If you're serious about your photography, you've probably taken one or more photo workshops; at the very least, you've thought about signing up. A workshop is one of the best ways to advance your skills and fire up your imagination.
Another way, and one that might be considered a step beyond a workshop, is a mentor program. Offering advanced, specific and practically customized photo education, a mentor program is serious business for goal-oriented enthusiasts, as it provides the opportunity to work with a gifted professional photographer who has the experience and knowledge to guide you toward your goals within the framework of an individualized learning experience.
We spoke recently with Reid Callanan, director of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, about Santa Fe's mentor program. "We started the program because people asked for it," Reid says. "People leave a workshop all jazzed up, ready to conquer the photo world, but when they go back to real life they lose momentum. They've talked with us over the years about finding a way to keep in touch with those workshop feelings, that energy, and we turned their interest in continuing the experience into the mentorship program."
We spoke with three of Santa Fe's 18 mentor photographers to get the picture from their side of the program.
"I'll pretty much create a custom-made plan, depending on what the person's needs are," says commercial, editorial and travel photographer Bobbi Lane, who finds that she's often helping emerging photographers with their photo skills and business plans.
"Normally we have an initial phone call to get to know one another, asking each other questions, seeing if it's a good fit," she says. "Then I send out a questionnaire and ask them to address specific areas, including what they to want accomplish and where they want to go."
During the mentorship Bobbi will give the student assignments that key in on specific areas, like lighting or composition. "I often get people who are very good photographers, but they don't see that they are, so I'll work with them to develop their confidence. They post assignments online so we can talk about them; on the phone or we can Skype, but both of us have to be online at the same time so we can look at work."
Bobbi has one specific assignment that she finds very helpful. "It's the deconstruction assignment. I have the person choose a photo someone else has done that she really loves, and she has to take it apart, to take every single thing that went into making that photograph—the technical, the conceptual—and consider how it worked in the photograph. For instance, if side-lighting was used, why was it used, and how did it contribute to the feeling of the photo?
My feeling is that if you learn to completely deconstruct a photo, you will learn how to construct one."
Alan Thornton does advertising, editorial and fine-art photography. "My approach to mentoring is that even though it's a goal-oriented function, I try to figure out what the overall motivation is," he says. "I always want to understand what they're aiming for. You may want to know one specific component, but I want you to know where and how that component fits with your overall needs. By expanding the scope I can get to what the students really need to accomplish."
He often finds that what the students really want is technical control of the photographic process so they can get consistent and predictable results. "Overall they need a realistic understanding of what it takes to make the pictures they want to make," he says.
Perhaps one of the most important things he can teach is that a photo is a reflection of one moment. "If the moment failed, there will be another moment, and one tomorrow, and it'll be a whole new situation and a different result. I tell them, you'll ultimately figure it out and create an amazing image, and you'll understand and remember how you did it, and you'll drive that nail every single day."
George DeWolfe is a fine art and landscape photographer, and his mentor program is all about authenticity. "Basically it means learning how to photograph from yourself, rather than try to copy somebody or be derivative."
For part of his year-long mentoring program, George teaches a series of perceptual and technical skills designed to "pull [the students] back into themselves, so by the time they're done, everything will be determined by how they relate to the world."
Essentially he's helping the students know themselves better, and he does that by pointing out to them their "threads"—the elements, even tendencies, in their photographs that they already favor. "It could be how they balance a photo, or compose, or use shadows," he says. "I point those things out and show them how they can manipulate them or make them better." Essentially he's picking up the clues to the students' st