President’s message: Learning from the greats

PPA president Audrey Wancket
© Gregory Daniel Portraits and Kyla Renee Paintings
PPA President Audrey Wancket

Photographers get to earn our living doing something we love. And we get to spend our working hours creating images that clients love. That’s especially true for portrait and wedding photographers. We create images that help our subjects feel great about how they look, portraits that show children how much they are valued, and wedding mementos that are so much more meaningful than marriage licenses. Our portraits are often clients’ most treasured possessions.

A good photographer does not become a good photographer without education and experience—lots and lots of experience. A great photographer knows that to be great, we need to chase the dream of excellence, search for inspiration, and keep the passion going continually.

Mentors and peer groups (sometimes called mastermind groups) can make a gigantic difference in our growth.

In my late 20s, I met a photographer whose work I aspired to equal. Her images spoke to my heart and soul. She was an elegant woman who spoke with a quiet, nurturing voice. My mentor was Lizbeth Guerrina. I was familiar with her beautiful portraits because she regularly had new Loan images that placed in the American Society of Photographers’ top 100. I would stare at her portraits in the Imaging USA print exhibit and buy the Loan Collection books so I could study her work and try to emulate it. This was long before photographers had websites, so this was the only way to see such great work outside of Professional Photographer magazine.

I answered my phone one day and on the other end was Lizbeth. It turned out we used the same professional lab, and she saw my portraits being retouched in the art department there. She said she saw my “beautiful portraits” (I nearly stopped breathing) and wanted to ask about one of them. And so our friendship began. From that point on, whenever she was at a PPA convention, we met for breakfast or coffee and to walk the print exhibit. She would ask which images inspired me and why. Of my own work she would quietly ask why I chose a particular camera angle or height. I learned more each year without even realizing the impact Lizbeth would have on me, my portraits, and my life. She’s been gone for several years, and I miss her guidance and friendship dearly.

This part of my professional journey was made possible through my participation in PPA. It’s where I first saw her work, where I first heard her speak.

I write this as I sit in my hotel room during a state photographic convention. My column was coming along slowly so I took a break and went to the lobby where, of course, all the photographers were gathered. I sat with a new acquaintance. “Would you be my mentor?” they asked with confidence.

You, too, have the ability to meet mentors who are perfect for you. Just get yourself to where all the great photographers go. I look forward to connecting with you at Imaging USA in Nashville next January.

By the way, I said yes to being a mentor!  

Audrey Wancket is the owner of Wancket Studios in Spring Grove, Illinois.