Often times, when I walk on set to begin a photoshoot, I’m mistaken for a makeup artist. Other times, I’ll have a male assistant with me on set, and our client will assume I’m his assistant. This is no surprise to me—across the photography industry there is a massive underrepresentation of women. It’s simply less common for our clients to see females as lead photographers. And for the women who do rise to the top, we’re much less likely to be employed by large media companies (7% compared to 22% of men). Plus, according to the State of News Photography Study, not only do women hold less photography jobs, but we’re paid less than men for the same work.
So, behind the statistics, just how dominated is the photography industry? Let’s put it this way—I’m always surrounded by males. Just last week I was on a set with a team of 33 people, and only two of us identified as female. But as I gain traction as a budding photographer, I’m beginning to notice that the gender makeup of the set is entirely irrelevant, as long as my clients take me seriously and I can be myself.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned how to be a successful female in a male-dominated industry and earn the respect and business of top clientele, including Tyler, the Creator and P. Diddy. I believe we have an ability to react and pave new roads for one another as women, and the field of photography is no exception. We bring a unique perspective to photography and other forms of arts, and although we may be underrepresented, it’s the moments we’re able to loudly show that “I can do this, I have done this, and I am capable” that makes such a difference. The more each female embraces her unique perspective and talent, the greater the collective crack in the glass ceiling of the photography industry becomes.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of competing alongside two other semi-finalists in a photography competition, Red Bull Press Pass. We connected with mentors and gained hands-on experience, while discussing what it’s like to grow as a professional music photographer and gained a clearer understanding of the industry through the lens of both male and female professionals.
It’s critical to the future of photography, and art for that matter, that up-and-coming female artists enter the scene. Here are four ideas for breaking through the glass ceiling:
#1: You’re a brand, not (just) a business
Regardless of gender, successful photographers go the extra mile to stand out, as if to say, “I’m the best, and this is what I do.” Focus on your brand while staying true to who you are. Whether across social media networks, word-of-mouth, through your website or portfolio, or some other way, tell who is standing behind the camera in a creative way. Brand-building efforts help female photographers in two ways: first, you’re able to open up a personal side of yourself that enables clients to extend a deeper level of trust, and second, you can show off your work to build credibility.
#2: Befriend better photographers
One of the most inspirational components of the Red Bull Press Pass contest was the caliber of photographers I had the chance to shoot and connect with. From professionals with experience decades deep, to my young, aspiring peers, just being around other photographers better than myself enhanced my time at the event and my abilities as a photographer. Find a community where you feel safe to ask questions, discover new ideas, and be inspired to try something new, whether it be a tactic, shooting at a new type of event, or trying a difference piece of camera equipment. Your community of photographers shouldn’t be too competitive—which tends to happen if members are insecure with their own work. If you like what someone else has done with the camera, don’t look at it is their advantage but instead use it for a chance personal growth and jump in there with them to learn something new.
#3: Don’t compromise—confidence takes time
Do you feel like you have to work harder than male counterparts to impress? Unfortunately, you might have to. In the same way female CEOs admit they must work harder than males to raise capital for their business, female photographers should prepare to have to work harder to impress new clients. That being said, never feel like you have to be someone you’re not.
Personally, I’ve built up my confidence over time because I know my clients will be happy with my product. Knowing that clients might look at my work with scrutiny—regardless of my gender—motivates me to work better and harder. And sometimes, I even find an angle or test a new idea might not have even crossed the mind of my male counterpart. The authentic impression I leave with my clients has pushed me to prove myself time and time again.
#4: Embrace your opportunity to shine
During Red Bull Press Pass, the three semi-finalists were all brought in to check out the intricacies of the set we’d be shooting on and given instructions for the following few hours. Then, the set became our playground. The next few hours, I found myself acting naturally without limits. My strengths—like getting the individual I was shooting to feel comfortable and creating informal connections on set—really shined in those few hours. I found myself finding great, creative angles, showcasing the whole venue, and taking photos that would showcase the emotions of the participants—while feeling comfortable in my own skin.
Whether at a photoshoot as an aspiring photographer, at a women’s march or in a meeting at work, us females bring amazing perspectives to our work, and see people in a different way. And when those perspectives shine, the entire photography industry benefits from it.
Equal representation of females in photography is never about us doing something better than males. It’s about all of us, despite our differences, coming together to tell a bigger story. Our differences allow us to capture bold, creative images from the feminine perspective—so ladies, let’s embrace it!
About the Author
Elizabeth (Beth) Saravo is an award-winning photographer who specializes in lifestyle and live music photography. She is the winner of the Red Bull Press Pass 2018 competition. To see more of Beth’s work, head over to her website, Instagram or connect with her via LinkedIn.