In today’s modern economy, the only way to “succeed” as a photographer is to master marketing and branding for yourself:
1. Put your skin in the game
This is the interesting thing– in modern society we are taught to be ‘humble’, and to self-promote ourselves is bad taste.
But in reality, to attach your name to your own personal brand is the best thing you can do. Why? You put your skin in the game! You are associating your personal identity with your artistry. This is the biggest badge of trust you can establish, because if your product sucks, you will be personally harmed.
That is why I like calling myself ERIC KIM. That is my name. To be ‘notorious’ means for people to know your name. The best way to brand and market yourself is to get everyone to know your name.
For example in my YouTube channel, I’ve been saying this since 2010:
“Hey what’s up streettogs, this is ERIC KIM from the ERIC KIM STREET PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG.”
It has almost become a verbal tic — I say it without even thinking.
Now the benefit is that people learn my name, and this is the most valuable thing. This means that if people want to learn more about me, they can just google “ERIC KIM” and learn more about me. I also know that the best thing I did was to register my domain as erickimphotography.com (first name, last name, photography), instead of creating some silly “brand” like “Darkness Decisive Moment Night Street Photography”.
Thus, our first simple principle:
Attach your first and last name to what you do.
Consider the best ‘brands’ in history, were just the real names of their owners:
- Louis Vuitton
- Ford (Henry Ford)
- Christian Dior
- Rolls-Royce (Charles Rolls + Henry Royce)
- Lamborghini (Ferruccio Lamborghini)
Generally speaking, I think the benefit of using your real name is this:
It is easier for humans to remember names, not abstract notions.
Furthermore, when you use your real name (Bond, James Bond), you show pride in yourself.
2. Be relentless
I’ve been around since 2010, and 8 years later, I am still here.
Generally speaking I think the best advice for “success” is this:
From 2010 until now, I’ve seen so many people come and go. They’ve either lost their self-confidence, their steam, influence, etc. I think the best metric for success is longevity.
For example, when it comes to rappers– there are so many ‘one hit wonders’. How few rappers actually have a lifespan of decades? The rappers I know who I admire most (in terms of their longevity) include:
- Dr. Dre
- Snoop Dogg
- JAY Z
- Kanye West
And what has given these artists so much longevity? The fact is this:
They never stop creating new artwork.
As a principle, I believe it is a good idea for us to make something every single day.
Apparently even Picasso made (on average) 1-2 art works everyday, until he died in his 80’s. Even Josef Koudelka (one of my favorite photographers of all time) is in his 80’s, and still shooting every day! Even Elliott Erwitt (also in his older age) is shooting around a roll of film everyday.
3. How to be relentless
The word ‘relentless’ comes from relent+less. To ‘relent’ means to ‘bend’. The word ‘lentus‘ in Latin means ‘soft, pliant’.
Thus to be ‘relentless’ means to NOT bend, to NOT be soft.
In life, I think it is better to be hard than soft. I would rather be a hammer than a marshmallow.
To succeed means to be hard, to not compromise your personal set of beliefs, and to never stop going hard.
And for myself, to be ‘relentless’ means to never stop. To never stop shooting, to never stop making new photographs, and to never stop making new content and information.
For myself, I’ve been able to be productive the last 8 years by the following:
- Never be satisfied: I think dissatisfaction is actually a good stimulus to action. I am never satisfied — perhaps this is what makes me hustle so hard. I want more; I want to achieve more, to learn more, and understand more.
- Love change: God forbid that your personal philosophy stays static for your entire life. I like the idea that your ideas are always in a state of flux. Often people are afraid of ‘contradicting’ themselves, by changing their opinion. But as you become more wise, and learn more, contradicting your past beliefs is a sign of growth and evolution. Thus, contradiction is a good thing.
- Care less about your reputation: I used to care a lot about my reputation, but the older I get, and the more life experiences I accumulate and the deeper I cultivate my own personal wisdom, I care less and less about my reputation. In-fact, I take myself less and less seriously nowadays. This is great, because it gives me the fearlessness and brazenness to speak even more frankly, and to speak more boldly about what I believe in, without censoring myself.
4. Don’t “front” (fake)
You cannot fake enthusiasm or authenticity. Just be you; unabashedly you.
It don’t matter whether your opinions are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. What matters is whether you’re speaking your mind, or whether you’re saying things which you think others will like.
Why is everyone so afraid to be themselves?
We are afraid of getting hated on by others.
I think modern society has made us risk-averse. Modern society has trained us into become spectators. Easier to criticize and judge from the sidelines than to put your own skin in the game.
Most of us seek to be ‘successful’, but we try to copy the formulas of success we perceive. But this is the thing:
Past formulas for success won’t work in today’s world.
There aren’t any rules. The world is constantly changing and in a state of flux. What worked for me in the past won’t work for you.
And just because you are yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that people will like you, nor will it guarantee success. But this what I believe:
If you fake who you are, sooner or later people will smell your inauthenticity, and abandon you.
In the rap game, the worst thing a rapper can do is to ‘front’ (or fake) his lifestyle, or his past. JAY Z has tore apart NAS in the past, by revealing the fact that NAS was inauthentic (JAY Z stating that NAS colorfully over-exaggerated his ‘hood’ background). This is why a lot of people (myself included) don’t like the rapper Drake, because they over-exaggerate the difficulties or their ‘gangster’ persona.
This is why I like Kanye West so much; he never pretended to be ‘gangsta’– he was the guy wearing pink polos, tight jeans, and backpacks when everyone else in the rap world was wearing ‘gangsta’ baggy clothes. Kanye West stuck to his own style (although he was hated on), and eventually ended up shaping the culture (now most rappers wear clothes that actually fit them; baggy ain’t cool no more).
The best way to market and brand yourself is to build trust with people who follow you. Building trust takes a long time, and I think the best way to build trust is actually to show your flaws.
For example, I think the reason why Donald Trump was elected into office was because he wasn’t the polished and typical politician. Many Americans voted for him, because Donald Trump seemed like a ‘real’ person, who spoke simply, and who didn’t bother to censor himself. It was precisely because Donald Trump said ‘stupid stuff’ that people trusted him more. Many Americans perceived that although flawed, Donald Trump was being authentic. And I think most Americans would vote for someone they actually trust as being authentic, and being a ‘real human being’.
Even for myself, I am probably one of the most hated on photographers on the internet. But this is what I am proud of:
You can hate me or love me, but you cannot say that I fake.
And for myself, the ultimate shame is to “front”.
Furthermore, I would rather be ‘unsuccessful’ and authentic, than to be ‘successful’ and inauthentic.
5. Be opinionated
The worst thing about certain commentators and individuals is that they have no opinion of their own. They are so afraid of ruffling the feathers of others, that they don’t actually take a stance. Furthermore, many of these individuals don’t even know what their own opinion is– they merely parrot what they read in the news, or on social media.
Whenever I have written something ‘controversial‘, is because I simply said what I truly believed in (which goes CONTRA or contrary to the majority, or the herd-mentality). I refuse to be a sheeperson (sheep+person), I would rather be a wild animal, not afraid of “damaging my reputation”. I would prefer to have 1 person deeply believe in what I believe in and say, than to have 100,000 people who mildly agree with what I have to say.
As a simple rule, if you believe strongly in something, and you want to say it, but you’re afraid that other people might get offended, you must share your opinion.
When you’re sharing your opinion, you cannot be wrong. Why? It is your opinion! You’re not stating facts. There is no such thing as a “wrong” opinion, if it is your personal stance or perspective on something.
Even with “facts”, there is always some hidden bias within numbers and statistics.
To not go on too long, here are some takeaway points:
- You are the brand. To market yourself means to publicly share your own opinion, thoughts, and personal philosophy without censoring yourself. The only mistake you can do in marketing yourself is “fronting” (faking). Attach your real first and last name to whatever service or product you’re selling as a badge of authenticity.
- You must build trust with your followers and audience. And the best type of trust you want is deep trust with a small group of people. Better to have 1,000 “true fans” than 1 million “lukewarm” or “meh” followers.
- Don’t be afraid of controversy or your reputation. Just focus on being brave, bold, and assertive in whatever you say.
Learn more: Photography Entrepeneurship 101 >