OK, I’ve been reading a lot of comments that many of you are interested in having a photography mentor so I wanted to share a little bit of my own personal experience:

The mentors I had dedicated myself to in my career have photographed around the world for National Geographic, NASA, Time, Life, Outdoor Photographer Magazine and one was a Pulitzer Prize finalist (what an honor to be by her side for two years!).

I’ve hauled cases of gear, waded through water and mud holding equipment, frozen in the rain and snow, been there to hold down their office, take out trash, dust, figure out html, answer emails and phone calls, re-organize slides and digital files or even babysit their kids if their sitter never showed up. I always said “YES!” to any task they asked of me, no matter how trivial it seemed. It was so important to me to be around them and see how they how they prepared their gear for a day of shooting (and how they cleaned it and the end), balanced family-life-work, how they organized their files, how they negotiated assignments from family portrait sessions to large international name brand campaigns to selling stock to Getty or Corbis.

To just be in the presence of these great photographers required a huge sacrifice of my own:

  • Time: I was available every day of the week, could come in early and stay late.
  • Energy: Long hours, running around, hauling gear and maintaining order in a large office kept me on my toes!
  • Personal life: My friends and family were put on hold. I’ve missed every birthday my nieces and nephews ever had, said good-bye to all summer parties and BBQs with friends and neglected my own household.
  • Business: I put my own business on hold to just spend the time learning from my photography mentor(s). Also, being in the same city/community, it would be ethically and morally wrong to offer a similar service/product my mentor did while learning from them (aka no “competition” with the mentor).
  • Opinions: I’ve learned so much by just being accommodating, listening and watching. I’m very opinionated but was not there to share mine. I went in with a mind willing to bend and be molded into different opinions and experiences.

Having a photography mentor is amazing. Photographers put years into training themselves in their craft, thousands of dollars into gear, software and business overhead and have sacrificed more of themselves than you can imagine. A mentor is INVALUABLE. If you really want the experience of having a mentor to learn from, you MUST be willing to give up a big chunk of your life and commit (in writing) to make it happen.

Don’t have that kind of time to commit? Find someone who’s work you admire and who’s personality challenges you into being a better photographer and pay them whatever they ask for a multi-week or month-long workshop/training session. Trust me, they are worth it. You can’t learn it all in one sitting, not even ten sessions, so be prepared to still commit time to your education and experience in this vocation.

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