Something I hear a lot today is called being an ‘influencer.’ I think I am an influencer. I’ll share with you why I think I am an influencer, and how you can become an influencer— and whether that is even a desirable thing.
1. What is your goal in photography?
So first of all, why do you want to be an influencer? Do you want to ‘influence’ others in order to make more money? To get free cameras from companies? To feel cool? To feel important?
To be frank, if you seek to become an influencer to boost your self-esteem, you will never be an influencer.
Only real influencers are individuals who have this deep-seated conviction of their views on photography, art, and life. If you compromise on any of your ideals, morals, or ethics— you will never become an influencer.
2. What is an influencer?
To be an influencer— it simply means to influence others.
To influence the thinking, hearts, and the minds of others.
Think of the people who have influenced you in life. For me, my biggest influences were role models— people who walked what they talked. Also good influences were ‘anti-role models’ — people who I did not want to resemble when I grew up (aka my deadbeat dad).
An influencer is someone who shares their idea with a wide public, and speaks or writes with conviction. With passion. With their own original viewpoint instead of quoting others, they just say their idea how it is.
3. Don’t censor yourself.
So the first step in becoming an influencer: don’t censor yourself. Say what is really on your mind, without caring what others think of you. Don’t worry whether your opinion will cause sponsors or potential business clients, or students not like you.
Instead, you should aim to alienate people. It is better to alienate 99% of people (who don’t agree with you) and have 1% of your audience passionately believe in what you believe in. Because those 1% of individuals will spread your message (hopefully one of positivity, love and tolerance).
For example, I’m probably the most hated photographer on the internet. Why? Because I speak my mind. I step on a lot of toes, because I’m opinionated. I can’t help it, it is in my American culture. But all the things I write about is because I genuinely wanna help others. I feel that I’ve suffered through so much bullshit in photography — caring about social media followers, making a ton of money, traveling the world, owning expensive cameras, and getting free shit. I’ve accomplished all of that, and friend– trust me, it is all empty and vacuous.
The only way to find happiness in photography is to find your purpose as a photographer. To consider yourself an artist, a historian, or a social critic. Photography is for everyone; and everyone is a photographer. Photography is the most beautiful democratic form.
4. Be aggressive
To be an influencer, you cannot be meek. You need to be aggressive.
If you want social change, you cannot sit back on your butt and complain about society. You need to be strong and aggressive with your message.
Realize the more aggressive you are, the more people who are owing to passionately hate you. But the irony is that the more people who hate you, the more followers you will get. Why? Having haters is the best free marketing.
Let me give you a real story: Chris Weeks (a photographer who I admired when I started off in street photography, as he gave away a free ebook on street photography, which is in accordance with my open source photography principles) was teasing me on Facebook. My friend S saw his status update, and decided to check out who this “Eric Kim” fellow was. My buddy S then ended up enjoying this blog, and eventually attended one of my workshops, and became a soul-mate of mine.
Another fun story: I had this guy leaving random hateful comments in my comments on my blog (when I had comments enabled). He called me a scammer, and told everyone not to attend my workshops, because I was a cock sucking scammer. Anyways, I figured out that he was another street photographer who I admired when I started off in street photography, and I felt quite hurt. Why did he talk so much smack about me? I went to his website, and discovered he was teaching street photography workshops too. So I was competition. Makes sense, I would have done the same if I were in his shoes. The good story is that I confronted him via email, and we ended up meeting up in real life shooting on the streets together, and burying the hatchet.
A lot of people passionately hate me (just read PetaPixel comments), but I genuinely feel that if I met with anyone who hated me in real life– they would really like me. And I’d like them. If you met me in real life, you would know I’m a pretty charming motherfucker. And I’m genuinely curious about other people; it is what inspired me to study sociology as an undergraduate in college.
5. Start a photo blog
If you’re a slave to social media (Facebook, Instagram) you will never become a real influencer.
Rather, own your own platform. Start your own photo blog via bluehost.com and WordPress.org. I use the Genesis theme, with the paid Monochrome child theme.
Think about it. All the truly biggest photo influencers are the platforms, aka the blogs and websites.
