Finding a mentor can make a world of difference in your photography skills. I have been fortunate enough to have two very talented mentors help me on my journey. Without their guidance (and timely kicks in the ass) I would be still trying to find my way. ~CB
What is a Mentor?
Let’s start with what I mean by mentoring, versus teaching. Teaching is showing someone how to do something or explaining what something means. While a mentor may also be a teacher, they are oh so much more as well. Mentors motivate you. They help you to focus on discovering your strengths. More importantly, they empower you to become the master of your creative voice.
Why You Need a Mentor
Some of the best advice I ever received was the following: “If you want to get somewhere quickly don’t try and do it on your own.” My Father said that to me at an early age. From then on, I have always sought out more experienced people from which to learn.
When I started to learn photography, I had little free time. My twin sons were in high school and actively involved in many different activities. They were growing like weeds, and that meant multiple trips to the grocery store each week just to keep the pantry full. I had the usual upkeep of our property and home as well. You get the idea. The last thing I needed to do was reinvent the wheel.
Fortunately, I had just joined Google+ which was in its infancy. I found a robust photography community there with plenty of people willing to help a beginner like me. I made some progress but nothing substantial. It wasn’t until I joined several free mentorships that my work began to improve.
When I made the decision that I wanted to get really good at photography, I knew it was time to find a dedicated mentor. By that time I already knew who I would like it to be and as fortune would have it, she said yes. In the next three years, my work went from average to professional grade. She taught me much of what I write about here, and I will be forever grateful for all that she has done for me. It is an honor for me that she considers me to be her protege.
A funny thing happened while I was working with her. I realized how much I wanted to give back and share with others the knowledge I was gaining. I made the decision that I would become a photographer educator. Not knowing where to begin, I looked for another mentor. Someone who was already successful in the field. I identified who I would like to work with and he said yes. He showed me what I would need to learn in order to be successful. That is still a work in progress, but I am on my way!
BTW… all of this happened over a five year period. So as I like to say, “I went from zero to pro in five years.” None of that happens without my mentors.
I hope my story has shown you that by working with established professionals that you can substantial accelerate your learning curve.
What to Look for in a Mentor
When seeking out a mentor, it is best to look to someone who’s work you admire. Another good option is to ask photographers that you know for a recommendation for a mentor. That is not enough, though. As I mentioned, just because they can take an excellent photo, doesn’t mean that they will be able to mentor correctly.
Look for examples of technical articles they have written. Are the articles well written containing useful information in an easy to read format? Did the article make an impression on you?
Look closely at their creative work. Does it show any sloppiness or lack of attention to detail? Do they produce work on a consistent schedule?
Finally, look at their social media posts. Are they a positive person or are they a grouch? Are they generous to others in sharing tips and are helpful? Do they answer questions? Read their blog if they have one.
In the end, you are looking for someone that you feel a connection towards. Trust me; you will just know when you find the mentor for you. With both of my mentors, I had a clear sense that I wanted to work with them and that our personalities would match up well.
So what are you waiting for? Start your search today!