How Simplifying My Photography Saved My Sanity

How Simplifying My Photography Saved My Sanity

I spent this last year doing a photographic cleanse, It’s kind of like spring cleaning. You focus on what you need most in your photography, in terms of lighting, editing and education, and you throw everything else out. It was not only extremely important for my growth both professionally and personally, but also for my sanity.


These last few years, I found myself spending a lot of my free time watching educational videos, reading educational blogs, and attending photographic conferences, which after a while started turning into white noise. Being bombarded with so much useful information is great, but how much can you really retain? How much can you really use? There’s so much thrown your way that it can be difficult to decipher what’s really important.

I think that’s where a photographic cleanse is important. By identifying what information is really relevant to you in the world of photographic education, you can eliminate the excess. Regardless if you’re an established professional or a beginner photographer, focus on which elements of your work you’d like to improve on one by one.

Say today you want to learn B&W conversion techniques. Spend your time learning B&W conversion techniques. Don’t start learning retouching, color grading and posing techniques simultaneously the same day. It’s not easy to retain and if you’re like me, and you are easily distracted while watching videos online and fall into the blackhole that is YouTube, limit your viewing time. Set a designated time that you’re going to stop watching youtube videos and stick with it. I cannot tell you how many times that I’ve found myself up at 2am watching cat videos when I was originally watching a creativeLIVE segment.

On that same note, I’m a big advocate for proficiency vs. mastery if you’re a professional working photographer. You don’t necessarily need to master a technique - be it lighting or editing in order to be able to utilize it. Learn enough of the core concepts in order to use it efficiently and effectively. One of my favorite authors, Josh Kaufman - The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business - says “…the idea of “mastering” a skill when you’re just getting started is counterproductive: it can be a significant barrier to exploring a new skill in the first place.”

Phil Sullivan - New York Model Management

Isaac Weber - New York Model Management

Two Images taken with one Profoto D1 w/ Westcott Zepplin. I share a ton of these images on my Facebook Page.


As a photographer, you should photograph the style of work you want to be hired for, regardless if you're currently getting paid to do so or need to make it a personal project. Earlier this year I decided to make a list of clients that I wanted to potentially photograph, and in doing so I realized all of my work didn’t necessarily match their current aesthetic. I had a few images that fit, but not every image was usable. Most of the other images in my portfolio were over-lit or over-retouched. My portfolio didn't convey that I was capable of photographing their style of work. I decided to do a little cleaning.

I spent a week shooting content that would replace the images that didn't fit in my portfolio. I photographed work that I felt would both emulate the aesthetic of my ideal clients and that fit me like a glove. After my week of photographic cleansing, not only was my portfolio more seamless, but I was also spending less time lighting and editing. Spending less time setting up lights on set gave me the opportunity to sit with my team to socialize and network. Spending less time editing gave me the opportunity to spend more time marketing my business and reaching out new potential clients. It was a win - win situation.

I would sincerely recommend a photographic cleanse for any photographer interested in de-cluttering their brains. It can really make a difference in your work and your anxiety when you have less to control. Focus on the most important aspects of your work and throw out the rest!

If you're interested on tips on how to focus on the basics, check out my Men's Portrait Photography Class on creativeLIVE on November 24th and 25th!


Here's a comparison of two shoots, one was taken early 2013 and the other 2014.


Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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Ah Jeff, love your work ! Finding your niche almost and then simplifying it ?

Thanks Brad! Thank you kindly! :) Finding your niche is extremely important and I would start buy focusing on the core elements of your niche before expanding. :)

Great article. There's so much good info out there from people doing really creative neat things and sharing them with us...but it becomes counterproductive after a point.

In addition, the photo on the "2014" side of you comparison is just masterful...and simple...and I mean simple as a compliment!!

Thanks for the kind words Jason! I absolutely agree with you. :)

This is like Getting Things Done (David Allen) for photogs. haha, good stuff Jeff.

Thank you sir! :)

Hey Jeff, your work is really inspiring. I have done a 365 days photo project about 4 years ago and my approach to it was pretty much the same thing you've said in this article. It was very easy to get distracted like you said. For a beginner that I was, it helped me a great deal in understanding several aspects of photography.

Thank you Kalyan! Keep up the great work! :D

Great article....sometimes we try to learn more than what we really need and we end up with a oversaturated brain....I know, now that i read your article, that there is nothing more practical than to start with the KISS principle and build up your ideas based on simplicity, and this also applies to equipment and we really need all the latest lenses and flashes and editing programs?
Thanks for your article and congratulations on your great work...( and i really don't believe that you are watching cat videos at 2:00 am...c' mon...jajaaja)

lol lmao. It was more politically correct than the reality. ;) lol

I'm definitely guilty of "over-education" with a huge queue in and several creativeLive courses I have yet to finish (and one I haven't even started). Having so much information so readily available is one of the curses of the internet. :-) Always a good reminder to try and simplify.

I absolutely agree! :)

Totally agree. I took the last 4 months away from running behind tutorials and information overload and it's paid off dividends. I put all of that time towards personal work and it's led to more commissioned work!

That's what it's all about! :D

Keep working at it! We never stop learning. :) Thank you Devorah, please stay in touch! :)

Great article! Ive been working on my personal photography and I've been looking for my niche. Any suggestions? I've tried scything from fashion to engagement to headshots.

Thanks Tristan! In regards to finding your niche, I'd recommend that you start by photographing what you know. You'll have a better eye for simple details compared to others in your field. For example, if you're interested in photographing fashion, how much do you really know about fashion? Are you familiar with how certain pieces are meant to be worn and structured? Having that knowledge will affect how you photograph each piece.

Jeff, great article. I've thought about this a lot throughout my career. If you watch anyone else's craft, like a Chef for example, its the same in one aspect. The amateur chef tosses in too many ingredients and wants to use all elements at his disposal in one way or another. When I eat my chef friends' cooking I always ask questions about how it taste so good and the process, and they are like, dude, salt, pepper and a little bit of olive oil...enjoy. The video editor just starting out, wants to use transition after transition...but if you look at well done film, there are little to no transitions. Same with stills and filters and over re-touching. The professional, many times, keeps it simple...because he/she knows how to keep it simple. There is a reason the 70's movies have a lot of over zooming...zoom lenses just came out and everyone wanted to use them...doesn't mean we should...unless of course it helps the story. Thanks Jeff!

Great stuff. I really like your style and for some people it takes years to achieve what you have done in 1 year only.

Thank you kindly! :)