How to Get Rich From Your Photography Passion

The biggest lie you’re told: you cannot get rich off your passion.

1. Luck + Hustle = Success

Honestly, I got rich off my passion (I earn 200,000+ USD a year with Cindy) which is photography, teaching, travel, and blogging. If I can do it, you can do it (and probably better).

2. You can do better than me.

First of all, just know it is possible to get rich off your passion. But it is not guaranteed. Even if you hustle 14 hours a day, 7 days a week— you will not necessarily succeed. But the more you hustle, the more lucky you will get.

For example, in my case— when I started this blog, I already had a full-time job. I worked as an Online Community Manager for (part of Demand Media) when I was 22 years old. I blogged before work (I woke up an hour earlier everyday), I worked on my side-business by blogging and interviewing photographers and interacting on social media when I was bored at work, and I hustled on my business after work. And always on the weekends. I was plotting my escape for almost 6 months, until I got lucky and got laid off my job — then I had the guts to pursue this crazy blog, street photography thing full-time.

3. Don’t listen to losers.

Whoever tells you that you can’t make a living (or get rich) off your passion is just a failed person. That person probably tried to pursue their passion, and failed. Or they never had the guts to make a living from their passion — and therefore they feel bitter, and wanna bring down other folks.

My thought is this: your life is fucking short. At best, you might live to be age 90. Even if we ‘cure’ aging— you might only live to be 120 years old. But why would you be a slave at your office job (aka golden cage) until you die, or maybe retire if you’re lucky? Who knows, you might die in a car accident in a week. You might discover you have cancer in 2 years. Tomorrow you might die while you’re texting while driving. Tonight you might die in your sleep because you accidentally ate something you’re allergic to during dinner.

You have so much fucking potential — you are inert matter, just waiting for yourself to act upon it. You are a massive mountain of logs, waiting for yourself to light a match onto yourself. You are like dynamite, just waiting for permission to blow up.

Society wants to emasculate and weaken you. Society doesn’t want you to pursue your passion. Society wants you to be a slave to a 9-5 office job, to save up for retirement, to contribute to your 401k, and to maybe one day retire at age 65. They want you to be a slave to your home, mortgage, car payment, and a slave to your credit card and debt.

4. Don’t listen to me.

Everything I say is only advice that I follow, or mistakes I’ve made.

First of all, as an entrepreneur trying to start your own business, avoid debt like the devil. I repeat: debt is slavery and the devil. Even Jesus promoted people of his time to forgive the debts of others; because debt is literally what made people slaves. Think about ‘indentured servants’ in America— they were promised some new life in America, but had to work like slaves to their slave-masters for their entire lives, to pay off their debt.

If you have debt, I’m sorry — but you are a slave. Because you will have to stay at your shitty job, just to pay off the debt.

I’m sorry if you already have a mountain of debt. I encourage you to pay that shit off as quickly as possible. Maybe declare bankruptcy (what my mom did), or live below your means (what I do). Don’t own a car (I don’t) and don’t buy designer shit (I only wear UNIQLO clothes). Don’t go into debt for digital cameras (I only own a Ricoh GR II camera). Don’t subscribe to GQ, VOGUE, or any other ‘lifestyle’ magazine (it will just sucker you into buying shit you don’t need in order to feel cool— but the only real way to be ‘cool’ is to do cool shit, and to create cool shit).

If you’re 18 and about to go to college— avoid debt at all costs. Go to a shittier school, if it allows you to fall victim to less debt.

If you’re 21 years old, don’t buy a car, or buy a house — if you will go into debt. Rent it if you need it. Or buy a used ‘beater’ car (the only cars I’ve ever owned or purchased include a $1,200 1991 Nissan Sentra XE, a $1500 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R, and a $2000 1991 Mazda Miata). If you want a cool smartphone, just buy a used iPhone or get a OnePlus Android phone.

Don’t be a sucker and lust after expensive watches. CASIO G-Shock watches are the coolest watches, period. SEIKO watches are also cooler than Rolex watches.

Don’t live in an expensive and ‘hip’ neighborhood. Or else you will be a sucker to your rent, and also be a slave to just pay off your living expenses. Better to live in a shittier neighborhood, with more freedom over your time and schedule and life.

5. What laptop should I own?

To build your own business, you need a good laptop. My suggestion: buy the most powerful laptop you can afford.

Better suggestion: get a 1-year old MacBook Pro laptop. You will save at least $600-800 instead of buying new.

If you’re on a budget, get a used 11’’ MacBook Air.

I genuinely believe that MacOS is superior than PC’s. Because Mac laptops come pre-installed with phenomenal apps — I love GarageBand for making music, I love iMovie for making videos and film, and I love the operating system, as well as the writing apps ‘IA Writer’ and ‘Ulysses’, MacBooks have the best trackpads, and trust me — you will feel cooler owning one.

6. Should I buy a new iPhone?

If you want to start a successful business; to be frank, you don’t even need a smartphone. You can do all your business over email. So don’t think buying a new iPhone will somehow bring more money into your business. Because it won’t.

7. Don’t be cheap; be EXPENSIVE

To become rich off your passion, you need to charge money for your services. A lot.

The suggestion I have: always charge 25% more than you think you’re worth.

Why? When something is more expensive, people value it more.

I buy $10 Tylenol instead of a $1 Generic when I have a headache. Because I think the Tylenol (even though it is the same ingredients) will work better— because it is more expensive.

A lot of people buy expensive shit, because they have a mental shortcut — they think more expensive = better quality.

If I had a choice between a $100 smartphone and a $700 smartphone — of course I would assume the $700 smartphone is better quality.

Not only that, it is easier to make a lot of money by selling high-margin products and services. For example, it is easier to sell 10 workshop spots at $5000 (for income of $50,000) instead of selling 1000 workshop spots at $50.

So the strategy is sell a few really expensive stuff, instead of a lot of cheap stuff.

Don’t be a WAL-MART photographer or business-person. Be an APPLE, TESLA, TUMI, LEICA, or ERIC KIM (haha just kidding).


There is no secret to success, except hard work. HUSTLE.

The harder you hustle, the more likely you are to gain more opportunities, and to earn more money.

I love hip hop music. It is the best music for an entrepreneur or aspiring business person/artist pursuing his/her passion.

For example, I am listening to ‘I GOT THE KEYS’ by JAY-Z. He uplifts me, and encourages me to break past my self-imposed limitations. And he hasn’t seen the back of his eyelids since ’96.

Even Ben Horowitz (legendary Silicon Valley investor/business person) listens to hip hop. Not only that, he used to actually rap (and he was quite good).

For Eric Kim, I hustle fucking all the time. The other day, I woke up at 5:30am (without alarm clock), drank 2 cups of coffee in the morning, and blogged, thought up of ideas, and meditated until around 5pm. And in the evening, I am still hustling— by reading philosophy, coming up with ideas, and permanently jamming out on my laptop. I work usually from 7am-midnight, everyday, 7 days a week. And it is my passion; so it don’t feel like work. And I love it — I never do nothing I don’t wanna do.

9. Aim to be #1

The secret of ‘success’ in business (I think it is better to be rich, than to gain ‘admiration’ or ‘fame’ or social media followers). For me, I would rather have more dollars in my bank account, rather than have strangers ‘like me’ or to have a lot of social media followers. And I certainly don’t care about the opinion others have about me — I only care what I think of me, what Cindy thinks of me, what my friends and family thinks of me, and whether I can live my everyday life without ever feeling like a slave.

To me, the only real success is to do whatever you want, everyday, 24/7, 7 days a week. So even if you are a billionaire and you can’t take a nap when you want to, you are just a very rich slave.

But anyways, Peter Thiel talks about ‘creative monopolies’ to get rich. And it is true. I am lucky enough that I am #1 on Google for Street Photography (after Wikipedia) — so effectively I have a monopoly over street photography, which allows me to sell more STREET NOTES, PHOTO JOURNAL, HENRI NECK + HENRI WRIST STRAPS, and ERIC KIM WORKSHOPS. If I weren’t #1 on Google, I would be a nobody.

I became #1 on Google without spending a single dime on Google AdSense or Ads. I got #1 on Google by writing 2,000+ articles on street photography from 2011-2017. And it is my passion; so it was easy. Of course, I wrote some articles (like on Henri Cartier-Bresson, I wrote it through 10 hours straight) that took a lot of work — but I never ‘forced’ myself to do it. I only wrote about things I was genuinely interested in.

The only way to become #1 on Google is to be lucky. To discover a sub-genre (like street photography) that doesn’t have much information, and to become #1 in it. In 2011, there was very little information on Google how to shoot street photography. So I followed my own interest — because I personally wanted to learn how to shoot street photography. I started blogging on street photography before I knew anything. I learned, and others learned along — right beside me.

To build up traffic on a blog — interview other experts in your field. And also write guides, tips, and useful and practical information.

The saying “Content is king” is true.

Aim to make the highest-quality ‘content’ — via articles, ebooks, photos, or product. Like this article — I am trying to divulge all my ‘secrets’ or things which helped me earn 200,000+ USD a year from photography.

