Zoe Whishaw, photographed by Emily Hancock
Mentoring can be so beneficial in progressing careers, working towards goals or getting a second opinion on work. But if you have never taken part in mentoring before you may not know if it is right for you or what to expect. So we have asked Zoe Whishaw to share some information about the mentoring experience to help clear up any questions you may have. Here, Zoe tells us about mentoring sessions, sharing how it works, what photographers can expect and how they can prepare for a meeting.
Zoe Whishaw is a Commercial Photography Consultant and Mentor. Having worked at Getty Images for 17 years, Zoe honed her skills at editing and art direction before taking on senior creative positions and becoming European Director of Photography. Following that, Zoe was also a Director at Image Source and Gallery Stock before concentrating on mentoring photographers. Zoe has now been focusing on mentoring for over 10 years. With this extensive background and an on-going involvement in studio management, Zoe is well equipped and experienced to work with a range of different photographers at any stage in their careers.
What is mentoring?
Mentors provide objective and supportive guidance to those needing help to move their career forwards. They are usually an industry professional that has lived and breathed the same career you aspire to have or someone who has been embedded in that world and gained expert, hand-on knowledge. I hail from the latter.
Mentoring sessions ideally take the form of face-to-face meetings where the individual can voice their ideas, questions and concerns in private and gain relevant guidance and support.
A single session of 2-3 hours can be sufficient for some photographers to gain new insights and ideas to take their work forwards while others might prefer several sessions to work through different of aspects in their practice with support along the way.
My role is to help provide positive momentum and build confidence by tapping into the inherent drive of a photographer so they can move through tough and often challenging phases in their career while remaining relevant in today’s competitive landscape.
How did you become a mentor?
I worked at Getty Images for 17 years, working my way up from being a hands-on Editor and Art Director through to the more strategic position of European Director of Photography. My role was to coach and motivate teams of editors and art directors to inspire world-class, award-winning photographers to create exceptional imagery for the global creative marketplace.
Throughout this time, I learnt an enormous amount about how the commercial marketplace uses imagery and gained a thorough and acute understanding of the dynamics and pressures felt by photographers. Add to this my hands-on experience of conceptualizing imagery and managing the logistics and practicalities of shoots, working as a mentor (as I have done since 2010) seemed a very natural next step.
What are the main areas of help photographers tend to need?
Most photographers I work with find it invaluable, at the very least, to have an objective, professional eye on their pictures and practice. Many work in isolation, finding it a rare event to actually talk about their aims and challenges other than with close friends and family. Unfortunately, these perspectives are often biased and are rarely professional and impartial.
Working across all genre of photography, typical areas a photographer might come to me for are:
· Assessment of content: strengths and weaknesses
· Creative direction: refining a vision, exploring a new direction
· Finding new clients; getting more satisfying work
· Website review and development
· Writing their bio/about text
· Ideas and plans for marketing
· Brainstorming and developing personal projects
· Editing/sequencing bodies of work for web galleries and portfolios
How does it work?
A photographer will typically get in touch at a time in their career when they feel something needs to change. They might be looking for a reappraisal of their direction or perhaps an objective opinion on their body of work. Working in such a rapidly changing and competitive industry, many will also seek guidance and ideas on how to effectively brand and market themselves.
The first stage is to have an initial no-commitment consultation over the phone lasting around 15-20 minutes so I can get an understanding of the areas in which they need some guidance, during which I can assess and explain how I may be able to help.
The initial session takes place in London and will last a minimum of 2 hours. Many photographers choose to stay longer to capitalize on the momentum, ideas and action plan being discussed.
Following this, it will be up to the photographer to decide whether they would benefit from a follow-up meeting, be it within a matter of weeks or months. Many find this helpful as it can be a motivator to keep things moving forwards. There is no definitive timetable for follow-up sessions; I would always prefer to be lead by the photographer’s requirements rather than be prescriptive. There are options for consultations to take place over Skype/phone should it be more convenient after the initial session.
Do photographers have to prepare before a session?
After a date has been agreed, I will set some ‘homework’, which seeks insights into their practice. This helps me to gain a more thorough understanding of their thinking as a photographer and to tailor our time together accordingly. Most photographers find this process very revealing in itself and helps to focus the purpose behind their need for a session.
Can you characterise your typical mentee?
Most photographers I work with are very open-minded and understand the benefit of objective advice and feedback in helping them to move forward. I rarely come across someone who comes to me resolutely defending his or her position and not open to adapting or rethinking elements of their practice.
Those I work with come with wide-ranging needs and experience and while some want ideas on how to establish a presence, others may already be doing very well but are looking for motivation and ideas on how to find a new creative direction and/or work that satisfies them at a deeper level.
What are your hopes for the future for your mentees?
My primary objective is for a photographer to leave a session with a spring in their step; a renewed confidence, excitement and drive, coupled with new options to explore and a clearer awareness of the opportunities that may exist to take their work and business forward that they may have previously been unaware of.
You can see more from Zoe and get in touch via her website: https://www.zoewhishaw.com/
Or follow her social media: