I’ve had a mentor or two. My first mentor, Mr. Russell was a long-time newspaper photographer. He was never famous or fancy. Back then, photographers didn’t tour on a speaker’s circuit or sell DVDs. Mr. Russell just made his living taking photographs for the newspaper, telling stories with his camera, day in/day out and occasionally taking pity on a snot-nosed kid like me. He was one of the best photographers I ever met. Still is. While I didn’t know it back then, he was very gifted both as a photographer and a mentor.
Later in life, Arthur Morris spent a brief time mentoring me as an avian photographer. Without his help, I would have never risen so quickly to the top of the wildlife photographer pool. Artie taught me the importance of keeping my back to the light, finding the right wind direction and knowing everything I can about my subjects.
I’ve also had plenty of teachers who wouldn’t quite be called mentors, but who still taught me a great deal.
Mentors help you learn the value of your mistakes, and give you exposure to ideas you’d spend years trying to find on your own. They help you establish a solid foundation and build up a rapport as you work toward the common goal of developing into the best photographer you can be.
If you’re starting out, finding a mentor can speed your progress ten-fold. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have multiple mentors, which gives you the chance to hear different perspectives.
If you’re a seasoned professional, consider mentoring. I’ve been mentoring since 1996 and once in a while, one of my proteges really excels. Gary Hamburgh comes to mind. I’m working with a few young photographers right now. While I am pretty sure the process is helping them, I know it’s helping me. As an old war horse, it’s very cool for me to see the young folk “get it.” When the “a-ha moment” comes, I get a reminder of how great and exciting photography can be.
If you don’t have a mentor, find one. Even if it’s for a short time. Looking at the world through someone else’s eyes who has more experience than you do will make you a better photographer, one way or the other.