HK Visuals

Leaving My Music Career to Pursue Photography.

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September 20, 2020

Who are you and what kind of content do you create?

Hi! My name is Haze, and I am a full-time photographer based in the Southwest of France. I specialize in sports, dance, and circus photography. I have been doing this professionally for the past eight years, and It took me roughly two years to transition from part-time to full-time.

It wasn’t a smooth transition, but things worked out fine after a few years. I used to work alone mainly, but I’ve surrounded myself with other talented people lately for more significant projects to bring my vision to life.

You can find me on the web by typing: Hk Visuals. “Hk” is the initials of Haze Kware. Haze Kware being a made-up name derived from “A² ” because my first and last name start with an “A.” Don’t ask me why I did all of this, and I still can’t answer that question!

Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory!

I started covering events, live shows, and concerts back when I was living in Strasbourg in the Northeast of France. I was doing it for fun. In 2010, my parents were organizing local events (gatherings, concerts, dance shows). And we needed content to promote them. I did this for them for about two years before other small events in my area started to reach out to me.

After a while, people started asking me if I was doing this professionally, and that’s basically when I began considering making photography my main job. Before photography, I was studying music. I wanted to be a jazz pianist or a composer, but this unfortunately never happened. With photography, I kind of found another way to express myself.

I used to upload my images on Flickr and then 500px. Now I share most of my pictures on my blog and Instagram. My inspiration doesn’t come from social media platforms, which might explain why I am not super active on these platforms.

I love Italian renaissance and baroque paintings, and I love the cinema, which I believe has a significant influence on my work. Cinematographers like Emmanuel Lubezki, Bradford Young, or Roger Deakins still fascinate and inspire me, as well as the chiaroscuro movement in paintings. I love the learning part as much as the creating part. That's what keeps me motivated every day. 

How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and your advice in getting the creative juice flowing?

I regularly watch movies, almost one per day. I go to museums, and every time I travel, I take some time to explore and visit the city and its surroundings. I pay attention to details, textures, colors, shapes, and forms; the way light behaves on objects and people in specific environments. I then ask myself what I feel and use these references later if a project needs them. Ideas for me are everywhere. 

Whenever I am uninspired, I try something completely different. Something I am not drawn to, something I am not comfortable with. I sometimes just take my camera with one lens and force myself to work with only that one lens. Doing this opens new doors for me; the challenge forces me to think of new ways of doing things and to see things differently.

Comfort is your enemy; you have to get out of your comfort zone regularly. 

What are the tools and platforms you use to help with your brand?

I mainly use Lightroom and Photoshop to edit and retouch my images. I started with Lightroom, and it was enough for me for the first three years. I then discovered Photoshop and was fascinated by the possibilities and creative options it brought me. So I dived into it headfirst and could never go back.

I’ve been using Capture one lately and find it very powerful, especially for live captures on a tethered screen. Depending on the job, I will use the tool that’s right for my client and me.

To keep track of my evolution, I sometimes film some of my sessions and post them on YouTube. When I have the time, I also share a few tips and tricks and my thoughts on the gear I use. I am also active on Instagram and Facebook because I know I still got a few people following me exclusively there.

What were your fears starting out? How did you handle it? 

I was afraid of what people would think of my work. When you start asking money for it, it changes a lot of things. I often asked myself, am I worth that much? Or am I asking too little? And when I compared myself to other photographers, I always thought my work wasn’t good enough. But you cannot please everyone, and after some years in the business, you get what is considered “standard.” It’s then up to you to propose something unique and personal.

When I first got on YouTube, I was hurt every time I had a hurtful or disrespectful comment. But then again, who are these people? Most of them haven’t done half the things you have achieved, and some have no background or expertise in the field. To this day, very few photographers I respect have spent time leaving comments on videos on the web, and if they do, it will be constructive criticism. The best ones are out there creating, and they don’t have time trolling on the internet. With that in mind, I just ignore the comments. You just have to learn how to live with them. Don’t give “haters” too much power.

How did you build your brand to where it is now, take us through your process.

