Career Information for Photography

One of the best ways to find out career information for photography is to interview a successful commercial photographer. I did that and here is my interview with Rex Rystedt, Freelance Commercial Photographer.

What do you do?

Shooting pictures and producing good-looking film is the major part of my job. Running my photography business is another part.

What is a typical work day like for you?

70% of the time I am taking or developing pictures. 30% of the time I am doing administrative stuff, although I have an accountant who helps.

How did you get your job?

I’ve been doing this since high school, which was 25+ years ago.

What do you like best about your job?

I like to use my talent on a day-to-day basis. It is great to have an artistic sensibility AND earn a living at the same time. I think it is easier for photographers than for some other people, like musicians, for instance. I meet interesting people and every day is a field trip.

What is most challenging about your job?

It is challenging to produce work that you can feel proud of on a daily basis. It is also difficult sometimes to deal with clients and to do the public relations part of my job. Also, as an amateur photographer, you don’t have to work under extreme pressure, whereas as a professional, there is the constant need to do so and people are looking over your shoulder. In the beginning, this was awkward. Over time, though, it became exhilarating. I now welcome the challenge and view it like a sporting event. While photography isn’t all fun, it is very fun and I can’t think of anything better.

When did you know you wanted to do this?

As a senior in high school, I took a cinematography class. I loved it and I thought I wanted to do that as a career. But I was too shy to work with huge groups of people. As a photographer, I felt more control, so I decided to do that instead.

How did you build your own business?

I’m the worst person in the world to be asked that. I’ve done no advertising, no self-promotion, and I have lousy business skills and little salesmanship. I read a book that said I would be doomed without these skills, but I tried anyway. Photography is my passion. My work produced more work, and I was lucky. I met some talented art directors who encouraged me. They said, “If your work is perfect, it would be lifeless.” My bylines became my advertising. The first photo I had published was for “The Rocket,” a free music magazine in Seattle. They paid me, and I was so thrilled.

What things should people know who are considering this type of work?

Give it your best shot. Don’t focus on the roadblocks that might stand in your way. In America, people are fortunate because they can pursue what they love. Attempting to attain your dream and failing is still success.

What skills are necessary to succeed as a photographer?

A good eye and love for the work.

What is the income potential in your field?

Income ranges from starving artist level to millions of dollars per year.

What are your long-term career goals?

To keep doing what I am doing. Technology is changing everything as digital photography introduces new things to learn. Self-education is essential to keep up. It is fun, but you can’t stand still.

Thank you for sharing your career story with the readers of this website.


Rex Rystedt is a commercial photographer whose work has been featured in BusinessWeek, Esquire, Fortune, Forbes, New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Self, Time, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Wall St. Journal, Wired, and more.

To find out additional career information for photography, please check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook profile of Photographer careers.

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