It’s an undisputed fact; there are fewer women in the arena of nature photography than there are men. But why? Do men bring something special to the arena? Or is it simply a stereotype that this is a man’s profession? There doesn’t appear to be a clear reason for the disparity between the numbers of men and women in this profession.
Let’s dig a little deeper. What are the necessary traits and skills that are actually required of a nature photographer? Imagine the following advertisement:
WANTED: Nature Photographer
- Must have:
- A love of nature and adventure
- Skill with a camera and computers
- A creative and artistic eye
- Story telling and writing skills
- Willingness to persist through difficult challenges
- Tolerance and enjoyment of outdoor conditions and all sorts of weather
- Business savvy and marketing abilities
- Patience and a collaborative personality
None of these qualifications are gender based. They are a diverse set of skills that encompass the profession of nature photography. Who says that men possess these talents in greater numbers than women do? Why has this imbalance occurred?
Let’s Learn the Facts and Bust These Myths
Women aren’t delicate flowers.
- We give birth.
- Women are in the military, right alongside male colleagues, carrying heavy combat gear and enduring challenging weather, long hours, and physical battle.
- Women are 50% of our astronaut force.
- Women work on oil rigs and fight fires.
- Women captain ships on every sea.
- Women climb Mt. Everest. In fact, 536 women have reached the summit.
Clearly, women are as capable as men of being successful professional nature photographers. So, if the profession is so gender neutral, then why are there fewer women? We believe that there are multiple, complex factors at play, but there are a few components that seem to matter most.
As the “Me too” movement has shown us, most women have been sexually harassed, pursued, or simply pestered. This can also happen to women nature photographers. It’s not always safe to be a woman alone, especially in an isolated location.
Women are raised to look over their shoulders for potential dangers. Although those dangers could be physical, like extreme cold or having an unintended interaction with a large predator, more often than not, they are related to people (or more specifically to men).
Traveling alone in foreign countries can present even more security risks. Possible solutions include preparation, which is the best way to avoid bad situations. Research and carefully laying the groundwork for a safe trip is paramount to personal security. Traveling with a trusted guide, or going with a savvy partner or friend can be fun, in addition to being safer.
There are also some common misconceptions about nature photography. You don’t have to travel far away or to dangerous places to capture beautiful images or tell a story. Many successful nature photographers make their living locally. The profession goes beyond the “Big 5” or documenting predators in action. Some photographers specialize in insects, flowers, and even fungi. The field of nature photography can be sculpted into what works for your personal interests, aspirations, time frame and budget.
Women are often mothers or primary caregivers. While it can be taxing to juggle parenting and career, solutions such as sharing responsibilities with a partner or hiring a nanny can provide emotional and logistical relief. Some women enjoy bringing their children into the field with them, depending on their chosen subject. It teaches kids about developing an appreciation for nature and conservation. It’s all about balance and finding what works for each specific family.
Nature photography is a very competitive field. There are a plethora of photographers who throw their hat into the ring and hope to get their work published. Unfortunately, there are limited opportunities available, regardless of talent, drive, and motivation.
While there is no difference in the quality of photographs taken by men and women, men tend to be more overtly competitive than women.
Don’t get us wrong. Women, once in a professional setting, are just as successful as men are. But studies, such as one by Stanford, have shown that women often “choose not to compete because of an age-old barrier – lack of confidence.”
In many ways, the lack of women in nature photography is similar to the underrepresentation of women in science and other STEM careers. Harvard studies have shown that women are 38% less likely to choose to participate in competitive arenas than men. Societal norms, and in some cases parental expectations, may also steer women away from careers in science and nature photography.
It may not be very appealing for women to enter a field that is largely marketed to men. For many years, nature photography has been geared towards males. Camera gear is frequently marketed to and designed for men. The majority of photographers sponsored by camera companies are male. Even some technical gear, such as outdoor clothing for sub-zero temperatures, isn’t made in available women’s sizes.
When looking for career inspiration, there is a gender imbalance in the number of female role models in nature photography. With so few women in the career for aspiring female photographers to look up to, it’s hard for some to see the job as a realistic, suitable fit for women. The cycle of nature photography being a male-dominated profession is then perpetuated.
There is no absolute single reason to explain why women are so underrepresented in the field of nature photography. It’s a complex issue, complicated by human psychology, logistics and culture and there are no simple solutions. We can make a dent in the disparity between the numbers of men and women in this profession by encouraging girls to pursue an interest in the field of nature photography.
Girls Who Click (GWC) is a new nonprofit organization that aims to inspire a new generation of female nature photographers. Through a network of the US’ most esteemed female nature photographers, GWC will offer FREE workshops for teen girls across the country. Participating students will engage with a role model who helps them to gather the confidence and skills to pursue their passion and apply it as adult photographers.
Please support the launch of Girls Who Click and change the lives of the next generation of female nature photographers by making a donation to our crowd funding campaign.
About the authors: Suzi Eszterhas, Michelle Stern and Susan McElhinney are photographers who are seeking to inspiring a new generation of female nature photographers. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors. Eszterhas is the founder of Girls Who Click. This article was also published here.
Image credits: Header photo courtesy Suzi Eszterhas