Petapixel dominates the photo landscape. They are essentially a blog. The same goes with Steve Huff with cameras and inspiration, Ken Rockwell for camera technical specs, DPreview for camera reviews and news, Ming Thein for very technical and artistic camera reviews, Japan Camera Hunter for film photography, Thorsten Overgaard for Leica, Street Hunters for street photography inspiration, DXO Mark for image quality, or Phoblographer for general photography news, or Digital Photography School for beginner photography tutorials.
My practical advice: don’t make a general photo website. Make yourself your own brand. Be an individual. Name your website after your first and last name. Become like a rock star, brand your name, and build up your name. Become a Jay-Z, a Kanye West, a Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, Justin Bieber, Armani, Christian Dior, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso. As humans, it is also easier to remember names, not “brands”.
If you start your own photo blog, just write about things which personally interest you, get it 80% good enough, and hit publish. Never edit your text, just do spell check, and add headers and images. I never edit my text and it has helped me 10x my output and productivity. I can write close to 10,000 words a day on an iPad or MacBook computer. It is easy, because I only write about what I am interested or passionate about.
6. Be the same person online as offline.
Don’t be scared. Have the confidence to publish your personal thoughts. Bleed onto the digital screen when you write. Make your writing autobiographical. Don’t write like a robot. Write for human beings.
For example if you started your own photo blog, I want to know you personally as a human being. What kind of coffee do you like to drink? Why do you like to make photos? Do you have a partner or kids? Where do you live? What is your life story?
I personally love looking at personal photos of photographers, of their kids, families, and their everyday life. I care less now about seeing “exotic” photos of India or Paris. I wanna know the photographer through their life of images.
So don’t be scared to share the personal. I personally blog a lot about my fucked up childhood, my insecurities, my issues with gear acquisition syndrome, and I just allow the reader to join me for this ride.
The best compliment I ever got in real life, after meeting someone who followed this blog:
Eric, you’re exactly in real life like you are on your blog or YouTube!
That’s all I want.
Be a singular person. Don’t be fake. Talk how you write, write how you talk, etc.
When I met Kaiman Wong in real life, I was happy to see he was as crude and British humored like on YouTube. Alamby was lovely, and Lok was Lok.
To be frank, I was a bit disappointed meeting Steve Huff in real life. On his blog, he’s so passionate about cameras and life in general. But in real life, he was very quiet and reserved. Who knows, maybe he’s just a different person online than in real life.
The individual I admire most is Charlie Kirk, a very talented photographer who used to go by the pseudonym “twocutedogs”. He was as opinionated, uncensored, and unapologetic online as he was offline. To me, this is true character.
7. Never stop.
I’ve been blogging on photography from 2011-2017, and I’ve written over 2,600 blog posts. On average one or two a day. Now I’ve taken it to the next motherfucking level, I’m at 3-6 blog posts a day. I’ve got criticism for posting too much but fuck it, I write about what I’m interested in, and I write for a very small audience, not for the mass public.
I never write about something I’m not personally interested, curious, or passionate about. When I used to write guest blog posts for money, it was like hell. The words couldn’t come out, when someone dictated for me to write about a certain topic.
There is no such thing as overnight success. I’ve been shooting photography from age eighteen until now at age twenty nine. A solid decade of shooting under my belt, and following my obsession in photography.
And there is no perfection in photography or blogging. Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Life is in a state of flux”, and that “You never step in the same river twice.” Which means, you are constantly evolving, changing, as an intellectual, as a human being and your life experiences change your personal philosophy.
Thank God I change my opinion. Or else I would become a rigid individual, and I would die. I like to think of myself like Bamboo, strong yet flexible. Strong in my morals and ethics (openness, democracy, and freedom) yet flexible in terms of the details of life. I used to be more strict about shooting street photography, now in more lax. Because at the end of the day, photography is more about self introspection rather than making a lot of good photos for the interwebs.
8. Never accept free cameras, phones or gear.
Okay I made a mistake. I grew up poor, so I love free shit. Even now, I live in starve college student mode. If I’m with my friends, and they don’t eat the fat off their steak, I ask them for their fat. Real talk.
