Reuben Njaa

Digital Photography

Photography Instructor
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division

Reuben Njaa

Be passionate about your work—or find something else you can be passionate about. Reuben Njaa , Photography Instructor , The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

For me it was on a trip to New York City after college. By accident, I got a job as an assistant in a fashion photography studio.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

I stress professionalism. I tell students it’s the details that matter. If they submit an assignment in the wrong format, I let them know this kind of mistake in the real world could cost them an assignment. It’s the little things that show you’re a professional. When students ask why I’m so strict about something as trivial as format, I tell this story: I’d been operating my growing commercial photography studio for about a year, and feeling pretty confident. A fairly big ad agency awarded me a lucrative job shooting portraits. They asked me submit the contact sheets I’d taken on the first day. I didn’t put my best effort into it—I thought it was no big deal. They cancelled my contract. The most minor part of the job cost me many thousands of dollars, and future work with that agency. I vowed never to take anything for granted again—and to present my best work no matter how trivial it might seem.

What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?

In Studio Photography, students learn to use mono lights and other studio equipment. Many wonder why, if they’re going to be a landscape or baby photographer, they need to worry about things like lighting ratios. I point out that today, everybody has camera or a smartphone—and that makes everybody a potential competitor. What makes you stand out is your ability to creatively light a portrait or a bride. It all starts with learning to use equipment. If they don’t push themselves hard, the jobs will go to somebody who does.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

Take nothing for granted. Professionalism is always paying attention to the details—not only presenting your best work, but also making sure you’re ready for anything that may come up—extra batteries, additional lights, a second camera, etc.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I tell students to take advantage of their time in school, work hard, and pay attention to the details. Nobody hands you the title “professional photographer.” You have to earn it.