Traditionally a male-dominated field, photography today has a near even split with more than 46 percent of the profession made up of women. Despite the growth, many women still face stereotypes when first launching their career — and the average salary for female photographers is still far less than a male in the same profession.
As International Women’s Day calls for a #PressforProgress on March 8, we talked to three photographers who faced those stereotypes — and climbed over them en route to becoming well-recognized photographers in their field. Before Lindsey Adler was named one of the top ten fashion photographers in the world, she had difficulty finding a job as a photographer’s assistant “because women can’t lift heavy things.” When Lou Freeman started building a fashion photography brand, she intentionally shortened Louise to a gender-neutral name. And while Ana Brandt of Belly Baby Love worked her way into becoming one of the most well-known infant and maternity photographers, many assumed at first that her husband ran the business.
Here’s how these three photographers shattered the stereotypes — and what they’d like to share with other women starting out in the field.
Every photographer has different strengths — and Adler encourages photographers to both know and value those strengths. She encourages women to find out what makes them unique as a photographer or problem-solver — whether that’s the persona that helps clients relax in front of the camera or an eye for color.
“Know your strengths and value them,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to be proud and value (and demand) your worth. So many times we have been taught to be humble and understated. I encourage you to find your strengths and share them openly — let people know why you are the one to hire and why you have such value.”
Adler suggests photographers start by determining their value — then follow up with believing that value, and valuing that value.
Sometimes, stereotypes can be so pervasive that even the group the assumption is directed at starts to believe them. Adler says she’s seen many start to believe the stereotype that women are natural light shooters rather than training in studio lighting.
“If you want to shoot natural light, that’s fine as a stylistic choice or because it better reflects the mood of your shots or style,” she said. “Don’t, however, believe that you cannot understand studio lighting. Like anything else in photography, it takes education and practice, but there is nothing in our hardwiring that makes it more difficult for us.”
Some stereotypes, rather than overcoming, can be turned into strengths instead of negative perceptions. Freeman says that, starting out in fashion and glamour, there is a perception that male photographers are better at making female models feel sexy in front of the camera. So when she continued to polish her work to land a gig with Playboy, eventually photographing nearly 2,000 women for the magazine, she decided to ask the women in front of the camera. The models said that female photographers tended to make them feel confident, comfortable and beautiful.
The models’ responses changed her entire approach — instead, she began focusing on her strengths as a female photographer with an attention to detail. “My goal was really to have top quality on every element of every aspect of the sessions,” she said. “The result? Women paid me more respect…They could actually relax and allow better images to be captured of themselves.”
Many find being the minority intimidating — but Brandt suggests photographers should be happy, not fearful, when they realize they are the only female in the room. Rather than focusing on being different, focus instead on standing out.
“When I first started, I joined my chamber of commerce and other networking events,” she said. “There were hardly any females at this event. It allowed me to stand out, and be heard as a business owner because I wasn’t afraid to walk into events where males dominated the room.”
One of the most common stereotypes Brandt sees in her career is the idea that women cannot be both successful business owners and successful mothers. To fight the stereotype, she simply speaks up. “To break that stereotype, I am very vocal on how I include my children in my business,” she said. “They travel with me and consider the studio their second home by making it their first stop after school to stay by my side. I have also allowed other staff to bring their children to work and I believe there can be a balance between work and motherhood.”
As the photography industry shifts to a nearly even split between males and females working with a camera, some stereotypes still persist — but that doesn’t mean those stereotypes can’t be broken — or even transformed into positives. “As more women come into the industry, lots of amazing things have changed for the better, I believe,” Brandt said. “But my hope, is that gender is not an issue in the future. I want people to just recognize the work and not care if a man or woman created it.”
Celebrate, learn from, and support women. In honor of International Women’s Day we are offering some of our best classes – which happen to be taught by incredible women – for up to 40% off. We even have a special photography bundle. Check it out.