Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Dear friend,

To continue PHOTOGRAPHY ENTREPRENEURSHIP 101, here is some more photography and life advice that you should probably ignore from me: Go against the grain.

Download PDF >

I was always the black sheep

Saigon, 2017

Funny analogy of grain, eh? (Sorry for bad photo pun).

Anyways, in society we are told to follow the grain. To go with the flow. To take wherever the road leads us.

But to be a successful photographer and entrepreneur is to go against the grain. To be like an epic salmon, swimming upstream. Or to be like a black sheep, refusing to go where the other white sheep go.

To go against the grain means to give the middle finger to convention. It means to be an individual, to follow your own heart and voice. To go where your gut leads you, rather than where your parents, your teachers, your boss, and the voices of the media and society tell you where to go.

For myself, I’ve always been a black sheep amongst white. In Korean, I’m told that I have no “noon-chi”, Which is “eye sense”– or better explained, “social sense.”

Growing up, I was accused of not being able to “read the air” of a room. For example, I would do stuff that other kids didn’t. I refused to sit down in class, I would always go to the bathroom every 15 minutes Out of sheer boredom of school, and be mostly a trouble maker. I did pretty well in school, but always fooled around, passed notes in class, cracked jokes. I was a class clown.

In a sense, the public school system failed to match my own curiosity. I was an ambitious kid, yet my teachers spoon fed me the same curriculum that was fed to all my other (also bored) peers.

When I have a kid, I’ll probably send them to a public school. But I’ll certainly give them a personal “Montessori” style education at home. Or something like that.

Break yourself free from the bondage of societal rules

Saigon, 2017

Anyways, I’m not encouraging you to be different for the sake of it. There are a lot of things that I agree with in terms of “societal rules.” But a lot of stuff I think is bullshit.

I always thought it made no sense to get a job, that made you miserable, to get a lot of money, only to lose your personal freedom.

At age 16, I had more joy fixing up my $1,2000 1991 Nissan Sentra SE-R than did my rich peers who drove BMW cars in high school. I knew from an early age that money didn’t buy happiness. Freedom, tinkering, having fun, hanging out with friends, and screwing around was “happiness” for me.

I feel that in high school I was pretty rebellious. Same in college, I switched my major from Biology (originally was gonna be a doctor, to please my mom and family), but hated it, and switched to a major with the least amount of math and science– aha, Sociology!

Sociology was great, because I learned that societal rules were all constructed. I could break them if I wanted to. And I did. I would be that weird guy doing pushups in a public space, chin-ups on a tree, or flexing my muscles in inappropriate situations. Sociology taught me to follow my own personal interest and curiosity.

Saigon, 2017

If anything, I could attribute my “success” in life as an entrepreneur from Sociology. Why? It taught me the importance of building community, the importance of communication, and how societal rules could be bent according to my will. I didn’t have to follow the traditional path of just getting a 9-5 job for the rest of my life. If I wanted to start my own business, that others considered crazy, I could.

After graduating college, I did get that office job. But I loved it (at first). I learned a lot from my bosses, coworkers, and I loved the upbeat startup work hustle, drive, and curiosity. I was growing a lot. But at about 8 months in, I became stagnant. I stopped learning, growing, and developing. It felt like hell.

So to be frank, it wasn’t necessarily my job that made me angry or frustrated. It was myself. Partly my job, because I wasn’t given any opportunities to grow. My ambition, drive, and vision was massive. But the glass ceiling of simply being an Online Community Manager held me back. I wanted more power, influence, and the chance to experiment. I wanted to be a director, project manager, or something higher up. Alas, no positions for growth existed.

Why be an entrepreneur?

Saigon, 2017

The best part of being an entrepreneur is that I can experiment with crazy shit. I can move fast, and break stuff, like Mark Zuckerberg once said. I can create my own future. I can tinker with my blog, design stuff, without any approval of a manager. That’s the thing I hated most being in a company, needing “approval” or a “check off” to do anything.

Now, I don’t need to ask nobody for permission. I can just do it.

So I’ve learned that as an entrepreneur, the best benefits are:

  1. Freedom to experiment.
  2. Not needing to report to a boss.
  3. Control over my time, mental energy, and space.

Above all, freedom was the sweetest nectar.

Information is everything.

East Lansing, 2014

Even now, I can honestly care less about money to buy expensive luxury goods. While I do admire cool sports cars like Lamborghini, and Porsche, I have no interest in luxury clothing, watches, or anything with the word “luxury” attaches to it. I prefer simple, minimalist design, and non-gaudy aesthetics.

What do I need money for? Pay rent, server bills, food, coffee. And extra money to help support my family and Cindy.

