Sunday, 5 May 2013

Finding a Mentor

By Danielle Lancaster 

Today I had a very pleasurable experience. A young man came to visit me. Let's call him "Joe".

I first met Joe while doing a private lesson at my local lookout. He hung around in the background listening and experimenting with his camera and finally mustered the courage to come forward. Of course, I'd forgotten any business cards (lesson one of this blog) but he remembered the Bluedog name and within a few days I had my first email from him.

As it turns out, Joe wants to be a photographer and was looking for a mentor and a way to fulfill his dream. We exchanged emails and I gave him a few options to investigate until our meeting today. Joe arrived on time and with a hand- full of 6"x4" prints he was excited to show as examples of what he'd been experimenting with and a list of requirements to enter Griffith University next year.

It was inspiring to be in the presence of such an enthusiastic young man.

Mentoring is important and any successful business operator will tell you they have had at least one enter their lives along their journey. The best mentoring relationships usually develop organically. While this blog is referring to photography, it's relevant to any business.

So what is a mentor? A mentor is someone who voluntarily provides career advice and assistance. They can come from within your field outside; for example a purely business or marketing aspect.

It's been an interesting transition in the photography field and now more than ever mentors are probably one of the most sought after commodities for any aspiring photographer. This has occurred in response to the advent of digital photography where we have seen photography rapidly become a “learn-it-yourself "art. Many, after only a very short period of time (I'd call this under five years working alone in the industry and providing their sole income) are now calling themselves professional.

What is the best way to find a mentor?
Start networking
This could be through professional associations and/or amateur associations such as photography clubs. Some social media groups can provide avenues, such as our Bluedog closed Facebook group. 

Know what you want to do: ask yourself, what are my goals? 

Do a workshop 
Yes, I know, part of our business here at Bluedog Photography is conducting workshops and tours. Services such as these provide excellent opportunities for you to be exposed to well respected and trusted leaders in the field. However do your research first. Does your tutor have a long standing reputable experience in the industry.This gives you real-life immersion with people working in the field who also have time honoured advice they may share and it is often a platform to form and build a relationship.

Create a list
Of people that may be suitable and contact them during business hours and don't be pushy for a reply as they may be away on assignment and not able to respond immediately. Respond to their replies promptly and be polite and formal. Use good grammar, punctuation and make sure spelling check is on for any written replies. Try to form a relationship through these communications to understand their personality while displaying yours. You will know when you meet the right mentor. 

Volunteer to work with no expectations

Attitude does matter! Keep upbeat and positive. Professional photographers are approached all the time and the last thing they want to hear or see on the first meeting is that you are well-renowned or a know-it-all or someone with a bee in their bonnet or grumpy. They are usually busy people so be appreciative of the time given. 

Get an online presence 
And be prepared to show examples of your work. It's not enough to say you have done this and that without examples. 

Look outside
Don't forget to look outside photography. To this day I still have mentors some in businesses so unrelated they seem worlds apart. However, we network, we bounce ideas on marketing, strategies, legal and other areas off each other and we support one another. At times the roles of mentor and mentee vary according to the issue under consideration. 

Choose carefully
Choose someone that has a long standing career within the profession. Too many fall into  the trap of choosing mentors that have been working in the industry for only a short time. Remember the internet, while a great source of information, is not always correct. Don't forget to critically analyse your sources and evaluate them with fair judgement. Perhaps even ask them have they had or been mentors themselves. 

What happens if?
This is a scenario for which everyone should have a Plan B. What happens if: your relationship with your mentor turns sour, you change direction or lose interest or worse still, you set yourself up for failure early on (the dreaded career hiccup)? All are possibilities.

How you deal with these issues on a professional and emotional level is individual. Anyone in any business will tell you one if not more will happen at some time. 

Our Tips
When your relationship with your mentor or mentee turns sour:

Don't play the "sour grapes" game. This happens more than you would think - it's part of human behaviour and can occur due to a number of reasons. Be courteous and polite. Don't publicly acclaim your ill feelings especially on social media sites as it only lowers you as a person. Don't poach clients or contacts that you would not have otherwise known. This is both unethical and can irreparably damage your long term professional standing. No matter what has happened, in most cases your mentor has given graciously and personally invested in you. Don't forget what they have shown you and remember one day again your paths may well cross. 

You change direction or lose interest:
This happens and it's okay. Be honest and upfront. If you are having reservations discuss this sooner rather than later. It's always better if things are out in the open. The cause could be a variety of reasons and remember neither mentor nor mentee are psychic. The more you can talk and openly discuss the more you can move forward in the right direction for you. 

