When I was a dancer, mentors were at every turn. We had our teachers who would provide us the knowledge of a professional who had "been there, done that". And, if our teachers weren't there to help solve our problems or give advise on how to move forward, we (as students) had each other. There was chat before class. There was chat after class. And, there were countless hours spent in the dressing rooms...just chatting. Support was everywhere. Whether we wanted it or not, there was always someone to talk to.
When I started this adventure I never once realized just how hard it would be to find that same type of face-to-face camaraderie in photography. I never realized just how fortunate I was all those years ago when I had former principle dancers at my disposal handing me endless tips and tricks regarding the craft. In this new electronic age, it seems that much has shifted in a very different direction. However, even though it seems like the "face time" part of mentorship is few and far between in this industry, there are many other avenues that a photographer can take to get advise and knowledge from the pros (or even other photographers in the same boat as they are).
1) Paid Mentor Sessions
There are several photographers out there who are more than willing to critique your skills (editing, workflow, business, portfolio, etc.), but for a price. These one-on-one sessions usually last a few hours and are conducted via WebEx (or some other web platform) and can be costly. Before investing in a paid mentoring session, be sure to do your homework. Read their reviews and ask questions if you have any. Make sure they fit YOUR bill and what you're looking for at that moment in your journey.
I haven't invested in a paid session, personally, and have considered it, but don't want to spend that $$ right now.
2) Attend a Conference
Attending a conference is an excellent way to meet new photographers and grow your photographers network. It's a great (and again, costly) way to talk face-to-face with other photographers. You'll meet a lot of new people and hopefully make some really new and great connections. If you have the time and the money to invest in at least one conference a year, I'd say do it. But again, be sure to read up on the conference and make sure it's the right fit for you. You'll be investing a lot of money in a conference and you want to be sure you walk away with more than just new friends (i.e. valuable information from the pros that are leading the sessions.)
3) Join a Local Photo Group
This is something that can be very beneficial, but can be tricky. Meetup.com is a great place to start. Some groups are very active, but some are not. I live in an area that sits directly between Baltimore and DC and I see a lot of new photo groups popping up left and right. Most of these groups appear to have a lot of "virtual" members, but when it comes time for the actual meet-up, crickets are the only guests. Take a look at what groups are in your area and go from there. I've personally attended some very beneficial group photos walks, but I've also been on the receiving end of a "crickets only" meetup session.
4) Join a Forum
Forums are an excellent way to meet new photographers, receive excellent advise and gain access to some of the pros that monitor the site. But again, forums comes with a price. I received a lot of very helpful information from forums and continue to do so. As with the paid mentors and photo groups, find a forum that works for you. I was a member of several forums when I started three years ago and have scaled back to only include forums that are beneficial to me now.
To date, Facebook Groups and Google+ Communities have been the best places for me to receive advise from pros and hobbyists alike. It's free and most of the communities that I'm a member of are extremely active. However, as with any group or site, you take from it the information that is useful to you and know when to leave behind those not so useful comments.
While it may not be the one-on-one long term hand holding that some of us may long for, these five options are a pretty decent 2nd place. Learning this craft is a marathon, not a sprint and many photographers today are not will to train their competition. In the end, finding what works for you depends on only one thins...YOU.