As of now my focus is to empower other photographers to become the best versions of themselves. Why? I felt stunted in terms of my personal growth in photography and entrepreneurship, because I didn’t have access or the keys to the right information.

And information isn’t just power. Information is everything.

Los Angeles, 2013

Today, money is just information. Digital 1s and 0s sitting in a network of computers. Paper money is just a “fiat” (faith) currency in the power of government. “Real” money doesn’t theoretically exist anymore.

Social media followers is just information. Page views are just information. Blog posts, videos, books, articles, are just information.

San Diego, 2014

Information has the ability to expand our mind. To help us grow more wise (philosophy), to help us fight cognitive biases (behavioral economics and psychology), or to dream big (entrepreneurship and business). Information has the power to unlock our jet pack potential.

Everything I write about or share is just information I wish I had access to. And it’s not gonna be right. It only works for me, probably not you. But it might. That is why I keep doing it.

How to go against the grain

Costco, 2014

So how do you go against the grain or the crowd in photography? Some ideas:

1. Don’t use social media:

Downtown LA, 2013

Refuse to be a slave to Facebook or Instagram (both same company) and Snapchat. Honestly they’re nice to have, but ultimately make us addicted to this silly platform, which wastes our human potential.

Instead of dressing how to make flying cars, we think about the next version of the iPhone, how to get more Instagram likes or followers, or what is happening in celebrity gossip or politics.

I’ve deleted my Instagram, and I’m like a (former) crack addict who is now clean. I have fewer distractions, which means more focus to do the work which is meaningful to me.

2. Make photos you like:

Never ask others what kind of photos to make, and whether they like your own photos. Rather, always follow your own heart. True innovation happens in photography by you following your own artistic vision, and ignoring everyone else. If you do want feedback, only ask maybe 3 people in your inner-circle.

3. Go opposite:

Chicago, 2013

When you see everyone, jumping off the cliff like lemmings, go opposite. Or be the salmon that swims upstream.

4. Venture into new territory:

She’ll Gas Station, 2013

Everyone mostly knows me as a street photographer, certainly not a photography entrepreneur. But I’m interested in entrepreneurship and photography. So I’m venturing into it. It’s like a fun adventure. I had a lot of people upset that I was blogging about money (taboo subject), sharing personal finances (also taboo), and talking about a subject that’s been relatively unexplored.

Berkeley, 2014

I had some folks doubting that I was an entrepreneur. But I am, because I take risks. That’s all entrepreneurship is– taking risks for the benefit of society and the collective and others. If I didn’t have any other fellow human beings on planet earth, I would most likely commit seppuku (Japanese suicide).

How to ignore the cries of the sirens

Ha long bay, 2016

In the Odyssey, Ulysses orders his men to tie him to the mast of the ship, and fill his ears with beeswax, before sailing by the Sirens. The Sirens (imagine beautiful mermaids) were man-eaters, who looked pretty on the outside, and their melodious singing and voices would cause men to jump into the water, only to be eaten.

Ignore the voices of the sirens. One practical way, don’t read online comments. I don’t read feedback anymore. Because it is like a Siren, which disrupts my focus and flow. For Safari, I have a “Shut up” extension which turns off comments on Youtube and other popular sites. I also have a News Feed Eradicator plugin for Facebook. Also, you can use “Adblock Ultimate” to block certain advertising and comment elements to create a more clean and less distracting internet experience.

How to ignore society

Mumbai, 2011

Some more controversial ideas:

  1. Ignore your parents: I love my mom to death, but if I just followed her advice (be a doctor), I would have never met my personal potential. I’d never had started this blog. So your parents, they mean the best, but just ignore them.
  2. Follow your curiosity, not the dollars: if you want to make a lot of money, just became an investment banker, plastic surgeon, or now perhaps computer programmer. I do believe, if you follow your curiosity, and get really fucking good at it, and you learn some business and entrepreneurial sense, you can (with luck) make a lot of money. So don’t chase the money first. Chase your passion.
  3. Never regret: I often look in my rear view mirror of regrets or stuff I wish I did or didn’t do. But you can’t change the past. Rather, just look straight, and keep driving. Fuck regrets, shame, or “what if?”

Rather, just focus on being the best version of yourself today. What is the 1 thing you can do today to build up your own personal empire? Is it emailing a potential client, writing a blog post, going out and doing some free photos to build your portfolio, making your own website ( and, or emailing magazine editors offering your services?

Mumbai, 2011

Your life is short. Follow your gut, heart, and intuition.


Go against the grain, even though you Will feel pain, and others will think you’re insane. Avoid the smartphone brain drain. Stay strong like a Paladin, and keep slaying. No need to explain what you’re doing. Just do it. You got this.


Share your business and entrepreneurship ideas in ERIC KIM FORUM


ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP  by HAPTIC INDUSTRIES // 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