How I Got My Mentor:
Growing up, I was always the kid lugging a camera around to local horse shows and events to photograph my friends and try new techniques. I rode horses competitively from age 5 to 17, when I was forced to slow my pace down due to a surgery. To fill the void, I began to follow other sports. Thanks to my job as a rink guard at a local ice rink, hockey was a great place to start. Fast forward two months, a few days after New Years 2012… I received a call from my local NHL team – the NY Islanders. They had a spot available with their fan photography program and wanted to know if I could come in for an interview. I drove over to the Nassau Coliseum where the team plays and met with my future boss, Alexa Conforti. She wanted to know if I could start at the game the following night against the Detroit Red Wings. I don’t know if she was aware of my young age at first, but I must have made it obvious when I excitedly exclaimed, “I’d LOVE to…but I have to check with my dad first…its a school night.”
The Mentor Experience:
It took some convincing, but the next night I was photographing at my first hockey game! Camera in hand I followed another intern and scouted the stands for fans waiting to have their pictures taken. The first few games went great. I gained experience, had an extra-curricular activity for college, and combined two of my most favorite things: hockey and photography. Soon, however, I began noticing the photographers sitting on the boards level with the ice. Their incredible lenses and arena-wide strobe lighting became painfully intriguing. Add on a few weeks of sticking my nose where it didn’t belong…and wallah. I had been taken under the wing of their head photographer – Mike Stobe. I spoke to him about lenses, his process and even assisted him on a separate photo shoot for a local sports magazine. I proved my dedication.
Later on in the season, Alexa arranged a replacement for me as a fan photographer. This allowed me to shadow Stobe for an entire game start to finish. I began that day at 3 PM- four hours before the puck drop. He showed me his strobes, the lists of requests he receives, the mounts for the rafter cameras and much, much more. I shot along side him at the glass and had to keep my fangirling of the players (NY Islanders vs Washington Capitals) under control. I think its quite fair to say that I learned more that night than I ever have in my collective experience as a photographer so far. As it isn’t hard to see-I was hooked.
As if the Islanders could get any more amazing in my development as a photographer, they even allowed me to travel to Bridgeport, CT to shoot photos of their minor league team all on my own. These opportunities are just a few on the long list that they have given me. I have gained some incredible mentors from the professional photographers on the team. My lack of formal photographic education in the classroom (apart from the most basic high school courses offered at my school) no longer hinders my development. I have gained a confidence and desire to learn. In addition, for lack of a better phrase, I have gained my very own “pocket elf” (Stobe). Whenever I’m out shooting and get confused about settings or need advice, I shoot him a quick text and while I sometimes get made fun of – I always get my answer.
In addition to these wonderful mentors, I found mentors in the strangest of places. In today’s time, you don’t need to see someone face to face to feel as though you are “friends” with them thanks to social networking and media. Rachel Tokarski is an INCREDIBLE photographer from Pittsburgh, who I was fortunate enough to meet while shooting a play-off game in Hartford, CT this past season. At the urging of Stobe, I asked Rachel to critique my current work and she more than willingly obliged. To my surprise, a few weeks ago I received an e-mail from her checking up on me and my photography. Her reach-out made my day. It’s not every day that someone as amazingly talented as her will go out of her way for a stranger who is just trying to find her place in photography. Words cannot express my gratitude, and in addition-how much I’ve learned.
Why You Should Get a Mentor:
If there is anything I can say to ANY photographer, young or old, it would be to find yourself a mentor. Even if they are just there to critique your work or feed you some different perspective, they will aid in your overall growth. They might be doing something as simple as saying, “hey-nice shot” but their different view points and experienced eye will help you become a better photographer. To this day I still e-mail my photos after big events to Stobe and receive a long list about all the things wrong with them. Although I may not always appear to be listening to these comments, I always remember them and try harder to fix them next time. Of course once one thing gets fixed, a brand new long list of problems tends to appear. But, this is true of any photographer who wants to grow. The endless critiques only will help.