Open-Source Business Model in Photography Entrepreneurship

A revolutionary idea/strategy to succeed in today’s world as a photographer: go open-source.

What is open source?

First of all, what is ‘open source’?

Open source is to keep things open and free– and keeps the ‘source’ file free of restrictions, for anyone to access, edit, and change.

Generally, the concept of ‘open source’ is used in technology. Open source technology, utilities, and tools (such as which powers this blog) is good for innovation. By keeping the source code open for anyone to access and edit, changes, innovations, new improvements, and new features are instituted much quicker. Not only that, but open-source is generally more open and democratic (like Android), which allows for greater freedom of access, especially to those with lesser social-economic/financial means.

Is open-source free?

The interesting thing is that you can still charge money for open-source things. There is no rule against it.

I personally was greatly inspired by ‘open source’, because I grew up poor, and I didn’t have access to expensive tools/utilities. Thus, open source helped empower me — through open source tools and resources that I was able to get for free on the web.

Other tools/technologies which have empowered me include Google,,, and all the free ePub/PDF files I can get online.

I made a vow when I was 18 years old:

When I become ‘successful’, I am going to dedicate my life giving back to the community.

So many people empowered me and helped me to get me where I am today, and thus, it is my duty to “pay it forward”.

Open Source Photography

In photography, the concept of ‘open source’ didn’t really exist. In 2010, I wrote “My Vision of Open Source Photography” — in which I wrote a mini-manifesto of sorts, to promote a free-flow of information around photography, to empower all photographers from all around the world, regardless of their financial means.

In 2013, I put together a free Open Source Online Street Photography Course, giving the educational information to anyone who wanted to learn more about street photography. I also allowed free full-resolution downloads of my images for free, where you can download on my Flickr or on my portfolio.

Also from 2010-2018, I have written over 22 free and open-source photography e-books, allowing for the source files to be accessed, in case anyone wanted to remix, translate, or change/share the book.

Open Source as a Business Model For Photographers

I didn’t realize it yet, but my radical idea of open source as a strategy ended up really paying off. The more open I kept my information, the more it spread. The more famous ‘ERIC KIM’ became, and built more trust with my followers. This also made people who wanted to learn more in-person end up attending one of my workshops, or purchase my products.

Also with keeping full-resolution images of my images available online for free, my images have taken a life of their own– spreading through the internet, and into the minds of my viewers. But doesn’t this prevent me from selling my photos as prints? To the contrary — I started to sell limited-edition art portfolio prints of my work, and made limited-edition signed copies, which I sold for premium prices.

Information is Free

shine grace building new york city, sunburst, blue

I don’t know about you, but I dislike paying for information. I have a radical view that information should be open and free– if it can help empower humanity for the better.

When will we pay for information?

STREET HUNT: Street Photography Field Assignments Manual
STREET HUNT: Street Photography Field Assignments Manual MOBILE EDITION

However, this is my theory:

People nowadays don’t want to pay for information, BUT they will pay for EDITED/formatted/organized information.

For example, I am willing to shell out a lot of money for ebooks on Amazon Kindle or .ePub/PDF ebooks of writers I support, as long as the information is packaged in a nicer format than just blog posts. This is what has helped the digital sales of HAPTICPRESS flourish, because Cindy Nguyen (editor) and Annette Kim (illustrator) put massive effort to put together a well-curated, edited, and designed book.

HOW TO SEE: Visual Guide to Composition, Color, & Editing in Photography
HOW TO SEE: Visual Guide to Composition, Color, & Editing in Photography[/caption]

Even now, HAPTIC DIGITAL sales are starting to encroach on the sales of our HAPTICPRESS printed books/materials. My theory is that digital sales make it easier for the user to get the digital products instantaneously (not having to wait for shipping), the ability to copy the ebooks to any of their devices/unlimited (there is no DRM, digital rights management, protection on the books), and the digital products are cheaper than the printed materials.

Yet, I still see a huge market for printed materials, especially for photographers who prefer printed books.

[caption id="attachment_57677" align="alignnone" width="598"]HAPTIC PRESS BOX: Photo Journal, Film Notes, Street Notes - Photo by @captivatingtheunseen HAPTIC PRESS BOX: Photo Journal, Film Notes, Street Notes – Photo by @captivatingtheunseen

How you can harness ‘open source’ to profit as a photographer

I see ‘open source’ more as a philosophy of openness and access than anything.

Some practical ideas/strategies which may help you thrive as a photographer:

  1. Turn off annoying copyright protection/watermarks/protection on your images. Perhaps if people have easy, unimpeded access to your photos, they are more likely to book you or hire you as a photographer.
  2. Don’t make your living selling photos/prints, but use your photos as marketing material to brand yourself as a good photographer, and perhaps make a living teaching your own photography workshops, giving consulting advice, or helping teach other photographers.
  3. Give away your blog posts, ebooks, presets, videos, and information for free, but charge premium money for your photographic services. Either give away your information for free, or BE EXPENSIVE. Charge 25% more money for your photographic services than you think you should, and only do free photography work for close friends/family (not for clients). Remember: your photographic labor is not free.

Innovate with the spirit of open source

Open source will not work for everyone, and won’t work for all industries in photography. But I still think the basic principles and spirit of open source (a spirit of openness, open access, freedom, sharing, democracy) is beneficial.

If Elon Musk can open source his patents for Tesla/electric cars and still thrive, why can’t you?

My crazy idea:

The more we can share, help empower one another, all of society/humanity will benefit– and so will you.


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

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Table of Contents

Learn how to make a living from your passion:

Photography Business 101

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