Finding a Mentor to Improve Your Work as a PhotographerApril 13, 2016
Finding a photography mentor to help guide you in your career can be both a rewarding but daunting experience. On one hand, a mentor can work wonders in helping you to learn valuable information about photography in order to get ahead in your career. On the other hand, however, many photographers can be overcome with fear when wishing to find a mentor, as they simply do not know where and how to begin. Luckily for you, we’ll help you get started with these easy and actionable steps below!
Is a mentorship right for you?
Firstly, it is important to consider whether a mentorship is actually what you are most in need of. Acquiring a photography mentor is a difficult task, yet it can be extremely rewarding for those who are starting out in the field of photography, as they have the opportunity to learn from the best. It is important to note that a mentorship is where a more professional photographer exchanges his or her own knowledge with you, including the lessons they have learnt first-hand through their own successful career. A mentor is not there to help you build your portfolio through providing you with photo shoot opportunities, nor is it a position where money is offered. As mentioned earlier, the ultimate payment of a mentorship is the exchange of knowledge.
Be specific about your needs
Now that you know a mentorship is right for you, then the next step is to brainstorm exactly what it is that you are hoping to gain from a mentorship. Are you hoping to have a professional photographer offer their critique about your work? Perhaps you would like to learn more about the marketing side of photography, or even about lighting, post-processing, composition, etc. While “becoming a better photographer” may be your ultimate goal, it is important to actually narrow this down to specific sets of knowledge so that you can gain as much as possible from your mentorship.
Choose your preferred genres
Photographer Peter Carey recommends that those wishing to be mentored should decide on just two genres of photography that they are most passionate about and find a mentor in each of those fields. Other professional photographers, however, recommend that you narrow this down even further and choose the one genre of photography that you are most interested in pursuing. Once you have chosen your desired genre, it is vital that the potential mentors you approach work largely within this field because you want specialized (rather than broad) photography advice. It is also a fantastic idea to approach potential mentors who have a similar photography style to your own desired style.
Brainstorm potential photography mentors
Now it’s time to brainstorm and research any professional photographers in your preferred genre or style of photography who you would love to learn from. At first, a few photographers should already come to mind (think of the ones whose work you follow and already admire), so write them down, along with their contact email. After this initial brainstorm stage, some more research may be in order. Look to photography groups or forums which focus on your desired genre, or a simple Google search of top photographers in your genre will help. You can also be even more specific in your research by searching for professional photographers of a certain genre in your local area. By the end of your brainstorm and research session, you should have a list of photographers to reach out to. Remember to order these photographers in terms of who you would most like to receive mentorship from, as one of the next steps will see you contacting them one-by-one in this order.
Before you send the initial email to these photographers, it would be helpful to follow them on social media and interact with their work over a chosen period of time. While there’s no need to go overboard (you don’t want to seem like a stalker), a well-constructed comment in regards to their work here or there, along with ‘likes’ and sharing their work will put your name on their radar.
Now that you have your ordered list, along with each of these photographer’s email addresses, it’s time to contact them about the proposed mentorship. While some say that a telephone call or showing up in person to their studio might make a good impression, most professional photographers stress that an email is the best contact method.
There are some important things to remember when writing these emails. Always address the photographer by their name (no vague ‘Dear Sir / Madame’) and be specific about what you’re after, which in this case is a mentorship so you can learn particular photography knowledge from them (i.e marketing, post-processing, critique, etc.). If the photographer is within your local area or city, would you like to meet with them occasionally in-person? If so, how often? Or will the mentorship take place through online communication such as Skype sessions or via email? You should address all of these things through a well-structured and polite email. Don’t forget to keep it as short as possible, however, as many successful photographers just won’t have time to read through an essay of an email! Use a professional-sounding email address and ensure that your spelling and grammar are correct.
Working with a photography mentor:
Once you hear back from a photographer stating that they would like to mentor you, this is when the excitement begins. Listen carefully to their advice and be sure to take notes in order to learn as much as you can from the experience. Always be respectful towards your mentor too, as they are giving up some of their valuable time to teach and guide you. On that note, it’s also important to understand that you can’t expect your mentor to be available to you 24/7, so scheduling time with them is a must.
Working with a photography mentor is a rewarding and highly valuable experience, however if you feel as though the two of you aren’t such a great fit, then you have no obligation to continue working with them. On the other hand, if you feel as though your position as a ‘mentee’ has become more of an unpaid assistant role, then it’s also time to reconsider this relationship.