Six Tips for Finding a Photography Mentor
Written by: Tiffany Joyce
Photography is fast becoming a learn-it-yourself craft, but sometimes you just can’t glean all you want from YouTube how-to videos, books, magazines, or even websites like this one. Many people learn best by having things personally explained or physically demonstrated to them. Sometimes, you just really need a person to speak to; an expert in their field who is willing to help you on your learning path. Especially if your goals are to take your photography to a professional level; it’s great to have someone to talk to who has “been there, done that”.
Here are some recommendations on how to find yourself a photography mentor.
First, understand your goals. Do you just need someone to ask the occasional question, or go to for advice? Or do you want someone to take a considerable amount of time to teach you? Do you want to observe and shadow someone as they work? Do you want a casual learning atmosphere, or something more structured? The answers to any and all of these questions will direct how you approach obtaining a mentor.
The most common and easiest way to begin your search for a mentor is to talk your photography friends. Everyone has someone in their lives that they consider to be handy with a camera. Look through their photos with them, and ask them to explain their technique. “How did you do that?” is the primary question for any learning experience. Don’t worry if the questions seem basic to you, we all start with the same amount of knowledge when we learn something new – none!
Consider signing up for a photography workshop. Workshops conducted by industry leaders and established businesses provide attendees with invaluable, real-life and real-time techniques and skills, that can then be immediately applied to your own individual needs. Workshops can range from simple afternoon affairs conducted by your local professionals (such as my local Friends of Arizona Highways), to elaborate weekend or weeks-long travel workshops conducted by such institutions as National Geographic and Popular Photography. Photography workshops are a fantastic way to establish and expand your network of industry contacts and friends.
Expand your on-line network. A photography professional can be your mentor without ever even meeting or knowing about you! Research the internet for great photography websites and the personal blogs of well-qualified industry leaders. Subscribe to their feed readers and get a wealth of wisdom delivered to your desktop each day, multiple times a day! Some of my go-to reads are:
Schedule a meeting with a local photography professional. Don’t just drop in on them, and for heaven’s sake don’t ask them if you can shadow them if you just happen to be attending the same event that they’re working! I’ve commiserated with several wedding photographers that I know, who were practically accosted by enthusiastic photography amateurs peppering them with questions while they were trying to work. Many pros are happy to chat with aspiring photographers, and may even let you sit in on and/or observe a studio session or area assignment, if you arrange things with them ahead of time. Just keep in mind that these professionals are running their own business, so don’t expect to monopolize their time or resources. Follow their requests if observing them work – try to stay out of their way, and save your questions for after they are done engaging with their clients. Make your requests up-front so you both go into the relationship with the same expectations, and be flexible with your requirements with the understanding that this person is doing you an enormous favor.
Take a photography class at your local college. This is a great way to get some hands-on education, as well as establish network connections with your professor and fellow students. You’ll be astonished at how quickly your circle of contacts, friends, and potential mentors grows, as you continue to meet new people who share your enthusiasm for photography.
Do you have any recommendations or experiences to offer, regarding how to acquire a photography mentor? Please share them with us in the comments!
Photo credits (in order of appearance):
- “Photographers in action” by DeusXFlorida on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Female wedding photographer on Morro Strand State Beach, Morro Bay, CA” by Mike Baird on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Class Photo Shoot” by Ali Bokzyl on Flickr Creative Commons.
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