Everyone needs someone to critically evaluate their work. In effect, everyone needs an editor or someone who can look at your images with fresh eyes. This is due to several reasons. We all tend to get in a rut where we make the same mistakes over and over. I see this from photographers who only shoot landscape or just portrait orientation. It can be something we do such as chronically making the white balance too warm or saturation too high on our galleries. On the other hand, it may be something we omit such as the failure to include jube shots or emotional shots of the coaches or fans. Your eyes may lock on the compelling action in an image and fail to notice that you are not paying enough attention to the cluttered backgrounds. Mentors can be hugely helpful in these cases.
The role of mentor is not to be taken lightly. To do this properly, time is required to really look at your photos in detail. Then the mentor must be willing to take the time and effort required to offer a detailed critique. When I say critique, understand that I'm not referring to criticism alone. A proper evaluation should include the positive aspects as well as the negative. We all have egos and an unrelenting barrage of complaints won't be helpful for long. This is something to remember when you are mentoring as well as being mentored. There is an old rule of thumb that says when critiquing, one should start with two things you like about the image(s) before starting in on the items to improve upon for the next shoot. Ideally, this should be someone with a breadth of experience.
Where can you get one of these people who will offer their time and expertise for no money? Surprisingly, there are lots of folks who will do this in the photography community but it may require the establishment of a relationship before you can expect significant help. There are likely many professional or skilled non-professional photographers in your community. Do you know any of them personally? If so, I'd start there. If not, do you know an experienced employee at a photography store? How about an editor at the local paper? Perhaps a person at the high school who edits the yearbook or paper? I've had the privilege of getting to know several highly skilled photographers just by taking the time to introduce myself at high school events where both of us are shooting. When you meet and greet a photog for the third or fourth time, it becomes much easier to engage in a conversation about the art and science of sports photography.
My mentor is Mike "Chico" LaBarbera. We became best friends in 9th grade (46 years ago) and he is the one who encouraged me to start sports photography. I cringe when I think of how terrible my early images actually were and how wonderful I thought they were! Fortunately, Mike was patient and he knew how to suggest just one or two improvements at a time and he was skilled in suggesting things that were appropriate to my skill level. We only see each other in person about once or twice per year. We talk photography once or twice per week and Mike evaluates my images on zenfolio several times per month. That is enormously useful.
The electronic age offers its own opportunities for growth. Photography forums are very helpful. Personally, my current favorite is
also known as the Canon forum. There is a photo sharing forum for sports where you can post images and get feedback. The critiques can sometimes be harsh but the proper attitude to take is that even an unfairly negative evaluation can contain useful information for future events. It won't take long before you know who is talented and who is a poseur. There are incredibly talented folks who post there (and other forums too) and I'm always pleasantly surprised by how these gifted photographers are willing to share their insights.
This is the best time in the history of mankind to learn photography. Dive in. Join the party. The technology is incredible. Use it to realize your photographic vision. Have a mentor help guide your journey. Make it your task of tasks to do it now.
Philip S. Zivnuska