I’ve got a bunch of free cameras from companies. I have gotten a free x100s, x100t, xt-1 from Fujifilm (and a bunch of lenses), I’ve got free smartphones from Samsung (s3, s5, s7 edge, note 3, note 4), a free Pentax k3, and Ricoh GRI.
The problem with receiving free stuff is this: you become a slave.
My reasoning is this: if you accept free stuff, you cannot truly say your real opinion. Because you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. And you wanna keep getting free shit.
If Lamborghini offered me a free car, of course I would say yes. If Leica offered me a free camera, of course I would say yes. But the sad thing is that there is no such thing as a “free lunch”.
To be frank, it is better to buy your own gear. Because you can own your own opinion; the most important possession.
9. On working with companies and brands.
I’ve collaborated with companies and brands, and did social media stuff.
Honestly posting stuff on social media related to sponsorships or companies always seems a bit dirty. I can’t describe why that is, but I always try to be 100% transparent, but I kinda feel like I’m selling out.
I don’t think working with a company is selling out. Selling out is just betraying your ideals. For example, I don’t think I’ve sold out my ethics because my #1 philosophy is open source and free informant. And even though I might spam you with ads, I can guarantee you that all the content on this site will remain free.
But the biggest thing I learned is this:
The companies and brands need you more than you need them.
For example, I believe (truly) that I’m the most influential photography blogger alive. I’m the most influential street photographer on planet earth (if a Google can be used as a yardstick). I think I have given the most practical advice on business, marketing, blogging, SEO, and social media in photography.
So to be frank, I used to beg these companies to give me money and sponsor me. Because I had lack of self esteem. I thought I needed them.
But now I know, they need me. So my new policy is this:
I refuse to do any commercial work for less than 100,000 USD.
So if a big company (let’s say Apple) wants me to consult for them, I will charge at least 250,000 USD. Because I know what my self worth is now.
Whenever I blog about a camera, it gets really popular. I have probably helped Leica sell hundreds of thousands of dollars of cameras. I had probably helped Ricoh-Pentax sell a shitload of cameras too. My next step is probably founding my own photography company or building my own camera, to market myself and my own camera brand, like how Jay-Z stopped promoting other brands, and only promotes his own stuff now. Like Hova said:
I’m not a businessman, I’m a business…man.
I wanna be the next Elon Musk, and create a Tesla. I wanna make the next truly great $1 trillion dollar photography company. I’m not joking.
10. Be unapologetically you (and hustle fucking hard).
Dream big. It is better to die enormous, than to lie dormant (Jay-Z).
Brand yourself, and build your own brand. Market yourself, don’t promote or pimp out the stuff of other companies and brands.
Kanye West was getting fucked over by NIKE, so he partnered up with Adidas and made his own shoe line (Yeezy).
Steve Jobs hated PC computers, and therefore made his own Mac computer.
Elon Musk hated all the electric cars on the market. He made the first sexy electric car.
I started this photo blog, because the internet sucked for information on practical information on how to shoot street photography. Now there is no practical advice on marketing, branding, social media, SEO, and getting rich off photography. So I plan on filling that next gap, and probably teaching a workshop on photography entrepreneurship and charging a bunch of money for it. And getting the students who sign up to end up making $200,000 from their photography passion after a decade of working 7 days a week, 12-14 hours a day. Even now I’m quite rich (I have $150,000+ saved up with Cindy, because we share the same coffee at the cafe, share the same single appetizer and entree at the restaurant, we always fly the cheapest flight, we don’t buy shit, we don’t own a car, we don’t drink alcohol, and we life like broke students).
So friend, ultimately the distillation of advice on how to brand yourself as a photographer, and to become a photography influencer is this:
Be unapologetically you, don’t be afraid to share your opinion, hustle 7 days a week x 12-14 hours a day, publish your opinions once a day to your photo blog, don’t get distracted by social media, and have the courage to write and shoot photos with your blood.
Photography Entrepreneurship 101
Learn how to make a living from your passion:
- Why you must be an expensive photographer
- How I Earn $200,000+ a Year From Photography
- 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 become rich from photography blogging
- 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