10. Give away your information for free

I believe in open source and free information. This is because when I was a kid, I was poor. I only was able to become ‘successful’ in life from the help of my local community leaders, teachers, school, the US government, as well as information.

To me, information is power. Information is everything.

Information will empower others. So if you have any valuable information; share that shit with as many people as you can.

The more information you share, the more you learn and grow. And the more information you share, the more people will discover you, come to you, build trust in you, and (eventually) attend one of your workshops, seminars, talks, buy your product, or buy your service.

For me, I follow the ‘barbell’ philosophy of Nassim Taleb. I give away all the information on this blog for free. But I charge a lot of money (2,000+ USD on workshops). Cindy also brings us in a lot of income from selling HAPTIC INDUSTRIES products— like STREET NOTES, PHOTO JOURNAL, HENRI WRIST + HENRI NECK STRAPS, and other art projects like DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, and THE CITY OF ANGELS.

11. First aim to make a living

If you’re starting off, aim to make a living — not a killing. It took me 5 years of constant hustle (2011-2016) before I broke the $200,000 USD a year income ceiling. And my ultimate dream is to be the first photographer trillionaire.

But when I started off, I just had to pay my $800 a month rent in West LA, and my living expenses. So I cut my expenses to the bare minimum. No eating out. No buying shit I didn’t need. No ‘investing’ in new technology. My biggest mistake: wasting my life savings ($5000 USD) on a camera (Leica M9) and borrowing ($3000 USD) for a lens (Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux) from my mom (who actually took out a 0% credit card loan for that money). I would have been better off just sticking with my Canon 5D, and building up my business myself.

So first lesson: learn how to survive on just black coffee (espresso) and work at your local Starbucks, or coffee shop. Don’t pay for rent at a co-working space. Lower your rent as much as you can — move back in with your parents, or just share a room with a friend or family member.

For food, you can survive pretty well on ground beef, eggs, spinach, and kimchi (hey, I’m Korean-American).

Sell your car if it is holding you back.

If you’re in massive debt, just declare bankruptcy and start from scratch. Having ‘credit’ at a bank is only useful if you want a credit card, if you want to take out a loan on a house, or buy a car. If you don’t need none of that— bankruptcy is your best option. That is what my mom did, and it liberated us.

12. Build a website

Use and build a website via Make a domain name for your website. This is the best way to advertise yourself.

Learn more on how to blog >

13. How do I make money?

You can either sell products (products, books) or you can sell your services (teaching workshops, teaching seminars, consulting).

I don’t believe in charging for information. I think it is whack to charge people money for PDF ebooks. I think it is whack to charge people money for videos. Just put your videos on YouTube for free.

I rather believe in charging money for tangible products (like printed books, or camera straps, or whatever physical product you wanna sell) or your services (by shooting freelance photos, by teaching photography workshops, or consulting for camera companies).

I also believe it is a waste of time trying to make money off advertisements on Google AdSense or Amazon Affiliates or BhPhoto Affiliates. You will make a few hundred bucks a month at best (even now, I only make 600-1000 USD off Amazon affiliates a month, and I get massive traffic to this blog).

14. Be your first customer.

If you don’t know what kind of business or passion you wanna follow in life— just ask yourself:

What kind of product or service would I want?

Make your product or service for yourself.

For example, I hated all the camera straps on the market, so I collaborated with Cindy to make my own strap that I loved— and therefore we created the HENRI NECK x HENRI WRIST STRAP.

I wanted useful notebooks and workbooks on photography, so Cindy and I created STREET NOTES and PHOTO JOURNAL.

I wanted to learn about street photography — and I wish I could have attended a workshop when I started off. I genuinely believe that in my workshops, I teach 10 years of distilled street photography knowledge in just 2 days. I teach my own workshops like if I were a student.

You don’t know what others like, but you know what you like, and what you want.

So be your first customer.

15. Books you should read

Lastly, self-learn.

I studied sociology in school; I had no idea about business. So I self-taught.

My favorite books:

Just read these three books when you’re starting off; and you will find massive inspiration.


The last thing — the purpose of following your passion isn’t to just make yourself a bunch of money and buy yourself a Lamborghini like Eric Kim.

Rather, the goal is to empower humanity. To create so much massive value, to be so helpful and useful to others, that the money will just flow to you.

And also, please please please lower your living expenses, to live below your means. Even now that I’m rich, I wear the same outfit everyday, I use the same digital camera, and I share the same 1 entree and 1 appetizer with Cindy at dinner. Even at coffee shops, we often just share 1 cup of coffee.

Live below your means, hustle like you’re broke, and never forget how hungry you were like a high schooler or college student.

Hustle hard and be strong,


Learn more: HUSTLING 101 // Entrepreneurship 101