Business

Alvin Kim: How a Cyber Security Engineer Turned Photography Side Hustle Into a Six-Figure Career

Professional photographer Alvin Kim is no stranger to shooting Los Angeles’ familiar faces and successful personalities, boasting a clientele consisting of commercial brands and agencies that specialize in marketing, advertising, brand management, and influencer management. What sets Alvin apart in an oversaturated market like LA, however, is his ability to see past the shoot itself to the wider strategic objective of his clients, creating photos that will be seen by the general public and consumers. Since purchasing his first DSLR camera by skipping dinners and going to bed hungry to save up money during his college internship, Alvin has hustled to build a side gig into a healthy six-figure career.

Speaking to what sets him apart from the competition, Alvin shares that, “I can speak to my clients at the strategic level, not just at the tactical or operational levels. Clients often come with an open book. They know that they need to shoot, but may not necessarily understand what they need to shoot, or how they need to position the shoot. Being able to consult my clients on how to leverage the shoot to address certain business problems and meet their strategic goals has helped me gain tremendous trust and credibility as a creative contractor.”

In identifying his clients’ strategic goals, Alvin points to his background as an I&E (Innovation & Entrepreneurship) specialist. During his time at Texas Tech, Alvin situated himself deeply in the I&E ecosystem, completing numerous startup bootcamps, accelerators, research opportunitites, and even securing a coveted spot at the Stanford University Design School’s Innovation Fellows program. In transitioning to professional photography, Alvin nevertheless retains his roots in the I&E space, leveraging each shoot to help build his clients’ broader strategic brand profile.

As Alvin himself puts it, “I use my background in I&E to consult my clients at the strategic level and solve strategic business problems; whether that means helping the client creatively communicate their competitive advantages to their consumers or bench marketing their competition, I like to see the bigger picture. This approach has helped me grow my business tremendously, earning me repeat contracts from advertisers across the industry and referrals from reputable clients. Even in a very saturated market like Los Angeles where every other person knows how to take a photo, most people – including professional photographers – don’t know how to make their photos speak to the larger goals of the brand or client they are working with.”

Alvin Kim is never one to preach what he cannot practice, however; his website showcases some of the work that he has recently created from licensed photos to brands like H&M and fashion campaigns, to artist press-covers and Olympian medalist training camps. Alvin provides services in all things photo-related, from model castings to shooting and high-end retouching.

When asked about taking the leap into commercial photography and starting his own business, Alvin responds with characteristic candor: “Starting a business is like starting a romantic relationship. It usually doesn’t happen overnight and it takes time and diligence. You might need to adjust and compromise. But if you really believe in it, trust your gut instinct and go all in. Also, I believe that you will generally do better both in a business venture or romantic relationship if you take the time to work on yourself first.”

Wise words from a man who would know a thing or two about taking the plunge into the jungle of entrepreneurship and self-employment. Now at the helm of a successful six-figure photography business, Alvin looks towards the coming year with a mixture of excited anticipation and level-headedness. As his stream of clients swells into a flood of business, Alvin is working with everyone from household-name brands to marketing agencies to meet his clients’ strategic photography needs. Contact Alvin today to inquire about your next campaign or to learn from his years of hard-won experience navigating LA’s photography and advertising industries.

View Alvin’s work on Instagram (@alvinyjkim) or contact him for a shoot at alvinyjkim.com