Jeff Rojas knows what suits men
I was going insane,” admits New York City-based fashion, portrait, and commercial photographer Jeff Rojas. “I was overdosing by reading too many photography blogs, attending too many photography conferences, and watching too many educational videos,” says the 27-year old. “My mind was so full of information, tips, and how-to photography advice that I got to the point where I couldn’t tell what was important and what was merely white noise.” So Rojas conducted a cleanse. “I spent time identifying what information was most relevant to me in my work and eliminated the excess.”
Rojas’ less-is-more philosophy is what he now brings to the workshops and online photography courses he offers. “Many photography students and photographers try to master a skill or overeducate themselves when they’re starting out. That can lead to frustration and even be counterproductive.”
To prevent students from feeling overwhelmed, Rojas sticks to the fundamentals. “I think I have developed a knack for cutting out excess information and focusing on what’s most important,” he explains from his Manhattan studio. “You don’t need to be a fluent French speaker before you go to France for the first time. I think it’s much the same with photography. It’s easy for some students to fill their minds with so much theory they never do anything with that information. You need to get out there and shoot to see how quickly you can grow.”
In addition to teaching and shooting fashion, portrait, and commercial work, Rojas has developed a niche in photographing men. Rojas recalls attending many workshops when he was starting out that catered to posing and photographing women. “But there was not that much information out there on how to photograph men,” he says. “It’s funny, but I found that many photographers just didn’t know how best to pose, light, style, and even dress men. I thought I could help fill that void.”
What’s the secret to making guys look great? It’s all in the details, says Rojas with a wry smile. “We can apply the same techniques to men as we do to photographing women. We just need a little extra know-how.”
Styling is paramount. Too often, men come to a portrait session wearing ill-fitting or distracting clothes. “Because we are so focused on the face, it’s easy to forget that it’s our job to help a subject find a style that makes them look modern, attractive, and flattering,” he says. It’s the photographer’s responsibility to learn and understand how clothing, such as a tailored suit, should fit.
It’s also important to compensate for common human flaws. “Say a man has thinning hair,” explains Rojas. “Don’t use a rim light on top; it will create a distracting highlight.” Rojas claims that men are as vain as women and may even be more self-conscious about their bodies. “Men want to look taller, thinner, and younger than they are. It’s my job to make them feel comfortable and present them in the best possible light,” he says.
To help clients prepare for a portrait session, Rojas often asks them to forward a few snapshots of themselves prior to the shoot. This helps him discover what they like best about themselves and gives him ideas about camera angles, lighting, styling, even retouching before they enter the studio.
Helping men pose in a way that’s natural and flattering is high on Rojas’ agenda. He admits he devoured the book “The Definitive Book on Body Language” in an effort to understand the subtle nuances of posing a subject. Posing guides are useless unless you understand body language, Rojas contends. “There’s
a vast difference between directing and posing a subject. Posing is a command, (‘Turn your head’) while directing is more of a mindset (‘I love the way that turning your head accentuates your cheekbones’). Directing lets you involve your subject in the decision making process and is more productive.”
Rojas cautions that following posing guides can lead to unnatural results. Unless your subject is a professional model, he’ll probably feel uncomfortable mimicking a specific pose. “It makes more sense to direct a person than ask him to copy a pose. You don’t want to bombard your subject with tons of commands; take it slowly and build momentum. You want him comfortable.”
Rojas works diligently on marketing, concentrating on getting his work seen by agents, art directors, and editors. His how-to videos give him international exposure and are another revenue stream. “The photography business is constantly changing, and you have to market yourself and keep one step ahead of those changes. If you don’t, you’ll never make it.”
Robert Kiener is a writer based in Vermont.