Part of a freelance career in any field is that it requires a lot of networking. At symposiums, over a cup of coffee, and via social media. Places where you can share stories about a particular close call, exchange tips about techniques and locations or just to update someone about a current project you’re working (or have finished working) on.
As I spend more and more time in the company of like-minded conservationists, I frequently find myself surrounded by men. Having grown up with two older brothers means this is not a situation I find particularly uncomfortable but it is something I am noticing more and more.
Likewise, a friend who is a researcher for a natural history production company has made some similar observations, and we sometimes ask ourselves (and each other):
Why is it that at an advanced, professional level, it seems like the industry of wildlife photography and film making is dominated by men?
I am talking from a purely technical perspective – not researchers or the like. It is not that they’re not out there – look through the ILCP or Wild Wonders of Europe website and you’ll quickly notice that there are several high-quality female photographers out there. I was talking to Linda Pitkin who was the sole female photographer on the 2020 vision project, and she confirmed:
Out in the field, there is no difference. There is a certain level of fitness required, but aside from that there is nothing separating a male from a female photographer.
I strongly agree, and I don’t think technically men are better than women. Even the old stigmas of ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’ are so far out of the window they’re invisible. Out in the field it is a level playing field. Where the difference lies, in my opinion, is home from the field. In those networking situations. And women’s inherent nature to undersell themselves, or at least not give themselves the credit they are worth.
In a world where ‘new’ media has allowed every budding photographer to show their work, people need to shout from the rooftops to be heard, and push for their work to be worth seeing and women seem to be less likely to do so. At a networking social, whenever a woman says ‘I’m not that good’ it lacks professionalism, and won’t give any potential employer confidence in your own work, in as much as that person doesn’t have confidence in hers.
And even if a woman isn’t UNDERselling herself, she won’t be as actively/fiercely selling (or even OVERselling) herself either. At every opportunity, on every platform, shouting – notice me! A trip to some far off destination, a 12-hour wait in a hide, just becomes something normal and not worth emphasising rather than the machismo you often see of who went to more trouble between men. Most women care a lot about what others think, and for that reason will hold back or be a bit more timid in the desire to avoid making a fool of themselves. And even though there is the risk of doing so, 80% of the time this won’t be the case. But that still means you’re missing out on 80% of the opportunities.
Finally, in a career that is often considered ‘lonely’, spending hours on your own waiting around, there is a lot of comraderie involved. And where men have their in-jokes and banter, more often than not its a different relationship with women. A man and a woman not romantically involved are less likely go on a photo trip together, in my experience at least.
So if you’re a budding female wildlife camera operator (photo or film) – put yourself out there before you have time to think it through. People might be more impressed than you think.
Warning: I am a self-professed hypocrite when it comes to this.