Photography Entrepreneurship 101: Scarcity


Dear friend,

Continuing our series on Photography Entrepreneurship 101, let’s tackle this concept of “scarcity”– how to make yourself more valuable as a photographer and entrepreneur by making yourself more scarce.

Download PDF >

So in today’s world, I’m sorry, but the truth is: photos are no longer scarce. But does that mean that photos are no longer valuable?

People pay lots of money for memories.

To me, I think that photos and images will always be valuable to being human. Even androids in movies like in Blade Runner still carry photographs with them, to remind themselves of their “humanness”–even though these memories are manufactured.

A proposition:

To be human is to have memories.

And what is the best way of preserving memories? Photographs and images.

Photography is what makes us human.

So in a sense, photographs today and in the future will still be very valuable. However, photographs and images today (and into the future) will no longer be scarce.

So this is the new trend in photography:

Photographs are important, but not scarce.

In a world of photographic abundance (opposite of scarcity), we treat photos as disposable. The same goes in a buffet–I am less likely to finish all the food on my plate, especially the French fries they give me for free on the side (even though I didn’t order them), because the food is so abundant.

If I went 3 days without food, I’m sure I’d be pretty ravenous and eat everything on my plate, regardless of what was served me. I only value food when it is scarce, when I’m hungry, or after 24 hours of fasting.

So an interesting proposition, to value your photos more, you can:

Artificially restrict your ability to access photos, or ”fast” from images by not consuming images for a long time.

So some ideas:

  1. Uninstall all the social media apps on your phone related to photography or images (like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat). Go a week without them. See if you value your image more, or your access to images.
  2. Ask yourself: what 10 photos would define my life story? Choose those 10 images, and print them out and share with friends and family.
  3. Ask yourself, “To me, what is the value of a photograph?” Also ask yourself, “Why do others value photos?”

Nothing unlimited is good, nothing good is unlimited.

We have Google Photos which allows us to backup infinite photos to the cloud. Which means, we are in a “post scarcity” photo world. We no longer need to pay hundreds of dollars for storage space.

But what happens when photo storage becomes unlimited and free?

Our new problem: the stress of organizing and finding our photos.

Let me give you a personal example: with digital photography, I shoot a lot more than film. Which is good, because it liberates me, and I can shoot more freely.

Downside: the time required to process and look through my photos, and edit (choose my best photos) is the most difficult.

In today’s world, the hardest thing is:

Which photos should I keep, and which photos should I ditch?

Human nature: We want what we cannot have or do not have.

Think about it: don’t you usually value what you can’t have? For example:

  1. You value the car you cannot afford or buy (this is why people like to watch “Top Gear”, to live out the fantasy of owning a fancy car).
  2. You always desire to have that one romantic partner who doesn’t seem attracted to you. You ignore those who are affected to you. You want what you can’t have.
  3. You are never satisfied with the camera or equipment you already have. The grass seems greener on the other side.

Why do we value what we don’t, or what we can’t have?

To me, I think it’s human nature. To be dissatisfied is what drives us.

For example, if you were perfectly satisfied with everything in your life, what reason would you have to live, work, save up money, and hustle?

For a lot of people, fear is what drives them. For some, the quest for wealth, fame, and power is what drives them. Some are driven by the desire to help others. Others are driven by fear of eternal damnation.

For me, I am driven because of selfish and altruistic purposes. I’m driven selfishly, because I want more people to know who ERIC KIM is, and I want to make more money, to help my family and friends more. I’m altruistic, because I want to make information that helps humanity at large.

Lesson: There are no morally “good” or “bad” intentions. There are only “authentic” and “inauthentic” goals. Just know what your goals are, and be brutally honest with yourself.

How to make yourself scarce (therefore valuable)

So to add value to your photography or work, you need to make yourself or photos or services scarce.

Some ideas:

  1. Your time/life is scarce: you will die one day. No matter how rich you are, you will never add years to your life. So don’t sell your time or life for cheap. Refer to Cindy’s “My labor is not free” essay.
  2. If you print your work, make a limited edition set. Only print 20 of your prints, to increase the value. If you have unlimited on demand printing, there will be less value in your images. Of course you can in theory print more editions, but you would lose trust and legitimacy. And trust is what will get you ahead as an entrepreneur and artist.
  3. Limited time: we are still driven by this concept of a “limited time sale”. For example, this new car is only on sale this weekend, so you “don’t want to miss out on this opportunity” to save $5000 on a new car. So try to figure out how to make your offers more limited. For example, a limited time sale for just a few days, or just 24 hours.

If you don’t think of yourself as a valuable, scarce, individual, you will never be able to charge money for what you’re worth.

More ideas:

  1. If you knew you would die in 5 years, how would you charge money differently for your photographic services?
  2. Examine your own buying behavior: when do you like to buy things? On sale? How do you calculate whether something is “valuable” or not in your mind?
  3. What makes you unique as a photographer, and how can you differentiate yourself from the millions of other photographers out there, fighting to make a living?


To end this chapter, just consider:

What is scarce is valuable.

Not only that, but consider, how does this change your life?

  1. When food is abundant and free, do we appreciate it?
  2. When photos are free, why would someone pay real money for your photographic services?
  3. If social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are free to use, how does Facebook and Instagram make money? Do you have as much freedom?

And friend, never forget: You are the ultimate scarce resource.


Photography Entrepreneurship 101