You have a career hiccup:
Career hiccups will happen, but if they do early in your career they can ruin it. Lisa Kurtz, one of Bluedog's tutors, advises 'don't bite off more than you can chew,' and this is true.

Usually the main cause is over-enthusiasm and over-encouragement. Learn to balance challenging yourself photographically and being able to deliver to the client. For this you need to be confident in your own competency and technical aspects. 'It is so important to take small steps and protect yourself,' said Lisa. The transition from hobbyist to professional and living the dream can come with a hiccup or two.

We hope this helps those of you out there looking at mentoring programs. Knowing how to handle the 'what if's' can make life flow more smoothly.

I liked "Joe", so you'll hear more about his journey in the future.

Best of luck everyone and we'd love to hear your stories on what has happened to you. Please feel free to email your mentoring stories to 

Danielle Lancaster owns and runs Bluedog Photography. She receives commissioned work from Australia (her home base) and international clients and conducts a wide range of photography workshops, retreats or tour. For more information visit or email
You can follow Bluedog on facebook


Friday, 26 April 2013

Tracing loved ones that fought for Australia

Anzac Day has been and passed. Another April done and dusted and now June and the end of the financial year for us is just down the track.

No matter what religion or culture you belong to; does not every man, woman and child stand solemn at least once in remembrance of something each year?

The resounding ‘remembrance’ maybe for various reasons, however most are for peace.

Why is this? It's what every species of living animal on Earth desires (along with domination). 

Many Homo Sapiens (humans) have a very strong connection with their past generations and long to know more about family and friends. A few years ago I was commissioned to photograph and write for a national paper a series on ex-serviceman/women and their following generations here in Australia. It was a moving assignment. I heard stories that bought family members, that sat in with me, to tears (along with myself on occasions) as they had never heard the stories told till that day.

War is a horrible word. None of us like to hear it. It brings loss and destruction and freedom.

The Australian War Memorial has an enormous amount of information and this is a really interesting link with some great historical photos if you are searching for anyone that may have fought under the Aussie flag.

 Image courtesy Australian War Memorial

The legendary kiss captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt, taken on V-J Day, 1945

Monday, 25 March 2013

War and Peace Through Aussie Eyes

In 2010 I had the privilege to listen to what I consider some of Australia's best documentary photographers speak as they released their combined collection of war images called “Degree South War”.

The group of eight include Tim Page, Stephen Dupont, Ben Bohane, Jack Picone, Ashley Gilbertson, David Dare Parker, Michael Coyne and  Sean Flynn, who went MIA in Cambodia in 1970.

The collection is still travelling as an exhibition and if you get the chance to view it, it is well worth your time. I have the book in my studio and often pull it out to show those learning  photography the depth of wealth, compassion, humility and photography excellence this gathering of men has.

“Degree South” covers wars from Vietnam to  Afghanistan. War is not a nice subject - never has been - so why would we want to look at graphic images captured on the front line, behind the scenes or those of mass killings and trauma? Firstly not all the images are graphic. The aim of these men was to provide ' an unflinching, yet humane view of our world in all its wonder and trouble'.

Looking into the images the viewer realises: each one tells a story, each one has compositional elements and each was captured when time was not on hand to set up a perfect pose. These men know their cameras, how they work and when to click.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with many of the men and have been in awe at their humbleness in telling their stories. Indeed they rate as some of the best documentary photographers in the world. Each has a list of awards reflective of their excellence and the high regard in which they are held by photographic, journalistic and humanitarian peers.

The collective are now exhibiting  “Degree South Peace”  at the Monash Gallery of Art till the 28th April 2013. A book will be released soon and it will be one I will not be missing out on purchasing a copy.
For more information please visit:

Written by Danielle Lancaster

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Forward and back

Guest blog by Kelly Morgan

This time of year we always find ourselves looking back at what was, and forward to what might be. For me, 2012 has been an interesting year – some ups, some downs – but when I think about most of the memorable, enjoyable and ah-huh moments they always seem to involve photography, and Danielle Lancaster.

Very early in the year I was frustrated with life and at a cross-road; at the moment I was discussing that with someone Danielle called out of the blue. Next thing I know I’m part of a photography exhibition!

That whole experience was great – learning a bit about curating and selecting images, getting them right to print well, and hanging them in a gallery. (Hanging my own photos in a gallery exhibition wasn’t even on my
bucket list!)

My husband and I both grew up on farms so heading bush to wide open spaces, peace and fresh air has always been an easy sell to us, but the trip to Cunnamulla was even better than expected. Hanging prints in a gallery was so much more fun than I thought it would be – no stress, but lots of laughs. It may have been a different experience in a fancy city gallery (I'm sure they don't usually allow wine to be imbibed while ladders are in use, even if the featured artist is afraid of heights). It was also wonderful and humbling to be welcomed by a great group of people, some who travelled a long way to be there for opening night.