I am not an example in this area. Building my brand is still a struggle for me. I have been doing this for years now, and it is still something I hate to do.

I used to post six times a week on Instagram 4/5 times a week on Facebook and one video per week on Youtube. In terms of engagement and visibility, it works better for me when I post regularly. Every time I step away (like right now after the pandemic), there is a massive drop in likes and comments on new posts and shares.

I learned all of this the hard way and funded my business with my own money. It took me a couple of years to make it work. Trials and errors are an excellent way to learn, but you have to be mentally prepared because you will hardly make any money in the beginning. 

I thought of quitting multiple times during the first three years. You don’t go out for drinks anymore, don’t go to restaurants, you can also forget about vacations and anything outside eating and paying your rent.

Things started picking up in 2016 when I left Strasbourg and travelled to Europe in an RV for ten months. People began to follow me for the photography tips, and behind the scenes video, I was posting back then on my Youtube channel (This reminds me that I have to come back soon!). A lot of people are on Youtube to learn something. So if you provide knowledge uniquely and entertainingly on your channel, you should attract more people!

For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?

Be sure this is something you like, and that you are not just following a trend because it looks natural and fun. I wish I took more risks when I started. I was too shy, and it slowed down my progression. I was also too obsessed with numbers and social media in general. I now feel better about all this. So many creators on Instagram produce the same content as if they were stuck in a bubble; this is why I seek inspiration outside the web. Don’t seek validation; the number of likes you get on a picture doesn’t make it a masterpiece or the lack of failure. 

Anything you do online has to be genuine, and it has to be your voice. Playing a role, imitating, or stealing someone else’s way and work won’t do it in the long run. Ultimately people will see who you are, and your audience will feel betrayed and lied to. The consequences could be dramatic for your career.

How did you finally commit to X platform rather than your regular day job?

I didn’t have a choice; my career as a musician wasn't going anywhere. I left my hometown for six long years, hoping to make it in Paris, but it ended up being a colossal mistake. Long story short, I came back home and did a couple of part-time jobs. When I got my first paid job as a photographer, I decided to go all in.

Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.

My first exhibition in 2016 was a collaboration with the city of Strasbourg and was the first time I felt I was on the right path ( )

And in 2017 I worked with the city of Toulouse (I now live there) where I photographed dancers and circus performers and a selection of Iconic places:

What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?

I was featured on several photography blogs in the past. Most of the time, they find me and ask me if I wish to be featured. It all depends on the quality of the content they share. This is something I often recommend. This can get your work shown to other communities you would have never touched otherwise.  

I also ask all the people that work with me to be active and communicate on social media platforms. From the models to the location we worked in, they all have to talk on the project, and this includes their newsletter when they have one.

I have yet done any collaborations on YouTube, but this is something I plan on doing soon. I manage all my content and my marketing myself, I still can find a little bit of time for that. If necessary, I might hand over this task to someone else in the future.

How do you handle brand deals and sponsorships? 

This might surprise a lot of people, but I rarely do sponsorships or brand deals. I reached out to some brands early in my career and learned quickly how most of them worked. I’ve stopped trying to force my way in since then.

I have a lot of small brands that reach out to me now. Most of the time, they want content in exchange for their products. And usually, we are talking about products that I will never use. When you ask for money, they generally disappear!

I have been on projects with Broncolor in the past, and I am currently collaborating with Fujifilm France. I love their products, and I am still using them on almost all my projects. Now, I just can only work with brands I believe in.

If the brand respects my work, they will offer me something in exchange that is at the same level as the service I provide or more. It’s hard to give a specific example, but it’s up to you to judge if it’s worth it, if it’s a win, win situation.

Working for exposure has never worked for me, so don’t even go there. You can always negotiate. One thing I have learned is that you create your own rules. They are free to accept it or to leave. I’ve wasted so much time trying to see what others do and trying to match my rates accordingly. Do they do the same work? Deliver the same results? Use the same tools? Have the same experience? No, they don’t, so why should I price the same?

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