In Photography Entrepreneurship 101, we have covered how to make money from photography– but we haven’t quite covered should you try to make a full-time living from your photographic passion?


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PDF: Should I Monetize My Passion for Photography


1. “Why?” is always the first question we should ask ourselves

Black and White Headshot of ERIC KIM by John Hall
Black and White Headshot of ERIC KIM by John Hall

The reason why we should cover this topic:

Before wasting many hours and years of your life before you try to monetize your photography — be really honest with yourself and ask, “Do I really want to monetize my photography, and make it my full-time living?”

Let my use myself as an example.

When I was in college, photography was my passion. However, I didn’t realistically think I could make a living from it. Especially from street photography.

Cindy shadow. Lisbon, 2018
Cindy shadow. Lisbon, 2018

Thus, I took the ‘barbell approach’ from Nassim Taleb — I opted for a secure job (online marketing) and did my photography and blogging on the side. But I still had the dream:

“What if one day I could monetize my passion in street photography, and make a full-time living from it?”

I did some searching around the web, yet couldn’t find any information on the philosophical repercussions of turning your passion into a full-time living.

2. Does turning your passion into your living ruin your passion?

My primary concern:

Would turning my passion of photography into a living cause me to love my passion less?

Or in other words: Would doing photography full-time take the joy out of photography? Would my photography start feeling like a chore and a job, rather than my passion?


Woman with orange hair. Lisbon, 2018
Woman with orange hair. Lisbon, 2018

To fast-forward about 10 years, I have finally been able to successfully turn my passion (photography, street photography, blogging) into a profitable online/offline business. I have been able to successfully monetize my photography through the following channels:

  • Teaching workshops/photography travel experiences (about 80% of my income)
  • Through selling products (Henri Neck Strap, Henri Wrist Strap) which was created via HAPTIC INDUSTRIES (the company of Cindy) and selling on Amazon
  • Through selling books (STREET NOTES, PHOTO JOURNAL, FILM NOTES, MASTERS)
  • Through art prints/portfolios (CITY OF ANGELS, DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, LAUGHING LADY PRINT)
  • Through commercial deals/sponsorships, paid workshops for companies
  • Talks and speaking engagements

I can confidently say that turning my passion into my profession hasn’t removed my passion for photography. In-fact, I have probably become more passionate about photography ever-since.

For example, now that I can focus on my photography, writing, research, and studies full-time, I was able to create one of my mini magnum-opuses (Learn From the Masters of Photography). No way in hell could I have found the hours to do countless hours of research, distillation, and writing.

Also I could say that turning my passion into a (profitable) business has helped me become more generous– putting out more than 20+ free ebooks on photography, giving away my presets for free, and giving away all the articles, videos, and information on this blog for free– and keeping it open source.

Of course this is just my personal experience, it will be different for you.


3. Yes, it is possible.

The reason why I am sharing this information with you is the following:

Realize it is possible to monetize your passion and make a full-time living, and also not to lose your passion for your photography.


4. “Selling out”

Now — is monetizing your passion and making a living from it “selling out”? I don’t think so.

To me– “selling out” can and should only be judged by yourself. To me, I will only feel like a “sell out” if I do things that betray my inner-morals and ethics. The only things I ever ended up feeling trapped by was accepting free cameras from camera companies– because I lose my freedom to give my truly truly honest thoughts on a certain camera. Thus I found for myself, sponsorships are self-imposed slavery.


5. Personal motivations

Ultimately, I have also discovered that the things I value the most in my life include:

  1. Freedom of thought
  2. Freedom of travel
  3. Freedom of writing/publishing/sharing what I want, without being censored or prevented by a gatekeeper/editor.

That is pretty much it.

Thus, I have tried to optimize my business to allow me to have the maximum amount of personal freedom, with the minimum amount of personal and business-related obligations. I have HUGE HUGE appreciation for my manger Neil Ta who handles my business engagements, and coordinates my workshop. Also of course massive appreciation for Cindy for starting up HAPTIC INDUSTRIES — selling products online, and also helping me with travels, workshops, and other logistical details– while also empowering me to stay true to my own inner-voice, and staying productive as a writer, photographer, and educator.

Starting my own business, and becoming an entrepreneur has afforded me this freedom.


6. Being self-employed is better for myself

Selfie of me and my mom. Lisbon, 2018
Selfie of me and my mom. Lisbon, 2018

Now, I can certainly say (for myself) that it is far better to be a self-employed entrepreneur than having a 9-5 office job. I hated the following about my old job:

  • Having to always go to work, every day, at the same time
  • Not being able to leave work once I finished my work
  • Not having the freedom to just take time off, and travel whenever I wanted to
  • Having to answer hundreds of emails, instead of writing, researching, and just walking around
  • Not having the opportunity to share my knowledge and information with others (me, being a lowly entry-level position, I was never invited to meetings to share my thoughts/opinions)

Benefits of self-employment

Cindy, my mom, Cindy's mom huddled around laptop. Lisbon, 2018
Cindy, my mom, Cindy’s mom huddled around laptop. Lisbon, 2018

Now the biggest benefits of being self-employed include:

  • Going to sleep and waking up whenever I feel like it, without the agency of an alarm clock
  • Not feeling pressured to have to respond to an email within an hour (like my old job)
  • Getting off the corporate ‘rat race’/treadmill — not valuing my self-esteem based on my title (I was a ‘manager’, but I wanted to become a ‘director’ in my title, to feel more self-important)
  • Not having to play office-politics
  • Being able to speak my mind and voice, without the fear of getting fired

7. Monetizing your passion won’t solve all your life problems

why monetize?

Now of course, being self-employed ain’t all rainbows and angel whispers. I still suffer from:

  • Anxiety about personal finances, that one day I will go broke, become homeless, and die on the streets, and have Cindy leave me because I become a financial failure
  • Motivation: At times my motivation waxes and wanes– some days I feel more inspired and motivated, other days I feel lost, overcome with ennui, and a general depressive-lethargy at times.
  • Self-Questioning about my value towards myself and society: Not sure whether I’m using my talents, time, and skills to the fullest ability– to help empower society and others.

Why I am grateful I monetized my passion in photography

Thus, it has seemed for me — true happiness has been a bit of the following:

  1. Self-liberation from office job
  2. Moderate income to sustain my coffee intake, and pay for my eggs
  3. Having freedom of speech/thought/expression
  4. Helping empower others
  5. Finding inspiration in ideas, that give me motivation to create new things (whether articles, books, videos, etc).

8. Ultimately what is my life purpose?

My laughing grandma. Seoul, 2017
My laughing grandma. Seoul, 2017

As of right now, I think it is:

To discover truth(s) about life, art, and the world– and to share these secrets with others.

Thus, I spend a lot of time reading philosophy, reflecting on my personal life experiences, and also making art (through photography, poetry, film, etc). Ultimately, I am like a honey bee– I exist for the sake of the hive and the collective, not for myself. And like any good honeybee– I collect a lot of pollen to make my honey, but I want to share my honey with my hive.


Conclusion: Never lose faith in yourself.

The Modern Photographer Book

If you want to learn how to monetize your photography and make a living from it, I encourage you to read my distilled primer: “MODERN PHOTOGRAPHER“, or check out my free Photography Entrepreneurship 101 series.

Also make sure to subscribe to my newsletter to stay updated when a Photography Entrepreneurship Seminar comes to your neighborhood.

Ultimately, it is possible to monetize your passion and make a living from it. It does require insane work ethic, a dash of luck, and the right opportunities and timing. I am still discovering what works for me, and hope to continue to share these secrets with you.

BE BOLD,
ERIC


Photography Entrepreneurship 101

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MODERN PHOTOGRAPHER is your new philosophical and practical primer to succeed as a modern photographer in today’s digital world.


How to Monetize Your Photography

EURO CAMERA MONEY by ANNETTE KIM


Why Become a Photography Entrepeneur?

ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP  by HAPTIC INDUSTRIES // Portrait by Benjamin Thompson

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KEYS TO SUCCESS

Table of Contents

Learn how to make a living from your passion:


Photography Business 101

How to Make Money with Photography

CAMERA MONEY USD by ANNETTE KIM
CAMERA MONEY USD by ANNETTE KIM

Photography Marketing 101


SELLOUT ERIC KIM

How to Hustle.

Entrepreneurial Principles

How to be a Full-time Photographer

Photography Blogging

How to Teach Photography

Social Media

How to Save Money

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