How to get a photography mentor who will change the course of your career

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on August 8, 2017

in This is Art,This is Business

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When I launched Outlaw Photography in 1999, the online photography forums were a wild and dangerous place. The digital revolution had just begun, and established photographers were out for blood – the blood of the newbies, the unwashed masses, the “shoot and burners.”

I got cussed out, discouraged, run off, and hated on.

There are a lot more photographers out there today willing to help (99% “for a price…”).

But still today, most established photographers aren’t going to mentor you.

That’s okay – they’re busy, like most folks, for a thousand reasons. Add on the opportunity for them to a) see you as competition, b) hate your guts (unreasonably) for ruining the industry, and c) probably give you terrible advice that does more to hurt your success than encourage it, and truly – it’s okay if they don’t respond.

[I’ll never forget the one PPA-approved photoguru whose entire business model was doing whatever it took to ensure no client left the sales session with money left for groceries. I all but wretched.]

But the one?

That one photographer who, with just a few wise words, could change your life?

They’re worth fighting for.

So we’ll play a volume game. If you have to reach out to 250 photographers, 80 respond, 10 respond more than once, to get to one photographer who will really take an interest in your success, and become a key part of it…would you do it?

If so, here’s Ramit Sethi’s advice [not an affiliate link] for that first-touch e-mail to a potential mentor:

“Hey James, I love your article about XYZ.

I noticed you said I should XYZ in that article, and so I tried it. I’m stuck due to XYZ. So I’ve come up with 3 possible routes:

Option 1
Option 2
Option 3

Which do you think I should do?”

The topic can be your artistic technique, sales funnel, portfolio, whatever is your greatest immediate challenge – a place where you truly, after all your best and creative efforts, are stuck.

Whatever their response, DO IT – there’s nothing mentors hate worse than taking the time to invest in someone who never even attempts the advice.

Then, once you’ve done it, and really exhausted your efforts with it, e-mail a follow-up. Report back with your results. Research what your mentor photographer’s current project is (professional or personal), and make an offer to help them with it based on your unique skillset.

If you make homemade jerky as a hobby and your mentor is trying a slow-carb diet, offer to send a batch of your best. If you know a guy who’s a whiz with responsive web site design and your mentor’s site comes up all snickerdoodled on your iPhone, make the connection. If you’re a stay-at-home mom who has mastered math games for elementary-age kids, and your mentor has kids, show them a few of your favorites.

Is your biggest challenge today artistic or in business?

Have you exhausted every idea you can in solving that problem?

If so, identify as many photographers as you can from anywhere in the world whom you think could solve your problem. E-mail all of them. See who responds, what value you can give, and with whom you build the rapport needed for a real, mutually-beneficial mentorship relationship.

250 e-mails; 80 responses; 10 who go deeper; 1 who changes the course of your photography career for the rest of your life.

That’s the challenge.

As in, yes – right now, or in your next time block, start collecting e-mail addresses and sending those e-mails. Reading this post won’t change anything until you take action.

What’s the biggest challenge holding you back today? E-mail me at and let me know.

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