Have you ever heard the term, “a rising tide raises all boats”? This is especially true in the photography industry. Creative, service-based industries often struggle to maintain a foothold as a legitimate career path. You’ve probably encountered a scenario in your career where someone tells you they would “never pay x amount for photos” or asks you about your “day job.” It’s frustrating and a little infuriating! Mentorship and collaboration can help the industry grow and command the respect it deserves.
Beginning a business, while also learning the technical, and artistic aspects of photography can feel overwhelming. But the road doesn’t have to be a lonely, uphill battle. Why make all the mistakes yourself, when you can find guidance and education from those who have gone before you? Even if you have a formal photography education, you don’t just graduate with all the answers. Mentorship gives photographers the opportunity to learn from real working professionals that will help them avoid common mistakes, get plugged into a creative community of peers as well as become a contributing member to the industry.
Being a Mentor
Being a mentor reinforces the industry as a whole by maintaining the integrity of professional photography, and helping to foster excellence in the industry. Being a mentor can be personally and professionally rewarding in that it provides opportunities for future collaboration, expands the professional network, and can lead to collaboration opportunities in the future. Also, mentorships solidify legacies and enable photographers to continue the art of photography and preserve the advancements in the field. As mentors teach, mentees learn more and more valuable knowledge that can then be passed on to the next generation of photographers. It’s true that while mentorships can be especially helpful to mentees in the early stages of photography, the relationships that are built can be mutually beneficial for all parties involved, and can last a lifetime.
What does it mean to be a mentor?
Before finding a mentor, it’s important to define the role of a mentor. Mentorship is a delicate relationship that should not be taken for granted. So to begin, we’ll first talk about what mentorship is not.
A mentor is not…
- Someone to turn to with every little annoyance, or to vent to after a tough day or photography session.
- A hand holder or a compliment-giver to boost self-esteem.
- Someone to be asked for favors or free services.
- Your boss. Mentorship is not an internship, and you are not an unpaid assistant.
- Available 24/7. Make appointments and respect their time.
A mentor is…
- Someone who is eager to teach, and exchange knowledge.
- Someone who is an established photographer in your specific industry. (Don’t seek out light and airy if you’re dark and moody).
- An honest critic who is invested in your success and devoted to the industry.
Being a Mentee
Before beginning any new mentorship relationship, make sure you’re a good style and personality fit with the person you ask. Follow their work and engage with it online, then talk on the phone or meet in person before establishing a mentorship. Having a complimentary style, attitude, and work ethic can lead to a highly mutually beneficial relationship for both parties. Regardless of everything else, if there isn’t an easy personality fit, the relationship will become draining to one or both parties.
Before beginning the mentorship
To have a successful relationship with a mentor, it’s important to be careful not to abuse the relationship and turn into a burden for the mentor. Ask the mentor to be upfront about their expectations, and respect their boundaries. In exchange, be honest about your expectations of the relationship and make sure that you’re on the same page first and foremost. If you’re not sure where to start in establishing guidelines, answer and write down your answers to the following questions, and go from there.
- What do you hope to gain from the mentorship?
- What are your weakest areas? What are your biggest pain points?
- Project & client management
- Financials & pricing
- Do you want a professional to offer you critique?
- How many hours are you spending on your business?
- How often will you want guidance from your mentor?
- Occasionally (aka. whenever the situation calls for it)
- What’s your preferred method of contact?
Use this list as a starting point for discussing what you hope to gain from the mentorship and establishing guidelines with your mentor. Make sure the mentor understands what specifically you feel you need help with, what you expect from the relationship. As you discuss these issues, it should become more and more apparent if the two of you will be a good fit.
During the mentorship
Once you’ve found your mentor, don’t take your mentor for granted. Take their investment of their time and honesty as a gift, and treat it as such. Most importantly, show your gratitude to them for their willingness to teach and give their time to help you with your business.
One of the best ways to show your gratitude, get the most out of your mentorship, and make your mentor feel fulfilled and respected, is to be receptive to their critique. If they give you feedback, take it and implement it, face mentorship with an open-mind and a willingness to learn. Whatever you do, don’t be defensive. Remember, you sought them out based on their work and expertise; chances are, they’re right and you’re still learning. If you disagree with their critique, there’s no need to fight back or be defiant, accept their critique, ask questions for clarification if needed, thank them for their honesty and move on.
Some additional guidelines
- Don’t lean on your mentor for everything.
- Use your mentor’s preferred method of contact. Don’t show up at their studio or put them on the spot. Most professionals appreciate an email.
- Keep your requests short, positive, and specific.
- Follow their work, share, and promote them. They will be more likely to invest in you if they feel you’re invested in them too.
Lastly, if you find yourself in a mentorship relationship and you feel you’re not a great fit, you have no obligation to continue the relationship. Your work and time are too important to waste on anyone who isn’t adding value.
Mentorships can offer value to mentors and mentees when the relationship is handled with care, honesty, and sensitivity. A photographer never stops learning, and even the best photographers in the industry have something to gain by seeking a mentor.
At Mastin Labs, we have an awesome online Facebook community for photographers who are all eager to learn and to teach. If you’re a Mastin Labs photographer who is interested in learning from photographers in your industry, and seeking a mentor, request membership into our community of over 30,000 photographers nationwide.