There's something about people from the bush - they can spin a yarn better than anyone I've met in the city. And laugh - genuine laughter from the bottom of their belly. Some of these people were actually in Danielle's photos from many years before and I can see why she chose them as subjects for her portraits - it's something in the eyes.

While being part of that exhibition was something I’m really proud of and a great experience, it was also a big catalyst for everything that came after. I've been made to think about what I really enjoy doing and what's next (hard to top an unexpected exhibition!). I've focussed on writing and trying to publish my story about my time in Cambodia with Mr Douk. I don’t know if I would have pursued it at all if these things didn’t roll out the way they did.

After encouragement and constructive criticism from Danielle and the Bluedog team - I've also done two workshops this year - I’ve committed to focussing on photography and learning more, challenging myself to be better and do it at a level that deserves payment. An opportunity to be paid to play with a camera
seemed to come out of nowhere too! When a friend with a wedding photography business asked me to join the team I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, but it’s a real adrenalin rush and it makes me work harder to get better - I love it.

So this is a very long, round-about way of saying thank you to the top dog and Bluedog team – for the opportunity to learn more and be genuinely challenged, for pushing and encouraging me (and many others) to be brave enough to try harder and try something different, for sharing your knowledge and passion, and perhaps most importantly for your honesty.

That’s long and perhaps a bit gushy, but I wanted to say it, and before the end of 2012.

 Mr Douk formed the study for Kelly's photo essay 'Lessons from an armless man'

   Kelly, middle shooting during the Bluedog Photography Cambodia Tour
'The road ahead with no idea'by Kelly Morgan

Here's a link to an interview with Kelly Morgan on YouTube

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

An interview with Bluedog Tutor Lisa Kurtz

We continue with our questionnaire to team members in the Bluedog kennel. Today the lovely and talented Lisa Kurtz, based in Brisbane gives us her answers.  

Q. Tell us briefly your photography journey to date. 
A. Always into photography, but the turning point was when my husband gave me my first digital camera 11 years ago for a birthday present. It was the catalyst for a career and life change.

Q. What inspires you – photographically?
Italy has always been a source of inspiration and I imagine it will continue to be forever. On a personal level, it is the desire to photograph my son and his ever-developing spirit. 

Q. What is a highlight of 2012?

A. As corny as this sounds, becoming part of the Bluedog team and beginning my personal project on the anonymity of the streets (b&w). 

Q. Do you have a ‘most memorable’ moment to date?
Yes – through a series of unfortunate events my camera and I were separated from each other during a recent trip to Sydney. I was forced to use a 3-megapixel phone camera (no, not even an iphone camera) and this taught me two things – if you take photography back to its basics you can even take decent photos on a 3-megapixel camera, and that not having my “real” camera made me free to experiment and take risks… in short, it was a wonderful experience!

Q. What lens can’t you live without?
24-70 2.8 – wide enough for travel, and because I use my feet it is also perfect for my style of portraiture. I know it was only meant to be 1 lens, but I would try and sneak my 50mm 1.8 in as well for those low light situations.

Q.  What is your favourite type of shoot (and why)?
Children. They test your photographic limits every time as, by their very nature, they never do what you expect them to!

Q.  What do you do in your spare time?
I go to art galleries, I take photos of my family and friends, I talk regularly with my mother and grandmother who live interstate.

Q.   What's your best 2012 photography advice or quick tip?
Travel light with the least possible gear. You really don’t need it all! (But if you travel light, make sure it’s with fast lenses…)

Q. What are your plans or highlights for 2013?
 I am going on the Bluedog Japan tour and I know already this will be wonderful. Of course, I am also off to Italy which is always a highlight.

For more information on Bluedog's workshops, retreat and tours visit: 

A few of us will be joining Lisa on her Capture Italy tour in May 2014.

For more information visit Capture Italy

All images (C) Lisa Kurtz

Thursday, 20 December 2012

An interview with Bluedog Tutor and Photographer Sheryn Ellis

And we continue questioning of our tutors, this time Sheryn Ellis based on the Gold Coast who also runs Live in Love Photography a successful portrait photography business. She's a quiet achiever; every day she shoots something and makes a great image; she's a one click at a time girl; always trying out new things.

Q. Tell us briefly your photography journey to date.
A. I've loved photography for as long as I can remember. I'd sit and look through books and photo albums for hours - I still do. I didn't start to learn photography until I was about 19 when I got my hands on a Canon SLR film camera and just started shooting anything and everything around me. Having 3 children under 3 gave me endless photography opportunities and I quickly discovered I loved portraiture above all else. I continued to learn and 'play' during my 8 years as a stay-at-home-mum and when my youngest went to school I went into  photography full time, working for Bluedog and building my own portraiture business on the side. I never thought I would be any good at teaching, let alone enjoy (love) it like I do and I never tire of the 'lightbulb' moments I am able to share with people.

