“I’m a curious person and my work allows me to meet lots of interesting people.”
Kevin J. Miyazaki is a photographer and artist living in the much-underrated Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His clients have included Travel+Leisure, The New York Times, Food Network, Smithsonian, Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living and Southwest Airlines.
What is your gig?
I’m a freelance photographer and artist living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My income is mainly derived from my freelance assignment work for magazines. Recent publication clients include The New York Times, HGTV, Smithsonian, Southwest Airlines and Food Network. I also have a variety of clients in the restaurant, food and architecture industries. The artwork I make is a much smaller source of income, with an occasional museum commission or purchase of photographs. But the work is made not with income as a motivation.
How long have you had your gig?
A long time! I’m 52, but had my first freelance assignments when I was college. I began as a photojournalist and worked both as an intern and staff photographer on small, medium and large newspapers. That work taught me so much about how to make pictures in any situation, to talk with and relate to a wide variety of people, and to work as part of a team of photographers, writers and editors. From there I worked as the photographer on staff at two city magazines, first in Cincinnati and then in Milwaukee. I was shooting everything in the magazine each month and worked closely with a smaller staff on a monthly, rather than daily schedule. I honed skills to shoot different things, including food, interiors and fashion, and learned a lot about how magazines are structured. After 7 years of this, I decided to work for myself full time in 2005, with the goal of doing national magazine assignment work.
Over that long period of making pictures, I’ve seen lots of technological change in my equipment and materials. But also in workflow, delivery and the many ways that the online world has changed how I work. I love that I’ve experienced that change and appreciate how, in many ways, I can do my job better and more efficiently.
Why have you chosen this gig?
I feel lucky that I’ve always known what I wanted to do, since I was a teenager. My interest in photography has never waned, over a very long period of time.
What do you like most about your gig?
I’m a curious person and my work allows me to meet lots of interesting people. Recently, I’ve photographed a rancher in Oklahoma, a hipster Japanese bar owner in Chicago, an ape researcher in Missouri, a chef in Hawaii and the former baseball commissioner. I get to travel a lot, and love being in new and different places, whether I’m in Tulsa or Tokyo. I’ve shot assignments in 20 different countries and hope to keep adding to that list. Also, having worked in offices and for companies for most of my life, I really enjoy the freedom of an unstructured schedule.
What do you like least about your gig?
Definitely the rollercoaster of income. I wish there was a magic formula that predicted how much I’d make in the coming year and then just payed me in weekly checks. In general, I don’t like the money and business aspects of working for myself. I’m lucky to have a really great agent/representative, Redux Pictures, who are based in New York City. In addition to promoting my work to magazines, they also do all the billing for my assignments. But I still need to invoice them and keep on top of my expenses and receipts, and then handle all my own non-magazine client invoicing.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to start a similar gig?
The freelance photography world has changed a lot, with the popularity of photography in general and the quality of all cameras. There’s much more competition out there at every level. I think in general, if you want to make money as a creative, you need a combination of hard work, talent and luck. The most important of these elements, and what you have the most control over, is the hard work. I know lots of successful photographers, artists and writers, and the one thing they all have in common is that they all work incredibly hard to make their creative life possible.
View More of Kevin Miyazaki’s Work:
Magazine and artwork: www.kevinmiyazaki.com
Food and restaurant work: www.platephotography.com
Instagram: @kevinmiyazaki and @_plate