photographer, and every Friday I shared photos from the social media community. About a year of constant blogging (3x a week) I was able to build a small, yet dedicated audience.
5. Why you should start your own blog
Now, I have disabled all of my page-view trackers and whatnot on this blog. This is because I get emotional with numbers– the days my page views go up, I feel high on crack. The days it goes down, like an addicted stock-trader– I feel like shit.
So I just realized the simple solution was to disable my stats and page views. Now, I follow my own gut, and feel liberated.
I also recommend you to start your own blog, and to own your own platform — the only way to get discovered by others on Google. And no, I do not ‘pay’ Google to appear high on search results. The only way to rank high in Google is to write really useful stuff, and the more people who link to your site, the higher your site ranks in Google (how Academic Papers work).
Also a secret– I’ve written over 2,600 blog posts from 2011-2017. That helps too.
6. Social media is overrated
Another lesson — social media is overrated. 90% of my audience discovers me through Google, not Facebook or Instagram.
So while I recommend it is good to have a ‘social media presence‘ — only focus 10% of your attention on that.
For the other 90% — focus on blogging, finding clients, and figuring out ways how to actually make money.
And not only that, don’t waste time focusing on ‘marketing’ yourself– just make great art. The quality of your own art and photos will be the best marketing for yourself.
7. Why you should start a YouTube Channel
Also, I do think it is a good idea to start your own YouTube channel. It is free marketing for yourself (and I recommend not putting on ads on YouTube– it is annoying and it will deter people from watching your videos and learning more about your message, ethics, and morals).
I make YouTube videos which are fun to me. I have intentionally turned off ads on my YouTube, because I hate ads. I think it is better to have people watch your videos on YouTube (without ads), and learn how to TRUST you — and then eventually buy your products or attend your workshop, rather than to just earn a few dollars here and there.
My crazy ambition is to create a trillion-dollars worth of ‘value’ in the photography world. I want to be the #1 photography website on the internet. I therefore know in order to do that, I don’t wanna put no paywalls on the information on this site. To me, an open system is always better than a closed one. This is why I believe in ‘open source photography‘ and have even made a free photography boot camp.
8. How to make your own luck
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
You can make your own luck. The more you swing the bat, the more likely you are to hit a home run.
The sad reality — if you are never given opportunity, you can never have the opportunity to make a butt-load of money, and also become the best version of yourself.
You can hustle fucking hard, and not become ‘successful.’
I got very lucky. I started this blog when nothing was written (much) on street photography. In the course of 6 years (2011-2017) I was able to become #2 on Google for ‘Street Photography’ because I’ve written a lot of articles on street photography (especially the ‘Learn From the Masters of Street Photography‘ series) and from these free photography ebooks.
9. FREE or EXPENSIVE
The biggest principle I believe in is this: it is better to give away your stuff for free or to charge a lot of money for it. My buddy Nassim Taleb calls this the ‘BARBELL’ theory.
Many individuals make the mistake: they try to ‘nickel and dime you’ for every little thing.
Avoid charging a ‘medium’ price or a ‘moderate’ price on anything.
I actually predict the future is going to be polarized. Either everything will be free (for the masses) or really fucking expensive (for the rich). If you look at society, the middle class is dying. 50 years from now (if capitalism keeps marching forward) there will only be really poor people (subsidized) or really rich people (those who control the ‘means of production, via MARX’).
Consider, you can buy a $10 bag on Amazon, or a $100,000 Hermes hand bag.
Or you can have a smartphone camera on your iPhone, or spend $10,000 on a digital Leica camera.
The future is going to be luxury goods or free. I’m sorry it is a sad reality– but true.
10. The death of the photographic middle-class
There is going to be a death of the photographic middle-class. Those photographers just charging ‘medium’ prices will die off.
You will have a future with $100 medium-format digital cameras that everyone can afford. 18 year old kids will shoot weddings for $500. And they will be damn good. And poor people will pay that. And the rich will spend $50,0000 on a wedding or commercial/fashion/editorial shoot.
11. Have faith in yourself
Ultimately, the most important thing is to have a hustler’s mentality. To have supreme confidence in yourself (almost to the point of radical foolishness).
If you want to innovate, make a living from your passion — you need to be a little crazy.
When I lost my cozy $40,000 a year job in 2011, and decided to pursue photography full-time through blogging, everyone thought I was crazy. But I am so grateful to Cindy and my mom for believing in me. And my friend Kevin McKenzie for telling me that he would do everything to help support me.
You cannot control whether you will become rich, or even ‘succeed.’ But you can control how hard you hustle.
When you are looking into the dark pit of despair, fucking believe in yourself. You got this shit.
Not only that, but never stop hustling. If you really want to make a living from your passion, it will be fucking hard. You will not see the back of your eyelids for at least a year or two. I know for myself, when I first lost my job in 2011, I worked 12-14 hours a day. I used this time to make photos, to blog, make videos, send emails, build connections, and trying to figure out ways to make money.
Even now in 2017, I have doubled-down on my hustle. The other day I woke up at 5:30am, and drank 5-6 cups of (Vietnamese) coffee, and crashed at around 5:30pm. I worked essentially non-stop, with the hope to create information that will empower you.
This is why I live — I believe in you, and you can really change society and the world, and earn your freedom through owning your own business.
Money isn’t going to buy you happiness, but in today’s world, it will buy you (some) freedom.
I know for me, being broke fucking sucks. I grew up poor as a 12 year old kid. Now that I am rich, I can be more generous helping friends, family, and helping give back to society by keeping this information open and free.
You might wonder, why did Eric write this article? Is it for more page views, for more people to buy his products, and ‘free’ marketing for his workshops?
No but seriously — the reason I wrote this is to encourage you — with enough hustle (and a touch of luck) you can earn (more) than $200,000 a year from your passion.
If I can do it, you can do it too — and better.
Learn how to make a living from your passion:
- The Free Way to Become Rich
- 5 Lessons From Hesiod on Hustling
- JUST DO IT.
- 7 Steps: How to Make a Living From Your Passion
- How to Sell Yourself
- How to Do What You Love for a Living
- How to Create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
- How to Fail Big
- How to Invest in Yourself
- How to Be Bold in Photography and Life
- Mission: Cover Your Rent and Food
- 1,000 True Fans
- The “10x Principle”: The Only Difference Between “Success” and “Failure”
- Make More Value Not Money
- We Live in a Photo Utopia
How to be a Full-time Photographer
- How to Make a Living From Photography
- The 3 Principles of Making Money With Photography
- Advice for Aspiring Full-Time Photographers
- Don’t Go Into Debt For Your Photography
- How to Brand Yourself as a Photographer
- Trust: The Most Important Thing You Need to Succeed as a Photographer
How to Start a Blog
- How to Make a Living with Blogging
- 50 Blogging Tips For Beginners
- How to Start Your Own Photography Blog
- A Photographer’s Guide to SEO, Blogging, and Social Media
How to Teach Photography
- How to Become a Photography Teacher
- How to Teach a Street Photography Class
- Why I Teach Street Photography Workshops
- The Social Media Blackbook for Photographers
- Why Do You Need More Likes or Followers?
- Instagram is Going to Be the Next Facebook
- Don’t Trust “Free” Photography Social Networks
Unleash your creative potential:
- April 10-11th, 2021: BOSTON / Discover Your Unique Voice in Photography Workshop [Register Intent Here]
- May 1-2nd, 2021: CHICAGO / Street Photography Composition Masterclass [Register Intent Here]
- May 22-22nd, 2021: NEW YORK CITY / STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MASTERCLASS by ERIC KIM [Register Intent Here]
Be notified of when new workshops are live here.