Q. What inspires you photographically?
A. Too many photographers to name them all however my top 2 would be; Annie Leibovitz, an amazing woman who has achieved so much and her portraiture is both raw and captivating; and Dorothea Lange who's images I can look at day after day and still feel the same as I did the first time I saw them.  My mum inspires me to be all that I want to be in life and it is wonderful to have that constant support and push to achieve what I want to do.

Q. What is a highlight of 2012?
A. There are many. Photographically it would be the purchase of my new camera with the 100mm macro lens which happened in August - it was a huge purchase and not one made lightly. Also two trips this year stand out as having impact on my life; Cambodia in June/July and a holiday with a best friend and all our children in September. I love to be around my friends and family as much as possible, they are who keep me going as I juggle my crazy busy life.

Q. Do you have a ‘most memorable’ moment to date?
A. No, I have many moments that have shaped who I am and that stand out as moments never to be forgotten or changed. The most memorable moments always happen when you least expect them.

Q. What lens can’t you live without?
A. At the moment I can't live without my 100mm 2.8L Macro - I use it for everything!

Q. What is your favourite type of shoot and why?
A. I love photographing children above all else, I love to capture their funny faces, their serious faces, their laughing faces, their hands, their toes and everything about them. I believe today is the best day to capture that expression, that chipped tooth, that black eye, that first lost tooth, that first broken bone - they don't have to be all dressed up and on their best behaviour, children are children and we should capture every possible moment of their lives.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. What spare time? I love to pick up the camera and shoot random life moments, I love to hang out with my family and friends, I love to read and on a rainy day there is nothing better than a good movie and a glass of red!

Q. Your best photography advice or quick tip?
A. Never stop learning. Pick up your camera every day if you can and shoot the most boring item in your house and make it look interesting. Learn my mantra; f8 is great :) 

Q. Plans/highlights for 2013?
A. My biggest plan for 2013 is to not have a plan. I have so many ideas on who I want to photograph and how and a list of places I want to visit so I've written them all in a book and intend on ticking off as many as possible - 2013 will be great (say and believe it)!

For more information on Bluedog's workshops, retreat and tours visit:

For more information on Sheryn please visit Live in Love Photography 

Sheryn playing with some time lapse this year.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

An interview with Bluedog 'apprentice' Caitlin Allen

Caitlin has been hanging around here at the Bluedog Photography studio for over 18 months now and her motivation and young energy is loved by us all. We invited her to answer this year's tutors and photographers questions.

Q. Tell us briefly your photography journey to date.
A. I am 16 and have only been interested in photography for a few years now. It wasn’t until I found Bluedog photography during work experience in 2011 that I decided photography was what I really enjoyed doing. From there I have continued working at the Bluedog Studio, receiving lots of tuition, helpful tips and advice. I have participated in many workshops and also attended the Fraser Island Tour which really opened my eyes as to what I might be able to do as a photographer if it becomes my career path.

Q. What inspires you – photographically?
A. As a kid I was always amazed at the images and moments captured within a photograph, whether it was a documentary on the Discovery channel or in a national geographic magazine. They portrayed a totally different perspective of life through the photos and that was really inspiring for me!

Q. What is a highlight of 2012?
A. Gaining membership into Griffith University for a photography course!

Q. Do you have a ‘most memorable’ moment to date?
A. A memorable moment for me would have to be my trip to Fraser Island with Bluedog.  It was also my 15th birthday. It was a great experience, a great holiday and I learnt so much!

Q. What lens can’t you live without?
A. My EFS 15 – 85mm Zoom Lens, it is my favourite lens as it has the ability to photograph anything from landscapes to close-up portraits.

Q. What is your favourite type of shoot (and why)?
A. At the moment my favourite type of shoot is wildlife, I love capturing a moment through the animals eyes and portraying them as characters through their expressions.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?
A. In my spare time I find anything I can in my room and photograph it using my macro lens, I love to experiment with lighting and WB.

Q. What's your best 2012 photography advice or quick tip?
A. Practice makes perfect! Picking up the camera everyday to photograph anything can make a big difference, there are always new things to try and learn!

Q. What are your plans or highlights for 2013?
A. My plans for 2013 are to study photography at Griffith University and hopefully learn a lot of important skills and techniques. I am also really hoping to get a place in the Cambodia tour next year with Bluedog!!

Images taken by Caitlin during 2012: